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Urban Development

What is a Smart City and How Can a City Boost Its IQ?

Maggie Comstock's picture

Earlier this month, the World Bank hosted a Smart Cities for All workshop in Washington, DC which convened experts from the United Nations, academia, government agencies, non-profits and industry. The purpose of the workshop was to share insights and experiences of equipping cities with the tools for intelligent growth. Additionally, the forum established a public-private partnership for collaboration in pursuit of shared goals for global sustainability. But what does it mean to be a “smart city”? Is this distinction only reserved for cities starting from scratch? Can an established city boost its IQ?

First, we must take a step back to reflect upon what it means to be a “smart city.” While there is no official definition, many have contributed to this debate. Industry leaders, such as Seimens and IBM, believe that stronger use of technology and data will enable government leaders to make better informed decisions. Whereas others, including the Sustainable Cities Blog’s very own Dan Hoornweg, consider the social aspects as a component of what it means to be a smart city. In his blog, “Smart Cities for Dummies,” published last November, Dan contends: “At its core a smart city is a welcoming, inclusive city, an open city. By being forthright with citizens, with clear accountability, integrity, and fair and honest measures of progress, cities get smarter.” Though I agree with both the data-driven and socially-conscious approaches, I’d like to propose my own definition of a smart city.

Together Much is Possible – A New GHG Emissions Protocol for Cities

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Factory smokestacks, EstoniaThis month marks an important milestone – an agreed to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions protocol for cities was announced jointly by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, C40, the big-cities climate change club, and the World Resources Institute (WRI). The protocol builds on early work by ICLEI, WRI and WBCSD’s corporate scopes model, a research paper presented by Professor Chris Kennedy et al at the June 2009 Marseille Urban Research Symposium, and a joint UNEP, UN-Habitat, World Bank guideline, supported by Cities Alliance, launched June 2010 at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro.

Up to now there were many different types of ways that cities were measuring their GHG emissions. A few cities were leading. Rio’s one of the first cities to complete the new inventory. New York City, Amman, Cape Town, Tokyo and Mexico City are front-runners as well. Xiaolan and Kunming are lined up to be the first cities in China to use the new protocol. Soon, most cities that complete a GHG inventory will follow a common ISO standardized approach. This will make analysis and learning across cities much easier. A common and verifiable metric is also one of the best ways to attract additional finance for cities.

Washington’s Cherry Blossoms: The Gift that Keeps Giving

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Cherry Trees, Washington, DCOne of the best things about living in Washington DC is riding your bike to work, early in the morning, past the blossoming cherry trees along the tidal basin. Sometimes you have to actually stop for a moment, the trees are so beautiful. Thank you, Governor (Mayor) Ozaki Yukio: He gave the trees to the up and coming Washington DC in 1912.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the City of Tokyo’s original gift of 3020 cherry trees. You would be hard pressed to find a more perfect gift, or a more perfect example of how the cities we live in, and the globally-minded ones overseas, improve our day-to-day quality of life.

Women in the City: Will the world’s female mayors please stand up?

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture

After Newsweek’s third annual Women in the World summit two weeks ago, I started to wonder about where women stand in the massive wave of urbanization our world is facing. The UN study, The World’s Women 2010, tells us:

  • Only 14 women in the world were either Head of State or Head of Government in 2010.
  • In only 23 countries do women comprise over 30 percent in the lower house of their national parliament.
  • On average, only 1 in 6 cabinet ministers in the world is a woman.
  • Only 13 of the 500 largest corporations in the world have a female Chief Executive Officer.

But what about female Mayors? As the most visible face of local politics and the closest link to their constituents, do women occupy more positions in the city leadership? The global breakdown is below:

Graphic: Share of women among mayors

But why, one may ask, is the leadership of women particularly relevant to sustainable cities? The National Democratic Institute gives a number of reasons:

Request for Public Comments on New Global Protocol for City-Scale GHG Emissions

Rishi Desai's picture

In response to the global need for consistency when measuring and reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a group of organizations have partnered to develop a Global Protocol for Community-scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions (community protocol). Beginning today and for the next month, the draft edition of the GPC is open for public comment, marking a landmark effort which seeks to harmonize the emissions measurement and reporting process for cities of all sizes and geographies.

“C40 operates under the premise that cities must measure emissions in order to manage them; with this unprecedented and collaborative initiative, we are empowering all cities to do both,” says Jay Carson, CEO of C40.

A Tale of Too Many Cities: Happy Birthday Charles Dickens

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Charles DickensThis year marks the 200th birthday for Charles Dickens who is likely the best-known social commentator who documented the more troublesome aspects of the Industrial Revolution and the start of the world’s headlong rush to urbanize. Dickens’ writings give a ringside seat to the turmoil London, and Paris, faced over two hundred years ago. That Dickens’ vantage point was London only made sense; it had just surpassed Beijing as the world’s largest city, and arguably is the birthplace of capitalism and industrialization.

The big question now is, where in the world would today’s most important social commentator choose to live? We obviously know it would be a big city as cities are the most powerful determinants of our futures. But what city best captures today’s and tomorrow’s social milieu?

From Oklahoma City to Kabul

Rana Amirtahmasebi's picture

It’s not often that the Mayor of Kabul visits Washington DC. So when Mohammad Younis Nawandish was invited to participate in a panel discussion on green growth as part of The World Bank’s Urban Sector Day, you can only imagine the clamor for seats in the auditorium. And Mayor Nawandish did not disappoint; neither did fellow panelist Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City.

“Rome was not built in one day, but Oklahoma City was,” Mayor Cornett had declared in his earlier keynote address. As the result of a Land Run in 1889, Oklahoma City’s population went from zero to 10,000 within 24 hours. “And our City Planning Department is still paying for it,” the Mayor jokingly added.

Urbanization: The Half-Time Score

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Personal affluence up 3000%; people living in extreme poverty down from about 75% to 20%; atmospheric CO2 concentration up from 280 ppm to 393.5 ppm; at least 700 known species lost; 1.3 billion hectares with moderate to severe soil degradation; big fish in the oceans – more than 90% gone.

The starting gun for the first half of industrialization – globalization – urbanization sounded in 1784 when James Watt, William Murdoch and Matthew Boulton’s efforts culminated in a patent award for the “steam locomotive”. That’s when the urbanization race began in earnest. Half of us now live in cities, with 185,000 more streaming in every day.

Spaceship city: drinking wastewater, and going back to the future

Sintana Vergara's picture

Seattle, WA

One of the marvels of the modern city is its ability to make waste disappear. Along with electricity, water, and the internet, sophisticated waste networks allow residents to discard or flush away any signs of urban consumption. But this may be changing. As cities increasingly face the prospect of droughts and uncertainty about future water availability due to climate change, a new source of water is now being explored that might prompt city residents to pay close attention to its origin and fate: their toilets.

Wastewater reuse – known as “reclaimed water” to proponents, and “toilet to tap” to critics – is used to augment supply in two prime water-scarce environments: spaceships and urban areas. Though resistance to wastewater reuse is mostly psychological, citizen’s disgust is balanced by three realities:

UN Panel's Recommendations for Cities as a Vehicle for Sustainable Development

Maggie Comstock's picture

Rickshaws in cityEarlier this month, the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability released a report of recommended outcomes for the Rio+20 conference in June. The report, Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing, outlines both long- and short-term goals for governments, civil society and the private sector. These recommendations address all facets of resiliency, including climatic, economic and social. Below are a few of the UN Panel’s key recommendations that align with the goals of sustainable communities, many of which are already being addressed by the green building industry.

“Cities and local communities have a major role to play in advancing a real sustainable development agenda on the ground.”

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