As the world urbanizes, acquiring land for urban development has become a critical challenge. In China, some estimate that there are as many as 500 land-related protests, riots and strikes per day, making land acquisition one of the greatest threats to the country’s political stability. Indian policy makers are struggling to devise regulations to ease the acquisition of land for the vast amounts of infrastructure and housing the country needs, while avoiding the disruption and displacement that has gone alongside land acquisition in the past. In response to these challenges, there is a renewed interest among urban planners around the world in “land pooling and readjustment”, a mode of land acquisition for urban development. As it happens, this approach appears to have been first used by none other than George Washington, in order to assemble the land he needed to build the US capital city.
For years, the thermal energy beneath the surface of the Earth has been used for many things. Bathing, agriculture, aquaculture, industrial or heating purposes, or even to generate power; the results are often impressive. The Earth’s structure radiates a constant flow of thermal energy outwards to the crust. This phenomenon is a natural, renewable source of heat which provides a substantial contribution to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
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The wet season has already arrived in Thailand, and with it, also memories of the devastating floods that in 2011 affected more than 13 million people, left 680 dead, and caused US$46.5 billion in damages and losses. The impact of the floods on businesses and global supply chains has been well-documented with accounts making headlines throughout 2012. But how about the poor?
The flooding altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women - particularly those in already precarious situations. Two years onwards, what has changed? Having visited two slum upgrading projects in north Bangkok last month, there are insights relevant for other Asian cities grappling with rapidly growing populations, the force of natural hazards, and climatic uncertainties.
‘It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring.’ Truth be told, I apparently snore, and I suppose I’m not that young anymore. But hard to believe, I’m sure this nursery rhyme is not about me. And despite the recent Noah-like floods in Europe, Bangkok, Calgary, Dhaka, Jakarta, New York and Toronto, it’s not really about any one city, or any one country, or even any one continent. But, ‘went to bed and bumped his head. And won’t get up in the morning,’ aptly describes our current political paralysis.
Many children know this song. Soon they will learn how their grandfathers and fathers slept through the rain.
Here in troubled Toronto and gritty Calgary, there was the inevitable debate on whether or not the recent floods could be attributed to climate change. ‘If it’s this bad now, what’s the future hold?’ people wondered. ‘Sleepwalking into trouble,’ came to mind for many.
For the East Asia & Pacific Transport, Urban & Disaster Risk Management team of the World Bank, a recent study trip to New Orleans was an eye-opener about how even the richest society in the world can face challenges that are strikingly similar to those of our client countries. In a city that is famous for the excesses of the French Quarter, the opulence of the Garden District and (since that fateful August in 2005) the desolation of the Lower 9th Ward, we saw how the impacts of a disaster are made all the worse when prosperity is not shared.
Two years after Katrina, I made my first trip to New Orleans to study the reconstruction process. The Lower 9th still had mountains of debris from flattened houses on most blocks. Where houses still stood throughout the city, FEMA’s iconic Urban Search & Rescue ‘x-codes’ remained as eerie signposts on the road to recovery.
A recent learning trip to New Orleans by the East Asia and Pacific Transport, Urban and Disaster Risk Management team introduced the unique charms of this city to many of us for the first time. Anyone who has been to New Orleans will remember the city for its historic but lively French Quarter, its living jazz tradition, with bands of talented local musicians playing for tips in the narrow streets, its Mardi Gras floats, its Cajun food, the oldest continually operating streetcar system in the world, and the varied history of the city that has resulted in its distinct Creole culture. As Dave Roberts, a local tour guide, explains to tourists, this was where the classical music tradition of the French colonialists came into contact with the pulsating African rhythms of freed slaves escaping to Louisiana from Haiti. The fact that jazz music was consequently born in New Orleans “was not a coincidence,” he says. “Few things are.”
Everywhere we went in New Orleans, we heard painful stories of those who had lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But what was striking was the pride that the residents of New Orleans have in their city and their determination to rebuild it. As my colleague Artessa Saldivar-Sali describes, city officials and the US Army Corps of Engineers have dedicated themselves to strengthening the city’s defenses in order to ensure that the next time the city is hit, it is better prepared. Well-educated New Orleanians and outsiders have come to work at the city redevelopment authority, the disaster preparedness agency, and community-based affordable housing organizations. These are people who could easily abandon New Orleans for well-paid private sector jobs in other US cities but who have chosen instead to use their talents in aid of the poor and vulnerable and towards the greater good of their city.
On April 19th, the Annual Regional Assembly of the Regional Planning Association (RPA) of New York looked some what different. In the audience were representatives from 10 cities and World Bank staff. RPA was launching the 4th Regional Plan for the New York region, and other cities were there to listen, learn and bring their own experience to the table. Why metropolitan planning and why New York? What brought this group together and how does peer-to-peer learning bring a new dimension to the process of learning? How does it influence better outcomes and a rich iterative process of evidenced based learning? Let’s start at the very beginning.
If you could have just one wish, would you choose to solve climate change or energy poverty?
Resolving these two calamities is fundamental to the wellbeing of the planet and people. Climate change is caused mainly by the consumption of energy and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Energy poverty is the lack of access to modern energy services. Helping 1.3 billion people access electricity and 2.6 billion people to have clean cooking facilities will greatly increase the world’s energy consumption and resulting GHG emissions. Spending money to mitigate climate change uses valuable resources that could more directly benefit the poor who have so little energy and such unhealthy cooking facilities. How do we address both energy poverty and climate change? This is as much an ethical dilemma as a technological challenge.
New fracking practices have increased the availability and decreased the cost of natural gas. This is having an enormous impact on energy systems around the world. There are numerous potential applications for natural gas including, but not limited to, use for transportation fuel, residential use, and electricity generation. Since the economic potential of exploiting this resource is so large it is likely that Canada, along with the US, will continue to ‘frack it all’ and reap the economic benefits on the global market. Other countries like China are joining in as well.
The largest increase in use of natural gas is for electricity generation. Natural gas fired power plants are appealing for many reasons. They can supply reliable base-load as well as peaking power. Also, they can be planned and built in less time than say, nuclear power stations, and for lower capital cost. Since fuel is available and cheap, natural gas power plants will continue to be built, and existing plants will continue to operate.
A Bus Rapid Transit – BRT – system is coming to Washington, DC in the spring of 2014. The proposed corridor will connect Crystal City in Arlington with the Potomac Yard in Alexandria.
This is good news for DC residents, who are currently dealing with the worst traffic in the country. DC commuters lose an average of 67 hours per year because of congestion, resulting in an additional 32 gallons per year per commuter of gasoline wasted.
BRT systems address traffic problems by creating dedicated lanes for buses. As shown in the above photo of Delhi, cars are physically restricted from bus lanes. This allows buses to travel faster than cars, making them a more attractive transport option for commuters and reducing car usage. Basically, a BRT is an aboveground subway, except that it costs 1/10th the price.