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Urban Development

How Latin America’s housing policies are changing the lives of urban families

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo: Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock
In an effort to harness the benefits of urbanization and improve the living conditions of the urban poor, Latin American countries have experimented with housing subsidies. Now that the region has several decades of experience under its belt, it is time to look back and ask: Have subsidies worked? What kind of impact have they had on the lives of lower-income residents? Moving forward, how can cities pay for ongoing urban renewal?

To address those questions and share their experiences, officials in charge of designing and implementing national housing policies in eight countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru) recently met in Washington DC, along with representatives from the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Urban Institute, and Wharton's International Housing Finance Program.

Learning to leverage climate action in cities

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture
All climate action is ultimately local. At the center of this is city leadership and engaged citizens. It is estimated that cities are responsible for 2/3 of global energy consumption and produce 80 % of the world’s GDP. Density creates the possibility of doing more with less, and with a smaller carbon footprint. While urban areas are responsible for more than 70 % of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, it is cities that can make a difference by effectively tackling climate change. We often find that cities lead the way on climate action against the inertia of national governments.
 
We already see a large number of cities taking the lead in sustainability through innovative financing mechanisms, technological advances, policy and regulatory reforms, efficient use of land and transport, waste reduction, energy efficiency measures, and reduction of GHG emissions.
 
What is needed now for scaling this up is systematic knowledge exchange and learning among cities. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool once contextualized and adapted to the particular socio-economic and political context. Iterative learning with feedback loops can help in finding transformative solutions.

Singapore Hub gives cities a chance to "learn from the best"

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Despite limited resources, Singapore has defied the odds to become a high-income nation as well as a global trade and financial center - all in just a few decades. The city is also hailed as model of sustainable urban development, consistently receiving high praise for its high-quality infrastructure, reliable mass transit system, and abundance of green spaces.
 
Inspired by Singapore's successful and forward-thinking vision, the World Bank chose the city-state as the site for its first Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub. Aside from traditional lending and technical support to client countries, the Singapore Hub has been designed to facilitate knowledge exchange between Singapore and other countries on issues relating to urban planning and management.
 
Jordan Schwartz, its Director, tells us more about the role of the Singapore Hub as a global knowledge platform for sustainable urban development.

How can we help countries share their own development knowledge? Insights from Japan

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
To help clients achieve their development objectives, the World Bank has established knowledge-sharing "hubs" in countries that have gained valuable experience from dealing with their own challenges. That is the rationale behind the creation of a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Hub and Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) in Japan, a country that has developed unparalleled expertise in disaster resilience, quality infrastructure, and sustainable urban development. In this video, Keiko Sakoda Kaneda (DRM Hub) and Daniel Levine (TDLC) elaborate on some of the key elements of their work program, and explain how they collaborate with development partners from around the world.

Using green infrastructure to control urban floods: a win-win for cities

Zuzana Stanton-Geddes's picture
Photo: Eugene Phoen/Flickr
Photo: Eugene Phoen/Flickr

We have all come across people whose homes have beautiful and always blooming plants and flowers – people with a so-called “green thumb”.

But did you know that cities too can have a “green thumb”? Singapore is certainly one of those cities. 

Also known as the "garden city”, Singapore is set to become a "city in a garden”. The abundance of greenery is a striking feature, with parks, green roofs, street side plants, and trees on every corner.

But greenery is not there just to please the eye and create livable public areas — it also helps mitigate the risk of flooding.


Singapore, like many other densely-populated cities, is at risk of flooding. One way to tackle this is by greening public spaces and encouraging private development to follow the principles of the government’s flagship “ABC” program, which looks to make water “Active, Beautiful and Clean”. Carefully planned and implemented, investments in so-called “green infrastructure” are paying off: they make the city more resilient and more sustainable in the long-term, and also create more spaces for people to meet and interact.

Although Singapore’s dedication to greening public spaces is remarkable, it is not the only city that is getting its hands “dirty” to promote natural ecosystems. The Netherlands has been promoting green approaches in urban planning for many years now, with the innovative redesign of sewer systems, or the creation of multi-functional “water squares” which can hold storm water when rain is heavy while otherwise serving as a social space.

What Vietnam can learn from Singapore about flood risk management

Linh X. Le's picture
Overview of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Singapore. Photo: Stefan/Flickr
As Vietnamese, we look very fondly to Singapore as a model for development in the region, especially fostered by a close relationship between Vietnamese leaders and the former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew—Singapore's founder and mastermind behind all its modern-day achievements. Singapore represents modernity and civilization, notably with limited natural resources. The city-state has proved an applicable model of development for cities in Vietnam to achieve not only competitiveness but also sustainability and inclusiveness.
 
I just returned to Vietnam after attending the World Bank’s first-ever Urban Week in Singapore, a series of events that brought together city leaders from across Asia and beyond to explore innovative approaches to urban planning and management.
 
A topic that cut across all these areas is flood risk management, which was featured extensively during the launch event of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities. I had the opportunity to learn more about the role of green mitigation infrastructure in integrated urban flood risk management, with lessons from Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Senegal, and the Netherlands. In these countries, green structures such as retarding basins, permeable pavement, and rainwater storage or infiltration trench have complemented conventional structural measures to reduce flood risk in a cost-effective manner.
 

A new platform to put cities at the core of sustainable development

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Urban areas will play a critical role in achieving sustainable development and combating climate change. Many cities have already taken bold steps to reduce their environmental footprint, and have often been able to do so much more quickly and pro-actively than their national governments.
 
Based on the premise that greener cities are the key to a more sustainable future, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility launched the new Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) earlier this month in Singapore. The new platform will help mobilize funding for urban sustainability programs, while also facilitating knowledge exchange between cities.
 
Thanks to this innovative approach that closely connects finance to knowledge, the GPSC will be uniquely positioned to make cities the driving force of sustainable development.

Singapore: The Pelé of urban design

Abhas Jha's picture

Photo: Nicolas Lannuzel/Flickr
Who is the best soccer player of all time? A Google search will offer this name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, popularly known as Pelé. Kicking off in 1958 as a 17 year old World Cup winner, Pele bookmarked his brilliant career a dozen years later with another World Cup triumph for Brazil. 
 
I like to think of Singapore as the Pelé of urban design. The city regularly appears in the top ranks of globally livableconnected and competitive cities. Pelé once famously said, "Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do”. There is no doubt that Singapore’s accomplishments have been made possible by the hard work, perseverance and far-sightedness of its policy makers.
 
2013 speech by Peter Ho, Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, outlines the careful thought, planning and attention to detail behind Singapore’s urban policy, particularly the decisions, influence and foresight of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew over the decades of development. One astonishing success has been the provision of affordable housing and the care with which each neighborhood has been designed, taking care of the smallest details, in order to ensure social cohesion and a sense of community. These details include provisions for hawker centers and high quality public green spaces.

Resilient Communities: What does it take to curb violence in cities?

Paula Rossiasco's picture

Photo: Make Noise not Art/Flickr
Almost five years ago in a discussion with urban experts from several Latin American and African countries, an important question was asked: how do we curb increasing levels of crime and violence in some of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world?
 
To explore this query, we embarked on a cross-country analysis of cities in West, Central and East Africa, seeking to not only better our understanding of urban fragility, crime, and violence, but also identify critical entry points to curb the challenges we would find. In the report Urban Fragility and Violence in Africa: A Cross-country Analysis, we explored one of the most recently relevant but less explored dimensions of fragility and violence in Africa: urbanization.
 
The world is urbanizing at staggering, unprecedented rates. By 2014, 54% of the world’s population was residing in urban areas. This number is projected to grow to 66% by 2050. Today’s large cities are concentrated in developing countries, with medium-sized African and Asian cities as the fastest growing urban agglomerations. People migrate fervently to urban areas with hopes of higher per capita incomes, increased employment levels, improved living conditions and well-being, and better chances to integrate into the national territorial economy.
 
Unfortunately, this promise has yet to be fulfilled in many cities. Often, the urbanization process is poorly managed and the mismatch between the growing number of migrants and the institutional and infrastructural capacity of cities is large. Experts argue that “the pace of urbanization, together with its sheer scale, is likely to stress national and urban institutions in many developing countries to their breaking point."

To grow sustainably, cities first need to get their finances right

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Local and municipal governments often operate with limited financial resources, yet they are responsible for delivering an ever-expanding range of infrastructure and services. In many countries, decentralization also tends to put additional pressure on municipal finances, as cities and towns are increasingly expected to take the lead in implementing national policies locally. Yet, this transfer of responsibilities from the national to the local level often does not come with an adequate transfer of resources.
 
In other words, cities are expected to "do more with less"... This can only happen if local government practitioners have the right tools and knowledge to manage their resources as strategically and efficiently as possible. To help cities get their financial house in order, the World Bank has developed the Municipal Finances Handbook (available in English and Spanish), which provides government officials with extensive guidance on controlling expenditures, strengthening revenues, mobilizing external funds, achieving creditworthiness, and adopting good borrowing practices.
 
Lead Urban Specialist Catherine Farvacque-Vitkovic tells us more about the handbook and the associated e-learning course: “Municipal Finances - A Learning Program for Local Governments”.
 
Please note the next edition of our online course will run from March 30 - May 23, 2016. Click here to learn more and sign up (registration ends March 30).

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