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Urban Development

Boys and their Toys – Building Better Cities

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Niagra Falls, North America

Caution – this blog is almost as long as the soon-to-be commissioned Niagara Tunnel.

Often I can hide it – posing maybe as an economist, risk manager, a finance-guy, public-policy wonk; I’ve even once been complimented as an urban planner. But every now and then I revert to form and it slips out that I’m an engineer. This week was a classic – a ‘boy and his toys,’ my wife warned.

I went to Niagara Falls not to see the falls, or visit the casino, but to tour Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Niagara Tunnel and Adam Beck Hydroelectric Power Station! Well worth a ‘!’ as getting to visit these two big civil engineering works was a bit like Christmas coming early; and they provide important lessons.

A city by any other ranking

Debra Lam's picture

"Best of the Year" awardIn September, U.S. News and World Report released its annual college ranking (Princeton and Harvard share the number 1 spot) just as millions of high schools students begin the college application process. Indeed, the U.S. News rankings have become a major source for how prospective applicants and their families view colleges. In response, colleges set their policies to cater to U.S. News’ methodology. Similarly, cities, voluntarily or not, have recently gone through a slew of rankings and indices to showcase the ‘best’.

The Economist Intelligence Unit tracks 140 global cities across 30 indicators in five categories of stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure1. Mercer’s Quality of Life index tracks 221 global cities, using New York City as the base city2. This is not to be confused with Moncle’s Quality of Life survey, which ranks the top 25 global cities3.

A Crystal Clear Business Case for Cities

Dan Hoornweg's picture

The new Siemens Crystal, the world’s first center dedicated to improving our knowledge of urban sustainability

The next time you’re in London be sure to visit the new Siemens Crystal. The Crystal opened to fanfare and urban guru accolades a couple weeks ago. The 30 million pound, 6000 square meters building is on the east bank of the Thames (a short walk from the Royal Victoria DLR stop). The building is divided into two parts, an exhibition and meeting place on cities and headquarters for up to 100 London-based Siemens staff working in the urban sector and external cities experts. Siemens has plans to build similar, albeit smaller, competence centers for cities in Washington, DC and Shanghai.

The End of Men: And the Rise of “Men”-tors

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture

Penguins in AntarcticaAs a (somewhat) young, professional woman, Dan Hoornweg’s latest blog resonated with me.  On particularly difficult days, unsure of how to find my place in the world, I have to remind myself just how lucky I am to have what I call “Men”-tors to help me navigate this maze of possibilities.  For better or for worse, I have had 2 male research advisors, and 6 male bosses — most of whom pushed me to stretch further than I ever thought I could, and who happily enable me to set my sights on the next challenge.

My personal numbers also include: 

  • one accomplished husband, who cheered me on as I spent the better part of our year-long engagement halfway around the world to work for the Philippine Government; 
  • a father (and mother!) who groomed me all of my life to take over his work — and then watched me fly away to Washington DC to pursue my own dream of working in international development; and 
  • a string of (male) mentors (guilty as charged, I was one of the 17 women on Dan’s running tally of junior staff). 

The End of Men: And the Peril of Cities

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Men at Work signThere’s been lots of talk lately on Hanna Rosin’s new book, ‘The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.” In it she outlines the long decline of ‘cardboard’ men and the steady rise of ‘plastic’ and adaptable women.

In the US, for example, for every two men who will get a bachelor’s degree this year, three women will graduate. In 1950, 1-in-20 men in their prime were not working; today it’s 1-in-5. A young black man in the US has roughly an equal chance of ending up in prison or college. In almost all countries young men are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women, and in many countries suicide is the second leading cause of death for young men; second only to accidental deaths1.

The recent economic slow-down has been disproportionately hard on men around the world, and of the 15 job categories expected to grow fastest in the future, women mainly staff 132.

Our Cities Will Define Our Future

Dan Hoornweg's picture

After the post was vacant for more than a year, Jennifer Keesmaat started this month as the Chief Planner for the City of Toronto. One of the first things she did was write an excellent article in the local newspaper arguing ‘our cities will define our future’. She makes the case for Toronto – but the same argument can be made globally and even more strongly for cities like Jakarta, Lagos, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Nanjing and Kunming. We are truly in the thick of the Urban Century; we are building cities at a faster rate than ever before, and increasingly these cities are defining our and our children’s future.

Cities and International Negotiations

Dan Hoornweg's picture

A few weeks ago I attended an IPCC1 Fifth Assessment Working Group expert review meeting for the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) (WG III – Mitigation: the ‘first order draft’ is now being reviewed with the final report to be published in 2014). This meeting was a typical collection of about 100 climate researchers from around the world, this time, conveniently in Washington, DC. The overall Assessment Report process involves about 30 to 40 such meetings around the world per year. Part of their function is for the Assessment Reports to feed into the UNFCCC negotiation process.

Rio+20 MeetingDespite its challenges, complexities and occasional politicization, the IPCC is a wonderful idea. Credible researchers, no-matter where they live or work, are asked to contribute to a body of science larger than any one country, company or agency. Any city should feel proud to have an employee participating in an IPCC review.

Three Wise Women Design the Perfect City

Dan Hoornweg's picture



There is no such thing as a free dessert.   At a recent dinner party all guests had to declare a favorite city before the cheese cake and coffee.  With time running out I hastily picked São Paulo (see past blog).  Not at the dinner, but with me during my last visit to São Paulo, Abha, Alexandra and Judy were quick to send comments, questioning my choice of São Paulo and offering thoughts on alternative favorites.

Similar to how Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible City’ reveals 55 views of cities through a conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, here with input from the three wise women, and others who responded to the blog, the celebration of cities continues.

How Tweet it is: Metro Manilans rise above the floods with Information and Communication Technology

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture



After reading a World Bank publication about leveraging ICT for development, I wondered how Manilenos used their social networks to remain resilient to the devastating floods of the past weeks. In a country with a per capita income that is only 56% of the East Asia & Pacific regional average, the data for ICT penetration is astounding (although anybody who knows how popular SMS is in the Philippines might not be surprised):

My curiosity piqued, and wanting to find out how my friends were holding up, I set up a (highly unscientific) poll of my Facebook network to find out how social media, mobile communication, and ICT are used by Metro Manilans during disasters.  The following are just a few examples of the answers:

A Renewed Commitment to Buildings and their Social Benefits

Maggie Comstock's picture

Rio+20 LogoAs the dust settles from Rio+20, I finally have a moment to reflect upon the outcomes of the historic Earth Summit Conference. The non-committal nature of the Rio text was a surprise to no one, yet the identification of buildings as an important strategy for the development of sustainable cities and urban infrastructure was still a “win” for the green building movement. Energy efficiency was also recognized as a strategy for combating climate change within both the developed and developing world. Our leaders’ acknowledgement of the role of the buildings sector in sustainable development is a testament to the benefits of green building that go beyond protecting the environment, as outlined in the United Nations Environment Programme Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative’s new report, "Building Design and Construction: Forging Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Development."

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