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Urban Development

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."

For Cities: To Be [DENSE] or Not to Be [DENSE], That Is [NOT] the Question

Rana Amirtahmasebi's picture

A paper, called Growing Cities Sustainably, was recently published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, which generated much debate on the benefits and disadvantages of the “compact” city model. The paper argues that for three studied regions in Britain, the current policy trend of promoting compact cities is actually economically and environmentally unsustainable. Britain has been very successful in implementing anti-sprawl policies, starting with the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. The new paper compares the compaction model with planned expansion models in three urban regions and concludes “Smart growth principles should not unquestioningly promote increasing levels of compaction. In many cases, the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.”

My Favorite City. There, I Picked One.

Dan Hoornweg's picture

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Sao Paulo Skyline

Anyone with more than one child knows never to answer the question ‘who’s your favorite?’.  Professionals working with cities should also heed that advice. But I was at a dinner party last week and our host demanded we pick a favorite city. “No dessert and no one leaves the table without picking a favorite city,” she insisted.

Toronto, my hometown, certainly has all the necessary ingredients to be among the world’s best, but it is not living up to its potential, yet. Montreal and Vancouver are great Canadian cities, and Calgary and Edmonton are solid innovators. Winnipeg has IISD, a great world-class organization, and good canoeing near-by, but too many mosquitos and long winters.

Summerlicious and the Resilience of Cities

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Cafe PleiadeAnyone who’s ever been knocked down knows that getting back up can be hard. The 10th Anniversary of Toronto’s ‘Summerlicious’ festival last weekend is a great example of how a city picked itself up after a solid blow.  

During Summerlicious (and its seasonal twin, ‘Winterlicious’), restaurants offer two weeks of enticing prix fixe lunches and dinners.  The festival, which originally started with 35 high-end restaurants, had more than 180 restaurants participating this year. The restaurant special helped the city recover from the precipitous drop in tourism when Toronto was hit by SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in April 2003.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — Call Me Maybe

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie posterWow, Carly Rae Jepsen is Canadian. I had no idea. Ya, ya, my daughters are quick to remind me that I’m not the most up-to-date pop-culture aficionado, but I learned the other night on ABC news that Jepsen is Canadian. And that her catchy, upbeat song — Call Me Maybe — seems to be sticking like bubble gum in everyone’s mind these last few weeks. ABC News nominated her as ‘entertainer of the week’.

Welcoming foreigners and foreign influences into your home (even if they are Canadian) is never easy. For example, the same ABC newscast was aghast about how this year’s US Olympic uniforms are made in China. About a half-dozen US companies were surveyed, and of course all agreed they could quickly make the uniforms in time for the Olympics. None mentioned, however, that they would likely be more expensive than making them in China.

What Katherine Boo’s book tells us about the modern city: garbage has more mobility than citizens do

Sintana Vergara's picture


Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo. Random House, 2012.

Mumbai Slum, Girl on SwingKatherine Boo’s book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” digs deep into life in a Mumbai undercity. The author escapes the dichotomies that roll off our tongues when we speak of places that are replete with disparity; instead she spends seven years interviewing and observing, and brings us a story of life, hope, and despair in Annawadi, a slum precariously perched between an international airport and a sewage pond. What emerges is a sensitive, careful, complex portrait of characters that use the means at their disposal – hard work, political connections, lies, or prayers – to climb over the high walls that separate their city from the rest of Mumbai.

Using trash as a thread to tell the story, Boo illustrates both the feudal nature of life in Annawadi and the absolute segregation – the boundaries, to use Richard Sennett’s term – between the slum residents and those who live on the other side of the great big wall dividing the slum from the international airport. The narration is centered on Abdul and his family, who make money by selling recyclable materials from the city’s garbage. Their relative wealth has afforded them a position above the trash pickers’ – they own a small storage facility that allows them to purchase waste from collectors and sell it to waste dealers.

A New York Minute

Dan Hoornweg's picture

New York City skyline

I never thought I’d say this but I disagree with David Letterman. He loves to lampoon the closing of Broadway in certain places for a pedestrian walkway and a tree or two. I’m now sitting on Broadway between West 34th and 35th Streets, coffee in hand, and my great MacBook Air – there’s even free wireless. The Macy’s on the corner is under renovation and promises to open anew as ‘the world’s largest store’ (hmm, I’ve seen that claim before). The weather is gorgeous; people are flowing by like a rushing river, and I have a couple of hours before my train leaves for DC.

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