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Cities: The Drivers of Sustainable Human Development and Prosperity

Maggie Comstock's picture

People walking through city street

While green buildings, by their most obvious definition, address environmental impacts, they also have wide implications for human health, safety and productivity. Well-ventilated green schools can reduce instances of asthma in students. Green offices with day lit spaces boost employee productivity and attendance. Patients heal faster in green hospitals with views to nature.

The Utilities of Cities

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Operations Center, Rio de JaneiroThe care and feeding of cities is likely the world’s largest business; it’s certainly one of the fastest growing. With an additional 2.5 billion people headed to cities in the next 30 years, providing these ‘customers’ with energy, water, transportation and waste management is critical for local government, as well as a huge opportunity for the private sector. Utilities are big business.

The next five to ten years will see enormous change in the utility sector. How services are combined – does it make sense to have the same utility supply communications infrastructure along with electricity, gas and lights and water supply? How much of a ‘foreign’ company will be allowed to provide local services? What is the best mix of public private partnerships? How will improved efficiencies be measured and rewarded contractually? How can ICT be used more effectively in improved service delivery in the more basic services like water, waste and district heating? How do utilities facilitate services to the urban poor?

Hazards, vulnerabilities, and exposures… Oh my

Debra Lam's picture

Hurricane Sandy satellite image over CaribbeanAs the East Coast USA deals with Hurricane Sandy, aka “Frankenstorm”, and Hawaii breathes a sigh of relief at a downgraded tsunami, we are again reminded of the immediate and long-term socio-economic destruction of natural disasters. Hurricane Sandy has resulted in school and public transportation closures, flight cancellations, area evacuations, and even modified Presidential campaign schedules. New York Mayor Bloomberg urged residents to cooperate, “if you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you. This is a serious and dangerous storm.”1

Ground zero for natural disasters lies not in the US, however, but in the Asia Pacific Region. Last week, UN ESCAP/UNISDR released the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2012, ‘Reducing Vulnerability and Exposure to Disasters’. In the year 2011 alone, Asia Pacific represented:

  • 80% (US$ 294/366.1 billion) of the annual global disaster losses 
  • Half of the most costly natural disaster events

Preparing Cities for Climate Change – Initial Lessons from Sandy

Ming Zhang's picture

NYC subway station damaged by seawater flooding during Hurricane SandyNew York City has been a global leader in proactively planning and preparing for climate change under Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s civic leaders. PlanNYC sets out clear goals and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30% and to increase the resilience of our communities, natural systems, and infrastructure to climate risks. It already started the process of adapting to climate change, including elevating infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plant, and expanding “green infrastructure” like marshes along the coast to buffer and limit flooding impacts.

But the events triggered by the unprecedented hurricane Sandy haven shown that what has been done is still not sufficient. What can we learn from the disaster? There will be a lot of valuable lessons coming out in the months ahead, as emergency responses are still ongoing and reconstruction are yet to start. Here are three early lessons:

Shades of Green Cities

Yue Li's picture

Seoul, KoreaWhen it comes to urban development, “green” has become the buzzword. Among the public, “green” is often understood to be synonymous with reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In policymaking, “green” has much broader implications. It can range from preventing, treating, and abating pollution, to preserving and restoring environmental quality. It may simply be providing basic urban services which improve the cleanliness of streets. Apparently, there are different shades of “green” — we could define interventions targeting global public goods as dark green and those focusing more on local public goods as light green. Among them, what is the right one for South Asian cities?

Practitioners and government officials from the region had intensive discussions on this question throughout a recent workshop on urbanization in Korea, organized by the World Bank in collaboration with the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Dan Hoornweg's picture

In 1967 Montreal hosted the World Expo in a massive 100-year old birthday party for Canada. Festivities were grand and the future seemed bright, but a slow decline had already set in. The Montreal Olympics of 1976 were also not enough to offset the forces of Quebec separatism. From a full third of Canada’s population in 1951 to less than one-quarter in 2011, Quebec’s separatist aspirations have had an economic cost on the Province, especially on the city of Montreal. Montreal is certainly still a great city, but the odds of it ever again becoming Canada’s financial center or largest city are remote, especially after last month’s election victory by the Quebec Sovereigntist party.

CycLOUvia — creatively returning the streets to the people

Debra Lam's picture

CycLOUvia Street SceneBardstown Road is one of the busiest streets in Louisville, Kentucky. It is lined with restaurants, shops, and bars, and often filled with traffic. But this past Sunday for four hours, three miles of the road was closed to cars. Instead, pedestrians and cyclists hit the streets in a free, public event called CycLOUvia. CycLOUvia invited residents to “human-powered Bardstown Road,” advocating, “life at five miles per hour can be much more of a rush than speeding along at 35 miles per hour”. The event was part of Kentucky’s 2nd Sunday Open Streets (2S) initiative as a response to the state’s high obesity rates and designed to encourage communities to engage in more forms of physical activity in the urban space.

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.

World Green Building Week 2012: USGBC Focuses on Resilient Buildings as Key to Protecting our Future

Maggie Comstock's picture

Panel from “Cities and Climate Change Adaptation: What We Can Learn About Resilience from Those Living on the Edge", September 2012

On Monday, Sept. 17, a chorus of voices from around the world spoke out in support of “Green Buildings for Great Communities,” the theme of this year’s World Green Building Week, hosted by World Green Building Council. Green building councils from 90 nations organized hundreds of events to educate the public about the health, environmental and economic benefits of sustainable design and construction.

CHF International (Cooperative Housing Foundation), which serves millions of people in low- and moderate-income communities around the world, hosted a panel in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) called “Cities and Climate Change Adaptation: What We Can Learn About Resilience from Those Living on the Edge.” The panel featured Judy Baker, lead economist in the Urban Practice at the World Bank Institute; Brian English, director of program innovation for CHF International; Aram Khachadurian, an international development consultant; Helen Santiago Fink, urban climate change advisor for USAID; and Janice Perlman, an independent scholar, teacher and consultant, who discussed resiliency in the built environment and its role in addressing the plight of the urban poor.

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