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The “human scale” in public urban areas

Judy Zheng Jia's picture

Slideshow: Reimagining a park, a river, and other public spaces in Seoul (Photos by Judy Zheng Jia / World Bank)

"If you lose the human scale, the city becomes an ugly place," said Joan Clos, Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT at the Habitat III Conference last month. But more than being "ugly," the lack of good public urban spaces, such as open spaces, parks, and public buildings, often contribute to low livability in many of the world's congested and polluted cities. In fact, the importance of the issue received recognition in SDG 11, Target 7, which calls for the provision of “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green, and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities,” by 2030.
 
Global experience shows that disconnected, underutilized areas in urban settings can, instead, be opened up to a variety of uses to allow for improved social inclusion, social mixing, civic participation, recreation, safety, and a sense of belonging, ultimately contributing to urban prosperity. Well-designed and well-managed public spaces also offer benefits to environmental sustainability, transport efficiency, and public health improvements, and can equally serve women, the disabled, and people of all ages.

The importance of good urban spaces was the topic of an international workshop—“Vitalizing Cities with Public Space”—held in Seoul on November 14-17, 2016 and co-hosted by the Korea Research Institute of Human Settlements and the World Bank’s Urbanscapes Group. Eight cities from around the world—Seoul, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Chongqing, Kakamega, Zanzibar, Astana, and Tashkent—participated to discuss challenges and opportunities for better urban planning and design.

What the New Urban Agenda tells us about building inclusive cities

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
 
Over a billion people—about 15% of the world’s population—have disabilities. Almost 80% of them live in the developing world, which is undergoing rapid urbanization.

While urbanization brings people closer to new economic and sociocultural opportunities, persons with disabilities still face a range of constraints in many cities, such as inaccessible buildings and public spaces, limited transportation options, inaccessible housing, and barriers in using technology-enabled virtual environments.

These urban constraints have a significant impact on those living with disabilities in terms of mobility, ability to engage in education and skills development, employability and income generation, and larger social and political participation.

Therefore, urban development must acknowledge and plan for the needs of a diverse population which includes persons with disabilities. And there is no better time than now to make that happen. 

Let’s build the infrastructure that no hurricane can erase

Luis Triveno's picture
Hati after Hurrican Matthew
Hurricane Matthew destroyed an estimated 90% of homes in Haiti's Grande Anse department. Stronger public knowledge infrastructure can help better facilitate post-disaster recovery.
(Photo: EU Delegation to the Republic of Haiti)
The news from Haiti about the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew is a familiar story: more chaos, rubble, and loss of life from another natural disaster. Though recent improvements to Haiti’s infrastructure at the local level kept the death toll at 534—3,000 died in the 2004 hurricane; more than 200,000 in the 2010 earthquake—the number is still way too high.
 
Worldwide, natural disasters claimed 1.3 million lives between 1992 and 2012, with earthquakes accounting for 60%of disaster deaths in low- and middle-income countries, where the preponderance of sub-standard housing increases the risks. Today, 1.2 billion people live in substandard housing. By 2030, this figure will almost triple.
 
The good news is that most of those deaths and property losses can be prevented. In 2003, for example, within three days of each other, earthquakes of similar magnitude struck Paso Robles, California and Bam, Iran. The death toll in Bam was 40,000—nearly half the city’s population. Two people died in Paso Robles.
 
Even when destruction does take place, proper planning and measures can ensure a speedy recovery.

Speak up, citizens of La Paz! Barrios de Verdad is listening

Zoe Elena Trohanis's picture
Also available in: Spanish
 
Residents in La Paz use mobile phones to practice submitting feedback to their municipal government via the Barrio Digital tool.
Residents in La Paz use mobile phones to practice submitting feedback to their municipal government
via the Barrio Digital tool. (Photo: Barrios de Verdad team)
Information and communication technology (ICT) has expanded the frontiers of connectivity and communication. Nowadays, we don’t think twice before ordering an Uber or using Open 311 to report an issue to our municipality. In the developing world, the impact has been even greater. For example, in Latin America and the Caribbean, cellphone coverage increased from about 12 subscriptions per 100 people in 2000 to over 114 in 2014, and local governments are getting creative in using this technology to reach out to and engage with their citizens.

The city of La Paz in Bolivia is piloting a new tool called Barrio Digital—or Digital Neighborhood—to communicate more effectively and efficiently with citizens living in areas that fall within Barrios de Verdad, or PBCV, an urban upgrading program that provides better services and living conditions to people in poor neighborhoods.

The goals of Barrio Digital are to:
  1. Increase citizen participation for evidence-based decision-making,
  2. Reduce the cost of submitting a claim and shorten the amount of time it takes for the municipality to respond, and
  3. Strengthen the technical skills and capacity within the municipality to use ICT tools for citizen engagement. 

Investing to make our cities more resilient to disasters and climate change

Joe Leitmann's picture

Urbanization comes at a price, especially in an era of climate change and increased risk of natural disasters.

Presently, the average annual loss from natural disasters in cities is estimated by the UN at over $250 billion. If cities fail to build their resilience to disasters, shocks, and ongoing stresses, this figure will rise to $314 billion by 2030, and 77 million more city dwellers will fall into poverty, according to a new World Bank/GFDRR report presented at COP22.

The good news is that we have a window of opportunity to make cities and the urban poor more resilient. Over 60% of the land projected to become urban by 2030 is yet to be developed. Additionally, cities will need to build nearly one billion new housing units by 2060 to house a growing urban population. Building climate-smart, disaster-resilient cities and housing is thus an immediate priority, especially in the developing world. 

To seize that opportunity, countries will need significant financing for infrastructure—over $4 trillion annually—and making this infrastructure low carbon and climate resilient will cost an additional $0.4 to $1.1 trillion, according to a CCFLA report.

Mobilizing private capital is the best bet for helping to close this financing gap.

Innovating with the past: How to create resilience through heritage

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Also available in: 日本語
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo by Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo: Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Bosai (防災) means disaster risk reduction or management, and it became our word of reference. As a group of professionals from disaster risk and cultural heritage management backgrounds visiting Japan, we used it in activities, as nicknames, and shouted in unison every time a group photo was taken. It represents a lesson that Japan has learned very well. Disasters have been part of the Japanese experience since the beginning of history. The Kobe Earthquake in 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 are just two recent examples of disasters from which Japan recovered under the motto “build back better.” On November 5 we will be marking the World Tsunami Awareness Day, and I cannot think of a better word than Bosai to capture its significance.

In an environment rife with natural disasters, Japan recognizes that climate change is a tangible reality that increases the intensity and frequency of these disasters. The country knows very well the threat they pose not only to its people, economy, or infrastructure, but also to its cultural heritage.

Intangible culture is equally important, especially helping people in the recovery process and ensuring that we learn from the past. Take for instance the example of ancient local knowledge used around the world, and ask yourself: are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?

Ahead of the next Habitat conference, the urban world we want

Sameh Wahba's picture


There is no better way to mark this year’s World Cities Day than reflecting on the adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the recent Habitat III conference in Quito. The agenda reaffirms the political commitment to sustainable urbanization and provides a framework to guide global urban development over the next 20 years, based on a shared vision of cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

In an era of rapid urbanization and climate change, managing urban growth sustainably and building cities that work is indeed one of our most pressing development challenges.

Already, more than half of the global population — nearly 4 billion people — live in urban areas. Two decades from now, that number will grow to 5.5 billion — more than 60 percent of the world’s population. At the same time, the total built-up area of the world’s cities is expected to be double by 2030 what it is today, if not more.

Because urban-planning decisions lock cities in for generations, what policymakers decide in these two decades will make or break cities’ sustainable future for the rest of this century. With that in mind, one may ask: What will the world look like when Habitat IV takes place in 20 years?

I can imagine two opposite ends of the spectrum.

Planting healthy air: a natural solution to address pollution and heat in cities

Robert McDonald's picture


Can nature help cities address the twin problems of air that is too dirty or too hot? Based on a new report released by The Nature Conservancy – in collaboration with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group - the answer appears to be a qualified “yes.”
 
The Planting Healthy Air report identifies the potential return on investment from tree planting in 245 global cities, which currently house about a quarter of the world’s urban population. By collecting and analyzing geospatial information on forest and land cover, particulate matter, and population density and leveraging existing literature, the study estimates the scope of current and future street trees to make urban air healthier. The benefits that trees could afford to cities will be even more crucial in the future, the study finds, as a quarter million people could die each year because of urban heat by 2050, unless cities take proactive steps to adapt to global warming.

Implementing the New Urban Agenda needs financially strong cities

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Cities around the world face increasingly complex challenges such as rapid urbanization and climate change. Meanwhile, many cities facing the most pressing problems lack sufficient funding to meet local needs. This is especially the case for developing countries, where cities require significant infrastructure investment to provide basic services to growing populations and expanding urban areas.
 
How can cities access, leverage, and manage the fiscal and financial resources required to implement the New Urban Agenda and meet the growing needs of local populations?
 
To explore this issue, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez discussed the UN Habitat III policy paper on municipal finance and local fiscal systems with Mac McCarthy, President and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
 

Investing in resilient cities can help the urban poor

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
By 2030, without efforts to boost urban resilience, climate change may push up to 77 million urban residents into poverty.
 
The good news is that the world has a brief window of opportunity to make cities more resilient to climate change, natural disasters, and other stresses, as almost 60% of the urban area that will be built by 2030 is yet to be developed.

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