The Dhaka Metropolitan Area is the economic and political center of Bangladesh and has been the country’s engine of economic growth and job creation. This has contributed to Bangladesh having one of the fastest rates of urbanization in South Asia.
Today, more than one-third of Bangladesh’s urban population lives in Dhaka, one of the world’s most densely populated cities with 440 persons per hectare – denser than Mumbai (310), Hong Kong, and Karachi (both 270).
Dhaka is also one of the least livable cities in the world. It is ranked 137 on livability out of 140 cities, the lowest for any South Asian city surveyed. The low livability in Dhaka disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, such as the poor, women, and the elderly.
A stage is now ready for public urban spaces.
For instance, UN Women launched the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces report, which enhanced public spaces designs with better lighting and CCTVs to prevent and respond to sexual violence against women. There are more onboard, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on sustainable forestry and the World Health Organization (WHO) on green spaces and health. The World Bank has also committed to enhancing public spaces across cities including Karachi, Chongqing, and Dhaka.
To realize these collective efforts, better measurement tools are vital to follow up with evidence-based approaches. On July 11th, 2018, UN-HABITAT and ISOCARP held a side event during the High-Level Political Forum at the UN, titled “Quantifying the Commons.” While speakers from various organizations including the World Bank presented their works, three key questions were raised regarding our future steps:
As UN-Habitat’s Charter of Public Space states, public spaces are a key element of individual and social well-being, the places of a community’s collective life, particularly in situations of poverty and limited public resources, such as those in the developing countries. The Charter also highlights that participation of citizens and in particular of communities of residents is of crucial importance for the maintenance and management of public spaces. While there might be no objection to this statement, it is also true that it has been easily overlooked, especially in developing countries, for the sake of “economic efficiency.”
This connection is twofold; it refers to the relationship between cities and their waterfronts – as ever-changing as cities themselves.
Evolving from its past definition during the industrial era as a city’s service yard, the urban waterfront has, in recent decades, taken on new meanings.
On one hand, of a city or even reshaping a city’s identity.
On the other hand, successful urban waterfronts have also demonstrated how city resources – such as available land, cleaner water, historic preservation, and urban revitalization – can be unlocked and realized, and how these elements can be integrated into the city and public life.
[Read: Regenerating Urban Land: A Practitioner's Guide to Leveraging Private Investment]
In dense built-up cities like Karachi, Pakistan, public spaces are even more important. These are areas of respite and recreation from the stress of city life. They are also social and cultural spaces where livelihoods and businesses are conducted, especially for the urban poor. Public open spaces in Karachi have suffered from rapid urban growth:
- The total share of green space detectable in satellite imagery has fallen from 4.6% in 2001 to 3.7% in 2013.
- Large tracts of vacant land in prime areas in the city center are closed off to the public and neglected.
- Twelve square kilometers of prime waterfront area, often a valuable public asset in other cities, is still mostly undeveloped more than 10 years after the roads were built.
- Many sidewalks in the main commercial areas and busy corridors are broken down, converted to unregulated parking areas, or used for dumping trash—to the detriment of pedestrian safety and public health.
- In a focus group, women also remarked on the lack of safe playgrounds or other recreational facilities for children.
Here is my colleague, Sohaib Athar talking about #Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Project: https://t.co/s1BTsv9hst
Beyond the investments in the physical space and urban design, a key design feature of KNIP is its emphasis on active and sustained engagement with the residents of Karachi. The project aims to use a participatory planning process to identify, prioritize, and design highly impactful enhancements to public areas such as sidewalks, open spaces and green spaces, and public buildings. While the exact nature of investments will be determined through community consultations, they may include safety features for pedestrians and other non-motorized transportation, accessibility and mobility improvements close to commercial areas and planned transit stations, new or upgraded neighborhood parks and playgrounds, infrastructure to foster safe and vibrant street activity (kiosks for vendors, tables and seating, temporary street closures for festivals, etc.), measures to address traffic congestion and parking, and improved municipal services in public areas (street lighting, garbage collection, drainage, etc.).
KNIP is intended to be an entry point to showcase the value of participatory planning and inclusive urban design, as the first step in a longer-term strategy for city transformation and rejuvenation. Building confidence and inclusiveness in city management is critical to ensure the success of deeper institutional reforms and larger infrastructure investment programs down the road. KNIP is expected to help lay the foundation for a multi-year partnership between the World Bank Group and the local and provincial governments focused on inclusivity, livability, and prosperity. To this end, KNIP will also support the creation of a Karachi Transformation Steering Committee (KTSC), comprised of elected officials, government representatives, business leaders, community stakeholders and NGOs representing various public interests. KTSC’s mandate is to develop a shared vision for Karachi’s transformation and a roadmap to achieve that vision in an inclusive way.
On the ground, it is not too difficult to see why this is so. More than 40% of residents rely on public transport, but with 45 residents competing for one bus seat, travel within the city is difficult. Water supply is highly irregular, and rationing is widespread. The availability of water ranges from four hours per day to two hours every other day. Many households rely on private vendors who sell water from tankers at high prices. The sewage network has not been well maintained since the 1960s, and all three existing treatment plants are dysfunctional. Industrial waste, which contains hazardous materials and heavy oils, is dumped directly into the sea untreated. Of the 12,000 tons of municipal solid waste generated each day, 60% never reaches a dumpsite; 80% of medical waste is not disposed of properly.
[Download report: Transforming Karachi into a Livable and Competitive Megacity]
When a family of 10 smooth-coated otters appeared in Singapore’s urban downtown of Marina Bay last year, the city was ablaze with excitement and delight. Who would have thought that these otters would make a dense urban environment like Singapore home? After all, otters were thought to have vanished in the 1970s as Singapore rapidly developed into a dense metropolis.
Was this a fad? Probably. Was this a big deal? Absolutely. In a small city-state where land is considered a scarce resource, This was not the case in Singapore. Between 1986 and 2010, as Singapore’s urban population doubled from 2.7 to 5 million, its green cover also increased from 36% to 50%, all within the confines of just 710 square kilometers. The increase in green cover in urbanized Singapore was seen as a sign that the efforts by the urban planning agency, parks and water management boards had paid off, and a testament that the natural environment could be indeed be integrated effectively into the urban fabric of the city.
Today is World Environment Day. This year, it celebrates the theme of “connecting people to nature,” and invites us to think about how we are part of nature—and how intimately we depend on it.
- New Urban Agenda
- Global Goals
- sustainable development goals
- public space
- urban design
- urban planning
- Sustainable Communities
- Urban Development
- Climate Change
- East Asia and Pacific
- World Environment Day
Slideshow: Reimagining a park, a river, and other public spaces in Seoul (Photos by Judy Zheng Jia / World Bank)
, 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, 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.
- New Urban Agenda
- Habitat III
- buenos aires
- Social Inclusion
- Sustainable Development
- Sustainable Communities
- Urban Development
- Social Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
- East Asia and Pacific
- Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
The global conversation about urban sustainability focuses primarily on the big picture: how to reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of cities? How can we provide the infrastructure and services necessary to meet the needs of a soaring urban population? How can cities create enough jobs for everyone?
These issues are critically important, no doubt. But what about the city itself as a physical space? What should a sustainable city "look like"? Are there any big design principles that all successful urban planners should follow?
Because urbanization is often a chaotic process, many countries feel like they don't have the time or resources to address those questions. Yet evidence has shown that considerations about urban form and design are anything but cosmetic: creating vibrant public spaces within a city, for instance, can boost competitiveness, improve health outcomes, and strengthen social cohesion.
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Jon Kher Kaw delve deeper into the linkages between urban spaces and sustainability, and describe the many benefits that come with a well-designed city.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
I’m not an urban planner nor an architect. I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist either. But based on my personal experience, I can tell why public spaces are important in people’s lives. Just close your eyes for a second and think about your favorite public space. What do you like to do over there most? Why do you think you love it there?
I like them because they provide green breather spaces in the city and provide a place for recreation, enjoyment and a sense of belonging.
However, after hearing from many prominent urban development experts at a recent World Bank-led “Urbanscapes Symposium”, I quickly realized that public spaces are more than this. It was striking to me to see and learn that, for others, public spaces are places where livelihoods are conducted and are essential spaces for social interaction, especially for the poor.
In that respect, providing people with new public spaces, where they can feel invited, welcome and safe, can encourage them to spend more time outside and foster interaction among lower income communities.
It should come as no surprise, then, that planning standards recommend devoting 15-20 % of land in cities to public open space… Yet most cities are falling short of that goal: in the United States, for instance, 75% of the 100 largest cities do not meet that requirement.
So how can we work with cities to help them create a better urban environment and leverage the potential of public spaces?