As China transitions from pursuing high-speed growth at any cost to a growth model that focuses on sustainability, inclusivity, and efficiency, cities like Chongqing are a critical part of this new urbanization strategy.
Close to 90% of this increase will take place in Asia and Africa. While this bodes well for economic agglomerations, many cities are constrained by livability. Pressure on land resources and urban space is immense in Asia and Africa, with high population densities, leading to congestion, low-quality urban environment, pollution, and low safety.
The core long-term solution to such challenges requires land use and physical planning at different scales, from the national level to the metropolitan, city, neighborhood, and all the way down to the street level. Such an approach can ensure a functioning labor market where a maximum number of jobs can be reached by all citizens, while creating inclusive, livable, and vibrant urban areas.
Two approaches to building sustainable cities
Since our days in school, we have often been told to first define our terms before doing anything else. China is a country that does not shy away from acronyms, and “TOD,” or transit-oriented development—a concept that merges land use and transport planning—is one such acronym that has become wildly popular within the field of urban development.
So, recently, when government officials from seven Chinese cities and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development gathered to launch the China Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot Project on the topic of TOD, it was clear that they all had the same definition of this three-letter acronym.
Or did they?
The that has perplexed city planners for years: providing easier access to the mass transit system while ensuring good ridership. Thanks to the GPS tracking device installed on thousands of dockless shared bikes, city planners in China are now equipped with new and better information to analyze the demand for—and the performance of—public transit systems. For the first time, city managers can clearly map out the attractiveness and accessibility of metro stations by analyzing individual-level biking trips.
This innovation is good news to efforts to build more livable, sustainable cities through transit-oriented development (TOD). For example, to support the recently launched GEF Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot Project, we have been working with Mobike, a major bike-sharing company, to conduct an . Below are a few interesting observations:
- Revisiting the scope of TOD. A commonly accepted textbook definition of the core area of TOD is an 800-meter radius around the metro station or other types of public transit hubs. This definition is based on the distance that can be reached by a 10-minute walk. However, the actual catchment of a metro station can reach a 2-3 km radius when biking prevails, as in Demark and Netherland. Our analysis illustrates that a big chunk of biking trips around metro stations even go beyond the 3km radius (see bright blue traces in Figure 1 below). This indicates that the spatial scope of planning and design around the metro stations should be contextualized. Accordingly, the price premium associated with adjacency to public transit service is more likely to be shared by a broader range of nearby real estate properties than expected.
[Read: TOD with Chinese characteristics: localization as the rule rather than the exception] – which also discusses defining the scope of TOD.
Many urban planners may know the success stories of Curitiba, Singapore or London realizing transit-oriented development (TOD). However, TOD is still very new in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although this concept of leveraging on major transit infrastructure to affect integrated land-use development for greater benefits may be gaining more recognition, there are few examples of successful TOD in Sub-Saharan Africa beyond a couple of South African cities, such as Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania with a population of 4.6 million, is expected to become a mega city by 2030 with a population over 10 million. However, its growth has been largely shaped by informality, coupled with a lack of hierarchy in roads and transit modes. It is increasingly difficult to get around the city without being stuck in traffic for hours. The complex and fragmented institutional structure of Dar es Salaam compounds the challenges, making management of the city complicated and less effective.