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Building bridges: cities helping cities achieve more – a Romanian-Japanese partnership

Marcel Ionescu-Heroiu's picture
The central square of the old town. Brasov
Photo: The central square of the old town. Brasov. Transylvania. By Ann Stryzhekin/ Shutterstock
When U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Yokohama in 1854, it was a backwater village in Japan with a largely rural, relatively undeveloped economy. But it soon grew to an urban agglomeration with around 3.7 million people. Since then, Yokohama has managed to continuously reinvent itself – from a port city, to a large industrial area, and now to a modern, global service and lifestyle hub.
 
Within a century, Japan would become the world’s second largest economy. Its growth has been fueled by cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and Kobe. Japanese cities can offer a myriad of lessons to their counterparts in developing countries.
 
Japanese cities are also at the forefront of dealing with some of the world’s most pressing challenges. For example, cities like Osaka and Toyama have developed a number of tools to address the social issues caused by rapid aging. Most developed and developing cities in the world will face similar challenges in the years to come. Providing a platform where these cities can learn from the experience of Japanese cities may lead to significant development impact.
 
Supported by a partnership between the World Bank and Japan, the Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) does just that.

How do city leaders get things done? Learning from mayors in Japan

Sameh Wahba's picture
Also available in: Español | 日本語 
Picture of the Competitive Cities Technical Deep Dive participants enjoying a walk through the Minato Mirai 21 area (with the Cosmo Clock in the background), which aims to concentrate high-value added activities and a high quality of life in an integrated urban core in downtown Yokohama. Photo Credit: TDLC
The task of mayors and city leaders is no longer limited to providing efficient urban services to their citizens. Job creation is at the forefront of the economic development challenge globally.

Cities need jobs and opportunities for their citizens and the means to generate tax revenues to fund projects that meet their populations’ growing demand for basic services. The WBG flagship report on Competitive Cities outlines how creating jobs in urban areas – urgently but also at scale– is essential.
 
In November, 2017, we spent a week with approximately 30 city and national government officials and policymakers from several countries, including Argentina, Chile, Croatia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Philippines, Romania, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda. These leaders represented diverse cities across the world, all with a common objective – how to make their cities and regions more competitive?

Many were dealing with a fragmented institutional landscape, often with overlapping jurisdictions – necessitating clarity of institutional circuits and processes. Some struggled to coordinate economic development strategies with private sector. Lack of adequate sub-national socio-economic data to drive evidence-based policy making compounded issues. City leaders are not looking for a lesson in theory – but evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and practical, implementable examples of how to get things done.
 
We spent the week as part of a Technical Deep Dive, studying and living the experience of two exceptional Japanese cities - Yokohama and Kobe. These cities have dealt with:
  • population influx,
  • industrialized at a rapid pace,
  • responded to environmental challenges,
  • reached the technological frontier,
  • undergone a housing bubble,
  • and even went through a major disaster (the Kobe earthquake) and recovered from it.