In 1999, the state of Odisha, India, was hit by the most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean, causing nearly 10,000 fatalities and US$5 billion in damages. For the next decade, the government of Odisha and partners worked to identify and mitigate cyclone risk. When the similarly intense Cyclone Phailin struck Odisha in October 2013, the region counted 99.6% fewer deaths.
We cannot prevent a monsoon or cyclone from striking – and as population growth, urbanization, and climate change are on the rise, the frequency and impact of natural disasters will increase. But with innovation, collaboration and a better understanding of risk, we can build communities that are more resilient to natural hazards.
During the recent 7th World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, the talk was not just about the hundreds of millions of people coming to cities—but also the tens of thousands of city managers and local governments who will need to manage cities more effectively to unleash the promise of urbanization. The WBI urban team, together with the Institute of Housing and Urban Studies and UN-Habitat’s Capacity Development unit, convened over 40 partners for a day of reflection on this challenge.
Such a gathering had happened twice before— in preparation of Habitat II in Istanbul (1996), again in the run-up to the third WUF in Vancouver (2006)—and now on the cusp of the next milestone (Habitat III in 2016). It is helpful to consider where we have been and where are we now on this critical (and somewhat slippery) subject, given the 20 years’ worth of perspective in this area.
Postcards from the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia
From April 5th to 11th, in Medellin, the World Urban Forum (WUF) brought together a diverse group of urban thinkers and doers to discuss the world’s most urgent urban challenges. With participants meeting under the theme of “Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life,” the overall atmosphere was one of cautious optimism. On the one hand, participants were highly aware of the vast challenges facing cities and their inhabitants. Cities remain home to shocking levels of inequality and highly pernicious forms of social and economic exclusion. In that respect, hosting the Forum in Medellin helped drive the point home—as UN-Habitat Executive Director Jon Clos observed before the event, “We want a realistic world urban forum, we want a forum in a real city that has real issues.” On the other, attendees were buoyed by the conviction that today’s rapid urbanization represents an unprecedented demographic and economic opportunity. Medellin itself has made astounding progress in recent years, focusing on improving transport and mobility, inclusive governance, and education.
There is a positive vibe around Detroit today, as the city transforms itself under the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework, a blueprint that will guide decision making and actions to realize a shared vision. In many ways, Detroit embodies the problems of cities around the world – post-industrial decline, deterioration of services, lack of economic opportunities. What can we learn from Detroit’s experience to become more resilient? Dan Kinkead, Director of Projects for the Detroit Future City Implementation Office, shares his insights on moving a legacy city into the future.
You’ve emphasized the importance of participatory planning in developing a framework for Detroit’s future. Why?
Cities are the world’s engines of economic growth, but they also account for 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and many metropolitan areas struggle with traffic congestion, lost productivity, public health problems and traffic deaths due to inadequate public transportation.
How can we make our cities livable, inclusive, prosperous and green?
What do rusting industrial cities have in common with outmoded BlackBerries? In this era of constant technological progress, talent mobility and global competition, it's striking how many similarities can be drawn between cities and companies, and the need for both to continuously adjust their industrial strategies to avoid oblivion or bankruptcy.
Cities can lose their vigor and vitality just as surely as a once-hot product can lose its cutting-edge cool. RIM, the maker of the the once-ubiquitous BackBerry,
has been leapfrogged by companies with more nimble technologies; Kodak, once synonymous with photography, went bankrupt when it failed to make the transition
from film to digital. The roll call of withering cities – once proud, yet now reduced to rusting remnants – shows how cities, like companies, can lose their historic raison d’etre if they fail to hone their competitive edge.
Heavy industries like steelmaking and automobile assembly once powered some of the world’s mightiest economic urban areas: Traditional manufacturing industries shaped their identity, giving their citizens income and pride. But globalization, competition, shifting trade patterns and changing consumer trends are continuously reshaping the competitive landscape, with dramatic impact on cities and people. Over the past century, industrialized regions like the Ruhr Valley of Germany, the Midlands of Great Britain and the north of France – along with the older shipbuilding cities around the Baltic and North Seas, and the mono-industrial cities of the former Soviet Union – have struggled to make the transition to different industries or toward a post-industrial identity. Their elusive quest for a post-industrial future has had a dramatic impact on their citizens.
The same issue has become daunting in recent decades for aging manufacturing regions in the United States, which have suffered the prolonged erosion of their industrial-era vibrancy. That kind of wrenching change is bound to soon confront other cities in the developing world, as they struggle to adapt their urban cores, civic infrastructure and industrial strategies to an era that puts a higher premium on nimble cognitive skills and advanced technologies than on bricks-and-mortar factories, blast furnaces and big-muscle brawn.
For fast-growing cities in the global South, many of which are urgently seeking solutions amid their sudden urban growth, there could be many lessons in the experience of older cities in the developed world in making such a transition.
A series of recent conferences among urban policymakers and practitioners – backed by a wide range of rigorous academic research and practical client-focused experience in building competitiveness – provide insights that city leaders and the World Bank Group’s practitioners can leverage as they craft programs for transformative urban strategies.
For centuries, cities have been the beacon for economic prosperity. Drawn by the promise of economic, social and political opportunity, more than half the world’s population live in cities today. In India alone, 90 million people migrated from farms to cities in the last decade. The prospect of higher wages and better living standards is expected to draw 250 million more by 2030.
Urban success is based on economies of agglomeration -- where density increases the ease of moving goods, people, and ideas – increasing productivity. However, compared to other emerging economies, Indian cities do not appear to have captured gains from economic concentration. While the service sector and high-tech manufacturing have benefitted from agglomeration more than other sectors, overall urban productivity has not kept pace with India’s economic growth. In fact, the urban share of national employment has not increased between 1993 and 2006.
Are the costs of density overwhelming the benefits from clustering?
How do we go about bringing shared prosperity and ensure that development benefits the broad swath of population- and especially the bottom 40 percent of people living under 4 dollars a day? It is by no means an exaggeration to say that the path to shared prosperity inevitably runs through cities.
Today we are witnessing an unprecedented demographic and economic transformation. Some 2.7 billion more people will move into cities by 2030, mostly in developing countries and particularly in Africa and Asia. It is estimated that some 4 million people move to cities every week. They come to cities filled with hope and looking for opportunities.
Cities hold the key to jobs, housing, education, health. They also provide basic services such as water and sanitation and decent transport which are often missing in rural areas. So can urbanization be the platform to deliver these diverse goals? What makes some cities more competitive? Why do entrepreneurs and workers get attracted to some cities? Why do industries and services locate in one city and not another? Will mega-cities or intermediate-sized cities deliver these goals? What can policy makers do to improve the flow of goods, people, and ideas across cities? And what can be done to reduce fragmentation, segmentation, and social divisions within cities across formal and informal sectors, the rich and the poor, how do we ensure that cities are gender inclusive ? How does one tackle problems of air pollution, crime and violence, and the slums that one third of the world’s urban resident’s call home. Cities have not performed as well as can be expected in their transformative role as more livable, inclusive and people-centered places, and they face massive challenges from natural hazards and the impacts of climate change.
Welcome to the first US government shutdown in 17 years. Yes, we have experienced this before, but it is still shocking. Over 800,000 workers have been furloughed. The Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian museums, along with over 400 federal parks and monuments are closed, forcing people to alter their holidays. Most of our space program has been put on hold, and the long-term socio-economic costs have yet to be calculated (partially because the people who could collect that data are out of commission). One thing is clear, the longer the shutdown continues, the bigger the impact becomes.
Most of the global community views the US shutdown with a “mixture of bewilderment and growing nervousness”. Some are amazed in a positive way. Chinese netizens are in awe that the entire country is not paralyzed in anarchic chaos. However, what the Chinese haven’t accounted for is the strength and importance of the local government.