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Success when we deemed it failure? Revisiting sites and services 20 years later

Sumila Gulyani's picture
Between 1977 and 1997, the World Bank supported “sites and services” projects in 27 cities across India
A freshly-minted architect stood staring at a sea of toilets. Row after row of them, on small “housing plots” meant for low-income families who would build their house incrementally as their incomes and savings grew. The neighborhood was “planned” and provided with services—under a World Bank-supported “sites and services” project—to serve as the anti-thesis of and an antidote to the slums that were, at the time, increasingly becoming the only housing option for low-income families.

It was 1980 and the architect, Barjor Mehta, was deeply disappointed. There were no houses, no people and no chance that they would ever come, given the seemingly god-forsaken location—in an area called Arrumbakkam—so far from the city center in Madras (now Chennai). Having just completed his thesis on housing, he wrote a scathing news article in the Times of India denouncing the sites and services approach. Barjor wasn’t alone in his critique, and by the mid-1990s the World Bank had almost entirely abandoned such projects.

In October 2015, Barjor, now Lead Urban Specialist at the Bank, invited me to revisit Arumbakkam and other neighborhoods developed, between 1977 and 1997, under four Bank-supported sites and services projects: With my colleagues Kate Owens and Andrea Rizvi, I visited 15 of the 28 sites developed in Chennai and Mumbai. We also reviewed archival material, analyzed satellite images, and recently presented our preliminary findings. Now, Barjor and I agree that previous assessments of failure may have been both premature and erroneous. Why?

A map is worth a thousand words: Supporting forest stewards in addressing climate change

Kennan Rapp's picture
Photo: Julio Pantoja / World Bank Group


In Nepal, indigenous groups produced a range of training materials, including videos in local languages on forests and climate change, to help more than 100 women and community leaders in the Terai, Hill and Mountain areas better understand what terms like ‘mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate resilience’ mean for them in their daily lives. 

A team of consultants in Kenya, who are members of indigenous communities with an understanding of regional politics and geographical dynamics, worked on increasing community involvement in sustainable forest management through workshops and face-to-face meetings. As part of their work, they collected information on land tenure status within indigenous territories, which will help the country prepare a national strategy for reducing emissions from deforestation.

Of tigers and elephants: The rise of cities in Asia

Judy Baker's picture
Rush hour traffic in Mumbai, India. Photo: Adam Cohn/Flickr
Over the next decade and a half the world will add a staggering 1.1 billion people to its towns and cities. About one half of this urbanization will happen in the regions of East and South Asia.
 
If history is any guide, this growth in urban population will provide tremendous opportunities for increasing prosperity and livability. One can look at the successes of a few Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore to demonstrate how, with the assistance of good policies, urbanization and economic development go hand-in-hand. More generally, no major country has ever reached middle-income status without also experiencing substantial urbanization.
 
Yet cities can grow in different ways that will affect their competitiveness, livability, and sustainability. The more successful cities of Asia have been effective at creating opportunities, increasing productivity, fostering innovation, providing efficient and affordable services for residents, and enhancing public spaces to create vibrant and attractive places to live. But many, many, more cities have neglected fundamental investments in critical infrastructure and basic services, and have mismanaged land, environmental and social policies. This has resulted in traffic congestion, sprawl, slums, pollution, and crime.
 
Among the many complexities of urban development that have contributed to success, two critical factors stand out – investing in strategic urban planning, and in good urban governance.

How does this investment help accessibility for this metropolitan area’s poorest 40 percent?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Accessibility analysis is an essential element of understanding cities and public service delivery. Activity‐based accessibility measures relate to the distribution of activities (for example, jobs or schools) in a given space, and the ease of reaching these activities. This type of measure directly relates to the qualities of a multi-modal transport system (e.g. transport network, speeds and costs), but also includes the qualities of the land‐use system (e.g. distribution of land uses, and thus activities), and allows for a spatial temporal multi-modal analysis based on changing land uses.

Accessibility offers a powerful lens to assess how a mobility system is serving an urban area. For example, road congestion is a more severe constraint in a dispersed setting with few transit, walking and cycling options (such as the Atlanta metropolitan area), compared to traditional mixed-use downtowns (such as New York City), where residents can access jobs and other opportunities walking, cycling and using mass transit. 
 
Block-level measure of job access within 60 minutes by public transport

Accessibility indicators are not just conceptually powerful – they are also easy to operationalize: the number of jobs accessible within a 60-minute timeframe is a popular and powerful indicator to evaluate how well the mobility system is serving a particular spatial area, or group of people (such as the most vulnerable).

The Things We Do: How Goals Corrupt

Roxanne Bauer's picture

China has a long tradition of burying the dead and building tombs to honor them. This ancient practice, however, has recently been butting heads with modernity as the Chinese government now needs to conserve limited land for farming and development to support its people.  In an effort to use land more effectively, the government launched a campaign to encourage cremation instead of burial, and authorities demanded that a minimum number of corpses be cremated each year, based on the total population of the previous year.
 
The campaign, however, led to unexpected results.  At the start of November, two officials in China’s Guangdong province were arrested for allegedly buying corpses in order to meet the strict cremation quotas. Police from Beiliu City in Guangxi Province began investigating the theft of bodies in the region during the summer and apprehended a grave robber named Zhong in July. Zhong admitted to stealing more than 20 bodies from the graveyards of local villages in Guangxi at night. He then transported the bodies to Guangdong province to the east, where he sold them to two local officials. These two officials, He and Dong, were formally in charge of funeral management reform in the province and were arrested for purchasing the corpses with the intent of delivering them to a funeral parlor for cremation on the official registry.

Compare this to public school teachers in the United States who cheated on standardized test scores by illegally viewing tests ahead of the test date and changing their students’ answers to meet high yearly targets for student progression.

Why we were happy when our bosses raised employee parking rates... Or how parking requirements drive modal choice

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @shomik_raj and @canaless
 
Recently, as part of a broader cost cutting initiative, World Bank management decided to do away with a long standing policy of subsidizing parking for its employees. Those of us who work on the Bank’s transport projects and help cities develop more sustainable mobility systems saw this is as a welcome development… losing some friends in the process. 
 
This personal example, along with a recently completed pilot we conducted on corporate mobility programs, inspired us to share some insights on the dramatic role parking-related regulations and incentives can play in influencing the decisions made by all stakeholders with regard to modal choice –whether it be private developers, property managers, employers or employees:

Transit-oriented development — What does it take to get it right?

Chyi-Yun Huang's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @chyiyunhuang and @shomik_raj
 
A recent trip to Addis Ababa really brought the imperatives of transit-oriented development as a complement to mass transit investments home to us. As a strategic response to rapid urbanization and growing motorization rates, Addis is one of several African cities currently developing public mass transit systems such as light rail and bus-rapid transit. Similar initiatives are budding in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and other cities in South Africa.

It is well known that transit-oriented development, or ToD, is a high-value complement to mass transit development. Compact, mixed-use, high density development around key mass transit stations can have the dual benefits of creating a ridership base that enhances the economic and financial viability of the mass transit investment and compounding the accessibility benefits a mass transit system can bring to a city’s residents. This is not to mention the intrinsic value in creating vibrant social gathering places for communities at strategic locations.

Is Public Transport Affordable?

Julie Babinard's picture
When planning transport systems in developing countries, one of the main challenges is to evaluate the proportion of income spent by poorer households on transport as well as in understanding transport patterns in relation to residential location, travel distance and travel mode. High real estate prices in urban centers often force low-income households in developing countries to live farther out in the periphery, with consequences on the way urban agglomerations develop and with subsequent effects on the levels of motorization, congestion, local air pollution, physical activity and the expansion of urban poverty.

It’s Time to Make Agriculture ‘Climate-Smart’

Juergen Voegele's picture

 Tran Thi Hoa/World Bank Group

For those plugged into the climate change conversation, land use and “climate-smart agriculture” (CSA) are hot topics, especially in the lead up to September’s UN Summit on Climate Change.

There is tremendous urgency in moving this agenda forward. We are now beyond discussing whether we need sustainable intensification. To enhance food security in the face of climate change, we will need agriculture systems that are more productive, use inputs more efficiently, and are more resilient to a wide and growing range of risks. This will mean changing the way land, soil, water, and other inputs are managed. But because agriculture varies from place to place, and climate change will impact each location differently, climate-smart agriculture needs to respond to local conditions. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach to agriculture, but rather a framework to be applied and adapted – a paradigm shift in thinking and action.

On the occasion of the release of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the Mitigation of Climate Change last week, I had an opportunity to hear from some of the leading experts and policymakers and to zoom in on one of CSA's three goals, along with increasing productivity and building resilience: meeting global food needs with lower emissions.

Unfortunately, global agriculture systems have a long way to go before they can be considered sustainable by any reasonable standard. And we are certainly far away from being a sector that has a reduced or low footprint: The way we manage our agricultural landscapes globally produces a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture poses a bigger emissions problem than transport and other sectors that are traditionally viewed as the big emitters.

The Way We Move Will Define our Future

Marc Juhel's picture
Mobility is a precondition for economic growth: mobility for access to jobs, education, health, and other services. Mobility of goods is also critical to supply world markets in our globalized economy. We could say that transport drives development.