About one in three urban residents (over 900 million people) in developing markets live in informal settlements. Do these slums help lift people out of poverty by providing affordable entry points to access urban assets, services and livelihoods? Or do they confine people to enduring hardship and vulnerability in squalid and unsafe environments with little prospect of upward mobility?
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Leave no city behind
Close to 4 billion people live in cities. As the driver of environmental challenges, accounting for nearly 70% of the world's carbon emissions, and as sites of critical social disparities, with 863 million dwellers now living in slums, urban settlements are at the heart of global change. This momentum is unlikely to disappear, as approximately 70 million more people will move to cities by the end of this year alone. The good news is that recent multilateral processes are now appreciating this key role of cities and are increasingly prioritizing urban concerns in policy-making. Yet, how can we ensure that these steps toward a global urban governance leave no city, town, or urban dweller behind?
This post is also available in Français and Español.
“I’ve seen some of the highest performance bicycles in the world, but I believe the most powerful bicycle is the one in the hands of a girl fighting for her education, or a mother striving to feed her family.”
- F.K. Day, Founder of World Bicycle Relief
The rainbow jersey, Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, or Vuelta a Espana—that’s what usually comes to mind when we think of cycling. However, elite cycling is only one small spoke of a much larger wheel.
By some estimates, there are already more than two billion bikes in use around the world. By 2050, that number could be as high as five billion. Over 50 percent of the human population knows how to ride a bike. In China, 37.2 percent of the population use bicycles. In Belgium and Switzerland, 48 percent of the population rides. In Japan, it is 57 percent, and in Finland it’s 60 percent. The Netherlands holds the record as the nation with the most bicycles per capita. Cyclists also abound in Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. The Danish capital, Copenhagen, is considered the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. It’s known as the “City of Cyclists,” where 52 percent of the population uses a bike for the daily commute. Bicyclist commuters are generally healthier than those who drive motor vehicles to work. They also remain unaffected by OPEC decisions about crude oil production or the price per barrel.
Due to the size of China’s population, and the need for bicycle transportation, statistics on the country’s bikeshare program are staggering. In a database maintained by Russell Neddin and Paul DeMaio, more than 400,000 bikeshare bikes are used in dozens of cities on the Chinese mainland, and the vast majority of those bikes have been in operation since 2012. There are an estimated 822,000 bikeshare bikes in operation around the world. China, therefore, has more bikeshare bikes than all other countries combined. The country with the next-highest number of bikes is France, which has just 45,000.
Combining ideas from commercial marketing and the social sciences, social marketing helps those who are designing development programs to decide:
- Which people to work with
- What behavior to shape
- How to implement a program
- How to measure the program’s impact
Short answer: when marketing discipline is applied. To her, that means having good insight into the target population and how to integrate a product or behavior change into people’s everyday lives.
On International Children’s Day, we reflect on the kind of world our children will inherit. To prosper in a rapidly changing world, all children need more than basic literacy and numeracy. They need to be creative, critical thinkers and problem-solvers. Early childhood development can help level the playing field from the early stages of life.
Jean Boulton (physicist, management consultant and social scientist, right) responds to Owen Barder’s Wednesday post on thinking of development as a property of a complex adaptive system.
I’d like to go a bit further than Owen on the implications of complexity for how we understand power and politics. It is generally the case that the powerful get more powerful and the big get bigger. We know this through bitter experience, captured in complexity language by the notion of ‘positive feedback loops’ which equate to the economists’ ‘increasing returns’. In general there is no reason to expect that economies will self-regulate and find a ‘natural’ balance. Even forests, if left to themselves for long enough, reduce in diversity, increase in efficiency and become ‘locked in’ to ecological patterns that are hard to invade and change and can easily collapse (see below, left). Despite the popularity of the phrase ‘complex adaptive systems’, complex systems do not always adapt.
Instead, complexity suggests that if we want economic development that equalizes power, reduces inequality and incorporates longer-term environmental goals, there is a need for some sort of regulatory processes to counter the seemingly inevitable coalescing of power and wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Otherwise the rise out of poverty is linked more to growth than to development (development meaning a qualitative change in shape and form of the economy rather than a quantitative change – you can obviously have both). And an economy that is growing can in fact take our attention away from underlying structural exacerbations of inequality. Growth cannot go on forever, as land, water and minerals are consumed – not to mention the impact on climate change – but growth can mask just who captures the bulk of resources and can exert control over governments, markets and societies.
From the 3-year-old who salutes Nelson Mandela in Soweto to the schoolchildren who grip portraits of the icon during a ceremony in India, it is evident that people across the globe feel the loss of Mandela’s passing.
We could be the generation that puts an end to extreme poverty. This is a bold claim that often prompts raised eyebrows and murmurs of disbelief. But it is an idea that Save the Children, The World Bank, and others have been reiterating as we engage with the international process to define a new framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a set of concrete human development targets that have united global efforts to fight poverty since 2002, and are set to expire in 2015.
But while ending extreme poverty is, of course, a laudable vision, is it a feasible proposition? Could we really be the generation that achieves it, finishing the job that the MDGs started?