On a foggy winter morning in Dhaka, 41-year-old Jahid was sipping tea by a roadside stall.
“Life was very peaceful back in my village,” he reminisced, “but there was no work, so I moved to Dhaka. Even if I live in a slum, my children are better off here.”
Jahid is one of the 500,000 people that move to Dhaka city each year. Driven by the promise of economic opportunity as well as poverty in rural and coastal areas, it is estimated that half the population of Bangladesh will migrate to urban areas by 2030.
Urbanization can be catalyst for growth. Density – the clustering of firms and workers – can drive productivity, innovation and job creation. It is the benefits of agglomeration that once drew the country’s most important industry – the ready-made garments sector to Dhaka city.
However, it is the costs from congestion that are now pushing factories away, mainly to peri-urban areas. Why are factory owners leaving?
For starters, the tide of new migrants has overwhelmed urban infrastructure, basic services, as well as the stock of affordable housing – eroding the both the livability and competitiveness of Dhaka city. A recent World Bank report described South Asia’s urbanization trajectory as “messy and hidden” – reflected in the large-scale proliferation of slums and urban sprawl.
Walking is the cheapest, most non-polluting, and possibly healthiest mode of transport. And dense cities seem to be a pre-existing condition for enabling us to meet our daily walking needs, along with diversified land uses, typically called “mixed-use development”. Densification and “mixed-use development” are currently seen as a strategy for designing sustainable cities, and many high-quality mobility plans, which consider the interactions between land use and transport, also pursue this type of urban development.
But densification and “mixed-use development” present (at least) two challenges. The first is how to provide quality pedestrian infrastructure that encourages non-motorized mode choices. The second is how to efficiently deliver the large quantities of goods required in these dense cities. These were the themes of successful seminars recently held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, thanks to a World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility grant.
The “mobility by foot” seminar was a four-day learning event on pedestrian mobility organized by Brazil’s Associação Nacional de Transportes Públicos. In Brazil, as in most cities in Latin America, around 35% of people’s daily trips are on foot, and there is evidence that this number is underestimated given the limitations of current data collection methods. Given the priority in reducing the impact of our carbon “footprint” (or “carprint”), governments need more evidence and incentives to move the sustainability agenda forward.
But what exactly is a city?
Chandan Deuskar's blog explores exactly this question. There's currently no standard definition of an "urban area" or "urban population" - each country relies on its own definition and collects data accodringly. This is an important area of data to improve - the Sustainable Development Goals include many indicators and targets explicity concerning cities and new standards and approaches such as using satellite imagery may provide more accurate data and definitions.
To discuss some of the key infrastructure challenges faced by its client countries, the World Bank recently hosted its first International Conference on "Sustainable Development through Quality Infrastructure” in Tokyo, Japan. But what exactly do we mean by "quality infrastructure", and what role can it play in creating resilient, sustainable cities?
Maybe it's just easier to think that the keys to economic growth lie at the national level of governance – where monetary and fiscal policies, national law and development strategies are conceived and debated. Certainly national policy is important, but it is rarely where entrepreneurs have their first experience interacting with law and policy.
The city is where people’s ideas create business, where people work and where the bustle of the economy comes alive. The city is where an entrepreneur will first interact with systems that are ostensibly created to attract and support business investment and growth.
Cities can and do engage in reforms to help improve their economic competitiveness. Often this includes the identification of a business sector deemed competitive and some strategy on how to do it better. Improved competitiveness also can include investment in more efficient transportation systems, better access to utilities and services, improved tax policies, better zoning, infrastructure investment and investment in skilled labor. While working on these complex policy and investment opportunities is rational, it often takes time to do the analysis necessary to identify the best opportunities – and it takes much longer to actually see the rewards.
Fortunately, there is a reform that cities can do almost immeduiately, and at low cost, to help support business development and improve the business environment: business entry simplification.
The Philippine Experience & Lessons Learned
In decentralized economies like the Philippines, cities play an important role in business registration. In fact, almost of one-third of the country’s business registration steps fall under the responsibility of city-level leadership.
In working with Philippine cities to reform dated, cumbersome, and confusing business registration requirements, a World Bank Group team was able to help its clients reduce registration steps from an average of 41 to just three. Cities also saw an average spike in new business registration of around 20 percent in the first year after the implementation of reform.
Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental firm designed the “half a good house”, which includes gaps between the houses for residents to fill according to their own needs.
The problem is that most cities are not prepared to absorb these numbers. The tragic result is chaos, inequality and environmental damage. One clear manifestation of the mismatch between people’s demand for opportunities to prosper and the inability of cities to maximize the benefits of agglomeration while minimizing the costs of congestion is the omnipresence of slums throughout the world. Today, one billion people live in slums; worse still, many of those settlements are in areas highly vulnerable to natural disasters. By 2030, this figure is expected to double.
To absorb this ever-increasing demand for affordable urban housing, would require creating, in effect, a new city capable of housing 1 million people – every week during the next 15 years. Governments are already overwhelmed. The private solution of reducing the size of dwellings and relocating them to the peripheries of cities has produced economic and social segregation, which has become a ticking bomb for unrest.
During the past 12 years, the Chilean architect, Alejandro Aravena, 48, has offered solutions to the global housing crisis that are so creative, speedy, budget-conscious and scalable that he has been awarded the 2016 Pritzker Prize, considered the Nobel for architecture. His work—and the prize—challenge architects to envision innovative buildings not just for businesses and other wealthy clients but for all the people.
2016. A new year and a new emphasis on data-driven performance for local government. Cities are accelerating at a fast pace to put data to use. Not just to understand what’s happening on the street level, also to improve service delivery systems.
Until recently, Boston’s Department of public works kept track of jobs on paper. And there was no efficient system to track what jobs were done and what needed to be done.
But that has changed.
Lead Urban Specialist Victor Vergara tells us all there is to know about the program and what's next for MetroLab.