When I visited Vietnam for the first time three years ago, I imagined a Ho Chi Minh City out of Hollywood movies, with panoramic buildings of French architecture, tree-lined, long boulevards and the melting pot of Indochine cuisine.
After I began working in the city as an urban professional in 2012, I quickly learned to see it as much more: a vibrant, young, hip and energetic city with a vision and determination to become a leading metropolis in East Asia, not just in Vietnam, one of the fastest-growing emerging economies in the region.
And it has taken all the right steps just to do that, combining infrastructure development with social services to make sure the city is more livable and growth more sustainable. As the World Cities Day approaches, I thought it would be useful to share the city’s experience with the world.
From my house in northern Quezon City, I drive more than two hours every day to get to the office in Bonifacio Global City, which is about three cities away where I come from, and two cities away from the capital Manila. It’s a journey that should only take around half an hour under light traffic. That is a total of four hours on the road a day, if there is no road accident or bad weather. It takes me an hour longer whenever I use the public transport system. Along with hundreds of thousands of Metro Rail Transit (MRT) commuters, I have to contend with extremely long lines, slow trains, and frequent delays due to malfunctions. This has been my experience for several years. Many of us might be wondering: why have these problems persisted?
Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific, travelled to Indonesia, where he visited the capital Jakarta and Makassar in South Sulawesi. He noted that Indonesia faces a large challenge in meeting infrastructure needs, in order to provide basic services and integrate a country with over 17,000 islands.
In my 10 years of working in the World Bank, I have seen remarkable changes around me. In 2004, Emerald Avenue in Ortigas Center, where the old World Bank office was located, started to wind down after 9 PM. Finding a place to buy a midnight snack whenever I did overtime was hard. It was also hard to find a taxi after work.
Today, even at 3 AM, the street is bustling with 24-hour restaurants, coffee shops, and convenience stores, hundreds of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) employees taking their break, and a line of taxis waiting to bring these new middle class earners home. Living in Ortigas Center today means that I also benefit from these changes.
Our response to climate change at the global level clearly needs improving. While some governments are managing to set and enforce limits on the emission of greenhouse gases, an international agreement that is both enforceable and meaningful remains elusive. Measures undertaken by private individuals and organizations, though plentiful, largely fail to connect to the political process and continue to fall short in aggregate. Is there a way to combine these public and private efforts? We think there is, as we’ve explored in a recent NZZ article and ETH blog post: a new type of liability insurance.
Looking to the insurance industry for addressing climate change is not new (see, for example, Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller’s column; the Geneva Association’s statement; and the climate change and insurance links discussed at the World Bank’s recent Understanding Risk conference). What has been lacking, however, are ideas for employing insurance instruments at scale, across national boundaries, and in a way that maximizes existing capacities and market mechanisms.
We all know urbanization is important: Nearly 80% of gross domestic product is generated in cities around the world. Countries must get urbanization right if they want to reach middle- or high-income status.
But urbanization is challenging, especially because badly planned cities can hamper economic transformation and cities can become breeding grounds for poverty, slums and squalor and drivers of pollution, environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s why it’s important for us to build cities that are livable, with people-centered approaches to urbanization and development. That will allow innovation and new ideas to emerge and enable economic growth, job creation and higher productivity, while also saving energy and managing natural resources, emissions and disaster risks. When the process is driven by people, it can lead to important results, the same way London and Los Angeles addressed their air pollution problems.
In 2030, more than 300 million Chinese are expected to have moved into cities. By then, 70 percent will live in urban settings. Given China’s size, it will mean that one in six urban dwellers worldwide will be Chinese. The challenges coming with that demographic shift are already visible and well known, in China and beyond.
Urbanization is a global trend. So when we think about new approaches to urbanization here in China, we believe that they are of value for other countries facing similar issues. In other words, China’s success in urbanization could pave the way for global rethinking on how cities can be built to be healthy, efficient, and successful.
EAP Regional Vice President Axel van Trotsenburg recently traveled to Indonesia to see the challenges of a dynamic middle-income country tackling poverty and infrastructure challenges. Van Trotsenburg talks about Indonesia's challenges in this video.