Preventing mega-cities from becoming mega-gridlocks

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Business man draw building and cityscape | Photo credit: Thampapon, Shutterstock
Businessman draw building and cityscape | Photo credit: Thampapon, Shutterstock

At some point, we’ve all been stuck in traffic. We know how it feels, especially when we’re running late for an appointment. In Dakar, Senegal, a city of 3 million comes to a halt at peak hours, with cars averaging only 15 kilometers per hour. The gridlock is an enormous productivity loss for Dakar in particular, but the phenomenon is common in the big cities of many developing countries. 

At the same time, we know that cities are investment hubs where innovation and smart technologies thrive. Collectively, they are a tremendous economic power that generates more than 80 percent of global GDP. With more than half the worlds population living in cities, and 60 percent of the urban population expected to be under the age of 18 by 2030, we must act now to reduce congestion and strengthen cities’ capacity to offer education and job opportunities while making them more livable, economically viable, and inclusive.

Cities face a dilemma: while urbanization presents opportunities for youth and attracts private investment, often infrastructure and services cant keep up with rapid densification, posing challenges to municipal authorities. If core infrastructure is not fit for purpose, rapid densification can cause a city to stop altogether. Planning for a resilient future for our cities means addressing these challenges in an integrated, inclusive, risk-aware, and forward-looking manner.

We need to build thriving urban economies that drive innovation and job growth to attract young people. This requires transforming how people move, work, and interact.   This is what the World Bank Group is helping the government of Senegal achieve in Dakar by tackling traffic challenges and investing in innovative, congestion-decreasing technologies through a pilot 19-kilometer bus rapid transit (BRT) line using a public-private partnership (PPP) approach. Thanks to improved frequency, reliability, and safety of the public transport system, the BRT will increase ridership, reduce congestion and emissions along the corridor, and lessen the burden on the public sector by incorporating private sector expertise and leveraging its innovative capabilities.  

Delivery model for urban transformation

PPPs are an effective delivery model for cities’ much needed infrastructure when risks are properly mitigated and contracts are well-designed, fair, and transparent.  

The private sector can bring to cities:

  • Unmatched expertise, innovative technology, and efficiency
  • Long-term infrastructure planning
  • Access to private sector funds

Often, residents receive better quality of service, sometimes at a more competitive price while freeing up the citys capital and resources to be utilized in other strategic municipal services that cant be delivered by the private sector.

The use of PPPs in cities to boost livability and sustainability is already showing concrete results.  In India, IFC helped develop PPPs and mortgage-style financing to deliver green affordable housing for low-income households. In the city of Bhubaneswar, a PPP underway is expected to deliver 2,600 units of affordable housing. In Bengaluru, we advised the government on one of the largest street lighting PPPs worldwide, with targeted energy savings of 85.5 percent achieved by simply shifting to energy efficient light bulbs. Better street lights boost nighttime business and increase quality of life and safety. This is particularly important to give women and girls access to safe public spaces and transportation.

These projects form part of IFCs Cities Program that aims to help high-density municipalities develop urban infrastructure in a financially and environmentally sustainable manner across a wide array of sectors.

Taking an ecosystem approach.

Cities must be managed like an ecosystem, not a collection of silos. Singapore has followed this approach by investing in infrastructure for a fully integrated city-state, designed holistically to maximize the quality of life for its 5.6 million inhabitants and boost economic prosperity. The city has effectively tapped into the potential of PPPs since 2003 to build efficient core infrastructure in sanitation, telecommunication, district cooling, metro, desalination, and rooftop solar.

As urbanization accelerates, municipalities will continue to struggle to meet the pace of investment required to maintain affordability, efficiency, and quality of life for citizens. With the private sector willing to invest in city infrastructure, and municipalities increasingly seeing the benefits of PPPs, we have a framework developed in recent years for improving cities for future generations through the PPP delivery model. As we develop plans for improving our cities, we must actively involve the urban dwellers of tomorrow in developing core infrastructure and smart-city solutions to help build truly inclusive, sustainable, and resilient cities.


Related Posts

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Investing in a brighter future: PPP street lighting projects

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India: New Bus Rapid Transit System makes travel faster, safer and more convenient in Hubballi-Dharwad


This blog is managed by the Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees Group of the World Bank. Learn more about our work here.


Emmanuel Nyirinkindi

Vice President, Cross-Cutting Solutions, IFC

Adele Paris

Investment Officer

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