Published on Sustainable Cities

From Oklahoma City to Kabul

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It’s not often that the Mayor of Kabul visits Washington DC. So when Mohammad Younis Nawandish was invited to participate in a panel discussion on green growth as part of The World Bank’s Urban Sector Day, you can only imagine the clamor for seats in the auditorium. And Mayor Nawandish did not disappoint; neither did fellow panelist Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City.

“Rome was not built in one day, but Oklahoma City was,” Mayor Cornett had declared in his earlier keynote address. As the result of a Land Run in 1889, Oklahoma City’s population went from zero to 10,000 within 24 hours. “And our City Planning Department is still paying for it,” the Mayor jokingly added.

Unlike Oklahoma City, Kabul has been built, destroyed, and built repeatedly throughout history. No doubt Mayor Nawandish faces an uphill task. After all, he’s building a city nearly from scratch. But he’s gung ho about which is refreshing. Besides, as both Mayors agreed, city leaders across the world face similar challenges – no matter which city they come from. Only the scale of difficulty is different.

Oklahoma City, as Mayor Cornett elaborated, has had its ups and downs. Its financial success today (in 2008, Forbes named it as the most recession-proof city in the US) is a manifestation of what sustainable development entails and why city officials must go beyond a ‘sector’ approach to urban development. For one, it’s not enough to structure an attractive tax incentive scheme to bring businesses into the urban fold; the City also worked on its urban form, downtown regeneration, public transport system – even sports and recreation. The Mayor is focused on revitalizing its downtown district and investing heavily in green infrastructure (which is also health-friendly and helping reduce obesity, he emphasized) such as bike trails and sidewalks.

While the mayor of Oklahoma City is designing sidewalks and bike trails, the Mayor of Kabul is building basic infrastructure with a green twist such as energy efficient lighting in public spaces. He described initiatives to plant trees and build parks across Kabul. The city is also considering energy efficiency measurements for bakeries and public baths and street lights, and installing solar energy systems to take advantage of its sunny skies to fulfill its burgeoning energy needs. However, rapidly growing informal and unplanned settlements (70 percent of Kabul residents live in informal settlements) remain a huge challenge for the Mayor.

Kabul faces a long and bumpy road to development - but Mayor Nawandish is committed to the task at hand. “Best of luck, Mayor Nawandish,” concluded Mayor Cornett.


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