Published on Sustainable Cities

Why does people-centric design matter for sustainable cities?

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By 2050, urbanization – combined with the overall growth of the world’s population – could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050.  Close to 90% of this increase will take place in Asia and Africa. While this bodes well for economic agglomerations, many cities are constrained by livability.  Pressure on land resources and urban space is immense in Asia and Africa, with high population densities, leading to congestion, low-quality urban environment, pollution, and low safety.

The core long-term solution to such challenges requires land use and physical planning at different scales, from the national level to the metropolitan, city, neighborhood, and all the way down to the street level. Such an approach can ensure a functioning labor market where a maximum number of jobs can be reached by all citizens, while creating inclusive, livable, and vibrant urban areas.

Two approaches to building sustainable cities

Balancing the objectives of density and quality of life may seem contradictory. However, two complementary approaches, transit-oriented development (TOD) and public space management – or placemaking – can combine both effectively to transform cities.

[Download: Transforming the Urban Space through Transit-Oriented Development: The 3V Approach]

By articulating economic activity and housing near mass transit, TOD fosters density, productivity through job accessibility, opportunities to create and capture new land value, intra city mobility, walkability, and economic vibrancy. 

By fostering quality and efficient public space management, cities can create open spaces that support higher density; stimulate innovation; attract talent; and enhance asset value, safety, and social capital.

The World Bank has been actively supporting TOD approaches at city, corridor or station area scales across over 35 cities.  It has helped transform public spaces by considering safety and inclusion, recreation and resilience, downtown renewal, streetscape improvement, historical preservation, ecological integration, and innovation and engagement. Two communities of practices (COPs) on TOD and Urbanscapes – with over 170 participants each – have supported such efforts.

[Download: Regenerating Urban Land: A Practitioner's Guide to Leveraging Private Investment]


Good practices on TOD and public space management

In January 2019, national and city-level government officials from 13 different countries (Argentina, Bangladesh, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Peru, Romania, and Saudi Arabia) visited Japan for “Technical Deep Dive on Unlocking City Spatial Plans through Transit-Oriented Development and Neighborhood Urban Spaces,” a week-long knowledge sharing experience organized by the World Bank’s Tokyo Development Learning Center. 

The technical deep dive was an opportunity for participants to exchange experiences and learn about the international experience in urban planning and development based on TOD principles – and in developing and fostering high-quality urban space in countries like Japan and Singapore. Discussions aimed to answer questions such as:

  • Why does people-centric design matter?
  • How do cities leverage TOD and build on assets such as public spaces – streets, open spaces, and public buildings – to enhance the livability and vibrancy of neighborhoods?

A new World Bank toolkit on TOD was also launched during the technical deep dive to equip practitioners with step-by-step tools to implement TOD.

[Download: TOD Implementation Resources and Tools]

Japan is a global leader in implementing TOD. This was exemplified both in the Tokyo metropolitan area and in the city of Fukuoka visited by the delegates. In both cases, careful integrated planning at all scales enabled the emergence of vibrant high-quality urban space and an unparalleled ease of movement. Many investments in this urban regeneration were enabled by land pooling schemes and innovative financing approaches to create land value and capture some of it for reinvestment.

Lessons from Japan that are applicable for other countries include: 

  • Approach TOD and public space management comprehensively with an enabling legal, institutional, and regulatory environment – not only focusing on infrastructure development;
  • Think long term since many of the benefits are gradual initially, but grow substantially overtime;
  • Develop innovative financing mechanisms with respect to land pooling that benefit all stakeholders;
  • Plan for high-quality urban spaces that are in line with expected population densities and designed to be accessible, walkable, enjoyable, and safe for all;
  • Harness the potential of the private sector through public-private partnerships and ensure sufficient financing for such schemes. 

In the videos, three World Bank experts – Peter Ellis, Global Lead; Gerald Ollivier, TOD COP Lead; and Jon Kher Kaw, Urbanscapes Lead – discuss how TOD and public space approaches can jointly create a more sustainable environment in cities.

Follow the topic on Twitter using #TODurbanscapes and #wb_urbanscapes


Gerald Ollivier

Lead Transport Specialist, India

Jon Kher Kaw

Senior Urban Development Specialist

Peter Ellis

Lead Urban Economist

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