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urban planning

There are otters in the city

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Photo by budak via Flickr CC

When a family of 10 smooth-coated otters appeared in Singapore’s urban downtown of Marina Bay last year, the city was ablaze with excitement and delight. Who would have thought that these otters would make a dense urban environment like Singapore home? After all, otters were thought to have vanished in the 1970s as Singapore rapidly developed into a dense metropolis.
 
Was this a fad? Probably. Was this a big deal? Absolutely. In a small city-state where land is considered a scarce resource, the tension between urban development and biodiversity conservation can be very pronounced. This was not the case in Singapore. Between 1986 and 2010, as Singapore’s urban population doubled from 2.7 to 5 million, its green cover also increased from 36% to 50%, all within the confines of just 710 square kilometers. The increase in green cover in urbanized Singapore was seen as a sign that the efforts by the urban planning agency, parks and water management boards had paid off, and a testament that the natural environment could be indeed be integrated effectively into the urban fabric of the city.
 
Today is World Environment Day. This year, it celebrates the theme of “connecting people to nature,” and invites us to think about how we are part of nature—and how intimately we depend on it.

Mapping and measuring urban places: Are we there yet? (Part 2/2)

David Mason's picture
Photo by Anton Balazh via Shutterstock

My previous blog post surveyed some of the recent trends in developing global measures of urbanization. In this post, I want to turn to a brief discussion for scholars and practitioners on some possible applications and areas of focus for ongoing work:
 
[Download draft paper "Bright Lights, Big Cities: a Review of Research and Findings on Global Urban Expansion"]
 
While there are a number of different maps for documenting urban expansion, each has different strengths and weaknesses in application. Coarser resolution maps such as MODIS can be used for mapping the basic contours of artificial built-up areas in regional and comparative scales. On the other hand, high-resolution maps are best suited for individual cities, as algorithms can be used to identify and classify observed colors, textures, shading, and patterns into different types of land uses. These levels of detail are difficult to use for reliable comparisons between cities as the types of building materials, structure shapes, light reflectivity, and other factors can vary widely between countries and regions.
 
Nonetheless, there are a number of applications for policymakers in this regard, from identifying and mapping green spaces and natural hazard risks to identifying and tracking areas of new growth, such as informal settlements. However, such approaches to land use detection require careful calibration of these automated methods, such as cross referencing with other available maps, or by “ground truthing” with a sample of  street-level photos of various types of buildings and land cover as reference inputs for automation. One solution to this is the use of social media and geo-coded data to confirm and monitor changes in urban environments alongside the use of high-resolution satellite imagery.
 
Nighttime light maps also have gained traction as measures of urban extent and as ways to gauge changes in economic activity in large urban centers. They are probably less useful for documenting smaller settlements, which may be dimmer or have little significant variation in brightness. It is important to correct these types of maps for “overglow” measurement effects—where certain light may “bleed” or obscure the shapes and forms of very large, bright urban areas in relation to adjacent smaller and dimmer settlements (newer VIIRs maps have made some important advances in correcting this).

Eight stubborn facts about housing policies

Luis Triveno's picture
A low-income residential neighborhood in Mumbai, India. Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank
As John Adams famously warned, “facts are stubborn things” that we cannot wish away. Governments in the developing world are finally facing up to the increasing need for affordable housing: today 1.2 billion people live in substandard housing; by 2030, 3 billion will need new housing. While challenges may vary by country, I believe there are at least eight “stubborn facts” about housing policy that should not be ignored.

Building sustainable cities starts with smart urban design

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
The global conversation about urban sustainability focuses primarily on the big picture: how to reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of cities? How can we provide the infrastructure and services necessary to meet the needs of a soaring urban population? How can cities create enough jobs for everyone?
 
These issues are critically important, no doubt. But what about the city itself as a physical space? What should a sustainable city "look like"? Are there any big design principles that all successful urban planners should follow?
 
Because urbanization is often a chaotic process, many countries feel like they don't have the time or resources to address those questions. Yet evidence has shown that considerations about urban form and design are anything but cosmetic: creating vibrant public spaces within a city, for instance, can boost competitiveness, improve health outcomes, and strengthen social cohesion.
 
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Jon Kher Kaw delve deeper into the linkages between urban spaces and sustainability, and describe the many benefits that come with a well-designed city.
 
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
 
Related:

Success when we deemed it failure? Revisiting sites and services 20 years later

Sumila Gulyani's picture
Between 1977 and 1997, the World Bank supported “sites and services” projects in 27 cities across India
A freshly-minted architect stood staring at a sea of toilets. Row after row of them, on small “housing plots” meant for low-income families who would build their house incrementally as their incomes and savings grew. The neighborhood was “planned” and provided with services—under a World Bank-supported “sites and services” project—to serve as the anti-thesis of and an antidote to the slums that were, at the time, increasingly becoming the only housing option for low-income families.

It was 1980 and the architect, Barjor Mehta, was deeply disappointed. There were no houses, no people and no chance that they would ever come, given the seemingly god-forsaken location—in an area called Arrumbakkam—so far from the city center in Madras (now Chennai). Having just completed his thesis on housing, he wrote a scathing news article in the Times of India denouncing the sites and services approach. Barjor wasn’t alone in his critique, and by the mid-1990s the World Bank had almost entirely abandoned such projects.

In October 2015, Barjor, now Lead Urban Specialist at the Bank, invited me to revisit Arumbakkam and other neighborhoods developed, between 1977 and 1997, under four Bank-supported sites and services projects: With my colleagues Kate Owens and Andrea Rizvi, I visited 15 of the 28 sites developed in Chennai and Mumbai. We also reviewed archival material, analyzed satellite images, and recently presented our preliminary findings. Now, Barjor and I agree that previous assessments of failure may have been both premature and erroneous. Why?

Can transit-oriented development change travel behavior in cities?

Wanli Fang's picture
Photo: Marius Godoi/Shutterstock
It is pretty easy to understand how and why land use patterns around public transit stations can influence the way we move around the city.

As more and more people live and work in a neighborhood with a limited land area, it becomes increasingly challenging to drive around without encountering congestion or to find a parking space easily. In this situation, public transit and non-motorized transport (NMT) become attractive alternatives for people who otherwise are reluctant to give up the comfort and flexibility of driving.

Conversely, as street blocks get bigger, people may find it takes too long to access public transit stations, which discourages the use of public transport facilities.

As straightforward as the logic may sound, the nature and magnitude of such influence are yet to be evaluated with solid empirical evidence. To take a closer look at the linkages between land use and travel behavior, I decided to study the case of Boston in the United States. I chose Boston because it boasts an effective public transit system, and was one of the first American cities to embrace transit-oriented development (TOD), an urban planning approach that promotes compact and mixed use development around public transit facilities.

Of tigers and elephants: The rise of cities in Asia

Judy Baker's picture
Rush hour traffic in Mumbai, India. Photo: Adam Cohn/Flickr
Over the next decade and a half the world will add a staggering 1.1 billion people to its towns and cities. About one half of this urbanization will happen in the regions of East and South Asia.
 
If history is any guide, this growth in urban population will provide tremendous opportunities for increasing prosperity and livability. One can look at the successes of a few Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore to demonstrate how, with the assistance of good policies, urbanization and economic development go hand-in-hand. More generally, no major country has ever reached middle-income status without also experiencing substantial urbanization.
 
Yet cities can grow in different ways that will affect their competitiveness, livability, and sustainability. The more successful cities of Asia have been effective at creating opportunities, increasing productivity, fostering innovation, providing efficient and affordable services for residents, and enhancing public spaces to create vibrant and attractive places to live. But many, many, more cities have neglected fundamental investments in critical infrastructure and basic services, and have mismanaged land, environmental and social policies. This has resulted in traffic congestion, sprawl, slums, pollution, and crime.
 
Among the many complexities of urban development that have contributed to success, two critical factors stand out – investing in strategic urban planning, and in good urban governance.

How public spaces will help change cities for the better

Gunes Basat's picture
Also available in: Español
Photo: Wajahat Syed/Flickr
Photo: Wajahat Syed/Flickr
How to make cities more livable for people? How to create good, inclusive and accessible public spaces for all?

I’m not an urban planner nor an architect. I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist either. But based on my personal experience, I can tell why public spaces are important in people’s lives. Just close your eyes for a second and think about your favorite public space. What do you like to do over there most? Why do you think you love it there?

I like them because they provide green breather spaces in the city and provide a place for recreation, enjoyment and a sense of belonging.

However, after hearing from many prominent urban development experts at a recent World Bank-led “Urbanscapes Symposium”, I quickly realized that public spaces are more than this. It was striking to me to see and learn that, for others, public spaces are places where livelihoods are conducted and are essential spaces for social interaction, especially for the poor.

In that respect, providing people with new public spaces, where they can feel invited, welcome and safe, can encourage them to spend more time outside and foster interaction among lower income communities.

It should come as no surprise, then, that planning standards recommend devoting 15-20 % of land in cities to public open space… Yet most cities are falling short of that goal: in the United States, for instance, 75% of the 100 largest cities do not meet that requirement.

So how can we work with cities to help them create a better urban environment and leverage the potential of public spaces?

How Latin America’s housing policies are changing the lives of urban families

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo: Pierre-Yves Babelon/Shutterstock
In an effort to harness the benefits of urbanization and improve the living conditions of the urban poor, Latin American countries have experimented with housing subsidies. Now that the region has several decades of experience under its belt, it is time to look back and ask: Have subsidies worked? What kind of impact have they had on the lives of lower-income residents? Moving forward, how can cities pay for ongoing urban renewal?

To address those questions and share their experiences, officials in charge of designing and implementing national housing policies in eight countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru) recently met in Washington DC, along with representatives from the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Urban Institute, and Wharton's International Housing Finance Program.

Singapore: The Pelé of urban design

Abhas Jha's picture

Photo: Nicolas Lannuzel/Flickr
Who is the best soccer player of all time? A Google search will offer this name: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, popularly known as Pelé. Kicking off in 1958 as a 17 year old World Cup winner, Pele bookmarked his brilliant career a dozen years later with another World Cup triumph for Brazil. 
 
I like to think of Singapore as the Pelé of urban design. The city regularly appears in the top ranks of globally livableconnected and competitive cities. Pelé once famously said, "Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do”. There is no doubt that Singapore’s accomplishments have been made possible by the hard work, perseverance and far-sightedness of its policy makers.
 
2013 speech by Peter Ho, Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, outlines the careful thought, planning and attention to detail behind Singapore’s urban policy, particularly the decisions, influence and foresight of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew over the decades of development. One astonishing success has been the provision of affordable housing and the care with which each neighborhood has been designed, taking care of the smallest details, in order to ensure social cohesion and a sense of community. These details include provisions for hawker centers and high quality public green spaces.

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