Amina and her family had recently moved to their new house on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. It was built by the government to relocate families from low-lying and flood-prone neighborhoods in the city. The house was small for her extended family of ten, but it was water that she worried about. I was puzzled. Usually people complain that water connection costs are too high, but she received that connection for free—the meter and tap were right there in her front yard.
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.
Almost five years ago in a discussion with urban experts from several Latin American and African countries, an important question was asked: how do we curb increasing levels of crime and violence in some of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world?
To explore this query, we embarked on a cross-country analysis of cities in West, Central and East Africa, seeking to not only better our understanding of urban fragility, crime, and violence, but also identify critical entry points to curb the challenges we would find. In the report Urban Fragility and Violence in Africa: A Cross-country Analysis, we explored one of the most recently relevant but less explored dimensions of fragility and violence in Africa: urbanization.
The world is urbanizing at staggering, unprecedented rates. By 2014, 54% of the world’s population was residing in urban areas. This number is projected to grow to 66% by 2050. Today’s large cities are concentrated in developing countries, with medium-sized African and Asian cities as the fastest growing urban agglomerations. People migrate fervently to urban areas with hopes of higher per capita incomes, increased employment levels, improved living conditions and well-being, and better chances to integrate into the national territorial economy.
Local and municipal governments often operate with limited financial resources, yet they are responsible for delivering an ever-expanding range of infrastructure and services. In many countries, decentralization also tends to put additional pressure on municipal finances, as cities and towns are increasingly expected to take the lead in implementing national policies locally. Yet, this transfer of responsibilities from the national to the local level often does not come with an adequate transfer of resources.
In other words, cities are expected to "do more with less"... This can only happen if local government practitioners have the right tools and knowledge to manage their resources as strategically and efficiently as possible. To help cities get their financial house in order, the World Bank has developed the Municipal Finances Handbook(available in English and Spanish), which provides government officials with extensive guidance on controlling expenditures, strengthening revenues, mobilizing external funds, achieving creditworthiness, and adopting good borrowing practices.
MetroLab provides a platform for cities from all over the world to share knowledge about urban management and development. The initiative started about 3 years ago, based on two simple premises: in spite of income differences, urban agglomerations from developed and developing countries face many similar challenges and have a lot to learn from each other; second, since urban growth typically spreads beyond one single municipality, cities need to "think outside their boundaries" and address challenges at the metropolitan level.
Lead Urban Specialist Victor Vergara tells us all there is to know about the program and what's next for MetroLab.
Cities are a puzzle for some and inspiration for others. As engines of economic growth, they are also hubs of rapid urbanization, a rising middle class, and a growing population. These three mega-trends drive global environmental degradation yet are only part of the important challenge facing cities today.
While consuming over two-thirds of global energy supply and emitting 70% of all carbon dioxide, cities are also uniquely vulnerable to climate change. Fourteen of the world’s 19 largest cities are located in port areas. With sea level rise and increased storm activity, these areas are likely to face coastal flooding, damage to infrastructure, and compromised water and food security. Under these conditions, meeting urban population’s growing production and consumption needs for food, energy, water, and infrastructure will overload rural and urban ecosystems.
Lorne Turner served as Manager of Performance Management for the City of Toronto.
People wandering through the labyrinth of booths of yet another UN urban conference in Nanjing (2008) or Rio de Janeiro (2010) may have stumbled across a friendly, unassuming man, looking somewhat out of place at the Global Cities Institute – Cities Alliance stand. These types of conferences were not the typical work venue for Lorne Turner, Toronto’s manager of city performance.
Lorne was a city practitioner, tasked with the professional, meaningful and honest monitoring of the progress of Toronto, alone and alongside other world cities. He firmly believed that all cities – in Ontario, Canada and around the world - succeed when working together, and that measuring this progress is absolutely critical. Lorne was a ‘details-guy’ who knew how the small brushstrokes blended together to paint a community, a country, and later in his life, he helped demonstrate how they could define urban life around the planet.
Lorne passed away last week, after a long battle with cancer. Lorne was in his role for almost 30 years (including Budget Director, North York, 1988-97).
Lorne’s passing is particularly poignant for city workers. Lorne was quiet and modest; he fit his professional accountant stereotype well. He was also highly effective. Last year, the global city indicator standard was published (ISO 37120). This standard is important for all cities and is anchored to Lorne’s perseverance, commitment and his ability to keep the City of Toronto actively engaged for the more than ten years it took to develop the idea. The idea and the standard owes much of its existence to Lorne.