Compact, Connected, and Coordinated: A Vision for India’s Smart Cities

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 10:22am

In order to ensure sustainable urban development, India’s leaders must prioritizes cities that are compact, connected, and coordinated. Photo by Mattheui Aubry/Flickr.

Last Thursday could be a turning point in the history of India’s urbanization: the Modi government has unveiled its ambitious Smart City project, which aims to build 100 smart cities across the country. Additionally, the AMRUT program will aim to “rejuvenate and transform” 500 existing cities. The government’s focus on creating better cities is a welcome development, at a time when the urban population of India will double within the next 20 years, from 370 million today.

As India moves forward with its smart city projects, the key goal should be creating compact and connected cities by leveraging public participation and inter-government coordination.

The Cost of Business as Usual Urban Development

Like many other developing countries, not only do India’s cities face severe infrastructure bottlenecks and service level deficits that undercut economic performance, but poorly managed urban growth directly impacts health and quality of life. Worsening air pollution in Indian cities is estimated to have caused 620,000 premature deaths per year (WHO). Cities also add significantly to overall carbon emissions (close to half of India’s net greenhouse gas emission originate in urban areas). These costs are exacerbated by the ongoing real-estate boom in peri-urban areas fueled by demand from the IT and residential sectors that is not only unplanned, but almost entirely devoid of adequate public services (water, sewer, power) provision or reasonable access to transit infrastructure. This reinforces the vicious cycle of deeper and deeper reliance by firms and households on groundwater, private vehicular ownership, and polluting diesel power generation to meet basic needs. The costs of business-as-usual urban development are clearly unsustainable.

Compact: Smart Density

The smart-city plan will focus on both greenfield and brownfield development—not all the smart city projects will be brand-new from scratch cities. As part of the smart city program, the government is already calling for state-owned companies and ministries to release large tracts of land for development. The Ministry of Shipping alone is set to release 2.6 million acres of land in port cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. However, in both infill development and new greenfield areas, the goal should be the development of efficient density, enabled by compact mixed-use development around transit nodes and walkable, compact residential neighborhoods. Compact development will lower the cost of providing city services, and maximize the economic gains from new development.

Studies from the New Climate Economy project have estimated that sprawl costs the U.S. economy over $1 trillion annually due to the higher per-capita cost of providing infrastructure in low-density areas. In India, density may be high in many urban areas, but floor-area ratio (FAR) remains low—in other words, there is still room to build upwards in certain areas. India should also ensure that new districts on the periphery of cities do not end up stimulating sprawl. In order to do this, planners should ensure new districts incorporate a healthy mix of jobs and housing, and develop them as complete self-sustaining communities with amenities like schools, parks, hospitals, and other government services.

Connected: Smart Mobility

Density is a critical component of future smart cities, but density is not possible without robust transport networks that serve all citizens. The WRI India team has helped many Indian cities implement sustainable mobility projects, including BRT systems in Indore, Ahmedabad, and Surat and bus system improvements in Bangalore. Rail and bus systems must be integrated with pedestrian and bicycle networks. Smart cities are safe cities. If India incorporates these concepts in its smart-city program, then new cities will develop in a way that improves health and quality of life in addition to economic growth. India currently leads the world in traffic fatalities, a statistic that should be as concerning to India’s planners as the lack of adequate sanitation facilities.

Coordinated: Smart Governance

Prime Minister Modi has said that “good governance means putting people at the center of development.” Going forward, it will be important to engage the public in the implementation process of smart cities. City and state authorities will need to take ownership of smart city projects for success. It is very important for people to work towards a vision for the future, rather than be limited by the legalities of a master plan. We need to move from compliance-based incremental changes, to a large vision of what the city needs—developing strategic projects, and supporting that vision and plan with strong laws and processes to achieve sustainable change.

In 2013 in Bangalore, the World Resources Institute worked with communities to pilot a bottom-up neighborhood improvement plan for the Hosur  Sarjapur Road Layout area. Key urban issues, such as mobility, accessibility, signage, place identity, biodiversity and public spaces were studied at the neighborhood scale. Through various stakeholder meetings, the community was encouraged to come forward with their ideas, challenges, fears, hopes and aspirations for what they wanted their neighborhood to look like. The community was mobilized to not only define clear areas that could be improved, but also to create and test a sustainable, implementable vision for the area.

The government’s 100 Smart Cities initiative is ambitious. Therefore, it is important to build capacity (in government, the private sector, and among citizens) to meet this ambition. We will require a ready pool of specialists, technical experts, professionals, and private players to participate. We will also require a reoriented strategic planning process. There must be strong political will in order to implement the changes needed to make our cities healthy, livable, and smart.

Categories: Europe

To Subsidize or Not to Subsidize Public Transport: That Is the Question

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 12:26pm

The TransMilenio bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Bogotá, Colombia (pictured above) is one of the leading examples of sustainable transport worldwide. The city is currently considering subsidizing student fares. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brazil.

Subsidizing users’ fares for public transport may sound like a great idea, and often there are good economic reasons for doing so. In all industrialized and many developing countries, urban transport systems are subsidized with public funds in order to continue operating. It sounds even better if subsidies target certain populations, such as students, older adults, or low-income communities. For example, Bogota, Colombia gives subsidies to low-income individuals, people with disabilities, and seniors, and is planning to expand support to students, according to a draft ordinance recently approved by City Council.

There are two important points to keep in mind about transit subsidies: 1) subsidizing users’ fares, particularly with targeted subsidies, is effective; and 2) discounted fares for particular populations should not be funded by charging other passengers more. By focusing on both sides of the equation, city leaders can ensure an efficient and sustainable transport system.

Subsidies to Public Transport Make Sense

The debate on transport subsidies has a long history in discussions of transport economics. According to new research from Leonardo Basso and Hugo Silva, subsidizing user fares has been shown to increase ridership, which in turn increases the frequency of the entire system and reduces waiting times for all users (known as the “Mohoring Effect”). Additionally, by shifting people to more sustainable modes of transport, subsidies can help address the negative externalities of car use—like traffic congestion, air pollution, and fatalities (known as “The Second Best” principle). Furthermore, subsidies can be redistributive, meaning that they benefit lower-income individuals. These are all compelling reasons for subsidizing users’ public transport fares.

However, problems can arise when subsidies are not properly applied. If subsidies do not improve the quality of service or fail to help those in need, they lose their impact. Implementing targeted subsides should be a redistributive measure, as they are an effective solution for increasing access to public transport among disadvantaged communities.

Subsidies Need an External Funding Source

Subsidies need an external and sustainable funding source. The average user should not be required to pay a higher fare to cover the cost of other users, as this type of measures only discourages the average person from using public transport.  It is like charging parents more to pay for the fare of their children. This decreases overall demand and burdens everyone financially. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case in Bogota’s draft ordinance aimed at reducing students’ fares.

Therefore, it is necessary to find alternative funding sources for transit subsidies. For example, one logical option is to subsidize student fares with education funds, because access to education is connected to the availability and quality of urban transport. Similarly, subsidies for low-income communities, older adults, and users with disabilities can come from the budget for social services. Alternatively, funding could come from taxes on inefficient car use, since private vehicles often do not pay for the full amount of their social cost—which includes traffic congestion, air pollution, and crashes. All these sources of funding can help ease the financial burden on transport budgets.

Initiatives to subsidize public transport fares should be sensible and balanced. The intention to subsidize the transit fares of marginalized populations is good, but without the proper financing mechanisms, transport sector deficits will only grow. Ensuring an efficient and sustainable public transport system requires not only supporting particular communities, but doing so in a financially viable way.

Versions of this blog were published in Spanish here and here

Categories: Europe

Study Tour round-up (June 2015 with Cambridge Cycling Campaign)

Hembrow - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 7:56am
Study Tour participants from Cambridge riding on a canal-side cycle-path in Assen. Our study tours in Assen and Groningen have been quite popular this year. The feedback section of the study tour website shows where most of the people have visited from and there are plans for more visitors. The photos below show some of what we currently demonstrate on study tours: This photo may not appearDavid Hembrow
Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: A Wave of New Smartphone Apps Makes Cycling Undeniably Easy

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 11:11am

Mobile apps for cyclists can have a range of uses–from allowing users to locate bike share stations to providing information in case of injury. Photo by davebloggs007/Flickr.

With the growing number of smart phone users and urban cyclists, the rise of mobile apps for bikers should come as no surprise. These innovations can be used in myriad ways—from navigating maps to submitting pictures of local potholes in need of repair. Along with bike lanes and other forms of road infrastructure, user-friendly mobile apps are not only encouraging more people to pick up a bike, but are also creating a safer environment for cyclists on the road.

Navigating Bike Share Systems

Bike share schemes have grown exponentially since the very first debut in Amsterdam in 1965. The largest—in Hangzhou, China—offers 50,000 bicycles at 2,000 locations. Adding to their appeal, Hangzhou’s bikes offer a free 90 minutes if the user has also purchased bus fare. Many of these hugely popular bike share systems are now accompanied by mobile apps to up their convenience game. EcoBici in Mexico City, for example, has its own app that displays bike stations as well as the number of available bikes on an interactive map.

Spotcycle’s Reality+ feature. Photo by Spotcycle.

Some bike shares, like Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC, operate with Spotcycle—a free mobile app that locates stations, posts the number of available bikes, and provides a navigation system for determining routes from one station to another. Taking it a step further, Spotcycle now offers a new feature called Reality+, which is an augmented reality overlay that is used to locate nearby bike stations in live view, making bike shares systems even more accessible. Spotcycle has recently expanded to support Abu Dabhi’s ADBC bike share program—a move that will likely encourage growth and awareness in a region where bike shares have yet to make an appearance.

Growing a Community of Cyclists

In the past few years, developers have started to look beyond bike share to those proud urban owners of personal bikes. Apps that allow riders to connect through activity tracking and challenges can foster a stronger community of cyclists. Some of these apps provide a platform to challenge friends and share saved routes and traffic information.

For example, Spinlister is a rental system that allows users to find bikes to rent from fellow cyclists in the area. They call themselves a “global bike share,” users can find a bike to ride in almost any corner of the world—particularly helpful when traveling!

In addition to route tracking, apps like Map My Ride offer a community, with news feeds to post updates. Map My Ride has a network of more than 30 million users who connect with one another and share their accomplishments.

Apps Can Serve as Educational Resources Too

There is often great need for raising awareness and educating the public about urban cycling. Recognizing this, Bike Doctor offers technical information about bike maintenance so that riders can perform on-the-spot maintenance. Similarly, Size My Bike allows users to input individual body measurements, generating recommendations for bike sizes.

St John Ambulance’s First Aid for Cyclists app gives users information about how to car for themselves in case of an accident. Screenshot by user.

Another useful app is St. John Ambulance’s First Aid for Cyclists, which provides first aid information and self-care techniques specific to cycling-related injuries. Apps such as these are particularly useful where the biking community is still growing and available bike shops or resources may not be available.

Use a great cycling app that didn’t make our list? Share in the comments section below!

Categories: Europe

Reimagining Mumbai

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 1:00pm

It is time for Mumbai to embrace strategic spatial planning and local area plans as a sustainable path forward. Photo by Tarun R/Flickr.

This article originally appeared on

How can Mumbai become a Smart City that the nation is proud of? The recently published Draft Development Plan (DP) for Mumbai was so poorly received by various stakeholders that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis scrapped it on the 21st of April, 2015. It has to be reworked in just four months – an opportunity to bring in much needed change in the planning discourse.

Since the DP followed a traditional process of proposing land uses and development control regulations, it is no surprise that the plan did not deliver on the local needs, sentiments and aspirations of citizens. This process of development planning is mandated by the State’s Town Planning Act, a remnant of outdated British laws, which were made when the current complexities of large metropolitan cities were not yet imagined.

Previous development plans for Mumbai too, have faced challenges, such as prolonged delays of up to 15 years, indicating clearly that they are no longer realistic or nimble enough to respond to a changing city. These generalized plans typically did not respond to local variations and needs, did not have infrastructure plans linked to them, and did not manage to implement several reservations such as open spaces, local roads, dispensaries etc.

If the future of the city is pegged on a plan that is open to comments from citizens only once in 20 years, then this is a recipe bound to backfire. What then is the alternate that the city can explore?  The answer lies in strategic spatial planning.

Strategic Spatial Planning separates the visioning tool from the regulatory tool. It envisions the city’s future while formulating strategic decisions and projects that will help leapfrog over the current and potential challenges of the city.  This tool is not legal in nature, and serves as a platform for various stakeholders to freely express opinions, conduct negotiations and arrive at agreements without the fear of repercussions. This negotiated planning method brings together various government departments (planning, physical and social infrastructure, and funding agencies) along with local businesses, religious groups, resident welfare associations, NGOs and citizens themselves.

While the process could be messy to start with, it results in a ‘co-produced’ vision for the city. Strategic Spatial Planning provides a long term vision, alternate future options and strategic projects that are linked to clear budgets. These strategic projects bring about a collective structural change to the city addressing the real needs of stakeholders, irrespective of the number of departments that need to be co-opted to manage implementation.

Typically anchored by a strong government agency, or a mayor in international contexts, such a paradigm shift in planning is critical to prevent large metropolises from succumbing to becoming diseconomies. The traditional regulatory land-use plan could continue to be used for giving out building permissions and sanctions as well as providing a legal certainty for actionable inter-sectoral projects rolling out of this visioning tool.

Actionable projects are to be realised at the smaller disaggregated scale of the Local Area Plan (LAP). These LAPs need to be mandated to ensure participation of local stakeholders in the plan making process to incorporate local knowledge, dynamism and local values. Due cognizance of these local area priorities, at regular intervals, should go back upward to inform the strategic plan and the regulating plan to ensure realistic planning and budget allocations.

Mumbai being the largest and most populous city in Maharashtra has a plethora of agencies helping to run the city. The instrument of the local area plan must serve as the common platform for the planning agencies and the services provisioning agencies to come together in a coordinated manner.

Agencies and experts in international cities, such as Europe and South America for example, have chosen strategic spatial planning and local area plans as a real alternative to static land use, regulatory control and statistical extrapolations. It is time Mumbai followed suit.

Categories: Europe

Smart Cities No Longer an Urban Legend

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 8:42am


Ahmedabad has overcome a variety of challenges to ensure smart development. Photo by sandeepachetan/Flickr.

This article was originally published in The Economic Times.

Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally launches the government’s ambitious Smart Cities initiative, which aims to tackle key issues resulting from India’s rapid urbanization.

In addition, the ‘Atal Mission’ and ‘Housing for All by 2022’ will also be announced. Both initiatives are very welcome for the development of the country as they will kick-start the process of building new smart cities and rejuvenating existing urban centres to become more sustainable, thriving cities.

A first in many respects, the new process of launching a competition where cities bid for smart city funding is inspiring. This has worked well at helping gather thoughts and ideas towards defining smart cities, and innovative approaches towards how these can be implemented. The competition idea has also meant that key stakeholders have been involved quite early on in the planning, and see themselves as ready partners in the process of building cities.

Going forward, it will be interesting to witness the growing levels of engagement from the public in general, and from planning agencies in particular, in the implementation process of smart cities. The Center encourages planning and public participation in the process; city and state authorities will need to champion the effort to make it a success. The Smart Cities effort also provides the platform for strategic planning.

It is very important for people to work from a vision for the future, rather than be limited by the legalities of a master plan. We need to move from compliance-based incremental changes, to starting with a big vision of what the city needs, coming up with strategic projects, and support that vision and plan with strong laws and processes to achieve sustainable change.

Ahmedabad is a great example of how a city, having outlined a long-term vision for itself and anticipated how to get there, has overcome several obstacles to ensure smart development. The key is to envision the desired change right from the start and strive towards it.

For example, Ahmedabad has been using the unique Development Plan, Town Planning Scheme (DP-TP) approach of creating a vision through the DP and ensuring local area implementation that engages the local population through the TP scheme.

The bus rapid transit system, Janmarg, is now 88 km and ensures trunk connectivity in all major city roads.

Launched in 2009, the system includes features of the highest global standards and is considered a best practice of BRTs in south Asia. Bengaluru is another example of a city having implemented sustainable public services. The country’s largest bus system, operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, was transformed by the introduction of the Bangalore Intra-city Grid (BIG) system in 2013.

This integrated system optimizes routes for improved efficiency, quality of service and capacity. Still in its early stages, BIG currently serves over 1,50,000 passengers a day. When fully implemented, the network will improve public transport experience for 2.5 million commuters daily. Bengaluru has also seen community participation in its planning processes.

In March 2013, World Resources Institute (WRI) experts partnered with the community at Hosur Sarjapur Road Layout, a fast-developing area in Bengaluru, to pilot a neighborhood improvement plan using this bottom-up approach. Key urban issues, including mobility, accessibility, signage, place identity, biodiversity and public spaces were studied at the neighborhood scale.

Through various stakeholder meetings, the community was encouraged to come forward with their ideas, challenges, fears, hopes and aspirations for what they wanted their neighborhood to look like.

The community was mobilized to not only define clear areas that could be improved, but also to create and test a sustainable, implementable vision for the area.

Acknowledging that the government’s 100 Smart Cities initiative is ambitious, it is important to build capacity to meet this ambition. We will require a revision and reoriented strategic planning processes, as well as pulling together a ready pool of specialists, technical experts, professionals and private players to participate.

There must also be a strong political will to implement the changes required to make our cities healthier, liveable and smarter.

Categories: Europe

How Transit-Oriented Development Benefits Local Economies

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 12:41pm

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

While rapid growth can cause a range of problems for cities, urbanization can also be an opportunity to change how cities are planned, making them more sustainable, people-centered places. Rethinking current patterns of expansion for a more compact and connected model can expand employment opportunity, access to quality public spaces, the supply of sustainable transport, and enhance economic activity.

Many cities are currently growing with a “3D” model of development—distant, dispersed, and disconnected. Expansion without proper planning leads to spatial and social segregation, while also increasing congestion, pollution, and daily travel times. Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a model for planning sustainable urban communities with compact neighborhoods, high population densities, diverse land uses, and abundant public spaces. The goal is to ensure sustainability mobility and economic development.

Compact neighborhoods generate more accessible job opportunities. Mixed land uses and diverse activities at the street level encourage pedestrian traffic, stimulating commerce and the local economy. By planning transit smartly to manage growth, TOD is an excellent vehicle for economic development.

Urban Planning for a Stronger Economy

Low population densities and suburban sprawl increase infrastructure and maintenance costs, and cause additional social costs by requiring people to traveling longer distances. In 2013, congestion recorded in the metropolitan regions of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro cost Brazilians BRL $98 billion, equivalent to 2 percent of GDP that year. Taking into account the costs resulting from traffic accidents and health impacts, that number would be even higher.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a “3C” model for development—compact, connected, and coordinated—that has a direct impact on urban mobility and the economy. TOD reduces travel times, congestion, and emissions—expanding access to different areas of the city and thus stimulating economic activity.

Comfort and safety is necessary for active transport and non-motorized mobility. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

When public transport is designed to serve sparsely populated areas over long distances, service often becomes inefficient. Sprawled systems end up operating at irregular hours, with fewer routes and stations. As a result, both operating costs and user fares go up.

Therefore, one principle of TOD is simply quality public transport. With the quality of public transport directly related to how cities develop, it’s critical that neighborhoods are connected and invest in infrastructure. Good service helps attract new users, reducing car dependency and costs for both people and local governments.

Affordable and efficient service helps connect people to the city. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Next to quality public transportation, TOD prioritizes non-motorized mobility and car use management. By providing pedestrian-friendly conditions, bike infrastructure, and comfortable and safe public transport, cities can help balance car use. Doing so helps reduce the number of accidents and traffic fatalities, improves public health, and avoids significant health spending .

Another way that TOD can benefit local economies is through mixed land use. Many current housing developments—particularly affordable housing—are not located near urban services and commercial activity. This gap between residents’ needs and their access to resources creates real costs for both people and governments. In addition to the direct costs of travel fares, sprawl wastes the opportunity to generate income at a local level. On the other hand, mixed land use enhances economic activity by diversifying the types of goods and services readily accessible.

Infrastructure and public furniture makes for a more vibrant and diverse urban environment. Photo by Oran Viriyincy / Flickr.

Neighborhoods without commercial activity or high-quality public spaces force residents to travel in order to access the resources they need. Vibrant neighborhood centers and active ground levels facilitate social interaction and avoid the need to travel. This is one way to orient neighborhoods around vital economic activity with a steady circulation of people.

Active neighborhood centers that are attractive can help stimulate the local economy. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Neighborhoods that more connected require fewer and shorter daily trips. Prioritizing active transport reduces congestion and emissions and expands access to opportunities throughout the city. The planning model we use determines how we move about cities, how much time we spend in transit, and how much money we have to spend. TOD reduces individual and public spending, ensuring a better quality of life for all.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

Enrique Peñalosa: Our Streets Belong to All

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 7:00am

Former mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa has been a champion for building equitable cities. Photo by Colin Hughes/Flickr.

Enrique Peñalosa, Bogota’s former mayor, will come to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September for the Mayors´ Summit. The event is hosted by WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil as part of EMBARQ Brasil’s 10th anniversary celebration. Here is an exclusive interview for TheCityFix and WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil.

While mayor, you were responsible for numerous and sometimes radical improvements in the city.  Which one brought the most happiness to people?

Enrique Peñalosa (EP): We have made a city much more for people and less for cars.  I took tens of thousands of cars off the sidewalks and we made new sidewalks. We had TV commercials explaining sidewalks are for talking, for playing, for doing business, for kissing. We´ve started a sidewalk revolution.

TransMilenio, the BRT system, was also a very powerful equality symbol because we took space away from cars to give it to public transport. And for the first time we had the people in public transport going faster than those in cars.  It shows there is democracy; it shows all citizens are equal.

We created the Alameda El Porvenir – maybe the achievement I am most proud of – which is a bicycle highway 50 meters wide and 24 km long that thousands of people use every day to go to work.  In addition, we built the Juan Amarillo Greenway which links the richest parts of the city to some of the poorest parts. We began to build extremely high quality schools in the poorest neighborhoods with very high quality libraries to show that knowledge is more important than wealth.

Which improvements brought the most headaches for you?

EP: The most important thing is to realize that we did what nobody else would have done. It was a completely new concept, new ideas. So we had a lot of conflicts. Maybe the most difficult one was to get tens of thousands of cars off the sidewalks. There were even some people who started collecting signatures in order to impeach me. To implement the bus system we had an enormous war against the traditional bus operators and they went on strike, they brought the city to a halt. There was also a huge war to create parks because many parks had been gated by the private sector. We also had a war when we recovered the central area that had been taken by drug dealers – an area just two blocks away from the Presidential Palace and from the central square, somewhat similar but a hundred times worse than Cracolândia in São Paulo. We had a war trying to build some public spaces and plazas that were completely taken over by vendors. The most exclusive country club, where the most powerful families were members, was expropriated in order to create a public park.

You said “You dream of a tropical city, crisscrossed by large pedestrian avenues, shaded by enormous tropical trees, as the axes of life of those cities”. Were you able to achieve this city?

EP: I was mayor for only three years and in Colombia there is no re-election in the constitution. Now, that time is longer, four years. I think the cities we have today – all cities around the world – are very wrong. We are so used to them that we think this is normal – to live in fear of getting killed. But this can’t be normal. To live in cities we have to create places where we have hundreds of kilometers of green ways, where we can have people and bicycles on the streets. So you can crisscross the city in all directions without cars. It will take us a few hundred years to correct them, but this will change at the moment we realize that what we have today is completely crazy. That’s not the ideal we should have for humans in the future.

The mayor of São Paulo is being criticized for building hundreds of kilometers of cycle paths and bike lanes. Which advice would you give to Fernando Haddad, mayor of São Paulo, or to any other mayor that seeks daring changes and faces strong opposition?

EP: What the Mayor Fernando Haddad is doing is very valiant. One of the most important ideological and political issues of our time is how to distribute road space. Road space is the most valuable asset a city has. We could find oil or diamonds on the ground in São Paulo but it will not be as valuable as road space.

How should we distribute road space among pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport and cars?

Road space belongs equally to all members of society, regardless of if they have a car or not – it belongs equally to somebody in a road race or a child with a bicycle. So this is a matter of democracy. Who decided we should give more space to cars than to people? Who decided we should give space to park the cars? We should remember that parking is not a constitutional right. The Government has no obligation to provide space for parking, so I think this is a very interesting and democratic discussion.

When we implemented our bikeways there were just a few cyclists. Almost no people used bicycles. We have about 3,000 people using bicycles every day. We must remember that even in a giant city like São Paulo more than half of the people have daily trips that are less than 5 km long, so it is very possible that, in a couple of decades, we can have 20% of the population using bicycles – it is not possible in one year or two but maybe in 20 years. We have to remind people with cars that they have no more rights of road space than people who do not have a car.

What have you learned being a mayor?

EP: When I was mayor we had to completely change the city model. Nobody believed in what we were doing. Many of those things we created now seem very obvious. Now, everybody agrees that we should have big sidewalks, bike lanes, that you give priority to buses on the road. So I learned that we have to find more ways to communicate better to the citizens, to explain things better to the citizens to get them to participate more.

To be a good mayor you need to have dreams, to have love for what you are doing.  To be a good mayor you have to be very concerned with equality. In our time, we have adopted private property and the market as the best way to distribute most of society’s resources. The inevitable result of this is income inequality. To make a city for people is to make a city where everybody is equal, where nobody is in fear or exploited. To be a good mayor, sometimes you have to make decisions that are unpopular. You have to convince people that in the end it will be good for the city.

What is the phrase or the idea you want to spread to the world?

EP: You cannot define a transport system, although you know what kind of city you want. Cities are the most important thing we are doing in our time.  When we are defining a city, we are defining our way of life. In modern life, different from years ago, people spend less and less time at home and more time in activities outside their home. So cities are more important for human happiness than ever before. A city should be a fun place. It should be a place from which people don’t wish to escape. We have to make cities where people will be very happy in public spaces. A city should promote happiness.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on

About the Mayors’ Summit: Hear from over 80 experts about successful strategies and best practices for making innovative and sustainable urban solutions work on the ground. Join as Jaime Lerner, Ken Livingstone, Enrique Peñalosa, Mary Jane Ortega, and other internationally recognized mayors speak about their experiences. See more and register at, and use #CTBR2015 on Twitter.

Categories: Europe

Why Cities Need Youth Innovation for a Low Carbon Future

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 06/22/2015 - 1:24pm

Tackling pressing urban challenges requires engaging innovative youth for long-term sustainability. Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr.

Given our increasingly complex and dynamic world, cities need to be continuously innovating in order to solve pressing social and environmental problems. Many cities worldwide are growing rapidly, and by 2050 it is estimated that 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. This dramatic trend is greatly affecting natural resource availability—including access to clean drinking water—waste management, transport, and other aspects of modern cities.

Furthermore, climate change is placing additional stress on urban environments. Increasingly extreme weather events, shifting resource availability, and rising sea levels are all testing the resilience of growing urban populations. Climate change presents a different challenge in every location—for example, in a small island nation, floods are a concern; in California, it’s drought.

The combination of climate change and an increasingly urbanizing global population requires city officials, urban planners, and members of the private sector to find innovative approaches to efficient resource management, while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and opening the door to new green technologies.

Engaging Youth from London to Jakarta

More than ever, we need young people involved in creating sustainable cities. This can be achieved by establishing and strengthening networks that provide opportunities for young aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators to get involved and learn from like-minded groups of individuals on a global scale.

For example, the World Bank’s Connect4Climate program recently hosted a youth innovation contest called the Jakarta Urban Challenge. The aim of the event was to challenge students and entrepreneurs from Indonesia to find tangible solutions that improve mobility in Jakarta while simultaneously lowering GHG emissions. Jakarta is one of the most heavily congested cities and is the largest urban area in the world not to have a metro or subway system in place. It’s estimated that the local economy loses around $3 billion USD a year due to traffic congestion resulting from the city’s rapidly rising rate of vehicle ownership.

The Jakarta Urban Challenge drew almost 250 submissions in just two months, with each entry offering a different approach to solving the issue. During an award ceremony last week, a panel of industry experts awarded the first place title to “Squee”—a mobile application that aims to unify pedestrians and cyclists to map the safest pathways around the city, encouraging more sustainable methods of transport. When used at a large scale, the app will encourage social interaction between pedestrians and, as a result, help form communities of travellers. The three finalists were awarded US $20,000 to help them develop their innovations.

Members of the judging panel join the winning team (“Squee”) of the Jakarta Urban Challenge onstage. Photo by New Cities Foundation.

Additionally, hackathons can foster collaboration by bringing together creative designers, experts, and developers to produce innovative solutions. One example is Code for Resilience—a series of hackathons organized by the World Bank and civil society organizations that engage young people to build urban resilience in Asia by “hacking”. Over 1,000 software and hardware developers participated in 11 hackathon events across nine countries. The events resulted in prototypes and tools that address a series of disaster resilience challenges discussed during community workshops.  As simple as an app may seem, the collective effort required to develop these kinds of initiatives can help catalyse and leverage user-driven innovation on a larger scale.

Similarly, the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur competition challenges students to propose tangible ideas and concepts for lowering carbon emissions from buildings. A £20,000 development fund supports the winning proposals through implementation and provides finalists with training and mentorship. The challenge is now in its third year and has helped hundreds of students and recent graduates learn the basic principles of starting a business—giving students the opportunity to test their innovative ideas and produce real impact on the ground.

Scaling Up Local Solutions for Global Impact

“Urban challenges” are becoming powerful tools for crowdsourcing solutions from young people on a range of pressing issues—from urban resilience to energy efficiency. However, the missing link is connecting all these aspiring entrepreneurs and social innovators on a single platform where they can share experiences and knowledge, and collaborate with one another. One example of this kind of platform is Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative—a network that provides cities with resources for improving resilience to physical, social, and economic challenges. Although the 100 Resilient Cities program focuses exclusively on city governments, replicating this type of network for young innovators can be a powerful tool for scaling solutions from the bottom up.

The Connect4climate program and others like it can help bridge that gap by creating an umbrella campaign for innovation, leveraging partners’ knowledge and experience to give opportunities for young innovators to turn their ideas into reality.

Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: Hacking Our Way to Global Climate Action with #Climathon

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 06/19/2015 - 10:50am

By drawing on the expertise and insights of the public, hackathons, like #Climathon, can be a tool for generating action and innovative solutions at a local level. Photo by kris krüg/Flickr.

Yesterday was an incredibly significant day for climate change action. Not only did the highly anticipated release of Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical, which calls for people worldwide—regardless of religious affiliation—to make more sustainable lifestyle and consumption choices,  inspire action at a global scale. Residents of cities around the world also addressed the challenges within their own local context at #Climathon. Organized by Climate-KIC, the EU’s main climate innovation initiative, the #Climathon spanned 24 hours and 6 continents with a single, unified goal: to give teams of “students, start-ups and (budding) entrepreneurs, big thinkers, technical experts or app developers,” the opportunity to work together on local climate solutions.

This exciting day-long event took place in 16 cities around the world on Thursday, June 18th, and focused on the overarching themes of collaboration and innovation. By bringing the brightest local minds together in one venue, citizens from all walks of life and various backgrounds were given the opportunity to work collaboratively to develop solutions to challenges that had been established by their respective cities. At the end of the 24 hour #Climathon, a jury of local stakeholders will select the most innovative and feasible solution in each city. The winning teams will go on to be featured prominently as part of Climate-KIC’s participation in COP21—the UN Conference on Climate Change—this December in Paris. In the months leading up to COP21, the winning teams from every city will be mentored, receive entrepreneurship coaching, and gain access to business and city experts, as well as additional resources from Climate-KIC’s European knowledge network. The idea is to equip promising teams with the tools they need to turn their innovative ideas into reality.

The goal? A global movement to create sustainable, locally-tailored solutions to combat climate change in cities around the world.

With the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change just a few months away, events like the #Climathon are an incredible way to get people engaged with both local and global communities. The threats posed by climate change can often seem frustratingly insurmountable, and the average person may not think he or she has the power to shape sustainable development. How can one person curb greenhouse gas emissions in an overpopulated city like New Delhi, improve waste management practices in Washington, D.C., or confront the rapid loss of biodiversity in São Paulo? From individual citizens, to cities, to entire continents, collective action is essential to overcoming these critical global challenges. Though these issues can sometimes be daunting, events like #Climathon that give the average citizen a voice—an invaluable chance to make a real difference in his or her community, and in the world.

Why is collective action so important? Because the solutions are within us all.

Climate-KIC and local city partners are helping to elevate individual voices and new ideas at the UN Conference on Climate Change. Follow #JourneyToParis in the weeks leading up to COP21 to learn more about the innovative individuals and low-carbon initiatives involved in Climate-KIC’s work. Here at TheCityFix, we’ll be sure to be tuned in to the conversation, and we can’t wait to hear more about the exciting ideas springing up in cities around the world everyday.

Categories: Europe

The First “Urban Pope”

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 3:28pm

A Brazilian slum, or favela, and a cross. Pope Francis’s Encyclical addresses urban poverty and inequality as well as climate change. Photo by Chico Ferreira/Flickr

Pope Francis is proving to be the first “environmentalist pope.” It turns out he also may be the first urbanist pope–not counting the aptly named Pope Urban of the 3rd Century.

Today marks an important milestone in the global effort to combat climate change: the full support of the Pope, who today issued a wide-ranging Encyclical statement urging the world to pursue sustainable development, and clarifying the link between Catholic teaching and environmentalism. As part of this wide ranging document critiquing modern capitalism’s inability to create healthy and just environments, Pope Francis also specified his thinking on the importance of cities in the creation of a healthier and more equitable world.

He writes in Chapter 1 (What is Happening to Our Common Home) that “Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.”

For those already working on issues related to sustainable urbanism, none of this is particularly new. But for this thinking to come from the Catholic Church itself, an institution that commands the moral respect of millions of Catholics, is a momentous occasion.

As the first pope from the Global South, Francis’s background has no doubt exposed him to the problems of unsustainable development. Born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, Francis had exposure to urban poverty in Latin America throughout his career, often visiting residents of Buenos Aires’s shantytowns, or Villa miseria.

The encyclical, in addition to focusing on environmental degradation and poverty, also contains an even more subtle critique of the failure of modern urban environments to provide for people’s needs for community and cultural identity: “The extreme poverty experienced in areas lacking harmony, open spaces or potential for integration, can lead to incidents of brutality and to exploitation by criminal organizations. In the unstable neighbourhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence. Nonetheless, I wish to insist that love always proves more powerful.”

The Pope goes on to call for an investment in affordable public transportation, affordable housing, and re-investing in slum communities rather than demolishing them. Some in the U.S. might criticize the Pope as overstepping his theological bounds. But given the increasing number of Catholics in rapidly developing Asia and Africa, the Pope’s support for sustainable urban development might just have the biggest impact where such ideas are needed the most.

Categories: Europe

In Photos: Raahgiri Day Making A Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 06/18/2015 - 10:18am

Gurgaon, India recently celebrated “Inclusive Raahgiri Day,” focusing on children with disabilities. Photo by Ajay Gautam.

Launched in Gurgaon, India in 2013, Raahgiri Day closes down city streets to cars, bringing people of all ages out to walk, bike, make music, and socialize. Recently, India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, along with the Municipal Corporation Gurgaon (MCG) and Gurgaon Police, celebrated a special edition of Raahgiri Day in Gurgaon dedicated to people with disabilities. As many as 15,000 local residents, including about 2000 people with varying physical and mental disabilities came together to participate in an “Inclusive Raahgiri”—a day dedicated to celebrating diversity.

“Inclusive Raahgiri Day was all about demonstrating that those born handicapped, whether physical or mental, are no less than those of us blessed with the best of health”, said one of the participants, summing up the whole event.

These photos convey the celebration’s spirit of inclusivity and diversity:

Raahgiri has grown to be about diversity and inclusivity, and serves as platform for engaging people on important topics. Photo by Ajay Gautam.

Some of the events included basketball and dancing by students in wheelchairs, cycling and football by students who are blinds, as well as street plays, art therapy, golf, singing, and cultural performances by students with varying disabilities.

With growing participation from children and their parents, Raahgiri is a sign of the public’s recognition that every child deserves access to safe outdoors. Photo by Ajay Gautam.

Children and adults with special needs shared the same space. More than 30 prominent NGOs that work with people with disabilities participated in the event.

Elected officials brave the high temperatures to comes out in support of a good cause. Photo by Ajay Gautam.

To rally participants and organizers, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Haryana, along with Shri Thaawarchand Gehlot, Minister (SJ&E) and Shri Krishan Pal Gurjar, Minister of State (SJ&E), attended the event. While walking in the middle of the road, the Hon’ble CM of Haryana said, “Can anyone imagine a wheelchair bound teen having fun on a Gurgaon Road at 9 am, without any fears or apprehensions?”


Raahgiri’s accessible and inclusive message is apparent, as people from all walks of life came to participate. Disability doesn’t limit their potential and roads shouldn’t either. Photo by Kanika Jindal/EMBARQ India.

Girls who are blind practice Judo. Photo by Kanika Jindal/EMBARQ India.

Participant and accessibility consultant Ms. Anjlee Agarwal said “Raahgiri Day has given massive visibility to the journey of Inclusion and Accessibility for people with disabilities in Delhi and Gurgaon and it will add on with rippling effects in other cities”.

Kids put on a play as police offices watch. Photo by Kanika Jindal/EMBARQ India.

A performance with a difference–an example of the inclusive opportunities that accessible roads can provide. Photo by Ajay Gautam.

Raising awareness and improving accessibility go hand in hand for all those who participated at Raahgiri Gurgaon. Photo by Kanika Jindal/EMBARQ India.

In addition to building communal awareness of the need to include people with disabilities, the ‘Inclusive Raahgiri Day’ emphasized the fact that people with disabilities have talent and passion that should be embraced.  “Over the years as a special needs parent I have seen people’s indifferent looks and attitude. But today I saw a change, a hope; a new beginning….for inclusive India!” said the parent of one of the participants.

A group of children singing. Photo by Kanika Jindal.

One of Raahgiri Day’s core objectives is “Inclusive Development,” along with road safety, clean air, and physical activity. Many urban areas in India are becoming very exclusive, as there is no formal mechanism facilitating interaction between various cross sections of society. This edition of Raahgiri Day was inclusive in its true sense. It attracted people from all walks of life—those who can afford condominiums, to those in nearby villages and slums, to children with all a variety of disabilities. Everyone shared the stage at Raahgiri Day.

Yoga acrobatics. Photo by Kanika Jindal/EMBARQ India

Raahgiri Day is mobilizing and inspiring momentous change that hopefully will enable a new level of consciousness in the city and lead to a greater recognition of the needs of different people.

See more pictures from Mumbai’s Equal Streets events below, and on Facebook, and keep up with the events on Twitter.

Categories: Europe

7 Principles for Transit-Oriented Development

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 06/17/2015 - 10:56am

By managing growth that is compact, coordinated, and connected, transit-oriented development (TOD) prioritizes people over cars. Photo by Fred Inklaar.

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

Poorly planned urban expansion is increasingly distancing people from jobs, services and the opportunities that enable them to live a high quality life in cities. There are currently 170 million Brazilians in urban areas living with the consequences of decades of car-driven development. To reverse this trend and ensure a more sustainable future for all, integrating land use policy and transport planning is essential.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population and land area, but its pattern of urbanization has been sprawled, uncoordinated, and disconnected. The present situation not only demands motorized trips, but also causes congestion and harmful environmental impacts, and burdens citizens, especially those with lower incomes who spend significant time using transport.

Fortunately, we know how to bring cities onto a more sustainable path with transit-oriented development (TOD). This model of urban planning focuses on dense, compact, mixed-use neighborhoods with vibrant streets and safe public spaces for social interaction.

TOD is the key to more efficient, sustainable, and equitable communities because it prioritizes the “3Cs”: compact, coordinated and connected. By following a TOD approach, decision makers and urban planners can strengthen their communities.

Cities can ensure TOD by focusing on the following seven principles :

1. Quality Public Transit

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Public transit is strongly linked to urban development. High quality, convenient transport depends on dense and connected neighborhoods. The goal of a transport system is to connect a high number of riders with the city in a comfortable, efficient, and affordable way.

2. Active Transport

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

The interests of pedestrians and cyclists should be at the heart of urban planning. Decision making should shift residents—particularly car users—to active transport. Many commuters already take two non-motorized trips on a daily basis by walking to and from transit hubs to their homes or cars. It is important to build on this and encourage non-motorized transport holistically.

3. Car Use Management

Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brazil | EMBARQ Brazil.

Car use and parking policies play an important role in creating a safe, human-oriented urban environment. Since the 1980s, cars have dominated Brazilian cities. Despite individual car trips accounting for 27.4 percent of all urban trips (or 36 percent in cities with over one million residents), car infrastructure is supported with four times the amount of investment that public transit receives.

4. Mixed-Use Neighborhoods with Efficient Buildings

Photo by Paul Krueger / Flickr.

A mixture of land uses enhances the local economy by densifying and diversifying the design of the community. Mixed-use neighborhoods favor short trips by foot or bike. Similarly, buildings should minimize how much energy and water they consume and require for building and maintenance.

5. Neighborhood Centers and Vibrant Ground Floors

Photo by City Clock Magazine/Flickr.

A built environment with adequate public space promotes social interaction between residents. Sustainable urban communities must be sufficiently dense and contain a variety of uses that are complementary to residential life. Public spaces should be connected to the urban transport network and serve as vibrant, human-centered places of activity.

6. Public Spaces

Photo by Marta Heinemann Bixby/Flickr.

The purpose of public space is not only to enhance public life and social interaction, but also to provide a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists. Public space is the place of encounter, exchange, and circulation within a community. All individuals have the right to access public spaces, regardless of personal, social, or economic condition.

7. Community Participation and Collective Identity

Photo by Fabio Goiveia/Flickr.

Community participation is essential to building a vibrant, inclusive neighborhood that is safe and equitable. Stimulating community participation creates a more equitable, harmonious relationship between varying social groups living in the same area. Respecting the unique identity of local communities results in a higher share of residents engaging in civic, cultural, and economic activities, generating a sense of belonging and ownership of the city.

Making TOD a Reality in Brazilian Cities

WRI Brazil | Brazil EMBARQ recently developed a report called “DOTS Cidades” (Portuguese for TOD)—a guide for policy makers and urban planners for creating cities based on these seven principles. The guide outlines concepts, design strategies, and best practices in public management, planning and urban design, and the transport sector, as well as information about accessibility and environmental requirements.

To read and down the publication (in Portuguese), click here.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

Suburbia Goes Global: What It Means for Urban Sustainability

Embarq The City Fix - Tue, 06/16/2015 - 10:50am

A suburban development outside Beijing, “Orange County” is just one of many gated communities springing up on the edges of cities worldwide. Photo by Andrew Stokols.

Red tile roofs, a backyard barbecue, a clubhouse in the style of a French chateau. Welcome to Orange County. No, not Orange County, California, the famed suburban region known for its beaches and McMansions. This is Orange County, Beijing.

The resemblance to an American suburb is uncanny. Of course, the water peddler pulling a tricycle down the street and the pollution is a reminder that alas, you are still in Beijing. But for middle class and wealthy Chinese residents, this is the closest thing to buying a house in the United States: a slice of American suburbia on the edge of Beijing.

The phenomenon of ersatz American suburbs is not limited to China alone. The outskirts of Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad, southern India’s IT hubs, are sprinkled with American-style homes and gated communities. However, this type of single-family development is a major contributor to urban sprawl. Housing like this fosters dependence on the automobile, class divisions and inequality. Curtailing this kind of sprawl with smart planning and urban design strategies will be crucial to reducing cities’ carbon footprints, and creating more equitable patterns of urbanization.

Gated communities: A utopia or dystopia?

Developments like Orange County, Beijing may seem amusing to Westerners, but they are increasingly popular in rapidly developing countries around the world. Beijing’s northern periphery is sprinkled with suburban developments bearing names of exotic Western locales: “Napa Valley, Yosemite, Vancouver Forest, Riviera. On the edge of Shanghai, a series of themed European towns have popped up, each in the style of a different European nation. In the early 1990s, these houses were mostly occupied by diplomats or expats, Today, gated upscale communities of single-family homes are often the sought-after choice of residence for rising middle classes in China, India, Brazil, and beyond, for wealthy, upwardly mobile consumers who want to enjoy the same comforts of suburban living that the West has long taken for granted.

“Vancouver Forest” is a suburban development outside Beijing. Photo by Andrew Stokols.

There are indeed many reasons why those who can afford it are choosing to wall themselves off in exclusive suburbs. In cities with high poverty and crime rates, the allure of private security, privatized city services, and functioning utilities is hard to resist. The desire for the lifestyle symbolized by single-family homes is not something that can be easily dismissed as unimportant.

But at the same time, planners in these cities need to think about how to accommodate the vast majority of urban residents who cannot afford such exclusive developments. A growing problem presented by such privatized, gated communities is that they often opt out of public services altogether, hiring private companies to provide clean water, electricity, and private security. This is great for the residents who can afford it. But it also weakens the services of other city residents, who would otherwise benefit from taxes paid into public coffers by all residents, rich and poor alike. As the head of UN-Habitat Joan Clos remarked, the global proliferation of gated communities is  “an expression of increased inequality, increased uneasiness in accepting diversity.”

Compact Development Requires a Range of Strategies

Recognizing the potentially destabilizing effect of luxury lifestyles amidst persistent poverty, some city officials have taken measures to curtail the proliferation of elite lifestyles. City officials in Beijing and Chongqing have attempted to ban the use of words connoting luxury in advertisements, including those of luxury housing developments. But such superficial measures, of course, fail to shift either consumer desires or urban planning policies. Instead, city leaders should focus on tangible solutions that curtail sprawl and foster compact cities.

Urban Growth Restrictions: Cities in the United States have tried to curtail urban sprawl with a variety of policies–some, like Portland’s well-known urban growth boundary, more restrictive than others. But the rapid urbanization, or rather suburbanization, occurring in developing countries today is poised to far outdo America’s sprawl.

Denser Layout of Single-Family Homes: Planning for a denser arrangement of homes is one way to accommodate single-family houses in a more compact urban form. The townhouse, a common residential form in many American cities, is one way of doing this. Today, turn-of-the-century townhouses in Washington DC or Brooklyn, NY can fetch millions. Yet, these neighborhoods are able to achieve density, walkability, and real-estate desirability without fencing themselves off completely from the rest of the city.

Changing Attitudes: It’s easy for those in developed countries to look down on such communities as tacky replicas of American suburbia, having taken this kind of lifestyle for granted. But for cities in which the vast majority of residents live in apartments, the chance to own one’s freestanding home is a symbol of a better life. Transforming the ideal conception of home from suburban McMansion to a more compact, sustainable lifestyle requires large cultural shifts as well. And not just in the developing world: the same subdivisions are still being built in the U.S. because developers think that is what consumers desire.

In addition to worsening inequality, there is an even more direct economic rationale for curtailing sprawl: a recent report from the New Climate Economy estimated that sprawl costs the United States up to $1 trillion per year, much of it in increased infrastructure costs that low-density communities require. For developing countries intent on maximizing economic growth, this should be as strong a reason as any to change course.

Categories: Europe

Designing for a Sustainable Future: A Q&A with Jared Green

Embarq The City Fix - Mon, 06/15/2015 - 10:27am

Green spaces in cities, such as New York’s High Line, promote an active, sustainable lifestyle for city residents. Photo by David Berkowitz/Flickr.

For Designed for the Future: 80 Practical Ideas for a Sustainable World, Jared Green asked 80 architects, landscape architects, urban planners, non-profit leaders, journalists, and artists—all people shaping the future of our built and natural environments—the same question: what gives you hope that a sustainable future is possible?

The ideas in the book range from policies, like congestion pricing in London, to resilience-building projects, like The Sand Engine in the Netherlands. Together, they are a fascinating glimpse at what is happening at the frontier of sustainability in cities around the world.

TheCityFix sat down with Jared to talk about technology, urban greenery, and why he is so optimistic about the future.

What is the role of these specific, local examples for generating change at a global level?

Most of the contributors focused on a local project they believe points the way forward to a more sustainable future. I found the motivations underlying these projects can be grouped into a few categories:

  • First, our past is tied to our future. What has worked over the ages is what will carry us through to the future.
  • Second, we also need a break with the past, in some regards. New technologies may offer solutions to the problems we haven’t confronted before.
  • Third, communities are the root of sustainability. We must enhance every community’s ability to sustain itself.
  • Fourth, we must harness the efficiency of natural systems by mimicking them. Green infrastructure uses natural systems to generate ecosystem services that benefit us all.
  • Lastly, throughout all these human efforts to create a more sustainable relationship with our environment runs a deep thread—our quest for beauty. We cannot achieve a sustainable future if it’s not appealing on an aesthetic level, if we don’t connect with it.

I think these deep motivations, which take reality in local examples, need to be better enabled on a global scale if we are to survive long term.

Some ideas look toward cutting-edge technology, while others look back at design principles that have been around for years. What do you see as the balance between the two?

Throughout human history, we have tacked back and forth between reaching for new technologies, because we have new problems to solve, and also relying on age-old approaches that work. I think the balancing factor between the two is community.

What I learned from talking to all these contributors is that sustainability is ultimately about the approaches and technologies that help a community survive over the long term. Communities’ problems, in all their diversity, will always be solved through a unique mix of new technologies and age-old techniques. It’s about communities having opportunities and options so they can find the right mix.

Why do you believe that public participation and community engagement are integral to sustainable cities?

Bad ideas inflicted on communities without their approval are just not sustainable. Urban renewal in the West, for example, was largely a bust. In Eastern Europe, the Communists divorced the city from nature and isolated people in alienating concrete blocks. For the past few decades, China has been moving vast numbers of people into towers that have destroyed existing communities.

Public participation is critical to creating buy-in for a vision of a sustainable city. If it has to be forced on you, then it’s not likely to work long-term.

Reusing and repurposing different parts of the city is a big theme. What lessons does this have for rapidly growing cities in developing countries?

The rapidly growing cities of the developing world are also reusing and reconfiguring resources to serve change and expansion. In Africa and Asia, many countries were creating cities long before Western countries were. Today, as China seeks to move from a manufacturing to a service economy, they are already looking at how to clean up their rivers, transforming them from being just conduits for industrial output to sources of recreation, just like the West is working on now.

I hope emerging cities everywhere will think long-term about their infrastructural investments. Some cutting-edge infrastructure in the West is multi-use. For example, Sherbourne Common in Toronto is both a park and wastewater treatment plant. There are opportunities to leap-frog past the rather limited single-use infrastructure of the past.

Sherbourne Commons in Toronto is both a waterfront park and a water filtration plant, helping the city manage waste while contributing to the local aesthetic at the same time. Photo by wyliepoon/Flickr.

What is one idea that you can see spreading to cities worldwide in the near future?

Green infrastructure—using natural systems to achieve infrastructural goals—is likely to spread because it’s more resilient and does more things at once than the alternative: “grey” or concrete infrastructure. Already, many state and local governments in the U.S. and European have bought into these approaches, which offer many benefits at once and save money.

Many green infrastructural approaches are not new. For centuries, humans have been managing water using nature. We’ve also always planted trees. It’s just recently with the move to cities in the last few hundred years that we’ve somewhat lost this connection, but it’s coming back.

To order the book and learn more about the future of sustainability, click here.

Categories: Europe

Friday Fun: Bringing Art to City Streets around the World

Embarq The City Fix - Fri, 06/12/2015 - 1:07pm

TheCityFix’s own mural: “Cityfiksy”. Photo by Andrew Stokols.

Street art can do a lot for a city: improve traffic safety, engage local political and social issues, and contribute to the vibrancy of urban communities. In many urban neighborhoods worldwide, street art is no long perceived as a public nuisance or a degradation of public space. In fact, many cities have adopted official programs that sponsor recognized artists or engage the public, cultivating a culture of local street art.

Since we are currently renovating our office here at TheCityFix, we took this opportunity to highlight to some of our favorite examples of street art across the world, and to do a little painting of our own.

Street Art in Rabat, Morocco

Last month, the city of Rabat, Morocco introduced Jidar, an event showcasing street art. The event engaged the entire city, and local architecture acted as the backdrop for artists from Morocco and beyond. In addition to the event’s official artistic contributions to the city, it was also intended to motivate people to integrate art into the urban environment on their own. One of the event’s directors described how “taking inspiration from public space is key to the festival.” Jidar also featured workshops and street art-oriented discussions and documentaries.

Moreover, this event represents how Moroccan street art is branching out from its origins. Through 2015, the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat plans to profile street art in an exhibition.

To see more photos, check out the Jidar website.

China’s Graffiti Street

“Graffiti Street” in Chongqing, China covers approximately 40,000 square meters of building facade. Photo by Drew Bates/Flickr.

Chongqing, China, is home to “Graffiti Street,” which is one of the world’s most notable graffiti-laden roads. Spanning approximately 40,000 square meters, some buildings’ exteriors are now exclusively covered in graffiti.

However, Graffiti Street was constructed with intention. Zhou Zongkai, a vice dean at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, received a grant from the government in 2006 to finance Graffiti Street, and the rendering was made by Zongkai’s animation business. At this time, and due in part to the prominence of the Institute, the area became a recognized art district.

Approximately 800 artists (and student-artists) helped make Graffiti Street, which is said to include 12 tons of paint.

Shanghai’s Street Art

Julien Malland has been working with local artists in Shanghai to produce street art that engages with local themes. Photo by Li Ze and Zhang Chi.

In Shanghai, street art has a large international influence – Julien Malland, a street artist from France, has actively improved the city’s landscape with art. His murals can be found in two notable contexts: in the first, his murals conveyed the mood of the city amidst massive reconstruction. He worked alongside Shi Zheng, an artist from China, to paint the dilapidated buildings. However, the government mandated that the murals be taken down.

Despite this response, Malland’s efforts continued. In his second phase, Malland was asked to brighten Shanghai’s Fengjing area by the Shanghai United Foundation and an opera development group from Peking. Using locks and wall space, as well as other features of the city, he painted with Chinese artists from the area. Malland wanted the people of Fengjing to relate to the subject matter of the murals, and as he describes, “The reactions among locals … have been outstanding because my paintings were about them, their traditions and the things that matter to them.”


TheCityFix’s own mural: “Cityfiksy”. Photo by Andrew Stokols.

To commemorate the start of our office renovation, TheCityFix decided to paint a mural on one of our blank walls. “Cityfiksy” was inspired by renowned street artist Banksy, and is a tribute to cities worldwide.

Categories: Europe

The Slow-Turbo Roundabout. A promising new Dutch roundabout design and why you should NOT copy it

Hembrow - Fri, 06/12/2015 - 5:37am
A few days ago a new Dutch "slow turbo" roundabout design appeared in images on Twitter. Ordinarily, turbo roundabouts are used in the Netherlands to deal with large volumes of high speed motor vehicles in locations such as motorway junctions, which are rarely visible to cyclists and pedestrians, but this new design is intended to be used in areas with high volumes of cyclists and pedestrians: David Hembrow
Categories: Europe

Google creates company to improve cities

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 06/11/2015 - 3:20pm

Google created Sidewalk Labs to solve urban challenges with technology. Photo by Roman Kruglov/Flickr

If Google was to solve urban problems as it solve digital ones, would the world be safer?

Get ready because this is precisely the ambition of the Internet giant, which just announced a new company that will work at the intersection of the digital and the real world. Sidewalk Labs was born with the mission to improve life in cities through technology.

New technologies have completely changed the world of business, access to information, education, and lifestyles – there are digital resources and applications for just about everything. However, major urban challenges such as mobility, efficient transport, cost of living, use of natural resources and government efficiency have so far proven more difficult to resolve.

Therefore, Sidewalk Labs will develop products, platforms and partnerships to progress in these areas.

Dan Doctoroff, former CEO of Bloomberg LP and former deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding of New York City, is the CEO of the new company. “We are at the beginning of a historic transformation in cities. At a time with rising concerns about urban equity, cost, health and environment, the transformative power of technology will make cities more efficient, responsive, flexible and resilient. We expect  Sidewalk Labs to play a big role in the development of technological products, platforms and advanced infrastructure that can be implemented at scale in cities around the world,” said Doctoroff.

Google CEO Larry Page believes that better urban technology can significantly change the lives of billions of people around the world. “With Sidewalk Labs, we want to expand massively existing efforts in areas such as housing, energy, transportation and government in order to solve real problems that urban residents face every day,” he said.

It is exciting to know that Google is on the front line to help combat urban problems with its core skill: technology. It’s a chance to ensure the urban population, 54% of the world today, gets a more equitable, affordable, and happy future. Do you agree?

Visit the official website of the company to follow the next steps.

Categories: Europe

How “eyes on the street” contribute to public safety

Embarq The City Fix - Thu, 06/11/2015 - 10:01am

Pedestrians walk along Rua XV in Curitaba, Brazil. Even among strangers, eyes on the street provide safety in public spaces. Photo by Dylan Passmore/Flickr.

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Every month features a new theme. Leaning on the expertise of researchers and specialists in WRI’s sustainable urban mobility team in Brazil, the series will feature in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, gender, resilience, and other key themes for sparking more sustainable development in our cities.

Cities are not only sets of statistics. They are homes to people, who develop relationships and communities in which their everyday experiences unfold. Public spaces are central to the dynamics of city life: they are meeting spaces, and the perceptions that people have of these areas are directly related to how they use them.

Both the quality of public spaces as well as the surrounding environment determine how people use them. If they are accessible, attractive, and safe, they can inspire a range of uses and activities. In contrast, when public spaces are abandoned or neglected, they can cease to be places where people feel safe.

Over fifty years ago, writer and journalist Jane Jacobs famously studied and wrote about this relationship and developed the concept of “eyes on the street”. For Jacobs, one of the main characteristics of a thriving urban center is that people feel safe and secure in public spaces, despite being among complete strangers.

The logic is simple: the more people in the streets, the safer they become. Their “eyes on the street” provide informal surveillance of the urban environment. For residents to move safely through the streets, other people need to be present, contributing to an atmosphere of safety. Here are some of the key elements at play in this relationship:

Ample room for walking

Wide sidewalks allow for more pedestrians. Photo by Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil | EMBARQ Brasil.

Streets with a steady flow of pedestrians tend to be safer. Photo by Robin Jaffray/Flickr.

Contact between buildings and the street

High walls obstruct views of the street, contributing to a lack of security. Photo by Daniel Lobo/Flickr.

When people inside buildings can easily observe street life, streets are safer. Photo by Max Bashirov/Flickr.

Attractive Spaces

Quality public spaces are attractive to people. Photo by Alejandro Castro/Flickr.

And the more people in these spaces, the safer they become. Photo by Bee Collins/Flickr.


Efficient lighting throughout the day and night ensures that public spaces are consistently safe. Photo by Pete/Flickr.

All these elements help open our eyes to the street.

Urban security is not simply a matter of policing: it is directly related to the quality of public spaces and their ability to attract people onto the streets.

Public spaces, like people, are not islands, isolated from the surrounding environment. Public spaces are connected to collective identity, everyday life, and the ways that we interact and meet one another. Cities gain their vitality from their residents—beyond the walls of buildings and in public spaces at the essence of urban life.

This article was originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil.

Categories: Europe

Three Enabling Factors for Building Urban Resilience

Embarq The City Fix - Wed, 06/10/2015 - 10:49am

Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam has partnered with Rotterdam in the Netherlands to learn from each other’s experience and collaborate on a Climate Adaptation Strategy. Photo by BBC World Service/Flickr.

Due to climate change, hundreds of millions of people in urban areas across the world will be exposed to rising sea levels, greater inland flooding, more frequent and intense storms, and regular periods of both extreme heat and cold in the coming years. Despite these risks, many cities have not yet addressed resilience—the capacity to not only bounce back after a natural disaster, but also strengthen protection to future hazards and learn from the experience.

Cities often lack the technical and financial capacity to invest in resilience building. Particularly in developing countries, cities face a range of pressing challenges—from providing basic services, to ensuring affordable housing, developing sustainable transport, and increasing economic opportunity. Because of these immediate and pressing issues, city leaders often do not prioritize projects, like early warning systems, or policies, like zoning codes, that can build the long-term capacity of their communities to properly respond to climate hazards. Especially far down on the list of priorities are the governance-related changes necessary for ensuring that efforts are actually implemented and are effective.

In order to overcome these challenges, it is essential that leaders develop repositories of context-specific information, share their information and insights, and coordinate among departments. Acting on these three enabling factors will ensure that cities worldwide achieve the level of resilience they require.

1. Develop context-specific information

It’s critical that city officials have accurate and full information about the potential impacts of various hazards in their city and how different areas of the city and various communities might be impacted differently. For example, a storm with significant storm surge will cause much more significant damage along the coastline but a storm with high wind speeds and low storm surge will affect different neighborhoods. This information needs to be collected and updated by each city itself; it is not the kind of information that can be shared across cities.

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New York City became an exemplar for developing context-specific information. In 2013, Mayor Bloomberg updated PlanNYC to “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” emphasizing urban resilience. The comprehensive plan has updated flood maps and other city-specific information, and contains actionable recommendations for protecting the city’s coastline, buildings, infrastructure, and communities from future climate risks.

2. Share information and lessons learned

An important step towards building resilience is sharing this information and properly communicating it to the public. With accurate and timely hazard information, communities—especially vulnerable populations—can better respond to climate threats, particularly when supported with evacuation routes and emergency transport options. Furthermore, cities can learn a lot from one another, so sharing information about their experiences with successful policies and programs is invaluable.

For example, Rotterdam and Ho Chi Minh City are topographically similar cities, and Rotterdam is helping city officials in Ho Chi Minh City create and implement a Climate Adaptation Strategy through the Connecting Delta Cities Network. This type of partnership is critical for developing not only financial resources, but technical capacity as well.

3. Coordinate among departments, sectors and jurisdictions

Coordination is often already a significant challenge for city departments and sectors. However, proactively building climate resilience requires coordinating actions between many departments, and may even require new mechanisms for collaboration between both departments and civil society. Particularly when cities build resilience to climate change through projects in specific sectors, communication and coordination across sectors can maximize efficiency and economic savings. If stakeholders fail to communicate, efforts to build resilience may result in maladaptation.

For instance, floods affecting Bangkok and the surrounding region in 2011 divided the city center from peri-urban populations because of the government’s decision to create floodwalls protecting the city. By not coordinating between jurisdictions outside the urban core, officials were unable to meet the pressing needs of the vulnerable populations north of the city that were badly affected by flooding.

Ensuring Success across Differing City Contexts

Around the world, cities are at different stages of resilience planning. Some have developed stand-alone resilience plans, some have integrated resilience into their master plans or urban development plans, and others are choosing to build resilience within a sector or through specific projects. Regardless of the strategy that decision makers adopt, the more context-specific information they have, the more they share information with citizens and other stakeholders, and the more coordination they foster, the more likely they will be to build resilience that is sustainable over time. Researchers, practitioners and city officials are gathering in Bonn this week (June 8-10, 2015) at the ICLEI Resilient Cities Congress to discuss how they can work together to facilitate climate resilience building in a more effective way than ever before. This is no small task, but cities around the world are beginning to act.

Categories: Europe