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Sustainable Cities
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Video: “What Are You Waiting For, Brazil?” Jan Gehl Calls Cities to Action

Tue, 2016-12-06 02:49

Jan Gehl. Photo by Bruno Felin / WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

At 80 years old, Danish architect and urbanist Jan Gehl shares his ideas on how to build a better future for global cities. Gehl has spent more than 50 years in academia and the professional world becoming a different, and unconventional, architect. Upon graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Denmark in 1960, he felt ready to put into practice what he had learned from the modernist school. It wasn’t until he met his wife, the psychologist Ingrid Mundt, however, that everything changed. Gehl and Mundt organized weekly meetings with colleagues in sociology, psychology and architecture to identify opportunities for joint research, when Gehl came up with a simple but vital insight that defined the rest of his career: Urban planning should create cities for people at the human scale. Instead of prioritizing form, architecture must create the best habitat for people.

In 1965, Gehl and his wife traveled to Italy to investigate the interaction of people with public spaces. They studied cities by counting the number of people walking, noting their movements and their habits. “My wife and I realized that the great gap between architects and sociologists was that no one was on the streets observing how the format of cities was impacting people,” he said at the Frontiers of Thought event in Porto Alegre.

Jan Gehl during his talk on the Frontiers of Thought. Photo: Bruno Felin / WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

Gehl’s consulting firm, Gehl Architects, founded in 2000, has already completed projects in New York, Melbourne, Sydney, Moscow, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and many other places. In addition to having a successful business, the architect has published several books, among them Life Between Buildings, How to Study Public Life and Cities for People, already translated in 32 languages. “They told me I could continue to criticize and write books, but I should also go to the cities and show what should be done,” he said.

In Cities for People, Gehl formulated 12 criteria for the creation of public spaces, including space to walk, sit, things to see, aesthetic quality and protection from traffic. The Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy, is one of the places Gehl identifies as perfect, as it meets all 12 criteria. On the other hand, the worst urban form is exemplified in Brasilia. The architect even coined the term “Brasilia Syndrome” to criticize modern practices that epitomize the “worst” that can be done in a city: streets and avenues created only for cars, low density and what he calls “bird shit architecture.”

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities met Jan Gehl on his way through Porto Alegre and discussed challenges in Brazilian cities: active transport, bicycles, density and people-centered infrastructure. The team asked him the following questions:

What are the main challenges in Brazil for building better people-oriented cities?

The challenge in Brazil, in my opinion, is the same challenge as anywhere else. Around the world, we have a growing population, particularly in cities. This urban shift is a good thing—we can live in a much more sustainable way in cities than in rural areas. In the countryside, services are more expensive, there is a greater demand for resources and for mobility—one must travel miles for any singular need. So in cities, we can have a more sustainable lifestyle.

As a result, it is very important that we rethink the way we organize cities. I know that many cities already direct much of their agendas to build more sustainable cities, which means getting rid of cars as quickly and efficiently as possible. The role of automobiles is outdated; they are made for specific needs a hundred years ago. We now know that the bigger cities are, the more unnecessary it is to have individual cars as a means of transportation. It is interesting that, in 2009, global cars-use reached its all-time peak, even in America, Australia and Canada. In my view, it is a good thing that we reconsider how we move because the current prevailing view of mobility is about cheap oil—its endless supply and other resources. But neither resources nor oil are infinite, and both are very dangerous and damaging to the climate.

In my opinion, we need to make smarter neighborhoods and city centers, based on the idea of increased walking and cycling. Many cities have decided to do this. In my city, Copenhagen, 50 percent of people go to work or school on a bicycle. This was not so ten or twenty years ago—it has gone up and up. With more infrastructure, the safer it becomes and the more people cycle. It’s good for the climate, good for you, good for the economy, good for pollution and good for noise. It’s actually quite good.

In Brazil, and in many other places, people still ask for wider streets and complain about bike paths that take road space from motorized vehicles. Is it possible to change this?

Asking for wider streets is just completely stupid. We know, based on examples from all over the world, that the wider the streets and the more streets you have, the more traffic, the more fat people and the more pollution you get. That is a “no-no” road. In smart cities and countries, they narrow the roads, limit the number of streets, and they do everything to promote other forms of mobility—to promote public transport, cycling and walking as much as possible. We need to develop much smarter modes of public transportation because the old buses that still circulate in many places are not 21st century technology.

We really need to think of future cities as pearls on a string. The string should be a very fast, smart and secure public transportation system. Then we will have neighborhoods as pearls on a string, where most people are within walking or cycling distance from transit stations. There you have fantastic neighborhoods where you can work, live, where your children can grow up and the aging population can get even older.

One way to accommodate more people in less space is to build high-rise buildings, which goes against your idea of human-scale development. How can we find a balance for this?

What is different about Paris? Barcelona? Both have high densities, but their buildings are only six or seven stories. I sometimes say that lazy architects respond to density with towers. But if the same architect works harder, he can create the same density with shorter structures. The quality of life at the top of a tower and the quality of life below are very different. On top, you are completely isolated; the only things you can see are airplanes coming and going from the airport. Down below, you are part of the city. These two lives are completely different. I really think that tall buildings are outdated, and by studying the density issue closely, we can build much better cities.

Looking at Porto Alegre, we see the sad example of developers who erect high-rises everywhere. They are what I call “bird shit architects” [Gehl uses a bottle to demonstrate the analogy. According to him, these architects simply look at the city from above and blindly place tall buildings. See the explanation in the video]. They look from above without any insight into what quality of life should be in the city.

How does shape of a city affect people’s lives? What is the role of architecture in today’s society?

In fact, I see the big cities of the future made by a large number of villages and neighborhoods where one can be a child, have fun and go to school; where you can be old. Doctors say you need to walk a lot, so you should be on the street and not sitting at home watching television. For this, you need a very nice neighborhood, where you love to walk; where you have reasons to go to places: a library, a cultural center or anywhere else. You need to have a good quality of life, whether you are young or old, but quality of life and cars cannot exist together; we are sure of that. We have lived this model for 50 years; it does not work.

How can cities already built outside the human scale be rethought and rehabilitated?

My own city, Copenhagen, has two very strong city strategies. One is: “We will be the best city in the world for people,” we will make a fantastic city for walking, for all regions and for any age. We will also do our best for community living, so people can meet naturally in squares and parks.

The other strategy is that we will be the best biking city in the world. We know that if we construct more streets, we will have more cars, more traffic. If you provide better conditions for pedestrians and public life, ten years later, you will have more pedestrians and more life on the streets. If you offer better conditions for bicycles, ten years later, you will have more cyclists. So it’s a question of what strategy you have. In a city like this (Porto Alegre), you can easily establish strategies that favor people and bicycles instead of just having strategies that favor cars, traffic and automobiles.

Is Brazil uniquely guilty of the “Brasilia Syndrome,” or are other countries having the same problems?

Brazil is no different from anywhere else. In all the countries where I worked for 30 years, they always started by saying: “You need to understand that it is different here—we have different climate, different culture, we have a different tradition; we love our cars more than other places. That’s how we are, and we cannot be changed.” In the end, they changed, and no one remembers who said “this can never be done.” I heard this in New York, especially. “The Big Apple cannot be changed. You can never come to New York with European ideas.” Then it changed. In Moscow: “This can never be done in Moscow.” It was done; it happened. What are you waiting for, Brazil?

When given the choice, everyone—rich, poor, young or old—would choose to live in a good, healthy habitat. That desire comes from within.

This piece is a transcription of an interview with Jan Gehl and does not necessarily reflect the views of WRI

Originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFixBrasil

India Can Save Up to $1.8 Trillion Per Year with Smart Urban Growth

Fri, 2016-12-02 19:48

A Mother and Her Child Wait to Board Ahmedabad’s Bus Rapid Transit System, Janmarg. Photo by Meena Kadri / Flickr

India is at a crossroads, and how its cities develop in the coming several years will shape its future for generations.

While only about one-third of Indians currently live in cities, that number will nearly double from 420 million to 800 million by 2050. Whether those people live in safe, productive and clean communities will depend on how India’s leaders guide urban growth.

A new report released today by the New Climate Economy called Better Cities, Better Growth: India’s Urban Opportunity finds that more compact cities experienced faster economic growth from 2002-2012 than cities that are more dispersed or “sprawled.” In fact, the report shows that smart urban growth can save India between $330 billion and $1.8 trillion (₹2-12 lakh crores) per year by mid-century – up to 6 percent of the country’s GDP – and create significant savings for households.

The Costs of Getting It Wrong

India isn’t “sprawled” in the traditional way—Indian cities are among the densest in the world. But the problem is that it is not productive density. Instead of multi-level buildings organized into accessible neighborhoods, many Indian cities are filled with short, overcrowded buildings, and lack public transit and pedestrian spaces. So for each square mile of space, there’s a lot less room to live. One of the key reasons for this is India’s relatively restrictive land regulations like building height and zoning restrictions that prevent efficient, productive development. Smart urban growth in India therefore will require ensuring compact development without overcrowding and connecting people to places with a variety of transportation options, from bus rapid transit (BRT) to safe cycling.

The cost of getting urbanization wrong is tremendous. Dispersed, low density cities with inadequate mobility options require a lot more money to sustain. When communities are spread out over large distances, infrastructure and services become significantly more expensive to provide, and many people are often forced to spend a lot of money and hours in transit. The New Climate Economy report notes that providing public infrastructure and services like water, sewerage and electricity is likely to be 10-30 percent higher in dispersed, automobile-oriented developments than in more compact, connected neighborhoods. Furthermore, traffic congestion, air pollution, traffic fatalities and poor health are all outcomes of poorly planned cities, creating additional costs both for residents and governments. Owning and operating a car in India costs 12 times as much as using public transport; 30 times more than using a bike.

Delhi, India’s capital, is a stark example of how car-driven growth has led to traffic congestion that costs the economy an average of almost ₹5 (7¢) per kilometer for cars and ₹10 (15¢) per kilometer for buses during peak hours as a result of air pollution, wasted fuel and lost time. Considering the city already has more than 7 million cars—more than 300 cars per 1,000 people—the impact is significant. The recent air pollution crisis has brought global attention to how Delhi’s reliance on polluting vehicles has created a livability crisis that affects all residents.

The new report uses satellite data of night-time lights to investigate the relationship between urban form and economic growth, and finds that cities had increased economic growth if development occurred within existing city limits rather than expanding beyond them. Graphic by New Climate Economy.

3 Target Areas for Changing Course

But as the new report points out, India has an opportunity to save tremendously by planning cities that are compact, connected and coordinated. By pursuing reforms in three key areas, the country can tap into the potential of urbanization to create social and economic benefits for everyone:

  1. Reforming land regulations can help India better manage its expanding urban footprint. Doing so will help make land use patterns more efficient and effective so that people can live in dense urban communities that work for them. The kinds of regulations in need of reform include restrictive maximum building heights and parking space requirements, but additional measures to the legal system will be essential, like determining property rights and conducting equitable public land acquisitions.
  2. Expanding sustainable urban infrastructure such as efficient, low-carbon public transport systems like bus rapid transit (BRT) is critical for ensuring that cities adequately meet the needs of their residents.
  3. Strengthening urban local governments, accountability and financing can be key to creating a system of governance that works for sustainable cities. Currently, it’s unclear how responsibilities for managing urban issues are divided between national, state or local governments, and technical capacity for city-led action is low, for example due to a lack of formal training for professionals in urban management. The national government should undertake reforms to clarify the evolving responsibilities of local governments, strengthen their administrative capacity and expand their fiscal resources.
A Sustainable Urban Future for India

With 400 million new urban residents by 2050 and 75 percent of national income coming from cities by 2031, there is a lot at stake for India’s urban future. The country’s national and local leaders should recognize the urban opportunity and build on the momentum of newly created central programs like the Smart Cities Mission that aim to get urbanization right. Doing so will ensure that India’s urban future is one of inclusive and sustainable growth where all people can live in cities and have a high quality of life.

From Quito to Marrakech: Towards an Inclusive 1.5 Degree Pathway for Sustainable Mobility

Thu, 2016-12-01 01:00

Global Leaders Discuss the Future of Sustainable Transport at COP22. Photo by UNclimatechange / Flickr

More than 35,000 people from around the world gathered in Quito in October to celebrate the adoption of a New Urban Agenda, and an estimated 20,000 people convened in Marrakech two weeks ago for COP22. The events and dialogue that took place in Quito and Marrakech brought to light the crucial role mobility and transport must play to reach a sustainable future. Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda brought significant attention to issues of equality, inclusion, gender and participation, making the case that the international community will not be able to achieve its aspirations without true inclusion. COP22 convened nearly 200 countries to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement, reached at COP21 in Paris last December.

Like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in particular Goal 11 on sustainable cities—the New Urban Agenda reflects the need for greater access to mobility for all people. During Habitat III, the transport sector factored large, organizing more than 30 events to raise awareness of the importance of investing in low-carbon infrastructure and creating enabling policies and projects. These events centered around making transport more equitable and accessible, in particular for the urban poor, women and for those with disabilities. COP22 saw a similar commitment to the transport sector, with over 30 transport-oriented events, including a high-level ministerial round table and Transport Day, hosted by the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC) and SLoCaT.

Linking Transport to Climate and SDGs

One key message that resonated throughout the events in Quito and Marrakech was the need to link the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda to the global climate agenda, particularly the Paris Agreement. Ensuring that everyone benefits from progress made in sustainable development will prove to be the next challenge for these global agreements. Given the rapid urbanization occurring across the planet, acting on climate commitments will be inseparable from making cities more environmentally sustainable and socially equitable, where all people have access to mobility options that connect them to opportunity.

A clear illustration of how climate and mobility are interconnected can be found in social housing that is built outside of cities, in locations with low access to jobs, services and livelihood opportunities. For example, in recent decades, more than four million houses were built in the outskirts of Mexico City, leading to long travel times, and, in some cases, forcing the poor to abandon new developments because of the lack of access to any economic opportunity. These vulnerable groups have also been most affected by air pollution and road fatalities, as almost fifty percent of the 1.25 million road fatalities that occur every year are pedestrians from low-income countries. If we continue down this path of pushing poor people further and further out of the city without affordable transport options, then the world will not be able to achieve its goals to cap global temperature rises and eradicate poverty.

Now that Habitat III and COP22 have come to a close, there is an opportunity to continue the conversation about linking these agendas and create a greater sense of urgency. From a sustainable mobility perspective, there will be three key elements where integration needs to happen: The Global Climate Action Agenda (formerly known as the Lima-Paris Action Agenda), the development of National Climate Action Plans (National Determined Contributions – NDCs) and the creation of a mechanism to track and report progress on implementing the Paris Agreement.

Last year in Paris, the transport community launched PPMC in partnership with SLoCaT and Michelin Bibendum, which brought together a number of initiatives from civil society organizations, NGOs and business associations to announce their commitment to act on climate change. Many of these initiatives were present in Quito and Marrakech and renewed their commitment by acknowledging the New Urban Agenda during Transport Days at both events. It is vital to continue tracking these initiatives in terms of their impact on reducing greenhouse gas as well as poverty and inequality.

Secondly, as of August 1st, 160 countries have committed to action through their NDCs. While more than 75 percent of countries included transport actions in their initial commitments, less than a tenth of them included investments in walking and cycling infrastructure. The majority focused on improving fuel and vehicle efficiency. While fuel efficiency is certainly important for tacking climate change, there is a risk that focusing solely on this area—particularly in poorer countries—will draw attention and investment only to individual motorized vehicles, which a minority of the population actually uses. In order to achieve the SDGs, Paris Agreement and New Urban Agenda, more investment will be needed for walking, cycling and public transit infrastructure.

These three agreements all contain requirements to measure and report on future commitments and actions— crucial steps toward realizing a vision for better and more inclusive development. The transport sector has and should continue to serve as a model for other sectors on how to align actions and report on progress. Initiatives including Decarbonizing Transport from the International Transport Forum, the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between SLoCaT and UN-HABITAT to track the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the follow-up on the report of Ban Ki Moon’s UN High-level Panel on Sustainable Mobility should make sure that emissions, as well as safety and accessibility, are integral parts of a future tracking framework.

Translating Global Agendas into Action

While there is certainly momentum on the global level to take action and responsibility towards sustainable and low-carbon mobility, the ultimate litmus test will be how these translate into real, on-the-ground progress covering all three dimensions of sustainability. Now, the world looks to see whether the international community and national governments will move to create new policies and stronger investment, empowering sustainable transport infrastructure and services, as they’ve committed to on the global stage. Only if we see progress towards an integrated approach which provides a pathway for more people becoming empowered through low-carbon sustainable mobility and have access to safe and affordable jobs, education and health services, we can assess if Quito and Marrakech have been successful.

Planting Healthy Air: A Natural Solution to Address Pollution and Heat in Cities

Tue, 2016-11-22 22:59

© The Nature Conservancy (Devan King)

Can nature help cities address the twin problems of air that is too dirty or too hot? Based on a new report released by The Nature Conservancy – in collaboration with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group – the answer appears to be a qualified “yes.”

The Planting Healthy Air report identifies the potential return on investment from tree planting in 245 global cities, which currently house about a quarter of the world’s urban population. By collecting and analyzing geospatial information on forest and land cover, particulate matter, and population density and leveraging existing literature, the study estimates the scope of current and future street trees to make urban air healthier. The benefits that trees could afford to cities will be even more crucial in the future, the study finds, as a quarter million people could die each year because of urban heat by 2050, unless cities take proactive steps to adapt to global warming.

Urban Trees, Cooler Cities. © The Nature Conservancy (Erica Simek Sloniker)

While existing city trees already clean and cool the air for more than 50 million people, a global investment of $100 million per year in tree planting and maintenance could provide as many as 77 million people with cooler cities and offer 68 million people measurable reductions in fine particulate matter pollution. New city trees offer great potential impact, but maintaining existing city trees is critical, as many global cities are losing tree cover over time, due to development, pests and pathogens, and lack of budget for maintenance.

Urban Trees, Better Air Quality. © The Nature Conservancy

The Planting Healthy Air report and the accompanying website, with an interactive map and case studies for the report’s top ranked cities, provide resources for those interested in using nature to make air healthier. These findings can help urban leaders and public health officials address outstanding issues about trees and air quality, such as which cities and which neighborhoods can be helped most, the fraction of the air quality problem can trees solve, how much investment is needed, and where are trees a cost-effective investment. In many cities, an individual neighborhood may offer a much higher return on investment (ROI) than the city’s average, and the report’s maps can be a useful tool for city leaders deciding where to make an investment in city trees.

For those searching for ways to address the challenges of air quality and heat, urban trees are the only solution to simultaneously address both. Trees also provide a range of co-benefits, including wildlife habitat, flood control, carbon sequestration, and recreational opportunity, which can have significant value for a city. While urban trees alone can’t solve the challenges of urban heat and air pollution, they’re a solution that can be put in place today and are comparable in cost and effectiveness in many neighborhoods to such solutions as limiting automobile traffic in cites, painting roofs white or installing scrubbers on smokestacks.

In the right spot, trees can help make our air healthier and our cities more verdant and livable.

Visit to learn more and explore the interactive map.

Urban Sanity: Understanding Urban Mental Health Impacts and How to Create Saner, Happier Cities

Tue, 2016-11-15 02:57

Woman waiting for her train at Mumbai Suburban Railway Western Line Church Gate Terminal, Mumbai, India. Photo by Benoit Colin / EMBARQ / Flickr

Does urban living threaten our sanity and happiness? Popular culture is rife with stories which suggest that living in a city increases loneliness and unhappiness, and some scientific studies indicate that urbanization increases mental illness and depression. Are these claims credible? How can communities maintain mental health and happiness?

These are important and timely questions. The human experience is increasingly urban; transitioning from rural to more urban areas. Decision-makers and individuals need practical guidance on how to maximize sanity and happiness when planning cities and choosing where to live.

A newest report from Todd Litman, “Urban Sanity: Understanding Urban Mental Health Impacts and How to Create Saner, Happier Cities,” examines these question. It indicates that city living has mixed mental health impacts.

Some research suggests that urban residency may increase psychosis and mood disorder risks, certain types of drug addiction and some people’s unhappiness, but it tends to reduce dementia, some types of substance abuse and suicide rates, and generally increases happiness, particularly for people who are poor and alienated. Urban living also tends to increase mental health by increasing economic opportunities, fitness, health and access to mental health and addiction treatment services. Self-reported happiness (also called life satisfaction) tends to increase with education and income, and therefore with urbanization since cities tend to offer better economic opportunities than rural areas. Urban areas tend to have much lower (about half) the suicide rate of rural areas, which suggests that city living increases overall mental health and happiness. The table below summarizes these effects:

Urbanization Mental Health Impacts

Overall, this research found little credible evidence that urban living significantly increases overall insanity or unhappiness and lots of evidence that most people are, overall, mentally better off living in compact, mixed, walkable urban neighborhoods. Scientific studies which indicate that urban living increases mental illness and unhappiness tend to be incomplete and biased; they consider a limited population and fail to account for important confounding factors. In this regard, they cannot differentiate between association (cities attract mentally ill and unhappy people) and causation (cities make people mentally ill and unhappy).

There is plenty of empirical evidence that most people are happier living in cities, including huge worldwide rural-to-urban migrations; these would not occur if billions of people did not consider themselves overall better off in urban conditions. Some consumer surveys indicate that, given unlimited resources, most households would prefer a large suburban home and automobile commuting over an urban apartment and public transport commuting; in fact, if resources were unlimited, most would probably prefer a castle located  in a private game reserve and commuting by helicopter, but when confronted with realistic trade-offs, a major portion of households will choose compact urban housing. Much of the evidence that consumers dislike cities, and that cities increase mental illness and unhappiness, are specific to North American conditions, where public policies are anti-urban and cities have severe social problems. As a result, such evidence does not apply to economically successful, well-designed urban neighborhoods.

The table below summarizes various mechanisms by which urban environments can affect mental health and happiness, considers whether these are actually caused by urbanization, and identifies specific response strategies.

Urban living can affect mental health and happiness in several ways. Some are inherent to urban conditions, but many are associations related to confounding factors.

This analysis suggests that better policies and design strategies can increase urban mental health and happiness. These include policies that improve mental health services in urban areas, more affordable urban housing and transportation, improved walking and cycling conditions, improved social programs that integrate visible minorities and welcome newcomers into urban neighborhoods, and appropriate public parks and recreation facilities. Such policies are important in both developed countries, where public policies currently favor suburban over urban living, and in developing countries, where rapidly developing cities can incorporate design features to maximize mental health and happiness.

This is not to suggest that everybody should live in dense cities; some people are unsuited due to their lifestyle or temperament, for example, because they own large pets or engage in noisy activities. However, because cities tend to improve economic and social opportunities, many people benefit overall from urban living; their economic and social gains more than offset any additional mental stress, particularly over the long run, as they become accustomed to urban environments. Since urban living reduces per capita land consumption and transport costs, it tends to provide additional, indirect benefits.

Urban planners should find this research reassuring; it suggests that most people can take advantage of urban living benefits without sacrificing their sanity or happiness. Good urban planning can help create saner and happier cities.

Do Global Initiatives put the Transport Sector on Track to Fight Climate Change?

Sun, 2016-11-13 22:02

São Paulo, Brazil Offers a Variety of Mobility Options. Photo by Mariana Gil / EMBARQ Brasil / Flickr

Today is Transport Day at COP22, which will highlight the important contribution transport can make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over the last two years, the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), as part of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has encouraged various non-state actors (the private sector, cities, NGOs, etc.) to develop ambitious emissions-reduction initiatives. For the transport sector, fifteen initiatives have been registered to date, and these initiatives have been collected through the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC).

While the Paris Agreement demonstrates the will for global climate action, important questions remain around implementation and ambition. The questions are: do global initiatives put the transport sector on track to fight climate change? What is missing? This is the core of the discussion during COP22. A new study from WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, entitled Can Transport Deliver GHG Reductions at Scale? An Analysis of Global Transport Initiatives, sheds light on seven of the transport initiatives in terms of emissions reduction potential, costs and ambition. The study finds the initiatives to be very ambitious and would lead to a 3.7 percent reduction in global energy-related emissions by 2050.

In addition to this study, researchers looked at qualitative ways to assess the potential for all 15 initiatives. The criteria include: coverage of initiatives, transparency and clarity of targets and leading and participating organizations and institutional capacity.

Scope and Coverage of the LPAA Transport Initiatives

To understand the full scope of the initiatives, researchers categorized each initiative by its main focus and if it falls under “adapt, planning, avoid, shift or improve.” The study shows that the current LPAA transport initiatives have a clear focus on “improve” measures, to the detriment of “avoid” and “shift” measures, which means the focus is more on technology improvement rather than behavior or lifestyle changes. While reducing the energy consumption of vehicles is important, shifting modes or reducing travel demand can be more cost-effective. What’s more, it will be important to consider how these initiatives impact other policy areas such air pollution and access to goods and services. It will also be important to assess whether these initiatives equally address needs in all global regions.

Table Categorization of LPAA Transport Initiatives

Transparency of Initiatives and Clarity of Targets

Central to the discussion during COP22 are two imperatives around limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 – 2 degrees Celsius. First is the need to first implement the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Second, because current commitments are not enough, the level of ambition must increase.

Transparency of action, plans and clarity of initiative targets are crucial for several reasons. First, global initiatives will deliver their objectives only if they are integrated and grounded in government plans, policies and regulations and actions of private companies. Second, to be effective, these initiatives need to work with other climate efforts beyond the transport sector. Third, LPAA initiatives are expected to provide further confidence on the movement toward a climate-friendly world, helping the international community understand the potential of the initiatives, track progress and act on the main proposals.

All of the initiatives have information readily available, many with their own websites. Some initiatives, such as the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, publish regular reports. In general, the goals and intended actions of the initiatives are clear; however, information available on action plans for achieving the initiatives varies.

While international organizations developed the targets, it is not clear to what extent the goals reflect different global regions; it is not realistic that each initiative is universally plausible or needed. For instance, some countries are very well positioned to adopt electric vehicles, while others may benefit more from an increase in public transit. Translating these initiatives to regional or country targets will help cities prioritize their efforts.

Additionally, connecting with the right decision-makers and levels of government will be important for achieving these goals. Transit plans, cycling and public transport initiatives will require dedication from cities and regions, and many vehicle initiatives will need incentive and infrastructure support from national governments.

Impact, cost, and level of effort for individual initiatives. Bubble size also indicates level of effort. Image Credit: WRI

Good Initiatives Lead to Large Potential Impact

Good initiatives can create a strong movement to make them a reality. WRI’s study shows that the largest effort and biggest reduction in emissions comes from mode-shifting, either to rail or public transport. While these initiatives may be the most impactful individually, there are many synergies among initiatives that could be explored further. For example, if mode-shifting is successful, it makes it easier and less costly to achieve targets in vehicle efficiency or electrification of the fleet because it will reduce the total number of vehicles needed. Additionally, linking vehicle electrification to low-carbon electricity is critical for total emissions reduction.

Important Opportunity If Done Right

Historically, when talking climate change, the transport sector has been considered part of the problem without much discussion about how it can be part of the solution—COP21 changed that. COP22 needs to put this new view of the transport sector into motion.

COP22 will be critical for scaling up actions as well as engaging the private sector, governments and civil society to collaborate better, accelerate ambition and transform the transport sector. Current LPAA transport initiatives are a huge step forward; we need to celebrate this progress. However, we also need to acknowledge that there is still work to be done to achieve COP22 objectives and bring the Paris Agreement to life: mobilize additional global initiatives to achieve significant greenhouse gas reduction; clarify the action roadmap for existing initiatives; and articulate potential synergies between existing transport initiatives and with many other global initiatives.

Click here to learn more about WRI’s study

After the U.S. Election, Cities Look for Ways to be Great on their Own

Sat, 2016-11-12 03:43

Residents of New York Gathered in Rockefeller Plaza on Election Night to Watch the Live Results. Photo by Marco Verch / Flickr

What comes next for U.S. cities, now that the 2016 Presidential Election has come to a close? As polls closed on Tuesday, this question quickly came to the forefront for urban planners and city-dwellers, alike.

In recent history, cities have been on the frontline for providing solutions. Adept at crafting locally appropriate solutions, urban leaders have been able to take direct action on a range of challenges facing rapidly growing cities. The site of many policy changes to come, Washington, D.C. itself has already set up a precedent for action, taking on resilience and emissions reductions goals of 80 percent by 2050. As the new administration prepares for the first 100 days in office, it is clear that there will be wide-ranging implications for cities, like Washington D.C. Throughout the course of the election, special attention was given to areas like transport, while critical decisions for infrastructure and climate also loom large in the agenda of the incoming administration.

In the past, urban citizens and leaders have been champions for issues like climate change and transport. Now, these issues are called into question, as the next administration steps into place. So, what can we expect cities to look like in the next four years?


Many cities already see the value in making transport safer and more sustainable for everyone. Cities like New York are implementing speed limits to improve safety for sustainable modes of transport like walking and biking. Creating spaces for pedestrians, bike share programs and better cycling infrastructure have been woven into cities’ transport systems.

Adding to this progress, making transport work for everyone has risen to center-stage for U.S. voters this year. As evidenced by the $200 billion in transit funding that U.S. voters decided on this week, cities from Los Angeles to Atlanta are all taking a closer look at how their futures can be improved through better transit. Los Angeles, for example, will be funding bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, in addition to an expanded bus rapid transit system. Investing in better transport options are certain to create multiple benefits in the long-term for the city; reducing the chokehold that congestion from cars has on many U.S. cities will improve the outlook for urban emissions and productivity in the long run.

The Promise of Infrastructure

One issue that seemed to unite the otherwise polarized U.S. presidential candidates this year was the need for better infrastructure. The U.S. is lagging in both the condition and maintenance of its critical infrastructure, with transit in particular falling behind in quality and upkeep.

There exists a huge opportunity to guide the coming global boom in infrastructure, which is projected to amount to US$90 trillion within the coming 15 years, toward a better path. Moving forward, infrastructure development must be oriented toward better connecting people and places, through better and more sustainable forms of transport, and through better-planned and more compact development. Ensuring that new funding activity in this area looks beyond the status quo and actively seeks better and more sustainable projects that do not lock in decades of sprawl and emissions, will prove vital to making good on infrastructure promises. We realize that here exists a huge opportunity for shifting existing finance. In transport-related infrastructure alone, investment worldwide comprises between $1.4 trillion and $2.1 trillion each year. Decisions made today, where we have a massive opportunity to make a transformative shift in what types of projects are funded, will directly decide the types of cities we will create for years to come.

The new administration’s plans for an American Energy & Infrastructure Act have emerged, post-election, promising public-private partnerships that will leverage $1 trillion for infrastructure, in the next ten years. If this private sector-oriented policy can be guided away from congestion-inducing and car-oriented transport, toward smart, sustainable investments, this promise of more sustainable and livable cities may still become a less-distant reality.


In a turn from this week’s progress at COP22, with the groundbreaking Paris Agreement having just entered into force, the future of climate action in cities has now come into question.

Cities have proven themselves to be the forerunners of climate action, often taking on deep commitments to reducing emissions and improving resilience beyond the promises made at the national level. Portland, for example, has taken on an ambitious plan beyond the scope of national-level goals, in which targets for greenhouse gas reductions have been in place since 1993 under the Carbon Dioxide Reduction Strategy. Portland also maintains steadfast focus on equitable, connected, climate-resilient growth. A vision of a shared future has emerged for cities, coming out of involvement with various collaborative city networks that actively knowledge and solutions to climate challenges.

In the first 100 days, avoiding any backslide on climate progress will prove critical. Cities have often operated outside of federal action, acting as independent, but connected entities—this is not likely to change any time soon. Networks, like the Compact of Mayors, will remain powerful representatives for more than 600 million urban residents, while C40 Cities works to improve technical knowledge-sharing in at least 12 U.S. cities. However, ensuring that these cities are empowered to take action under the Paris Agreement remains of vital importance.

Urban Change

The outcomes of the U.S. election will have direct bearing on cities. Global urbanization over the next four years, coupled with a new administration, will invariably determine the ability of cities to follow through on transport, infrastructure investment and climate change. Examples set in U.S. cities resound worldwide. Now is the time to make sure that we guide policies toward the long-term goal of a sustainable and livable urban future; we must ensure that cities stay great.

Friday Fun: Beyond the Map—Google Explores Rio’s Slums

Fri, 2016-11-11 20:09

Favelas, or informal settlements, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazi house important culture, history and 20 percent of Rio’s Population. Photo by Talita Oliveira / Flickr

What do you think of when you hear the word “slum”? For many, the word brings to mind poverty, violence and squalor; slums, or informal settlements, are overwhelmingly associated with the negative. This is particularly true in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where favelas, often known as low-income communities or informal settlements, have long been linked to danger, violence and crime. Due to the negative connotations that populate the urban conscience, not many realize that one of every five Rio residents, a total of 1.5 million inhabitants, lives in a favela.

To counter these negative associations, Google’s Beyond the Map project presents alternate images of life in Rio favelas through an innovative, interactive website. The platform states that “the favelas are not simply a place. They are a people, and, to understand them, you must go inside and see for yourself.” With the help of Google Street View technology, Beyond the Map offers users a guided tour through several Rio favelas, including Vidigal and São Carlos. The tour begins with a motorcycle ride through the narrow streets of a favela community. Throughout the tour, 360-degree video and photospheres fully immerse viewers into favela life.

Paloma is a favela residents featured in Google’s Beyond the Map videos.

At different stops along the journey, videos and pictures portray aspects of favela culture, community and history. Documentary vignets tell inspirational stories of favela residents, including the story of Paloma, a woman from the Maré favela, who overcame great odds to study computer science at a local university. Videos also highlight favela culture and local business, featuring performances from local drumming and hip-hop groups, as well as interviews with a local barber and shopkeeper.

 360-degree videos are used throughout the Beyond the Map website.

Tá no Mapa Project 

As explained on the tour, the Beyond the Map project is one facet of a larger initiative undertaken by Google to map Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. The ongoing Tá No Mapa project, which began two years ago as a collaboration between Google and the NGO Grupo Cultural AfroReggae, has mapped 26 of Rio’s favelas. Replacing what once had been blank, unmapped space, detailed records of favelas streets, buildings and businesses are now available on Google Maps.

The Rocinha Favela, as seen on Google Maps, before and after the Tá no Mapa project.

The Tá no Mapa project reflects a growing trend in approaches to address the issue of informal settlements. With the recent proliferation of new technologies, some NGOs have begun to create detailed maps of informal settlements. NGOs, like Slum Dwellers International, the Orangi Pilot Project and Shelter Associates, have led informal settlement mapping initiatives in Kenya, Pakistan and India. The mapping process is often participatory, as is the case with the Tá no Mapa project, which employs local favela residents to collect the spatial data. Data collected through the mapping process can also be employed for infrastructure provision, economic development, disaster preparedness and other upgrading services.

Through Beyond the Map, Google presents inspirational, humanistic stories from Rio’s favelas. With these videos, Google attempts to build a narrative of hope, countering prevailing notions of the favela as a place of poverty and violence.

Improving Building Efficiency: A Tale of 4 Cities

Fri, 2016-11-11 01:15

Da Nang, Vietnam partners with the Building Efficiency Accelerator to become a champion for building energy efficiency.

One-third of the world’s energy-related emissions come from buildings. So perhaps it’s no surprise that more than 80 national climate plans submitted ahead of COP21 in Paris included commitments to improve building efficiency.

A year later, the discussion continues with Human Settlements Day today at COP22 in Marrakech. The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (Global ABC) released a report taking stock of the opportunity to reduce emissions from buildings, and laid out a roadmap for national governments attending the climate talks.

One of the key recommendations is to support building efficiency action by cities. WRI leads the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a public-private collaboration of 30 organizations working with 23 cities to help them advance building efficiency. In doing so, they also reduce pollution, boost resiliency to heat waves and other climate events, improve infrastructure and more. Here’s a look at four cities where BEA partners are working now:

Anticipating a Hotter, Larger City in Da Nang, Vietnam

Da Nang, Vietnam. Photo by Patrick Keogh/Flickr

Residents of Da Nang, Vietnam’s third-largest city, face hot and humid weather, particularly in the summer. As the climate changes, summer heat waves could pose health risks to citizens in buildings without effective and efficient cooling technology. Because Da Nang’s population is growing rapidly along with its industry and tourism, electricity demand, related pollution and strain on the grid are also growing.

Da Nang’s government has prioritized building efficiency as part of its new Resilience Strategy to address public health risks from climate change. Local leaders are exploring creative ways to signal to property developers and building managers that efficiency is a public priority. The government is working to improve the availability of information on energy performance of large buildings like hotels.  And it’s considering expediting permitting processes for new construction and renovations that include efficiency measures, as well as creating a demonstration project to improve efficiency in one or more hotels.

Creating Livable, Efficient Neighborhoods in Eskisehir, Turkey

Eskişehir, Turkey

Home to Europe’s largest university, Eskisehir in Central Anatolia has a dynamic, knowledge-driven economy, and values creating livable spaces as it grows. Demand from Turkey’s national government for better energy performance has placed pressure on building owners to improve efficiency. The city wants to improve its buildings while also protecting the city’s character.

Eskisehir is currently pursuing multiple district redevelopment projects to improve construction quality and public spaces. The mayor and his team are finding ways to include building efficiency measures within the plan to lower energy use while reducing pollution and waste.

Eskisehir is also striving to expedite the effective implementation of Turkey’s national mandate for all large buildings to have energy performance certificates that rate the efficiency of their construction and equipment.

Reducing Energy Costs through Better Buildings in Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia. Photo by Magelan Travel/Flickr

In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, a large stock of old, multifamily public housing provides homes to thousands of residents. Energy to heat 22 million square meters of homes and business, which cover roughly half the city, comes from a district heating system that pipes heat from central sources to individual buildings.

City leaders in Belgrade are now developing a building renovation plan to reduce wasted energy. Better building insulation would lower energy costs for residents and the utility company, while expanding efficient district heating to more of the city.

Leadership through Legislation and Implementation in Tshwane, South Africa

Pretoria, Tshwane, South Africa. Photo by South African Tourism/Flickr

The City of Tshwane is home to Pretoria, the district which hosts the executive branch of South Africa’s national government.  The drive to be a national leader is one motivation behind the city’s aim to make its buildings the country’s greenest.

In 2013, the city instituted a green buildings by-law, but now it must implement it. Like many cities, Tshwane faces limited financial resources, so its leaders are exploring how to achieve further efficiency gains through financing models and non-financial incentives for efficiency investments. To demonstrate public leadership by example, the city hopes to retrofit several municipal buildings.

Cities on the Frontline of Building Efficiency Action

All cities have a unique cultural and political context. Mayors, administrators and other urban leaders often face significant demands and limited resources to address multiple challenges, everything from housing growing populations to reducing utility costs and improving services.  Building efficiency is a cost-effective solution that improves air quality, boosts productivity and provides better occupant comfort.

But cities can’t go it alone. Urban leaders require technical support, financial investments and policy alignment with their national governments. As the climate community gathers today, it’s time for local and national leaders to work together in pursuing more efficient buildings for everyone.

Tunnie Srisakulchairak (UNEP ROAP), Eric Mackres (WRI), Dinh Quang Cuong (City of Da Nang), Nguyen Thi Kim Ha (City of Da Nang), Tran Van Giai Phong (ISET) at the BEA kick-off meeting in Da Nang. Photo by Eric Mackres

Culture or Conditions? A Look at Sexual Assault on Public Transport

Mon, 2016-11-07 23:58

A Busy TransMilenio Commute has Some Wondering about Sexual Assault. Photo by Eli Duke / Flickr

Bogotá, Colombia was recently named the least safe transit system for women, largely due to an epidemic of sexual assault (defined here as any type of unwanted sexual touching). According to a survey, conducted in Colombia and Bolivia as part of the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship last year, 38 percent of female TransMilenio users, Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system, have been assaulted. While the case of TransMilenio is extreme, Bogotá’s system is far from alone in facing this crisis. In El Alto, Bolivia, 20 percent of female users, or one in five, have been assaulted.

The conditions within transit systems, such as extreme crowding, isolation and lack of accountability, often contribute to sexual assault and cause perpetrators to go unpunished. However, cultural norms also play a role in normalizing and trivializing violence against women. The sustainable transport community needs to recognize this and work toward changing both conditions and culture—including its own.

Sexual Assault Is a Public Health Crisis

The risk of sexual assault violates women’s right to access public space safely, and assault can have lingering consequences for victims. One study found that one-third of groping victims suffer lasting psychological consequences and nearly two-thirds are forced to change their behavior in some way—many begin closely monitoring their proximity to others (a behavior known as hypervigilance).  For public transit-dependent users, avoiding crowds may be impossible. One user of TransMilenio described her continuing stress, six years after she was assaulted:

“I was waiting for TransMilenio, and this guy came up behind me and started rubbing his genitals against me. I thought it was because the platform was so crowded, but when I got on TransMilenio, he stayed behind on the platform. He was looking at the other women, surely to do the same to them. I still don’t feel comfortable on TransMilenio. You’re always on the defensive so they don’t touch you, watching out to see who’s in front of you, who’s behind you, who’s all around you.”

This constant state of stress and hypervigilance impacts users’ emotional and psychological wellbeing and can erode trust of those around them. Less than half of assault victims on TransMilenio believed their fellow passengers would intervene if they witnessed an assault, as compared to 67 percent of women who had not suffered an assault.

Crowded Conditions Foster Assaults

TransMilenio’s legendary crowding creates an atmosphere where riders can harass women with little fear of legal or social consequences. The crowding normalizes very intimate contact with strangers. As a result, physical sensations that would normally be clear indications of assault may be ambiguous. In the most crowded vehicles, it may not even be possible to tell who, of the half-dozen people in one’s immediate proximity, is doing the touching. Both victims and witnesses have discussed feeling unable to intervene because of this ambiguity and anonymity.

Even in less crowded conditions, the normalization of intimate contact lowers the chance that the assaulter will be detected. Many women describe feeling someone pressing up against them and assume it’s because of the crowded conditions, only to realize later that the contact was inappropriate. In general, women who did not or could not confront their assaulter in the moment (whether or not they legally reported them), express more negative feelings in the aftermath.

A large crowd gathers on the TransMilenio platform in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Gwen Kash

A Culture That Discourages Action

Some people in both developing and developed countries view sexual assault as something the victims bring on themselves. An interview excerpt from Bolivia illustrates this sentiment:

“Put on a thick jacket! Don’t comb your hair! But if you go around in really tight jeans, people are going to look at you. They’re going to touch you.”

Both men and women expressed similar opinions, although many respondents of both genders also rejected the idea that women are responsible for their own victimization. A recent campaign in Curitiba, Brazil captured this alternate belief: “Today I left the house wearing makeup, but it wasn’t for you.”

Other interviewees felt both the frequency and effects of sexual assault were overstated, such as these two Colombian respondents:

“There are women who, to feel important or to be rebellious, use these mechanisms to denounce an assault to get revenge if someone evaded the fare, or didn’t let her pass, or went in front of her. It’s very common.”

“When you go to a place where there are a lot of people, there’s going to be groping. But women, just like men, feel sexual desire, so about 15-20 percent of women enjoy that this happens to them, true? But since the feminist movement appeared, women complain about everything.”

While opinions like these are troublingly common, it is worth noting that many respondents, both men and women, wholeheartedly rejected these ideas.

However, sexism is not just a problem among transit users. All three of the previous excerpts came from interviews with transit planners of varying ages. When raising awareness about assault on public transit, advocates for sustainable transport must not neglect examining their own perspectives.

The Path to Safer Transit

To successfully address sexual assault on transit, advocates need to raise awareness among both transit users and transit planners that assault is a real problem with serious consequences. It is critical to identify cultural and technical measures to reduce future assaults and make women feel safe using public transport. Drawing on the perspectives of women who have experienced assault will help gauge the effectiveness of potential remedies. For example, based on a victim’s experience with ambiguous assaults, it may be helpful to focus on empowering victims and witnesses to react in a way that avoids conflict. Addressing sexual assault is vital for improving women’s physical and emotional safety as they take transit.

In recent months, TransMilenio took an important step toward addressing sexual assault, as representatives met with several victims during the final stage of the Lee Schipper study. While awareness of existing resources, such as the Purple Hotline (offered by the Secretary of Women), is low, new recommendations include targeting awareness campaigns toward both men and women and the training of and building trust in transit police officers.

Three Ways to Tackle the Knowledge Gap in Building Energy Code Enforcement

Tue, 2016-11-01 21:30

Construction Workers in Tianjin, China. Photo: Yang Aijun / World Bank / Flickr

Cities and countries around the world are adopting building energy codes as tools to reduce energy consumption. Mexico City recently joined this wave, when, in June, the city updated its building regulations to include energy efficiency for the first time.

On paper, building codes have reduced energy use by over 30 percent in the last two decades. But building codes don’t achieve energy savings if they are not effectively implemented and enforced. The Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) found that staggering rates of noncompliance, as high as 100 percent in some jurisdictions of the United States, have eroded the gains from code development and adoption. If all new construction in the United States fully complied with building energy codes, the country would achieve annual energy savings of $63-$189 million, or lifetime savings of $37.1 billion.

In many parts of the world, code enforcement is the responsibility of local governments, where institutional capacity and resources are limited. Cities face a number of challenges in implementing and enforcing building energy codes. Two common challenges are insufficient awareness of the importance of energy efficiency and a lack of knowledge of building science or technical expertise. For many cities and countries, this knowledge gap—which applies to both code enforcement officials and building industry stakeholders—throws a wrench in the building energy code enforcement system. To combat the knowledge gap and ensure successful implementation and enforcement, Mexico City, and other local and national governments, must invest in awareness campaigns, capacity building strategies and robust compliance-check systems.

Awareness Campaigns Increase Compliance

Code enforcement officials are often responsible for enforcement of several building codes, such as structure, fire safety and energy codes. Resource and knowledge limitations may lead these enforcement officials to undervalue building energy code enforcement—a challenge revealed in a 2010 study by the American Council for Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) in the United States. Similar limitations apply for the private sector, where building architects and construction staff have to navigate through numerous regulations and energy codes. There are discussions of different ways to address resource limitations, including, but not limited to, streamlining institutional capacity, sustaining funding resources through permit fees and use of third-party enforcement firms.

Policymakers and energy agencies can raise awareness about energy issues and the multiple benefits of energy efficiency through conferences, workshops and various media channels. Public communications platforms should discuss current code requirements and the consequences of non-compliance, to ensure that all market actors (designers, engineers, developers and construction industry and finance experts) clearly understand what building energy codes require and the steps they need to take to ensure that codes are effectively implemented. Furthermore, recognition and award programs could also be helpful in incentivizing code officials and industry stakeholders to support compliance. For example, IMT and the International Code Council (ICC) created the U.S. Standard Bearers Award, which recognizes state and local jurisdictions and individuals who have reached compliance with energy codes and achieved energy reduction in buildings.

Awareness campaigns that target building owners and occupants can lead to increased interest in effective implementation of codes, providing additional incentives for developers to comply. If coupled with building ratings, awareness campaigns can inform occupants about a building’s energy use and allow them to make informed utility decisions. For instance, in China, real estate developers are required to disclose information about a building’s expected energy use when selling a property.

Capacity Building Strategies Decrease Knowledge Gap

In addition to a lack of awareness, the lack of technical expertise on how to enforce and comply with building energy codes adds to the knowledge gap. Governments need to establish targeted training and educational strategies for code enforcement officials and industry professionals. Trainings for code enforcement officials should focus on how to check compliance and be audience-specific. For example, City Energy, a joint project of NRDC and IMT, found out that single-discipline inspectors are only interested in learning about code requirements related to their specific disciplines (ie: fire safety or seismic requirements). Establishing local experts and updating code training resources is an important first step. Cities can expand on this by “training the trainers” by partnering with universities and working with industry professionals to incorporate energy efficiency into educational courses and professional certifications. Additionally, international best practices show that compliance software can help simplify design evaluation and assure compliance among all actors involved in code implementation. Where software is not accessible, simple spreadsheet tools can be equally helpful.

In a pilot program in Indian states Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, more than 700 architects, engineers and experts received training on Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) to boost the states’ building code implementation and enforcement capacity. In Telangana, the state government, Administrative Staff College of India and Natural Resources Defense Council, along with experts at the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), conducted workshops to increase capacity among stakeholders on the code compliance process. Other initiatives, supported by the national energy agency, Bureau of Energy Efficiency, include setting up state level ECBC cells and a mobile phone app for building designers to ensure code compliance. However, as these efforts are relatively new, it remains to be seen how effective they will be.

Compliance Checks at Key Points in Building Lifecycle

The third strategy to reduce the knowledge gap involves a robust compliance-check system, which ensures energy code realization. The International Energy Agency (IEA) identified four key stages throughout a building’s lifecycle when compliance checks are conducted. These include the design, construction, pre-occupancy and post-occupancy stages.

Building Energy Code Compliance Cycle. Image courtesy of IEA 2014

Compliance checks are most effective when integrated with local building permit systems. According to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, building energy codes are integrated into enforcement processes in China. First, this requires a certified third-party to verify mandatory code compliance before developers may apply for construction permits. Second, a third-party supervisor and local authorities check and inspect the construction process. Finally, upon project completion, all parties (developer, designer, constructor and supervisor) co-verify that the project meets all standards, including building energy codes, before the developer registers the project and applies for occupancy permits. If buildings don’t comply with energy codes, the local government can suspend construction, withhold permits and issue fines. The robust compliance-check system in China has been successfully implemented for many years and has inspired discussion in research publications, including those by the ACEEE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Building energy codes are important for saving energy, but implementing and enforcing them can be a challenging task that requires time and resources. Even the aforementioned examples of good practice have significant room for improvement. It is therefore crucial that code-adopting countries and code-implementing cities mobilize resources and share best practices to ensure compliance and provide better buildings for all.

Development Finance Institutions Have a Role to Play in Creating Sustainable Cities

Tue, 2016-11-01 18:37

Bus rapid transit in Florianópolis, Brazil. Photo by Dylan Passmore / Flickr

By 2050, nearly 70 percent of the world’s population will reside in cities, increasing the size of the world’s urban population by more than two-thirds. Cities will need to focus on building the right things to ensure this growth happens sustainably—so how can they pay for it?

Recognizing that finance is a core issue of sustainable urban development and one of cities’ biggest challenges, the International Development Finance Club (IDFC) hosted a side event on this topic at Habitat III in Quito.

The discussion, which featured leaders from CAF-Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National Planning Department of Colombia (DNP) highlighted four key insights about financing sustainable cities. In short, development finance institutions can play a big role in bridging the funding gap, but only with the right partners and policies in place:

1. Growing cities should seek better outcomes, not just more finance.

A long-term plan for a city with at least a 10-15-year horizon sets the stage for how it develops and what projects will ultimately need financing. Ultimately, it’s not just about the money, but what cities build with it. The New Urban Agenda adopted in Quito provides cities with standards for sustainable urban development that they can incorporate into these plans, and the Sustainable Development Goals and countries’ national climate plans (NDCs) provide still more important considerations. One critical characteristic of these plans, as noted by Simón Gaviria, chief director of the DNP, is that they should serve citizens’ rather than the government’s needs.

Development finance institutions (DFIs) can help cities develop strong and effective plans. For instance, Koki Hirota, JICA’s chief economist, shared how JICA has supported hundreds of master plans for cities undergoing rapid urbanization in an effort to support development while preventing future inefficiencies in delivering services to city populations.

2. Development finance institutions are ready to unstick cities struggling with project preparation.

Once plans are in place, cities often need help with feasibility studies and preparation to get projects like bus-rapid transit systems or building efficiency retrofits to a stage where they are “bankable,” or financially viable and able to secure financing from third-party sources. However, city governments, which can be good at designing broader city plans, often hit a wall when it comes to creating a pipeline of bankable projects. DFIs are helping to address this challenge. As Rémy Rioux, AFD’s CEO, explained, AFD launched its 100 cities/100 Climate Projectsinitiative last year at COP21, which provides grants to cover project preparation costs and then lends to projects once they are developed.

3. Scaling can happen only if local financial institutions and agencies play a prominent role.

Local institutions like local commercial banks and mayor’s offices understand the local financial system, players, challenges and opportunities. So it’s important that national and international institutions work with the local players. In light of this, the DNP is making an effort to collect data to better understand Colombia’s cities. DFIs can collaborate with local government and financial institutions to provide additional funds and knowledge. One approach is to provide a loan to a local financial institution for “on-lending,” where the local financial institution uses the borrowed money to provide loans to its clients, which in this case, are cities.

4. The best outcomes come from partnerships and coordination with a range of actors.

The involvement of mayors, national planning agencies, private sector developers and investors, and civil society groups are all needed to develop and finance sustainable cities. DFIs can bring financing to the table, and they can also help enhance coordination between these different actors. For example, in CAF’s Cities with a Future project in Guayaquil, Ecuador, CAF’s financing for housing, transport, water and sanitation programs  helped transform the city and improve quality of life of its citizens. The program involved strong coordination with multiple actors, including the mayor, city planners, community organizations, local agencies, private sector operators and utility companies.

A Need for Further Innovation

While DFIs are already doing much to support sustainable urban development, there’s room for more innovation. Part of this involves further exploration of instruments and models that would support investments in sustainable urban services, like guarantees to de-risk projects, bonds to raise debt financing from pension funds, or public-private partnerships to capture land value. Another area involves direct engagement with cities. DFIs often ask cities to provide a guarantee from the national government (ensuring that payment obligations will be met) before providing them with finance; this can cause delays or limit cities’ options if the national government refuses. IDFC members like AFD do not have this requirement. Changing internal policies to allow DFIs to channel funds directly to city governments would open new doors for collaboration.

As underscored by Enrique García, CEO of CAF, during the discussion, DFIs are looking to play a catalytic role in creating sustainable cities. The hope is that with these innovations and the continued support of DFIs, cities in developing countries can grow and thrive for generations to come.

Habitat III: Milestone for the World’s Cities or Business as Usual?

Mon, 2016-10-31 21:19

Quito, Ecuador, site of Habitat III. Photo by Cristian Ibarra Santillan / Flickr

Two weeks ago, 30,000 people gathered in Quito, Ecuador, for Habitat III, the once-every-20-years UN conference on housing and sustainable urban development. At the conference, 167 country representatives adopted a non-binding but influential vision for cities of the future known as the New Urban Agenda (NUA). This declaration will help steer national decision-making over the next two decades while it supports the Sustainable Development Goals – especially Goal 11 on cities – and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Going forward, what does the Quito meeting mean for urban leaders?

Forward on Equity, Missed Opportunity for Implementation

Beyond climate action, the conference recognized the need for social inclusion. While participants used different language to describe their focus on equity — “The Right to the City,” “Cities for All,” “Leave No One Behind” — the conversation centered on how urban design and policy can be used to improve quality of life, safety and prosperity for all urban residents. WRI’s launch of the first installment of the World Resources Report in Quito helped move the conversation from theory to action.

Another positive sign was the inclusion of a wide range of participants in the conference. Civil society organizations and the business community both had strong voices in the discussion, demonstrating their intent to invest in the future of cities and their belief in the importance of good urban development. Local governments also displayed a commitment to action, including the commitment of 7,100 cities to measure, report and set targets for carbon emissions as part of the Global Covenant of Mayors. After a challenging process of coming to agreement around the New Urban Agenda, it was clear from Habitat III that pivoting toward action will require including these voices.

Habitat III also saw a few new commitments from countries, multi-lateral development banks and other stakeholders to help achieve the goals of the NUA, including safe and accessible urban services, strong urban planning policies at the local and national level and action-oriented partnerships for implementation. For example, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development committed $1 billion in Euros next year to finance sustainable urban mobility projects around the world. The Global Platform for Sustainable Cities, led by the Global Environment Facility in partnership with WRI, the World Bank and others, also launched a resource group to bring together global thought leaders to create new decision making tools for cities. Going forward, the international community will need to build on these initiatives to continue the momentum post-Quito.

What’s Next?

Less than a month after Quito, international negotiators will meet in Marrakech to chart the next steps for action on climate change. Urban champions should leverage the NUA to ensure that the role of cities in mitigating and adapting to climate impacts is on the agenda. The Paris Agreement was not a key topic in Quito, but cities need to be part of the climate discussions at COP22, since cities are where some of the most severe climate effects will be felt and where an increasing slice of the global population will live. The New Urban Agenda aligns with the core of both the climate process and the Sustainable Development Goals, as future solutions for urban challenges will need to be aligned with the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels, and NUA’s core message is that development must be more equitable and inclusive. Initiatives such as the Global Covenant of Mayors and the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate can help jump-start these discussions.

Balancing power and responsibility between local and national governments as they start implementing the NUA will be tricky, but necessary. Local actors should continue to draw on the NUA to guide decision-making, while national and regional bodies should seek the frameworks best suited to their laws to support and empower cities.

One of the conference’s missed opportunities was the low profile of the Quito Implementation Plan (the UN’s proposed platform for coordinating and publicizing efforts from non-state actors and stakeholders), which could have helped maintain momentum. Implementation might still be strengthened using provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

It is also essential to begin the discussion of how to hold national governments accountable for the commitments they’ve made through the Habitat III process. Without accountability, it will be impossible to ensure that all are doing their part to achieve these urban and global goals.

As the world celebrates the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, we must remember that the hard part is only just beginning. The pressure is now on us to ensure that the legacy of Habitat III is one of action. The resounding message from the tens of thousands of Habitat participants, and the surprisingly high number of young people at the conference, clearly states that our future is an urban one, and it has never been more important to make sure we do it right.

A New Agenda for Road Safety in Urban Areas

Sat, 2016-10-29 00:42

School Children Safely Cross the Street in New York City. Photo by New York City Department of Transportation / Flickr

Habitat III in Quito was the largest UN meeting to date, with more than 36,000 people from 167 countries, thousands of organizations and institutions, hundreds of meetings and side events and the adoption of the New Urban Agenda (NUA). Habitat III comes just one year after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the NUA covers them all, particularly SDG 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

While road fatalities are the fifth highest cause of death for young people (14 to 29), it often does not get the same attention on a global level that other fatal causes receive. As a result, it was great to see that the issue of road safety was very prominently covered in Quito. As 40-50 percent of all road fatalities occur in cities, road safety has become central to the urban development agenda. Following the words of Jean Todt, President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and UN Special Envoy on Road Safety: “Road safety must be part of sustainable mobility,” insisting that every mayor needs to prioritize road safety in his or her city.

Elements included in the NUA may have profound impacts on advancing the ambitious SDG target 3.6 of halving road fatalities and injuries by 2020. The approach is new, as it gives priority to design and planning, concentrates on vulnerable users and connects to other agendas (climate, air pollution and physical activity). It is an evolution from traditional road safety approaches, which used to focus on vehicles and behavior, through education and enforcement.

Road safety was prominent in the Habitat III agenda. For instance, it was the topic of Transport Day’s opening plenary and of nine side events and special sessions featured in the conference programme. The Global Road Safety Ambassador for the UN Decade, Michelle Yeoh, was also present. She insisted on the importance of reducing speeds, providing safe road crossings and segregated bicycle tracks, for saving kids’ lives. Child safety is a goal sought by FIA Foundation’s Global Initiative for Child Health and Mobility, of which WRI is a partner. During Habitat III, FIA Foundation released a touching video, directed by Luc Besson, which speaks to this issue.

The Safe Systems Approach

The Safe Systems Approach to road safety, which was pioneered in the early 1990s in the Netherlands and Sweden, aims for a more forgiving road system that takes human fallibility and vulnerability into account. It accepts that people make mistakes and are defenseless; that it is necessary to create a road system where crash forces don’t result in death or serious injury; and that it is necessary to strengthen all parts of the system: roads and roadsides, speeds, vehicles and road use—so that if one part fails, other parts will still protect the people involved.

Countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted the Safe Systems Approach, and it has been effective in reducing fatalities and serious injuries. It is remarkable that the New Urban Agenda includes explicit language, which motivates action in this direction in low- and middle-income countries, which concentrate 90 percent of the world’s traffic deaths. That is the case, for instance, in Bogotá, Colombia, which announced the adoption of Vision Zero in the revision of its road safety plans, with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety.

An important element in the Safe Systems Approach is reducing speed limits. While we see many cities in the global North taking action—like Paris, with a citywide introduction of 30 kilometers per hour (19 miles per hour), and New York City, with a widespread speed limit of 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour)—there are few examples in emerging economies like Mexico City and São Paulo. These actions immediately show the impact of speed limit reductions, with 18 percent and 22 percent annual reduction in traffic deaths, respectively.

New Urban Agenda Identifies Vulnerable Users

Pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists make up 49 percent of traffic deaths. The New Urban Agenda gives special recognition to their needs and identifies vulnerable populations: women and girls, children and youth, people with disabilities, elderly and the poor. This acknowledgement fits very well with the refrain heard throughout Habitat III: “no one left behind.” With this language, road safety programs in cities shall have specific provisions for vulnerable groups.

In the New Urban Agenda, there is specific language for motorcycles. While motorcycles are the fastest growing mode of transport in developing countries, they are also the fastest growing group of road crash victims. The special consideration of motorcycles would help advance safe strategies for this group, including design, wearing helmets and vehicle features.

Broader Implications of Enhanced Mobility

The New Urban Agenda promotes a reduction in car use and an increase in walking, bicycling and public transport as a means to achieve more inclusive and sustainable urban mobility (see, for example, paragraph 112). This is replicated in the road safety paragraph, under the understanding that these transport modes help in reducing air pollution and increasing physical activity.

Ambient air pollution was responsible for 3 million annual deaths. Low- and middle-income countries disproportionately experience the burden of poor air quality. In addition, poor mobility systems lead to inactive and unhealthy populations. Approximately 3.2 million deaths each year are attributed to insufficient physical activity. Walking and bicycling can help meet the minimum physical activity levels recommended by WHO, while also helping achieve climate change mitigation targets.

What is Next?

Meeting the ambitious SDG goal of halving road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020, requires strong action by national and local governments. If multi-level governmental actions come to fruition, such as the approval of the new road safety bill in India and the participation of city leadership in the Bloomberg Global Road Safety Initiative, this goal may become a reality. While the commitments in the New Urban Agenda provide excellent guidance, it needs to be followed by political will, advances in institutional capacity and smart budget allocation.

The New Urban Agenda and its implementation highlight new approaches to road safety, such as strong integration with land-use planning, sustainable mobility, Safe Systems Approach, focus on vulnerable users, consideration of motorcycles, acknowledgment of broader health, sustainability and social impacts and emphasis on children’s journey to school. It is time to move towards an extended vision zero: zero traffic fatalities and injuries, zero air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and zero exclusions.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, with the generous funding of Bloomberg Philanthropies, has identified the connection between sustainable mobility and urban design with road safety.  WRI publications Saving Lives with Sustainable Transport and Cities Safer by Design provide global references to illustrate the importance of shifting travel to walking, bicycling and public transport and smart urban development. The partner organizations will continue to support the governments of Bogotá, Fortaleza, Sao Paulo, Accra, Addis Ababa, Mumbai, Bandung, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Shanghai, in their efforts to advance road safety and sustainable mobility. WRI also works with FIA Foundation to advance the road safety global agenda.

With contributions from Ben Welle, Talia Rubnitz and Alex Rogala

Friday Fun: How Art and Culture Contribute to Your Unique Metro Experience

Fri, 2016-10-28 22:15

CTA Holiday Train in Chicago spreads holiday cheer each year. Photo by cta web / Flickr

Have you ever been intrigued by the artistic design of a metro station? Have you stopped to watch a street dancer perform on a metro platform? A metro station can be more than a place where you impatiently wait for the next train to arrive. It has the potential to be more aesthetically pleasing, more interactive; an experience. Incorporating various art forms into the design and operation of metro systems gives each station unique character. Around the world, metro stations are transforming into art expositions, concert halls and museums to improve passengers’ experience and connect them to the city above ground, turning their mundane commutes into anything but ordinary.

Designing Metro Stations to Connect Culture and Transit

Cities around the world are exposing metro passengers to creativity and culture, transforming stations into microcosms of the city. Some stations create artistic scenes, while others embed city culture and history in station design. Famous for Ancient Chinese gardening, Suzhou, China created a number of garden scenes in its metro stations. These displays not only expose visitors to the city’s profound cultural heritage, but they also emanate a tranquil atmosphere in the busy metro station.

Similarly, metro stations in Athens, Greece, strive to connect passengers to the city’s deep, historical culture by housing archaeological treasures. The Akropoli Station, which opened in 2000, has replicas of Parthenon friezes to greet passengers as they enter. Similarly, in the Syntagma Station, impressive archaeological displays turn the upper concourse into a museum.

Syntagma Station in Athens displays artifacts from ancient times. Photo by Dario Sušanj / Flickr

Interactive Railcar Art Exhibitions Engage the Public

Stations are not the only aspect of metro systems where art and culture transcend museum and canvass. Railcar exhibitions encourage local artists to unleash their talents and creativity. The well-known School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) launched a project in 2008 that transformed railcars into portable galleries. One of their projects turned a railcar into a “mobile garden,” with sod floors, hanging vines and various plants. While simply traveling in the car provides a unique experience, the artists intended to create a more interactive metro ride; passengers were encouraged to pick hot peppers from the plants and take them home. Decorated railcars are not only a unique outlet for artists, but they also stimulate future and increased ridership. In September 2013, the mobile garden attracted over 2,000 riders in a five-hour period.

Additionally, each December, a six car, Chicago Transit Authority train transforms for the holiday season. Complete with thousands of twinkling lights and sleigh bells, the train attracts visitors from near and far. While Santa and his slay guide the train, elves wander the corridors, passing out candy canes and holiday cheer. Throughout the month, the holiday train makes its way up and down each rail line, providing families from all over Chicago with the opportunity to ride and share in the holiday spirit.

CTA Holiday Train in Chicago spreads holiday cheer each year. Photo by cta web / Flickr

Street Art Performances Create Vibrant Public Spaces

Transforming metro stations does not exclusively fall on the shoulders of architects and interior designers. As public places, metro stations also provide platforms for street artists to showcase their talents. Paris metro stations are known to attract street artists to exhibit their work. Singers, instrumentalists, dancers and graffiti artists can all find a place in metro life and interact with a broad range of audiences. The video below shows how musicians and dancers collaborate with each other and perform for passengers.

Although the quality, price and convenience of transport services are important considerations for choosing mode of transit, the arts play a complementary role in enhancing passenger experience. Diversified forms of art make metro stations and railcars attractive and culturally-enriching places. The next time you take the metro, you may step into a work of art.

Calling Young Innovators: Apply for the 2017 Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship

Fri, 2016-10-28 02:48

The Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship for Sustainable Transport and Energy Efficiency is awarded annually to up to two extraordinary candidates to honor the legacy of Dr. Leon J. Schipper, pictured above, co-founder of EMBARQ. Photo by EMBARQ.

Looking for an opportunity to catalyze sustainable, people-centered urban mobility? The Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship wants to help you transform ideas into reality.

The Schipper family and EMBARQ, the sustainable urban mobility initiative of World Resources Institute’s WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, are pleased to announce that applications are now open for the 2017 Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship for Sustainable Transport and Energy Efficiency. Provided jointly by the Schipper Family and WRI Ross Center, the Scholarship will award two extraordinary candidates up to US$ 10,000 each to advance transformative research in efficient and sustainable transport.

Dr. Leon J. Schipper (“Lee” or “Mr. Meter”) was a co-founder of EMBARQ who dedicated his professional life to the efficient use of energy in mobility. An international physicist, researcher, and studied musician, Lee was a giant in the energy efficiency field. This scholarship celebrates his vision and the bold challenges to conventional wisdom he gave to the field.

2015 recipient Gwen Kash’s research focused on issues related to quality of service—like crowding and crime—that affect many formal and informal transit systems. 2016 recipients Akshima Ghate and Fiamma Perez studied changes in women’s transport patterns and the impact of green navigation systems, respectively.

About the Scholarship

The Scholarship is aimed at expanding the contributions to research and policy dialogue in the field of sustainable transport and energy efficiency, with a special emphasis on “iconoclastic” contributions that have clear, transformative outputs and contribute to measurable changes. Proposals are welcome from across the different stages that nurture policy dialogue, including: data collection and data quality, diagnosis through data analysis (qualitative and quantitative), policy analysis and evaluation, and interdisciplinary and international comparative analysis.

Who’s eligible?

There are no geographic restrictions on applications for the Scholarship, so young researchers and students of all national origins and fields are eligible to apply. However, applications should be submitted in English – work may be done in other languages as needed to enhance impact. The scholarship defines a young researcher as someone who has five or fewer years of experience since his or her last academic degree (Masters or PhD), and is not older than 35 years at the time of submission of the expression of interest (born on or after November 23, 1981). Applications will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Consistency with Lee Schipper’s contributions
  • Alignment with the idea of sustainable transport and energy efficiency
  • Creation of innovative, transformational outcomes (“real impact”)
  • Feasibility (timely, realistic)
  • Applicant (affiliation, background, previous contributions, references)
How to apply (today!)

The first selection phase requires an expression of interest, to be completed by November 23, 2016. Interested applicants can learn more about this process in the Scholarship guidelines and start their applications here. From this first phase, up to ten candidates will advance to the next selection round and will be notified by December 8, 2016 when a more detailed research proposal will be required.

Comments? Questions? Contact  

Q&A with Stephanie Meeks: Why the Key to Successful, Future Cities Lies in the Past

Fri, 2016-10-28 00:25

Meeks uses case studies, like Philadelphia, to illustrate her call for building preservation

By 2030, the United States will demolish 82 billion square feet of existing building space to create new and modern structures. While some new buildings may be equipped with energy saving technologies and materials, the construction process itself consumes a lot of energy. In fact, the energy required to tear down and rebuild 82 billion square feet could power the entire state of California for a decade. Instead of prioritizing new construction, what if companies invested in preserving existing buildings? Are historic buildings valuable for future cities?

A new book, The Past and Future City, explains how historic buildings and the preservation movement can make our cities more desirable, prosperous and equitable, and urban residents happier and healthier.

I sat down with Stephanie Meeks, CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and author of The Past and Future City, to learn more about the potential of old buildings and the benefits of their preservation in modern cities.

Why is it important to preserve old buildings, and how can cities benefit from their preservation?  

As the urban activist Jane Jacobs argued fifty-five years ago, “cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.” She was writing at a time when too many cities were destroying their historic neighborhoods in the name of “urban renewal,” which usually meant demolishing entire city blocks to build more highways and parking lots. But today, experience and new empirical research have shown the truth of her words: Preservation is one of our most powerful tools for urban regeneration. At the National Trust, we have amassed the data and research to back this up.

In fact, older buildings possess many remarkable powers that help cities to thrive. They often have low overhead and offer opportunities for small businesses and innovative thinkers alike.  They help reduce energy and carbon costs – As the saying goes, “the Greenest Building is the one that is already built.” And they provide the character and distinctiveness that attract residents and tourists.

Older neighborhoods also tend to be denser, more walkable, and designed in a way that is more sustainable over time. In all of these ways, older buildings are proven and durable economic engines that can help a city grow.

If the benefits are that striking, why aren’t more cities investing in historic areas? What is the biggest challenge in preserving historic structures? 

Many cities are investing in historic areas today, and preservation now has a seat at the table in discussions of urban planning, zoning, and economic development. Time and again, you can see that the road to revitalization runs through the historic Main Street or downtown.

But, of course, some challenges do exist. We sometimes see, despite all the evidence of preservation’s success, old stereotypes prevailing about the usefulness of older building stock.  This is unfortunate. We strongly believe that building reuse should be the default option for cities, and demolition always the option of last resort. Because once a place is destroyed, you lose all the remarkable benefits I just described – benefits that can only accrue over time.

In addition, sometimes building codes, zoning laws, and parking regulations need to be updated or streamlined to allow older places to thrive. If an area is designated purely residential or purely commercial, for example, it doesn’t allow readily for the type of multi-use older buildings in many cities that features a store on the first floor and apartments above. Similarly, parking requirements often don’t make sense for an historic downtown that was built before cars. At the Trust, we are working with cities to make these sorts of regulations more flexible, and to integrate building reuse into other policy reforms, like transit guidelines.

What is an example of one city that has created benefits through preservation?  

Well, there are many! But one that immediately comes to mind, in part because I grew up and went to college near there, is Denver. Today, Denver is a national leader in almost all the ways that count, with a growing population, a surging economy, and a high quality of life – good mass transit, walkability, etc. And if you talk to city officials and developers there, they’ll tell you that one of the keys to Denver’s success has been historic preservation.

In many ways, Denver got a head start over much of the country in using preservation as an engine for positive change. Through the efforts of visionary developers like Dana Crawford, historic Denver neighborhoods like Larimer Square in the 1960’s and Lower Downtown, or LoDo, in the 1980’s became catalysts for economic growth and urban regeneration. Today, that same spirit is prevailing across the city.

In your book, you dedicate a chapter to diverse and inclusive communities. How does preservation address issues of urban equity? 

When it comes to diversity, we feel it is very important to capture the full American story, and to honor and preserve the places that matter to all communities. As Americans, we are bound together not by blood but by our commitment to democratic ideas, and a shared history that is embodied in our landscape. So we have to get that history right – even the complex and difficult parts – to make sure it is told in a way that does justice to the past, and that allows every American to see themselves in it.

Regarding urban equity, a central argument in this book is that older buildings can help jumpstart revitalization. At the same time, sometimes rapid revitalization can produce neighborhoods that are in danger of being completely hollowed out and drained of character. If an historic neighborhood that was once home to a thriving, diverse community suddenly becomes unaffordable to all but the wealthy, and all its unique storefronts get replaced by chain stores, that is not a success. So we have to make sure that the quality of life for existing urban residents isn’t being diminished by the impacts that come when a street begins to improve its fortunes – most notably displacement.

The good news is there are ways to do it – to use older buildings to provide affordable housing and help ensure positive outcomes for all. In Macon, Georgia, for example, a neighborhood-wide preservation effort led by the Historic Macon Foundation (HMF) has helped to transform nearly five hundred homes in the Beall’s Hill area around Mercer University. Through a partnership with the Knight Foundation and others, HMF has been working to provide façade and energy efficiency loans and down-payment assistance to those who need it in Beall’s Hill. They also work to counter displacement of the current community in other ways – by recruiting low-income homeowners, advocating for property tax freezes, and never acquiring occupied homes. Their work is revitalizing the entire neighborhood in a way that includes everyone.

Many cities in rapidly developing regions aren’t facing the same kinds of aging building stock as cities in the U.S. What do you think are some of the lessons or implications for these cities?

While we tend to focus on buildings, and for good reason, every community has places that define them and stories to tell. And every city’s future is connected to its past.

At the beginning of the book, I talk about the Maravilla handball court and El Centro grocery store in East Los Angeles. To outsiders, the court just looks like a simple stretch of asphalt – There’s nothing outwardly remarkable about it. But to the residents of Maravilla, the court remains a special place and a center of the community. A place worth preserving.

Ultimately, older places are powerful because of the impact they have on the community around them. They are the places that make up our landscape and that tell our story. They bring us together and make us feel like we’re at home. We want to see them endure, so we can show them to our children and grandchildren. And the best way to make that happen is to see that they are meeting the needs of today, and continuing to play a vibrant and dynamic role in the community. That’s important whether we’re talking about buildings, parks, or anything else.

Learn more about Stephanie Meeks’ Book: The Past and Future City

Social Housing is Central in Implementing the New Urban Agenda in Brazil

Tue, 2016-10-25 00:11

Claudio Acioly, Head Capacity Building at UN-Habitat; Guenther Wehenpohl, GIZ; Andre Marinho, National Superintendent of Property at CAIXA; Vanderley John, Brazilian Council for Sustainable Construction; Henriette Arantes, National Secretary of Housing; Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities; and Simon Jatene, Governor of Pará. Photo by: Bruno Felin / WRI Brazil Sustainable Cities.

What will make 2.5 billion people worldwide choose to live in cities over the next two decades? Urban conglomerates have become attractive simply because they can offer access to core urban services and the chance to thrive. One of the main challenges of Habitat III is to turn cities into inclusive and democratic places. Urbanized countries like Brazil need to gather efforts to reduce not only poverty but social inequality and spatial segregation, problems reflected in the long distances people commute every day, the absence of public services in the suburbs and the lower quality of life for part of the population.

The right to decent housing was established in Brazil by the Federal Constitution of 1988, in a constitutional amendment in 2000 and was one of the main agendas of the country during Habitat III. However, the housing shortage in Brazil is still higher than six million homes. And a good house is not only a shelter, but a minimum condition so people can be healthy, work and have a good quality of life. The next contracts will have other requirements”.

One of the main success indicators of inclusive cities, aligned with the goals proposed by New Urban Agenda, is accessible housing within the central area of a city, with access to core services. This was one of the topics emphasized by Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, in a panel organized by Brazil’s Ministry of Cities in Quito. “I believe Brazil has a tremendous opportunity to make its cities more sustainable through its social housing program,” said Ani.

Minha Casa, Minha Vida Program, the Brazilian government’s most robust effort to face the housing challenge, has delivered more than five million houses since 2009 and another 1.45 million are being built. In 2003, Brazil approved a performance standard that establishes minimum requirements of security and comfort in residential properties. This measure led to some advances in the quality of homes, according to Henriqueta Arantes, National Housing Secretary. However, to meet the goals set by the New Urban Agenda and reach a sustainable development, the way we plan and deliver new housing is a fundamental point.

To implement the New Urban Agenda, Henriqueta believes that real estate, alone, won’t be able to meet these goals. “In our vision, there needs to be more transparency in information, so everybody can know, trust and take part in the decision making process regarding the future of cities. This is essential to create more sustainable cities,” asserted Henriqueta. Another issue the Secretary brought to light is the need to constantly review housing policies, once every two years, or even annually. André Marinho, CAIXA’s National Superintendent of Housing, said the interruption of the program has high costs to society and that the synergy among local and national stakeholders is important to speed up the program in an emergency scenario.

Besides the quality of housing, one of the necessary actions to enhance the Minha Casa, Minha Vida Program is to improve the location of the housing units. Ani Dasgupta believes the Brazilian program has the power  to make Brazilian cities more sustainable. In order to do that, it’s necessary to connect investments in transport infrastructure with the housing program: “If one travels 25 kilometers every day to go work, either by car or by bus…this is directly related to the environmental impact of a city.”

Henriqueta declared that this reality must change from now on: “There used to be, but there won’t be anymore, a need for production that allowed large housing complexes to be built further than necessary from central areas. Today we are trying to correct these mistakes by building housing units with access to transport, schools and health in order to improve families’ quality of life.”

Vanderley John, Counselor of Brazilian Council of Sustainable Construction; Simão Jatene, Governor of the State of Pará (Brazil); Claudio Acioly, Head of Capacity Building of UN-Habitat; and Guenther Wehenpohl,  PDP Coordinator of GIZ also participated on the panel.

Originally published in Portuguese on WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

Driverless Vehicles: Safe Speeds Ensure Safety For All

Mon, 2016-10-24 23:09

Autonomous Vehicles Can Make Citites Safer and More Efficient If Done Right. Photo by Ken Conley / Flickr

The coming of autonomous vehicle technology shows great promise for eliminating traffic deaths and serious road injuries. They could also make life a lot easier, but only if they are done right.

Reducing traffic fatalities will depend on how cities use autonomous cars, and how cities design shared spaces for cyclists and pedestrians. In response to the development of driverless cars, there are concerns of conventional drivers having a hard time navigating a road with the addition of autonomous cars, resulting in an entirely new type of traffic crash.

The ultimate reason for death and serious injury from traffic crashes is that the human body can sustain only so much force, a key principle of the Safe Systems Approach, which aims to improve planning so that transport systems themselves eliminate traffic deaths and injuries that arise due to human error. However, recent guidance from the US Department of Transportation does not consider appropriate vehicle speeds for self-driving cars, even as United States Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has said, “we don’t want to replace crashes with human factors with large numbers of crashes caused by systems.” Therefore, in order to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries through autonomous vehicles, regulation of a main factor—speed—will need to take central stage.

Autonomous Safety or Autonomous Speed?

For the most part, how quickly vehicles can react to incidents on the road and what speeds are safe for all road users will determine the overall level of road safety for all. Currently, many countries and cities do not have proper speed limits in place. While computers in autonomous vehicles may be infallible, the laws of physics still govern safety. Vehicles will need to be programmed to travel at safe speeds for everyone, especially in urban areas.

Consider pedestrians. If a speed limit is 60 km/h (37.3 mph) in an area that is also used by pedestrians, safety is not guaranteed. Even a computer may not be able to avoid a child running into the street to grab a ball. However, if the speed limit is 30 km/h (18.6 mph), or even lower, road death and serious injury are much less likely in the event that the autonomous vehicle cannot stop in time.

Risk of pedestrian death increases with increasing speeds. Image credit: Cities Safer By Design / WRI

In addition to real safety, there’s perceived safety. Even if autonomous vehicles are shown to move safely at higher speeds, they may be perceived as dangerous by bicyclists and pedestrians. If we want to foster active and sustainable modes of transport, like walking and cycling in our cities, speeds need to be set at levels that feel safe.

Another example is the concept of platooning, in which autonomous vehicles can sync together, travelling as a sort of “train.” Yet if the syncing-up of a set of vehicles in traffic at 90 km/h (55.9 mph) at a distance of four meters apart is interrupted by, for example, a deer bolting out into traffic, the autonomous vehicles may not be able to stop in time, resulting in a crash and close-range pile up. Platooning is already undergoing road tests. Recent programs to test the technology, such as SARTRE in Europe, show that Platooning is possible, but not yet perfect. Volvo, a partner on the project, recommended heightening focus on emergency situations, such as obstacle avoidance or sudden braking.

A Speed Issue or a Moral Issue?

In addition to concerns over safety, some research presents a moral question that autonomous vehicle programming may need to address. If a moving vehicle encounters a situation where it must choose to either minimize the passenger’s risk or a pedestrian’s, which should it choose? The research found that people were in favor of minimizing trauma in general, but for maximizing vehicle occupant safety if they, themselves, were the occupant. A legitimate question—but in the Safe Systems Approach, this moral conundrum would be somewhat of a false dichotomy. Rather, the chance that the vehicle would have to make this choice is minimized because the entire transport system ensures that vehicles are moving at safe speeds for both pedestrians and drivers.

Driverless Cars Create Opportunity for a Better City

Safety and moral concerns aside, if done right, autonomous vehicles could help create better cities. Driverless cars require less road space, through reducing inefficiencies or the ability to maneuver within a narrow lane, which in theory could free up street space for pedestrians and cyclists. This leads to the question: What kind of cities will be shaped by an autonomous vehicle future? Ones that are safe and accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists, with high-quality public transport systems? Or the cities once envisioned by architects such as Le Corbusier and described by Jane Jacobs as dominated by the car, rather than built for the people? Just as most cities allowed the “horseless carriage” to take over streets, will cities make the same mistake with the driverless car?

As Dario Hidalgo, Director of Integrated Transport at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, noted, the vision of safer cities is something we should be aiming for in any case: characterized by “good urban design, compact and connected with diverse uses; high-quality design for pedestrians, safe bicycle paths and high-quality public transport.”  A chance to “redo the city,” may be on the horizon, as Zipcar Founder Robin Chase points out: “with criteria and priorities for how to repurpose that newly available public space: wider sidewalks, more street trees and plantings, bike lanes, street furniture.”

The good news is that it is still early, with time to get these questions right. At the heart of this issue is putting people first, rather than getting swept up into prioritizing the conventional flow of traffic.

Live from Habitat III: Data-driven Policy and Human Rights Essential for Adoption of New Urban Agenda

Fri, 2016-10-21 07:47

Joan Clos and President Rafael Correa Celebrate the Unanimous Adoption of the New Urban Agenda at the Habitat III Closing Ceremony. Photo by Agencia de Noticias ANDES / Flickr.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is reporting on Habitat III from Quito, Ecuador. Follow our daily coverage on TheCityFix.

Thursday marked the fourth and final day of Habitat III, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Throughout the week, 45,000 people attended and participated in the conference’s proceedings. Each day, a variety of these participants, stakeholders and urban leaders, spoke at the conference’s eight plenary sessions, discussing the New Urban Agenda, and what it means for the future of urban development. By the end of Thursday’s proceedings, participants were able to witness the official adoption of the historic New Urban Agenda (NUA).

As delegates got closer to approving the final text of the New Urban Agenda, final roundtables and plenaries convened a comprehensive discussion of the path ahead for implementing the new vision. Creating more sustainable and livable cities for all will require continued action by all partners. In the final sessions, plenary participants stressed the importance of data-driven solutions, with an eye to enhancing human rights. By day’s end, 167 countries signed on to the historic New Urban Agenda, all working together for a better urban future.

Data-Driven Urban Policy

Data will prove to be a driver of effective action to effectively manage urbanization. During the plenary sessions, participants made it clear that enabling the vision from Quito to come to fruition will require significant improvements to the availability of municipal and regional data, along with technical expertise. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) delegate noted that “the golden thread of prosperity” will require innovations in technology and data. By bringing satellite imagery tools and spatial analysis capabilities to regional and municipal stakeholders, organizations like UNITAR can “tailor-make programs…[that] maximize the use of resources and measure environmental degradation.” Empowering cities with data needed to create robust patterns of evidence-based solutions will be crucial in addressing the complex implications of a rapidly urbanizing world. UNITAR’s representative also outlined plans for training activities around these data tools, reaching all levels of stakeholders — especially targeting subnational and local decision-makers. A participant from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also noted that solutions to urbanization will often be complex, and should be approached with integrated knowledge: There is a “critical need to see the program in a complex manner…with interactions of climate change and disaster risk reduction.” By creating space for data in municipal policy, platforms for data, like multi-hazard early warning systems, can give municipal leaders the foundations for better, locally crafted solutions. To power these systems, however, many countries will need to improve technological capacity. Delegates from the International Telecommunications Union stated that “broadband-driven networks will be crucial to the success of the New Urban Agenda.” These networks will make data more accessible, while also allowing for “participation of all citizens at all stages of urban policy development and design.”

Human Rights Are Not Commodities

The UN-Habitat Conferences occur only once every twenty years. Habitat II and its outcome document, in 1996, focused heavily around equitable and affordable housing, one of the main focal points of this week’s meetings. Why, then, is housing still a central issue in the New Urban Agenda? A representative from The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights points to human rights, or rather a lack of human rights, as the central roadblock to achieving goals in the areas of basic services. The representative believes that basic rights; access to housing, water, healthcare and sanitation; are still considered “commodities,” and not rights. Going forward, “urbanization processes need to be informed by human rights,” along with a strong system for accountability, but this commodification of basic services has thus far perpetuated discrimination. Therefore, the focus must remain cemented in foundations of cities as hubs for improving quality of life for all. Provisions set forth in the NUA will only be realized when human rights are explicitly integrated into resulting actions. The representative concluded his remarks by stating: “everyone needs to leave Quito with one objective: to bring rights home, and to make cities a place of equal opportunity for all.”

Unanimous Adaptation of the New Urban Agenda

Over the last two years, more than 100,000 people have been involved in drafting, shaping and negotiating the New Urban Agenda. On Thursday evening, during the closing plenary session, 167 representatives approved the document, facilitating its adoption without objection. “The New Urban Agenda has been adopted by member states, and the journey to the sustainable urban future has just begun,” proclaimed Executive Director of UN-Habitat Joan Clos.

While this week’s plenary sessions featured men and women from different backgrounds, the common thread was shared values of empowered local government, national policy, climate progress and human rights, which were woven together into a unified vision of a sustainable urban future. Although the NUA is officially adopted, there is a long road ahead. Implementation will require effort at all levels of government and support throughout all sectors. President of Ecuador Rafael Correa concluded this week’s historic events — before banging his gavel, calling an end to the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, he left us with one final thought: “‘Habitat III is a milestone to renew hope for a better world.”

Follow our daily coverage of Habitat III on TheCityFix.


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