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The blog of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on urban mobility, development and efficiency
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Reversing Mumbai’s Bicycle Decline Has Broad Implications for Quality of Life

Thu, 2017-07-06 23:22

Cars, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians navigate traffic in Mumbai, India. Photo by Adam Cohn/ Flickr

Bicycling is on the decline in India’s largest city; perhaps as few as 0.8 percent of a population of 12 million bicycles, according to one estimate, down from an already-low 6 percent measured in 2008. In a new op-ed for The Hindu, WRI’s Amit Bhatt writes the decline is indicative of a development agenda too focused on motorized transport.

Cycling has “socio-economic baggage” in India, Bhatt writes, seen as a mark of being lower class. But experience around the world – in Europe especially, but even in the car-centric United States and elsewhere – is showing that efforts to make city transport more bicycle-friendly pay dividends for pedestrian safety and the welfare of all citizens.

“As the modal share of bicycle increases, so does the quality of life of [a city's] citizens,” writes Bhatt. Or as Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogotá is reported to have said: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars; it’s where the rich use public transportation.”

Mumbai has tried improving bicycle infrastructure in the past but attempts were “feeble, unplanned and not thought through,” writes Bhatt. There was the Bombay-Kurla Complex, a ₹6.5-crore (about $1 million), 13-kilometer bicycle lane inaugurated in 2011. It was dismantled just four years later, after lack of maintenance and proper protection, and cars began to use it as a parking lane. It became a bus lane before that too was declared a failure and dismantled in 2016.

Now, Bhatt notes, most “big ticket” infrastructure projects in Mumbai “are planned and commissioned without fully understanding the implication of the costs and benefits, let alone the value of inclusive pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly design”:

Prime examples of this short-sightedness: the ₹1,600-odd crore Bandra-Worli Sea Link, which opened in 2010, and has an average daily traffic of around 37,500 vehicles, and the ₹1,436 crore Eastern Freeway with 23,000 vehicles. These projects are of no value to more than half of the city’s commuting population. They do not even permit motorized two-wheelers, let alone cyclists or pedestrians.

While buses are allowed on these flyovers/roads, they can’t use them as bus stops are at the lower level.

Projects aimed at smoother commutes for car-users seem to be the trend in Mumbai. Take the ₹15,000-crore Coastal Road or the ₹7,502-crore Versova-Bandra Sea Link.

Developing a plan for cycling is an afterthought, it would seem. For example, the Comprehensive Mobility Plan for Mumbai estimates an investment of ₹1.67 lakh crore. Of that, ₹178 crore is for developing cycling tracks, just a fraction over 1 percent.

What can be done? Bhatt encourages readers to write to their elected officials and city administrators, talk with their friends and family about the implications of transport policy on the well-being of all Mumbaikars, and perhaps become a Mumbiker yourself.

Read the full article on The Hindu for more.

Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Better Urban Renewal (Hint: Think Community Engagement)

Mon, 2017-07-03 19:27

Urban rejuvenation projects are most successful if they are designed with shared community goals in mind. Photo by Elisa Greco/Flickr

Our impressions of a city are formed mainly by the quality of public spaces. If they are not pleasant and preserved, or if they transmit a sense of insecurity, we will seldom return. Good planning of these spaces should be the rule, not the exception. In the series “Public Spaces,” originally published in Portuguese by TheCityFix Brasil, we explore different aspects related to public spaces that determine our daily experience in cities.

Nothing lasts forever without conservation and preservation. With cities, it’s no different. Different interventions in cities can alter built-up areas or public spaces to address social issues, environment or health problems, or even reactivate the local economy. In this context, the practices of renovation, requalification, revitalization and rehabilitation can be used to not only renew a city but help proactively solve a wide range of problems.

First, we need to differentiate terms that are often used synonymously but do not have exactly the same meaning. Briefly, “revitalization” is about recovering space or an existing construction; “renewal” deals with replacing or rebuilding and changing use; “requalifying” adds new functions while improving appearance; and “rehabilitation” is restoring but without changing function. Each of these processes therefore generates different results. All of them, however, are linked to the same idea: to transform urban spaces in order to rejuvenate them.

Projects like these often arise from the need to solve economic, social or environmental issues, but are carried out in ways that make success difficult. They need community participation to be embraced, but are often instead led by public-private partnerships that have few feedback mechanisms for community members to engage with. This is one of the most common criticisms of this type of intervention, in which large projects are conceived and constructed without any connection to the local reality.

New models of urban transformation should recognize that transformative change is no longer the responsibility of a single actor, organization, institution or sector. Change needs to be led by multi-stakeholder coalitions and movements, on the demand side as well as the supply side.

A report by the Australia-based consulting firm SGS Economics and Planning presents 10 principles for urban renewal that take the public interest into account, based on case studies in cities like London, Sydney, Melbourne, Hamburg and New York. According to the survey, much of the criticisms of urban renewal projects are a result of actions undertaken without the perspective and contribution of affected communities. Finding ways to include more participation could improve success rates. The report focuses mainly on renewal; however, the principles also apply to revitalization, requalification and rehabilitation:

1. Create “Shared Value”

Urban areas do not belong to a single group or individual but should offer value to many actors. All those who are part of the broader community as a whole – from workers and tourists, children and students, to the underserved and investors – should benefit from urban renewal. “Ultimately, the ‘communities’ for whom the value is created to share, should be those with long-term interests, not transient stakeholders with a primary focus on value extraction and repatriation,” write the authors.

2. Plan With Input From All

Delivering this shared value requires engaging with communities. Planners bringing an intervention into an existing space should share their vision and include people in the planning from day one, or risk it being rejected. Decision-making techniques such as cost-benefit analysis should be explained and employed to also promote “non-financial values,” helping communities feel a sense of ownership. The researchers also suggest the creation of a common platform where information about the process and the progress of the project can be shared transparently.

Superkilen Park in the Nørrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen. The work brings together elements from many of the more than 50 nationalities represented in the area. Photo from Bjarke Ingels Group/Flickr

3. Build a Long-Term Vision

In any extensive process of urban renewal, the initial goals of the project may change over time. Even so, a long-term vision should be locked in and changes for the sake of short-terms gains resisted, with flexibility growing as the timeline extends further into the future. “A commitment to the public interest and shared value needs an inclusive approach, and future development stages should have the flexibility to be able to adapt to market and social changes,” write the authors.

4. Agree on Non-Negotiables

Non-negotiation issues should be clearly understood by all stakeholders. These could include respecting existing lease terms, fixed quotas for affordable housing or protecting open spaces. The rights of renters and leaseholders should be guaranteed and stakeholders agree to a common set of design standards.

5. Agree on a Financial Profile

Studying how the space to be renovated is expected to yield from a financial perspective not only serves to set parameters for the project’s development options but is also critical to whether the public’s interests will be met. There are many options available to both provide returns on government investment in underserved areas but also safeguard communities from potential negative side effects, like rising taxes, and encourage a handoff to private developers in the future.

6. Establish Clear Development Goals

The planning process should develop and affirm clear objectives, not just desired outcomes. The best goals will be specific and measurable, and anticipate the physical, economic and social results of the project.

High Line Park in Manhattan is built over a disused elevated rail line. Photo by Mike Peel/Wikimedia

7. Establish Options to Achieve Development Goals

There are often multiple options for achieving the same development goals and they should be compared to one another as well as to baseline scenarios of what might happen without any intervention. The process will create “a much clearer picture of marginal benefits and costs associated with any particular development option,” the report explains.

8. Incorporate a Sense of “Localness”

Local characteristics and peculiarities should be captured and incorporated into the new project. These details may come from local standards, services offered in the region, the environment, the climate or other socio-cultural specificities. Finding ways to assimilate a sense of the local into the project will help people identify with it, separate it from other similar projects and generate community acceptance.

9. Evaluate Options With the Goal of Maximizing Net Community Benefits

Cost-benefit analyses are often viewed with skepticism, but the report notes there are well-documented techniques that allow for the inclusion of things communities care about most, like open space, social capital and heritage. Finding ways to incorporate them into a cost-benefit analysis is important for avoiding the scenario where “financial considerations or otherwise vague community aims end up dominating choices between options.”

10. Align the Procurement Model With the Planning Vision

Finally, the governance, implementation and contracting trajectories – how the project is actually carried out – should align with the unique vision laid out during the planning phase. Procurement targets should bespoke, rather than using “off-the-shelf” options. This may mean a greater role for the government as a developer in the early stages before handing off to private sector developers later.

“These principles are not locked in place, but are guiding principles to ensure urban renewal benefits the widest community possible,” write the authors. “The renewal of strategically important urban sites must have the needs of communities, both social and commercial, at its core.”

Paula Tanscheit is the Communications Analyst for WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

Making Air Quality Data Available to All: WRI, Development Seed, OpenAQ Partner to #FixtheAQGap

Thu, 2017-06-29 09:31

WRI recently announced a partnership with OpenAQ and Development Seed to help more users access – and contribute to – air quality data from around the world through the OpenAQ open source platform. This update, which originally appeared on OpenAQ’s Medium and has been adapted, explains some of the benefits.

OpenAQ is ecstatic to announce that we are partnering with the World Resources Institute and Development Seed to open up air quality data from more sources and to scale our system to meet growing demand for data.

The image below shows current country-level air quality data coverage across the world for the OpenAQ Platform. Significant gaps – the grey areas – remain, both in terms of countries not yet added and sources missing at the sub-national level. Our community of incredible users, WRI and Development Seed are helping to change that.

Demand Is Spiking

When we started this project two years ago, we had a hunch that people and organizations would be able do awesome work in the fight against air pollution, if there were just easier access to even existing air quality data sources.

And it turns out this hunch was correct – more than we would have ever initially guessed. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in data requests to our system over the past few months:

And the projects behind the data requests are where the magic happens. Software developers have built tools communicating real-time air quality to the public (e.g., Smokey the Air Quality Bot, Open Air Quality AppEnvi4All, hackAIR, AirVisual and Students have used the system for their classwork. Google’s public dataset program and various open-source projects (e.g., ropenaqpy-openaq and OpenAQ Data Visualizer) have helped make the data even easier to access and visualize. Companies have used the data to help calibrate their low-cost sensors or as a data layer for comparisons (e.g., Airveda and ARISense). Researchers have used the system to inform a real-time wild fire model and predict air quality in some of the most polluted places in the world.

Seeing this usage has been incredible, but it’s also been pretty demanding on our current system, as those of you who follow along on our #dev channel on Slack may have already noticed. We need to scale.

We Are Evolving

Since the start, OpenAQ has relied largely on volunteer contributions to our open source platform to add in air quality data from across the world – but also to build the technical backend infrastructure that supports our system. The next phase of re-tooling the platform to meet this increasing demand is a hefty and specialized task, and we’d rather the community focus as much as possible on building cool things off of the platform. So we’re working with WRI and Development Seed to make the following backend changes:

  • Move away from using the database as the main storage mechanism for the data. This will make the system less costly to maintain and more reliable for users.
  • Implement rate-limiting to ~30 requests per minute or roughly 1,000 requests per hour. This will make the system more useable for everyone.

If you’re interested in seeing our progress over the next couple of months, follow along — or even participate, if you’re interested – via #dev on our Slack Channel.

We are also adding more data. To date, we aggregate air quality data from 48 countries and 5,628 stations, largely through the incredible help of volunteers letting us know about government-level data sources and software developers who then are able to write adapters to ingest it (by the way, we looked this number up on Dolugen Buraalda’s handy site).

This coverage is great. But there are lots of data sources missing – both from other countries and within the countries where we already access data. We estimate there are roughly 70 countries out there with real-time air quality data of some sort.

WRI and Development Seed are helping our community add more data sources to the OpenAQ Platform. This will mean connecting with new partners at air quality agencies around the world, as well as having a team of folks writing data source adapters to existing data sources we have in our “new data” queue.

Help Us #FixtheAQGap

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be seeking YOUR input on potential new data sources through our #FixtheAQGap Campaign. It’s a big push to find those air quality data points that are out there but are falling through the gaps.

Do you know of air quality agencies we should be connecting with to access open data? Do you know of data sources already out there sharing data? Fill out this form, and let us know!

In our GitHub repo, we also have a pile of existing data sources, some of which have missing information (e.g., we can’t find the geographic coordinates for a set of stations, or perhaps a language issue is getting in the way and we can’t properly interpret the information). Check out this spreadsheet to see current gaps where we need help. Or check out our issues on GitHub. We’ll also be making calls out on Twitter, asking for help on specific items. Follow @Open_AQ, @WRIcities, and @developmentseed and help us #FixtheAQGap!

Chris Hasenkopf is the CEO and co-founder of

3 Reasons Renewable Energy Is Poised to Take Off in Developing Nations

Wed, 2017-06-28 19:00

Between 2009 and 2014, the cost of solar photovoltaic modules declined by 75 percent. Photo by Abbie Trayler-Smith (DFID)/Flickr

You often hear about renewable energy success stories in cities in the developed world – places like Vancouver, which has committed to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources before 2050, or San Diego, which has promised to obtain 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035. Many initiatives exist to promote 100 percent renewable energy in these places, such as the Renewable Cities program at Simon Frasier University in Canada. But while much attention goes to the global north, cities in the global south are also poised to scale up their use of renewables, such as wind and solar.

What’s Different Now?

The potential of distributed renewables in cities is well-understood. The International Energy Agency estimates that rooftop solar could supply 30 percent of electricity needs of cities globally in 2050, and much of the global south is rich in solar radiation. But there are three emerging trends that make this moment particularly ripe for renewable energy in the developing world:

1. Declining costs

The cost of renewable energy has declined precipitously. Between 2009 and 2014, the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules declined by 75 percent, while the cost of wind turbines dropped by 33 percent. Furthermore, the cost of residential solar PV has been declining significantly in recent years: in 2015, it was competitive with natural gas generation in India and nearly so in China. Battery storage is also becoming less expensive, which will make distributed energy even more affordable. Between 2008 and 2014, battery costs have declined 20 percent each year.

 2. Political commitment

Many cities in the global south have made robust commitments to tackle climate change. For example, many of the hundreds of cities that have signed on to the Compact of Mayors, a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas, are in the global south. Palawan, Philippines; the Maldives; and Uganda’s Kasese District have all announced 100 percent renewable energy goals. Regulatory policies, such as feed-in tariffs (long-term contracts to renewable energy producers, offering a fixed price) and net metering (a billing mechanism that credits renewable energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid), have spread beyond Europe and North America to municipalities in developing countries. Distributed renewables allow cities to make progress toward their climate goals and take more ownership over their electricity supply. And there is a realization that distributed renewables in cities can help countries fulfill two Sustainable Development Goals, one on ensuring modern energy access to all (Goal 7) and one on creating cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable (Goal 11).

3. Innovative finance and business models

While some are only in their nascent stages, there are a plethora of new finance and business models for distributed renewables. For example, pay-as-you-go (PAYG) programs, where companies rent solar home systems to consumers, who pay a small monthly fee often via their mobile phones, have taken off in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In less than one year, the number of households using PAYG systems in the region doubled to between 450,000 and 500,000 in 2015. Net metering, enacted for example in Cape Town, South Africa, and many states in India, has allowed households to not only be consumers of electricity, but prosumers, where they actually produce so much renewable power that they can meet their energy needs and sell the excess back to the grid. In Delhi, there is a roof rental model where homeowners can lease their roof space to solar project developers. Community-shared solar, which allows multiple individuals, many of whom may lack financial capacity or available on-site resources, to pool their resources to purchase PV systems, is gaining interest in urban areas of the global south.

A Renewable Revolution

Of course, for distributed renewables to continue to take off, there needs to be a strong enabling environment, with the provision of public finance to help mobilize private sector investment; well-enforced laws and regulations; well-coordinated, strong institutions; and community engagement and participation. As the renewable energy revolution gathers momentum in the cities of the global south, it is important to remember that it’s not just about environmental gains. As we note in a forthcoming paper from the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equitable City,” expanding clean energy access also increases quality of life for all people – including the urban under-served – and brings economic benefits to cities overall. As Shakespeare wrote in “The Tragedy of Coriolanus,” “What is the city but the people.”

Michael Westphal is a Senior Associate on the sustainable finance team at WRI.

3 Ways Bhopal’s Bike Sharing System Breaks New Ground for India

Tue, 2017-06-27 23:21

Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the Bhopal bike sharing launch. Photo by Sarika Panda Bhatt

On Sunday, June 25th, Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, launched India’s first fully automated bicycle sharing system as part of the second anniversary of its much-talked-about smart cities program. This development comes just three weeks after Mysore launched the country’s first city-level bicycle sharing project.

The Public Bicycle Sharing system, or PBS, developed with the help of WRI, involves a fully automated system of 500 bicycles with over 50 docking stations across Bhopal, backed by a state-of-the-art IT system. As part of this completely automated system, users can pick up a cycle from any of the stations and deposit it at another without worrying about returning it to its original location.

The bike sharing system of Bhopal has many firsts but here are three reasons why it can help make bike sharing mainstream in India:

1. It’s Fully Integrated With Buses

The Bhopal Bike sharing system is the country’s first integrated and fully automated bicycle sharing system that connects MyBus, Bhopal’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, with key residential and commercial nodes. By providing both first and last mile connectivity to the city bus system, it improves its efficiency.

In addition to service integration, the city offers flexible payment options, with one smart card that works for bike sharing, BRT and bus services. Bhopal City Link Ltd. is the single nodal agency that will oversee the operational monitoring of all three, making it a great example of institutional integration of public transport modes.

Milind Soman, model, actor and ambassador for India Vision Zero, inspects the dedicated cycle track before the launch of PBS in Bhopal. Photo by Sarika Panda Bhatt

2. It Puts Safety First

Pedestrians and cyclists comprise the largest number of road traffic crash victims in Indian cities. Many cities are therefore wary about developing cycling facilities due to fears they will only put more people in danger. But as part of Bhopal’s bicycle sharing project, the city is also developing physically segregated cycle tracks in the city. At launch there are 12 kilometers of five-meter wide tracks, the country’s widest physically segregated bicycle lanes. The city is also developing 55 kilometers of additional non-motorized transport paths, with work expected to start shortly.

3. It Takes the Long View

PBS is not a one-off project for Bhopal, but part of a targeted campaign to promote walking and cycling. It is hoped that what Paris’s Vélib’ system did for bicycle sharing in Europe, Bhopal PBS can do for India.

The effort kicked off with Raahgiri Day in September 2014 with major street closures to promote more pedestrian and cycling traffic. The resounding success of Raahgiri demonstrated that people were ready for another look at cycling.

The city is now using the concept of “tactical urbanism” to reimagine streets and public spaces so that they can be more people friendly. Bhopal is also in the initial stages of planning its first “smart street” project as part of this initiative, which will involve retrofitting an existing 1.5-kilometer stretch with dedicated facilities for walking and cycling along with other urban design features.

Much will depend on the operation and implementation of PBS going forward, but the early signs are good. 2017 is the 200th anniversary of cycling in the world. With the help of innovative efforts like PBS, this humble mode of transport is gradually coming back to help make India’s cities more pleasant, cleaner and safer.

Sarika Panda Bhatt is Manager of Cities and Transport with WRI India. Chandramauli Shukla is the CEO of Bhopal Smart City Development Corp Limited. Amit Bhatt is the Director of Integrated Transport at WRI India.

Finding Your Place in the Global Urban Movement to Fight Climate Change

Mon, 2017-06-26 22:30

Paris, Pittsburgh and a host of other cities are increasingly organizing around climate change. Photo by Benjamin Stäudinger / Flickr

For Pittsburgh, it’s a focus on improving air quality and creating renewable energy jobs. For Paris, it’s encouraging social mobility and reclaiming pedestrian areas. The common thread in these cities’ climate action plans is a commitment to pledges made by 197 parties in the landmark Paris Agreement.

“The only way to do right by Pittsburghers and Parisians is to abide by the principles of the Paris Agreement, which guarantees the future health and prosperity of both of our cities – and every other city in the world,” wrote Mayors William Peduto and Anne Hidalgo in The New York Times in response to President Donald Trump’s rationale for pulling the United States out of the pact.

Indeed, strong leadership on climate change is not new for city leaders. Reducing emissions and improving resilience are common concerns that are creating transnational networks of urban planners, policymakers and concerned citizens, including the C40, Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and ICLEI. Cities account for nearly 70 percent of global carbon emissions and are vulnerable to some of the most damaging effects of climate change, including sea level rise and poor air quality – and most cities are growing, exacerbating these challenges.

WRI’s work with these urban networks and directly with more than 100 cities around the world has shown that the best solutions come from engaged citizens and neighborhoods, businesses and community groups. So what can one person do to help make cities healthier, more sustainable and more productive? Start by asking these three key questions.

How Do You Move?

If cities are the front lines of the climate fight, transportation is the first battle. Cities account for 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions from road traffic worldwide, which means that the way people live and move in cities offers an opportunity to dramatically reduce environmental impact. This can also be a window on unique local challenges. Do cyclists feel safe on the street? Is there an accessible, reliable bus system?

As an individual, you can take a stand for sustainable mobility by demanding well-connected public transport and safe biking infrastructure. For example, in Brazil, WRI helped Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro create and conduct feedback surveys about their bus rapid transit systems, or BRTs, to attract and retain more riders. This feedback led to safer, more comfortable public transit in both cities. Curitiba improved lighting and security, renovated infrastructure and added capacity. In Rio, passenger satisfaction rates rose from 1.7 to 5.8 (on a scale of 0 to 10). Making public transport safer and more accessible means fewer cars on the road, less congestion and lower emissions.

What Kind of Building Do You Live In?

The buildings where city-dwellers live and work account for 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. By demanding better energy performance from your city’s buildings or choosing to live in a lower-emissions building, you can make the case for efficiency.

In their new resilience strategy, officials in Da Nang, Vietnam, a city of more than a million people, are working to make energy efficiency a priority for developers and expand resources and knowledge on energy use in some of its biggest buildings. In addition to saving energy, building efficiency is one of the easiest ways to reduce climate changing emissions and improve local air quality. WRI’s Building Efficiency Accelerator project will be working with Da Nang on these and other initiatives this year.

How Do You Connect?

The last step comes down to asking the right questions of your city. Does your mayor have a climate action plan? How about a resilience plan? Are local emissions being measured? There is much that cities can learn from each other, but ultimately each place requires its own unique solutions.

Strengthening the way you connect with your fellow citizens and your city’s long-term agenda can improve the environment and your own well-being. Don’t wait for a climate plan in your city; you can lobby for better systems today, ranging from bike lanes to larger questions of more equitable development.

Porto Alegre, Brazil, for example, included robust individual indicators in its first municipal resilience strategy. WRI Brasil helped develop metrics for social cohesion, risk perceptions, economic resources and education. These indicators will ensure community needs are measured by policymakers and taken into account in the city’s longer-term plans.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities was founded on the idea that transformative urban change happens across more than one political administration and often over a decade or more. By keeping in mind these ways of thinking about urban sustainability, you can help ensure your city is moving in the right direction.

Ani Dasgupta is the Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI’s program that galvanizes action to help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world.

Public Spaces: Participation as a Tool to Build More Democratic Cities

Thu, 2017-06-22 20:15

Understanding the needs of the population helps to design effective urban projects and create better cities and public spaces. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brasil Cidades Sustentáveis / Flickr

Our impressions of a city are formed mainly by the quality of public spaces. If they are not pleasant and preserved, or if they transmit a sense of insecurity, we will seldom return. Good planning of these spaces should be the rule, not the exception. In the series “Public Spaces,” we explore different aspects related to public spaces that determine our daily experience in cities. In the third post, we explore social participation as a tool for building more democratic spaces and cities.

People influence the built environment, and the built environment influences people. This interrelation, though not always evident, appears in some daily subtleties. On one hand, the presence of urban furniture and good lighting invite people to occupy a space, and buildings that are surrounded by walls and poorly lit parks bring a sense of insecurity. On the other hand, when people occupy public spaces, they also have influence on the built environment around them. People make urban spaces more alive and human – community gatherings and street events breathe life into otherwise abandoned places. This exchange between people and spaces, as well as societal participation in planning these environments, helps to build more democratic and equitable public spaces and cities.

Daisy Found, a specialist in community engagement and participatory planning, believes that good processes of popular participation can generate significant contributions to decision making in cities. According to the specialist, “popular participation in planning the built environment is a form of politics, and it will only be effective if it is seen and managed as such. Better community involvement, or ‘social participation,’ is the process of using appropriate methods and tools to explore, negotiate and—very importantly—respond appropriately to the question of ‘who gets what, when and how?’”

Social participation becomes even more important in public spaces, particularly in ensuring that areas don’t become underutilized. Listening to people takes into consideration the needs and knowledge of the local community, and it has impacts on the scale of the project, depending on what level of decision-making feedback is solicited. This is important for two main reasons:

1)  Residents have experience-based knowledge about where they live that isn’t available to outside urban planners and public managers. The expertise of the local community is the most important element to ensure that projects meet the specific demands of the area where they will be implemented.

2)  Involving people in the planning of spaces around them generates a feeling of responsibility and pride in the outcome. People feel part of the environment and, at the same time, responsible for their quality, creating a virtuous circle of “placemaking.”

Why Promote Participation?

Collaborative workshop in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brasil Cidades Sustentáveis / Flickr

Social participation promotes active engagement in the debates and deliberations about the future of a city or a neighborhood. These dialogues should occur frequently and be encouraged. According to Daisy, it is possible to observe a growing interest in these conversations: “people know that a healthy democracy must be practiced, not just ‘affirmed,’ so that it can be maintained and evolve. They also know that this democracy needs to be discussed openly in public spaces.”

People have “the right to the city” and the right to shape the city. Sociologist Henri Lefebvre, author of “The Right to the City,” argues that regardless of their origin, those who live in a city—and therefore, use and impact the urban environment daily—have as much right to participate in the decisions concerning a particular area as those who own the land. The notion of “the right to the city” does not only concern the right to be in the city, but also to shape it, to build it and to use its spaces through social participation.

Social participation benefits the city and democracy. Today, it is possible to see that people do not feel adequately represented in the way city decisions are made. A planning process that promotes people’s involvement, from the project design stage through implementation, ensures the effective participation of residents in changes that will impact the place where they live and, consequently, impact their lives.

Urban Democracy

By reconciling the demands of society with the needs of the public sector, social participation helps to increase the effectiveness of projects and policies and of public management. The process is related to the decentralization of power, the sharing of responsibilities and the creation of channels that favor dialogue, transparency and the availability of information. It is, in short, to promote urban democracy.

Quality public spaces that meet the needs of the population result from good participatory processes. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brasil Cidades Sustentáveis / Flickr

Good participatory practices, especially in regard to transparency in decision making, provide significant contributions to urban space policy, helping to create more democratic, equitable public spaces that are consistent with the needs and demands of the population. They generate strategic data to support fair and efficient decisions. They help to create new models of planning and governance, capable not only of listening to people, but also of bringing to the table what these voices have to say.

Dialogue with residents can be marked by demands, objections and criticisms. These conversations expose their problems: they may be dissatisfied with the gentrification of spaces, concerned about the impact of these changes and troubled by the inefficiency of the public sector in meeting local needs. As a result, unfortunately, municipal administrations typically avoid these conversations because they don’t want to open that can of worms. But the fact is: if what people say is heard and considered in the planning and management processes, the results will always be better and more solid than they would without this dialogue.

This text was adapted from the article “Talking Architecture with Strangers,” by Daisy Found, published in the compilation “Making Good – Shaping Places for People,” produced by Center for London and available here.

Originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil

Toward Car-Free Cities: Stockholm Shows the Sometimes-Bumpy Road to Congestion Charges

Wed, 2017-06-21 09:31

A congestion charge system in Stockholm has helped lower traffic volume and pollution, but hasn’t been without controversy. Photo by Susanne Nilsson / Flickr 

Toward Car-Free Cities,” a blog series by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Urban Mobility Team, explores the challenges and opportunities for Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies. TDM focuses on reducing the demand for private vehicles through combining public policy and private sector solutions. It is an essential component for comprehensive sustainable transport planning that complements public transit, walking and biking.

Through the different lenses of New York CityBogotá, Stockholm and London, the series examines the social and political barriers that cities need to overcome to successfully implement TDM strategies. The blog series also discusses the future trends of TDM and its implications, particularly in the developing world.

Like many cities that have introduced or tried to introduce a congestion charge, there was initially widespread resistance to the idea in Stockholm. The system consists of 18 tolls at access points around the central city, active between 6:00 a.m. and 6:29 p.m., Monday through Friday, which charge varying fees to incentivize public transport – or at least not car use – during peak hours. The highest fees are during commuting hours, when tolls can triple from 10 to 30 Swedish krona ($1.14-3.43).

Before a six-month trial began in January 2006, the project was supported by only 36 percent of city residents. Complicating things was that infrastructure cannot be charged in Sweden, only taxed, meaning all revenue would flow to the national government which would also control the project design. Opponents therefore linked the charge to “existing negative attitudes to taxes, inequity, restricting freedom and mobility, public interventions and national interference in regional matters,” according to Jonas Eliasson of the Stockholm-based Center for Transport Studies.

But, as has been seen among other cities that have implemented congestion charges, something happened after the scheme entered into effect: people started to see the benefits.

An S-Shaped Curve

In July 2006, after the initial trial was completed, a referendum held in Stockholm and several surrounding communities found 53 percent of voters supported reintroducing the congestion charge. Since the referendum, support has continued to increase: a 2007 poll showed 66 percent support, and in 2013 there was over 70 percent support among Stockholm residents.

Similar shifts in public support have been seen in other cities implementing congestion charges, like London. Phil Goodwin of the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory suggests a S-shaped “gestation process” may be typical for road pricing schemes, where public opinion sours on the idea in the lead up to the start of the trial but gradually rises after.

Goodwin’s S-shaped “gestation process” for road pricing schemes. Source: Goodwin (2006).


There are a number of explanations for this change in public attitude, but Maria Börjesson et al. point to the following key points:

  1. Surprising Benefits

    Many residents were initially against the charge in Stockholm because they did not think there would be significant outcomes. During the trial period, however, traffic declined 21 percent compared to average volumes before the charge; five years later it was still down 20 percent, despite an increasing population. In addition to a decrease in traffic volume, 24 percent of commuting trips flipped from cars to transit, and commercial traffic decreased by 15 percent. The large reduction in traffic volume also led to reductions in vehicle emissions in the inner city by 10-15 percent (depending on the pollutant type), as well as increased traffic safety.

  2. Minimal Negative Effects

    Many residents were concerned about a plethora of negative impacts: being priced out of using the roads, being forced to change their travel behavior, overcrowded public transit and/or simply displacing congestion to other areas that were unaffected by the charge. Instead, they discovered that the changes were not as bad as they had expected, traffic volumes and congestion decreased and the public transit network was not overburdened by the increase in ridership.

  3. Familiarity

    Familiarity breeds acceptability. As people got used to being charged, they became less opposed to the idea of paying for a good that used to be free. It was, in fact, not just the public but also politicians who changed their attitudes and began to embrace the benefits of the congestion charge.

Traffic volume in Stockholm declined and has remained below pre-congestion-charge averages even as population increases. 2006b and 2007a mark the time between the end of the trial period (July 2006) and beginning of the official implementation of charging scheme (August 2007). Source: WRI (2017).

Achieving Political Support

While public and political attitudes are related, public approval is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition for political support, a fact that is well highlighted in New York City’s failure to implement congestion charging. Essentially, political support in Stockholm was garnered through what was called the Cederschiöld Agreement, a deal between various local and national stakeholders that ensures revenues from the charge are integrated into national investment planning processes. This provided both local and regional politicians with considerable control over the usage of the revenues and soothed fears that the national government might use the program’s success as an excuse to redirect infrastructure funds elsewhere.

The success of congestion charging in Stockholm has led to further experimentation. Since 2016, charges were raised for vehicles entering the inner city, while new charges were introduced for the Essingeleden motorway, the major artery around the city and the busiest road in the country. Preliminary results show a reduction in traffic congestions after the new charges. Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, also implemented a similar scheme in 2013.

The Stockholm case shows that public and political support can shift dramatically once people experience the actual effects of congestion charging. Eleven years later, the precarious trial has blossomed into a major component of city’s transport system.

Public Spaces: The Economic and Symbolic Value

Thu, 2017-06-15 19:23

Cities depend on each street and park to be a place that people want to be. Photo by La Citta Vita / Flickr

Our impressions of a city are formed mainly by the quality of public spaces. If they are not pleasant and preserved, or if they transmit a sense of insecurity, we will seldom return. Good planning of these spaces should be the rule, not the exception. In the series “Public Spaces,” we explore different aspects related to public spaces that determine our daily experience in cities. In this second post, we discuss the relationship between public spaces and their symbolic and real estate value.

Streets are the face of a city. They are  where everything happens, and where the community lives together. Along with them, parks and plazas transform urban life in terms of well-being and health of the population. The quality of these public spaces alter the value of land around them, promoting a series of social and economic impacts. People are attracted to places where they feel comfortable and with a sense of belonging. Business investments are also attracted by well-structured, well-maintained and well-administered sites. A city that seeks to enhance quality of life and, at the same time, the increase global competitiveness, needs to be attentive to the trends of the urban agenda. The need to create vibrant, healthy communities and prioritize sustainable transport leads cities to rethink and redesign its streets for a future where public space and residents are treated as a priority in urban planning.

The character of a place is defined by two main elements: location and context. The first is usually assessed according to the real estate value of the site and the income level of the population that lives there. The second refers to socio-economic issues and the multiple factors that define how neighborhoods operate.

An important element that adds to the complexity of the real estate market depends on how sites can be subject to different land uses. Old theories assumed that “a straight line” away from the city center could explain the cost of transport and that this, in turn, explained the distribution of land use in the city. However, today it is known that correlations between spatial configuration, functional land use and traffic and occupancy standards—and their direct relationship with the social, cultural and economic aspects of a city—influence the evolution of land-use over time.

The concept of placemaking adds to the debate on land value. This refers to the process of planning quality public spaces that contribute to the local community and is an essential aspect of creating local identities. By nature, real estate value refers to the value of the land. The implementation or upgrading of public spaces (parks or street space itself), has the potential to influence the dynamics of the real estate market in the region. The renovation of these spaces therefore aims to improve residents’ quality of life and attract new economic activities.

Open spaces, living spaces. Photo by Patrik Nygren / Flickr

The idea of public spaces and their associated value can vary greatly between the city center and the urban periphery. The very use of streets in residential areas, where human interactions naturally occur, differs from the central areas. Even the simplest urban space can have great symbolic importance for people.

Public spaces can create bonds between individuals from completely different backgrounds, but that pass through the same areas. Bill Hiller, Professor of Architecture and Urban Morphology at the University of London, suggests that these interactions in public spaces create a “virtual community,” which is noticed when the co-presence leads to interactions, communications and transactions.

The symbolic relevance of the site can also influence the real estate value of its surroundings. Remember that when we talk about public spaces, we are also including sidewalks, bike paths and access to transportation. For example, access to active modes of transport is a strong factor in the housing market. In a study, Fábio Tieppo mapped buildings close to the bike paths in São Paulo and saw that they had high land value. As he moved move further from the bike paths, however, he saw that property value quickly declined. In addition to access to active modes of transport, several studies also point to walkability as an important factor of urban real estate appreciation.

Sidewalks, bike paths, parks and squares are all locations of vital importance for life in the city. The relationship between residents and these spaces (and each other) must be preserved. As cities continue to grow, these spaces, and their economic, social and symbolic value, should always be at the forefront of urban planning.

This text was adapted from the article “Finding the value of urban space,” by Alan Penn, published in the collection “Making good – shaping places for people,” produced by the Center for London and available here .

Laura Azeredo and Lara Caccia contributed to this post.

Originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil

Public Spaces: 10 Principles for Connecting People and the Streets

Fri, 2017-06-09 19:27

Public spaces have the power to connect people and cities. Image from Car Free NYC on Earth Day 2017. Photo by New York City Department of Transportation / Flickr

Our impressions of a city are formed mainly by the quality of public spaces. If they are not pleasant and preserved or, if they transmit a sense of insecurity, we will seldom return. Good planning of these spaces should be the rule, not the exception. In the series “Public Spaces,” we explore different aspects related to public spaces that determine our daily experience in cities.

Among city buildings, there is a network of spaces that create and strengthen connections at different levels of influence. In a book, they would be between the lines: the implicit meaning between concrete. Public spaces, which fill the urban gaps with life, are directly associated with the construction of what we call a city and influence the relationships that are created within them.

“When we refer to the streets and other public spaces of a city, we are actually talking about the city’s own identity. It is in these spaces that human exchanges and relationships, the diversity of use and the vocation of each place and the conflicts and contradictions of society are manifested,” explains Lara Caccia, Urban Development Specialist at WRI Brasil Cidades Sustentáveis, in her dissertation Urban mobility: public policies and the appropriation of space in Brazilian cities.

Public areas shape community ties in neighborhoods. They are places of encounter and can facilitate political mobilization, stimulate actions and help prevent crime. They are environments for interaction and exchange of ideas that impact the quality of the urban environment. While not considered “public spaces,” cafes, bookstores and bars have similar impacts. Public spaces also present health benefits, both physical and mental: people feel better and tend to be more active in attractive, public spaces.

Children play in a public space event in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Victor Moriyama / WRI Brasil Cidades Sustentáveis / Flickr

It is possible to go even deeper and relate the presence and planning of public spaces with democratic values. The culture of a place, its structure and social hierarchy reflect the way common spaces are planned, controlled and used. As Ben Rogers points out, the more diverse and lively urban spaces are, the more equal, prosperous and democratic society becomes. This assertion is based on the very definition of public space: an open, freely accessible and democratic environment.

A good public space is one that reflects diversity and encourages people to live together effortlessly, creating the necessary conditions for permanence, which invites people to be on the street. It is the vitality of spaces that attracts people. What guarantees this vitality is the possibility of enjoying urban spaces in various ways. Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people create and maintain public spaces. PPS discusses The Power of 10: a good public space needs to present at least ten possibilities. This includes different things people can do in it, and ten reasons to be there. Without the ten things, these areas become places of passage where people do not want to be for the simple fact that there is nothing that makes them stay. “The existence of quality and usable public spaces, with greater urban vitality, will increase the perception of security and democratization of these spaces,” says Lara.

Public spaces that encourage people to stay and coexist help make streets safer. Photo by New York City Department of Transportation / Flickr

It is a two-way street: people will be on the street if they feel safe and the street will be a safer environment the more people use them. Below, we present ten principles that should be considered for a high-quality public space. The elements relate with each other – active facades and constructions on the human scale, for example, are directly related to the promotion of the local economy. It is the combination between them that will ensure accessible, equitable and safe spaces for people.

1. Diversity of uses: Blending residential, office and commercial areas, such as bars, restaurants, cafes and local commerce, attracts people and makes the environment safer and friendlier. The diversity of uses generates external activities that contribute to the safety of spaces: more people on the streets helps to inhibit crime. This diversity, however, needs to cover all times of day. If the spaces are inviting and only busy during the day, they will still be unsafe places at night. Planning public spaces in a way that encourages the coexistence and the permanence of people is also a way of investing in security.

2. Active facades: Connection between the ground level of the buildings, the sidewalk and the street contributes to safety and the attractiveness of urban design. Visually more interesting streets are used more often by people. In addition, this relationship influences people’s perception of the city and how they are to use it: Jane Jacobs says that it is mainly streets and sidewalks that indicate how public space is perceived and used.

3. Social dimension and urban vitality: As an aggregator of people, public space has influence over the social dimension. Wide, accessible streets, squares, parks, sidewalks, bike paths and urban furniture stimulate interaction between people and the environment, generate a positive use of space and increase urban vitality. In addition to focusing on high-denisty, urban areas, it is crucial to consider the peripheries, guaranteeing quality public spaces to the population that does not live in the city center.

4. Human scale: High-scale, high-denisty construction can negatively affect people’s health. In his field studies, Jan Gehl noted that people tend to walk faster when passing empty or inactive areas, in contrast to the slower, quieter pace of walking in livelier, more active environments. Human-scale constructions have a positive effect on people’s perceptions of public spaces: they feel that they were considered in the planning process of that space.

Active neighborhoods and buildings encourage the use of public spaces. Photo by WRI Brasil Cidades Sustentáveis / Flickr

5. Lighting: Efficient and people-oriented lighting facilitates the occupancy of public spaces at night, enhancing safety. When installed on the pedestrian and cyclist scale, public lighting creates the necessary conditions to move more safely when there is no natural light.

6. Stimulating the local economy: Quality public spaces not only benefit people by offering leisure and living areas, but they also have the potential to boost the local economy. The safe and attractive conditions foster walking and cycling, leading to easy access of local commerce.

7. Local identity: Public spaces should be planned for the small businesses that characterize the neighborhood. Large enterprises (such as supermarkets or other chain companies) can contribute to the economy in general, but they have little participation in the scale of the neighborhood. Small businesses and ventures have significant long-term impacts, as well as add to the personality and identity of the place. When planning a public space it is necessary to take into account the social dynamics and cultural specificities of the area, in order to generate a strong relationship between people and place.

Considering local identity is important for people to take ownership of public spaces. Photo by Otávio Almeida / Flickr

8. Complete streets: Wherever possible, public areas should be thought of following the principles of Complete Streets and “shared spaces.” The Complete Streets concept defines streets designed to ensure the safe circulation of all users—pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and users of public transport. Sidewalks in good condition, infrastructure for bicycles, street furniture and signage for all users are among the elements that can compose a complete street.

9. Green areas: In addition to contributing to air quality and helping to ease temperatures in the summer, vegetation has the power to humanize cities by attracting people to outdoor activities. As cities become denser, access to green public spaces will become even more important as urban forestation can lower people’s stress levels and enhance well-being in cities. In addition, trees, plants and flowerbeds are strategic for urban drainage and maintenance of biodiversity.

10. Social participation: Involving residents in the design, planning and administration of urban public spaces or the neighborhoods in which they live is essential to maintain the quality of these spaces. Public spaces have different uses and meanings in each neighborhood and community. Resident involvement ensures that the nature and use of public space will meet the community’s distinct needs. If a space does not reflect the demands and desires of the local population, it will not be used or maintained. Social participation is a central element for the construction of safer, equitable public areas.

The way we live in cities is reconfigured every day, through the transformation of society and the emergence of new policies, technologies and alternative transportation options. Urbanization, densification and high motorization rates create planning challenges and instigate cities to think about new development models. In the midst of constant transformation, however, the importance of public spaces for quality of life remains constant. They continue to be spaces for exchange, coexistence and meetings. They continue to be vital for urban well-being. Beyond the walls that surround us, on the street is where life happens.

This text was adapted from the article “In Defense of the Street: 10 Principles for Public Spaces,” by Ben Rogers, published in the compilation “Making good – shaping places for people,” produced by the Center for London and available here.

Laura Azeredo and Lara Caccia contributed to this post.

Originally published in Portuguese on TheCityFix Brasil

Real Estate Regulation Act: A Potential Opportunity for Transit-Oriented Development

Thu, 2017-06-08 19:01

Photo by Prerna Mehta/WRI India

The real estate sector is one of the largest contributors to India’s GDP, and it is expected to grow by 30 percent over the next decade. However, it is also considered the “most ambiguous sector to transact under,” with insufficient regulations leading to numerous cases of consumer-developer conflicts and project delays.

After eight years of deliberation to streamline such irregularities, the landmark Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act (RERA), which was notified by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation in 2016, became fully operational on May 1, 2017.

This Central Act has made it mandatory for states and Union Territories (UTs) to establish their own Regulatory Authority (RA) and appellate tribunals which would enforce the provisions under the Act.

By acting as an umbrella regulatory authority and bringing in accountability from states and UTs, RERA seeks to bring transparency in the real estate sector, safeguarding the interests of home buyers and improving financing opportunities for builders and developers.

In February 2017, the Government of India’s Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) also announced the formulation of the National Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Policy. This policy looks at integrating land use and transport infrastructure to develop planned, sustainable urban growth centers. For instance, walkable and livable communes with high-density mixed land-use around transit corridors like the metros, monorail and bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors, are currently being constructed on a large scale.

Incidentally, these two forward-thinking policies share common ground – while RERA strives to reform the realty sector, TOD holds the potential to create synergies that eventually lead to sustainable cities with higher densities, increased economic activity and better public spaces. Hence, there lies an opportunity to integrate the two policies, by offering special status to TOD within RERA, paving the way to build compact, connected and equitable cities.

Addressing the TOD Link

In its essence, RERA is indeed a necessary intervention to organize the real estate sector and protect consumer interests. RERA will bring under its domain all projects qualifying as real estate and projects that have real estate as a component.

While complying with the provisions of RERA might lead to a temporary increase in property prices, proactive interventions like the government’s announcement in the Union Budget 2017, to award infrastructure status to affordable housing, will pave way for low-cost finances and increased investment in the sector. If the market has sufficient housing options to choose from, the sector is likely to break even and standardize housing costs for the future. Also, the Act is expected to reduce delays in projects through a single window clearance system.

However, the Act falls short on various counts. To begin with, the overarching guidelines specified in the Act makes no mention of TOD, a prime agenda of the MoUD. With a strong real estate component, one assumes that projects under TOD will have to adhere to RERA, leading to several concerns:

1) While single window clearances are targeted at reducing delays, the Act does not specify the list of approvals that can be sought through this system or its process. Typically, single window clearances do not take into account environmental impact assessments, fire department clearances and so on. Development projects are often held up for years due to lengthy approval processes, and if state-specific procedures are not clarified, it could lead to further delays and confusions.

2) The Act prohibits marketing strategies like pre-launch, that were earlier employed by developers to obtain the initial capital required for a real estate project. Instead, through a fund-channeling mechanism for project development, the Act guards the timely delivery commitment. In such a situation, developers will have to look for alternative sources of funding and financing including their own body. Such prohibitions could be especially detrimental for a new and progressive urban growth strategy like TOD.

3) With a process-oriented approach, RERA can ensure and eventually increase the possibility of obtaining funds for real estate projects. But comprehensive TOD projects, which aim for an infrastructural augmentation of an entire area along with a real estate component catering to a wide variety of users, might suffer for want of funds. This could have a negative impact on the implementation of TOD projects, especially in retrofit situations and at a corridor level.

A Way Forward

If TOD is given a special area status, it will formalize not just the workings of the real estate sector but also its associated infrastructure. By bringing in station area developments within its domain, RERA and TOD can go hand-in-hand, leading to comprehensive development. Regularization of the real estate sector could also benefit TOD projects in terms of procuring finances, streamlining land acquisition processes and timely delivery, thereby making it easier to launch and showcase them. As of today, several states are still in the process of finalizing their RERA rules, giving the concerned state governments an opportunity to incorporate TOD into RERA. This would give a huge impetus to operationalize TOD in Indian cities.

Originally published on WRI India, with inputs from Jaya Dhindaw, Sreekumar Kumaraswamy and Himadri Das

What About the People? Unlocking the Key to Socially Sustainable and Resilient Communities

Tue, 2017-06-06 19:46

Children play in flood waters after torrential rains in Kampung Melayu, Jakarta. Photo by Kate Lamb, Freelance journalist

Rapid urbanization, economic growth and climate change are putting increasing pressure on urban communities around the world. While strong physical structures are important, social relationships play a key role in determining urban communities’ resilience during adverse weather events.

Community resilience is influenced by the strength of neighborhood social networks and cohesion, two features that determine a community’s social sustainability (its viability, health and functioning). Interacting, getting along—with or in spite of social or ethnic differences—and collaborating on group initiatives help sustain communities in ordinary times and respond resiliently during times of crisis. These social factors can improve residents’ health, well-being, daily quality of life and collective capacity to cope with, and adapt to, disasters.

Built environments that promote social interaction can contribute to socially sustainable, resilient communities. City policy makers, planners and designers can adopt “socially-aware planning:” the intention to promote positive social interaction and social impacts through the mindful planning, designing, construction and management of cities.

Urban development projects and built structures, such as housing, public spaces and transit stops, can influence people to think and behave in ways that are indicative of strong networks and cohesion. Psychologists label these behaviors, thoughts and feelings “pro-community,” meaning that they benefit their communities. An action as simple as greeting neighbors regularly means that during a crisis, the lines of communication are already open. A new report—What about the people? The socially sustainable, resilient community and urban development by Cathy Baldwin and Robin King— uses case studies to explore how built environments influence pro-community behaviors, thoughts and feelings, evaluating their impact on community resilience. We discuss three here:

1.  Neighborhood Co-Design Projects Foster Socially Sustainable Communities 

Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Stalls beside Khayelitsha Metrorail station. Photo by Stokperdjie

Two crucial elementsurban form and community participation in urban developmenthave the greatest influence on community behavior, thoughts and feelings.

In Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, South Africa, the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading Programme (VPUU), has transformed its previously rundown and dangerous streets into a safer, vibrant and more attractive place. Through a survey and interactive events, residents and professionals co-identified crime-related problems, community needs and organizational patterns in urban spaces. To deter crime in these locations, residents helped implement new features, including paved pedestrian walkways and street lighting, providing “safe routes” through dense informal settlements. These new features made the community safer. In fact, the murder rate dropped by 39 percent between 2003 and 2010, the highest in a low-income community. Additional positive social impacts include employment opportunities for residents and trauma counselling for women. These solutions foster positive community behaviors such as collaboration and feelings of pride and safety.

2.  Communities Experience Measurable Positive Social and Psychological Effects

Residents restore neighborhood squares in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Jan Semenza

Residents restore neighborhood squares in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Jan Semenza

While the Khayelitsha project provided distinctive social and economic benefits, a co-design project in Portland, Oregon, identified quantifiable clinical health benefits. The community conceived, designed, permitted and constructed three neighborhood pedestrianized squares with the objectives of improving participants’ social networks and mental wellbeing. With support from urban development professionals, residents implemented features such as community-designed street murals, benches, planter boxes, information kiosks with bulletin boards and hanging gardens. Psychologists systematically surveyed 265 participants before and after the intervention within a two-block radius of the sites. They measured mental health, sense of community, community capacity and social networks and recorded improvements seen through community empowerment, participation and collective action.

3.  Built Environments Influence Community Behavior Before and During Disasters

In many informal settlements, such as in Surat, India, community resilience is inhibited by poverty, low-quality built structures and exclusion from city government disaster planning. Including these communities in neighborhood management is the most immediate factor to address.

Where residents have strong networks but are vulnerable to, for example, flooding, resettlement requires a nuanced understanding of the social relationships and organizational strategies that enable resilience. In Jakarta, Indonesia, the diverse residents of riverside neighborhoods (kampungs) have strong social networks and cohesion, partially due to the close proximity of low-quality housing, and formal organizations that enforce participation in neighborhood cleaning (kerja bakti) and security systems (ronda).

The kampung of Manggarai, Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo by Mario Wilhelm

During floods, residents use their informal communications networks as a warning system, pooling resources and participating in clean-up activities. Despite attempted relocation, some kampung residents may return to their original dwellings if their networks and support systems are not also transferred. Adequate housing is an urgent priority, but, before relocating populations, planners must research the spatial and organizational features of neighborhoods to maintain social communities.

Designing for Social Networks and Cohesion Is the Crux of Community Resilience

By examining urban development and disasters across 12 countries, the report reveals the behaviors and feelings that stem from social networks and cohesion, emerge under the influence of urban form and community participation and are common to communities that are both socially sustainable and resilient:

  • Feeling connected and emotionally attached to neighborhood and community
  • Feeling safe and secure
  • Monitoring the neighborhood
  • Residing long-term
  • Regularly interacting with neighbors and participating in events
  • Being socially cohesive
  • Having community spirit
  • Having a voice and influence in neighborhood planning and governance

Projects involved different creative steps to influence these behaviors, which urban planners can tap into for implementing socially-aware planning:

  1. Incorporate clear social objectives into planning
  2. Conduct social research to understand the local interpretation of the urban landscape, and document communities’ social needs and strengths
  3. Employ democratic and inclusive community engagement and participation
  4. Match the evidence of communities’ needs and strengths with sensitive planning and design decisions
  5. Allow communities to co-design, implement, construct and manage spaces and infrastructure
  6. Create off-shoot community and economic development opportunities
  7. Include communities in ongoing monitoring and evaluation, ensure social objectives are honored and generate future learning

Government sustainability and resilience plans tend to prioritize the “hardware” of cities, but change is needed. Adopting the socially-aware planning process will make cities more robust and responsive to the needs of their residents. The report offers a global perspective and evidence from 12 countries to show its’ relevance and applicability everywhere. As adverse weather event events increase, people, as well as the planet, must be protected.

The report is available through Oxford Brookes University

China’s Clean Air Challenge: $3 Billion Air Pollution from Transport in Chengdu

Thu, 2017-06-01 19:37

Chengdu, China encourages cycling and walking to mitigate air pollution from fossil fuels. Photo by Richy / Fickr

This is the third installment of WRI’s China’s Clean Air Challenge blog series. This series examines the increasing social, environmental and economic impacts of the serious air quality challenge in Chinese cities and investigates the sources of emissions and sustainable solutions.

Economic loss from transport-related air pollution in Chengdu, China, was $3 billion in 2013, and that number is on the rise. Private cars and trucks are the biggest emitters, contributing $2.2 billion in losses, 73 percent of the total. With increasing motorization between 2005 and 2013, economic costs from emissions more than doubled.

A significant portion of this economic loss stems from the health impacts of air pollution. There is a strong link between air pollution, particularly ultra-fine particle pollution (PM2.5), and cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer. More than one billion Chinese citizens are considered exposed to PM2.5 and therefore at risk for premature death and chronic illness, which result in a lower quality of life, the loss of a productive labor force and high medical expenses. In 2013, air pollution caused 1.2-1.6 million premature deaths in China. Furthermore, air pollution’s environmental impacts, such as smog and damaged ecosystem services, make the city less attractive to corporate investment.

Chengdu, the fourth largest city in China, has over 15 million residents and 4 million vehicles, with 27 percent of PM2.5 emissions coming from transport, increasing risks to public health, the environment and the economy.

How Chengdu Can Reduce Emissions in the Transport Sector

WRI China is providing recommendations to Chengdu’s government under WRI’s Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative, on methods to reduce transport-related emissions. The recommendations focus on a package of transport demand management (TDM) measures and technological innovations that can be implemented in three phases, starting with strictest, regulatory measures and moving toward market-based solutions.

Phase 1: New regulations and clean mobility choices

  • Control vehicle ownership: Limit the purchase of new vehicles to less than 100,000 per year.
  • Strict parking management: Raise parking fees and fines in the central district. Introduce smart parking management with varying fees, according to the district and time of day.
  • Restrict traffic: Limit vehicle use under an “odd-even” system where license plate numbers are used to determine which vehicles can be used on which days.
  • Encourage new mobility: Promote electric and hybrid vehicles and introduce strict emissions standards and green technologies, especially for trucks. Encourage a sharing economy for driving, cycling and freight transport.

Phase 2: Enhanced market-based measures

Chengdu should supplement regulatory measures with more market-based approaches to dissuade people from driving. The city could follow the examples of Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong by raising parking fees in the central district and introducing a high vehicle-ownership fee. Revenue from these fees could be used to improve the public transport system, increasing ridership up to 60 percent.

Phase 3: New technologies

By 2030, more than 20 million people will live in Chengdu, and the number of daily trips could easily surpass 50 million. Chengdu needs to plan now to enable its public transport system and road network to adapt. The city should adopt advanced information technologies and transport demand management measures such as low emission zones, congestion charging, shared mobility and autonomous vehicles.

Chengdu as a Model for Stronger Urban Future

By 2050, there will be 2.5 billion more people in the world’s urban areas, with 90 percent of this growth concentrated in Asia and Africa. With more Chengdu-sized megacities popping up around the globe, it will be increasingly important to follow WRI China’s recommendations and protect urban air quality from transport-related emissions. Minimizing economic loss from emissions and ensuring healthier environments and residents will create a stronger urban future.

How Can China’s Green Building Sector Grow Fivefold by 2030? 3 Cities Show Us the Way

Wed, 2017-05-31 19:32

Beijing skyline in the evening. Photo by Jens Schott Knudsen/ Flickr

China has grand plans to green its buildings.

The country’s national climate commitment calls for 50 percent of all new buildings constructed by 2020 to be certified green buildings, while its 13th Five-Year Plan prioritizes building efficiency. Following through on these commitments would grow the country’s green building sector from 5 to 28 percent by 2030, representing a $12.9 trillion investment opportunity.

In the face of these goals, China is undergoing massive urbanization, which could increase buildings’ energy use by as much as 40 percent in the next 15 years.

The question now is: How can those responsible for building construction—namely, cities, towns and developers—deliver on the lofty goals set by the national government?

This is a key question on global decision-makers’ minds, including at next week’s 8th Clean Energy Ministerial in Beijing, which brings together energy ministers from 24 countries.

Some Chinese cities are starting to show us the path forward on how to improve building efficiency in the face of massive development and urbanization. Three shared their stories at a recent event in Beijing:

Changning District: Benchmarking Buildings Through Energy Performance Data

You can’t change what you don’t measure. Energy monitoring systems collect data about buildings’ energy use to improve operators’ understanding of how and when they consume energy. Operators can then optimize a building’s energy performance by adjusting heating or cooling systems, lighting levels or hours of operation, leading to significant savings.

Shanghai’s Changning District put in place an energy monitoring platform that now tracks 160 of the district’s 165 public buildings. Thanks to the project, 32 buildings have been retrofitted to achieve an average 20 percent energy savings. To encourage the remaining 133 public buildings to renovate, the district is considering using a third-party ranking system to rate buildings on their energy performance, a strategy that’s proved effective in other locales.

The district also provided 23 million yuan ($3.34 million) in subsidies to help building managers make their buildings more efficient. This lowered the payback period for the private sector, which in turn encouraged them to invest an additional 140 million yuan ($20.33 million).

Changning Road in Changning District. Photo by Chris He/Flickr

Wuxi City High-Tech Industrial Development Zone: Linking Financial Incentives with Green Building Certification

Wuxi City High-Tech Industrial Development Zone is the engine of the Wuxi economy. With 560,000 residents in a city of 6.5 million, the zone contributes 17 percent of Wuxi’s economic activity. But the zone’s economic output also comes with outsized energy demand from buildings housing factories, offices and other facilities.

To drive the construction of energy-efficient buildings, Wuxi issued an innovative investment guidance policy in February 2016: incentives for buildings that meet criteria under two green building certification programs, LEED and China’s national three-star rating system.

Buildings that achieve the highest green building ratings in either certification program receive 500,000 yuan ($73,620) from the district government; buildings with the next-highest level of certification are eligible for a 200,000-yuan ($29,050) incentive. Similar incentives are in place for the use of heat pump technology, solar photovoltaic systems, and other energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

While it’s still early to see the full impact of this incentive program, Wuxi is clearly leading by example: the district has already achieved the highest level of the latest LEED certification for the new Wuxi Xinwu District Ecological Civilization Pavilion Project, one of only 36 buildings in the world to do so.

Wuxi at night. Thomas Depenbusch / Flickr

Suzhou Taihu New City: Developing a New City with Green Buildings

As China continues to urbanize, entire new cities are being built from scratch. Suzhou Taihu New City in Jiangsu province is one example. Currently in the planning and design stages, Suzhou Taihu New City will house 200,000 residents and focus on high-end service industries such as education and training, research and development, tourism and finance.

All of Suzhou Taihu New City’s buildings will be designed to receive at least a two-star rating from China’s national green building certification program. The city will also boast a green building demonstration area, constructing several projects like zero-energy schools and monitoring their energy performance.

Suzhou Taihu New City will be completed in 2020. New cities and other urban construction sites emerging across China would do well to learn lessons from its planning and design process.

A Model for Other Cities

Ambitious national policies and strong local examples are all positive signs that China is moving forward on building efficiency. But its cities still face several challenges: comprehensive urban planning, implementing policies and regulations, deploying available energy efficiency technologies and developing effective business and financial models.

There are immediate opportunities for China to bridge the gap between its green building ambitions and implementation. First, the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a global partnership coordinated by WRI, provides opportunities for cities to showcase examples of innovative building efficiency programs, and to connect with global technical experts to take local action. Chinese districts that join the BEA will be able to tap into this expertise and use the platform to share their leadership and successes.

Second, cities in China and in all countries around the world will be more successful when their national governments build support for action at the ministerial level, and equip them with the necessary financial and technical support. Energy ministers can demonstrate their support for city-level building efficiency action at the Clean Energy Ministerial, raising the urgency and visibility of this too-often invisible action: reducing the energy consumption of our buildings.

EDITOR’S NOTE, 5/31/17: This post’s headline originally indicated that China’s green building sector would grow 500 percent by 2020. It is actually poised to grow fivefold by 2030. We regret the errors.

With National Urban Policies, the Process Is the Goal

Sat, 2017-05-27 01:12

Paris, France hosted the International Conference on National Urban Policies this month. Photo by Metro Centric / Flickr

An expanding body of research shows that cities are truly the nexus of the global agenda. But as cities have been recognized as key to a host of global aims, it has become increasingly complex to parse through priorities, processes and international mandates. In this, however, officials and others are starting to identify a powerful tool: national urban policies.

The past two years have seen startlingly busy global development discussions, and cities have played a core role in each. Last year saw adoption of the New Urban Agenda, for instance, which clearly requires action in cities. The previous year, governments negotiated and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Brasília Declaration on Road Safety and other global compacts — all of which will require significant investment in urban solutions to achieve their aims.

Together, these accords mean a profound restructuring of the international development landscape. National urban policies can be a major instrument for identifying the overlapping priorities of these agreements and establishing a cohesive development strategy that supports progress against all of them together.

National urban policy received a significant boost ahead of last year’s Habitat III conference, when national governments adopted the New Urban Agenda. The run-up to the conference saw major players debating everything from the scope and legal details of such policies to the very language used in naming the concept.

Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Agencia de Noticias Andes / Flickr

Evidence of the growing interest in national urban policies was on display last week in Paris, where the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Cities Alliance and UN-Habitat hosted a major conference on the issue. This was the second such event held by these partners, and it brought together ministries, mayors, thought leaders and practitioners from six continents.

A significant part of the conference’s aim was simply to establish a common vocabulary. Despite growing interest, the phrase “national urban policy” often is used without much explanation — as a concept that everyone knows is needed but is rarely defined. Those gathered in Paris attempted to arrive at a common definition and language to support the conversation on this issue and to share good practices.

Despite the continued debate over the precise definition of national urban policy, there is agreement around some basic tenets. A national urban policy needs to offer a unifying vision for urban development within a country, for instance. It needs to establish a framework that empowers cities to implement and incentivizes investment in design solutions that align with priorities articulated within the policy.

But new to the conversation is the suggestion that the value of these policies is not solely in the resulting legislative framework. Rather, the process of analytical, inclusive, thoughtful decision-making is a central goal. The real value in a national urban policy, this way of thinking argues, is in conversations involving stakeholders from all parts of the urban community — and the aim of trying to foster a more comprehensive view of the challenges and priorities faced by a country’s cities as they grow.

Rules of the Game

Some countries have been experimenting with national urban policies in a variety of forms over the past few decades. But the New Urban Agenda has created renewed interest in the concept, for several reasons.

Since the agenda’s adoption in October, it has become increasingly clear that one of the key obstacles to implementing the agreement is a disconnect between national commitments and local action. As Joan Clos, who  oversaw Habitat III, observed during his address last week in Paris, national governments still do not fully understand their role in urbanization — continuing to consider it something of a “natural disaster” rather than a social and economic trend to be leveraged for progress.

In fact, Clos suggested, national governments have the opportunity — responsibility, even — to establish the “rules of the game.” In addition to setting a vision for their cities, countries must establish a financing and implementation framework to realize that vision.

The structure of this framework will dictate who is responsible for implementation, the powers and resources they have to achieve their goals and the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure follow-through. Without strong, effective “rules” within the national urban policy, neither cities nor countries can achieve the goals set out within the foundational vision.

A well-constructed national urban policy can establish a clear, cohesive vision for sustainable urban growth and development. At the same time, it can create systems that empower cities with the freedom to make the right choices on sustainable solutions for their unique contexts — and to ensure the financial resources to invest in them.

That’s exciting for many, but last week’s conversations in Paris also had a remarkably common refrain: People must be at the center of national urban policies. It is essential that these policies see urbanization as more than just territorial planning.

Rather, they must take up a holistic view of the urban challenge and work to connect the seemingly “siloed” sectors that make up a city. By connecting transport, housing, water, governance and the myriad other functions that make up the urban fabric, national urban policies can create integrated visions for cities that serve their residents equally and improve quality of life for all.

Asunción, Paraguay. Photo by Alex Steffler / Flickr

A good example comes from Paraguay. After the establishment of their national urban policy —  Municipal Organic Law 3966 — the government set up a National Habitat Committee that involves 67 institutions from different sectors and levels of government. This committee revised the country’s development plan, and one of the primary objectives of this process was to increase investment in low-income housing stock.

From this initiative, Paraguay has escalated annual construction from 2,000 units to 10,000 units and has worked to relocate vulnerable residents from flood-prone areas while creating additional green space for all city residents. Part of the work overseen by Housing and Habitat Minister Maria Soledad Núñez has been to incorporate the priorities of the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs into the projects executed under the law.

What did they find in this process? Through creating and implementing Paraguay’s policy, Núñez reported last week in Paris, it became clear that the key to getting things done was to have both the Housing and Finance Ministries at the table — and to involve cities and stakeholders in the decision-making process from Day 1.

Bridging the Gap

Still, even as lessons such as Paraguay’s experience begin sparking global interest among national governments, a key question remains: Why should cities care about national urban policy? What do they get out of it, besides an overly prescriptive mandate from on high?

Answers again can be found in the idea that with national urban policies, the process is the real goal, not necessarily the mandate that results from that process. By involving cities and local stakeholders in the development process, these policies will reflect city challenges and create better infrastructure for providing the kinds of resources cities need. This can take many forms, but ultimately it is rooted in the decentralization of decision-making power and revenue creation.

Because each city has a unique set of challenges, national urban policy can empower cities to create the change they need and make the decisions that best suit their situations. Rather than prescribe a set of solutions, these policies should provide cities with the capacity and resources to achieve the country’s environmental and social development goals in line with the global agreements to which they have committed.

Further, cities should see these frameworks as an opportunity to take a seat at the table and reinforce their key role in solving national and global challenges. By leveraging their power in this context, cities can command a more central voice in the national decision-making process and more control over the resources needed to achieve their goals.

There are two primary views dominating the urbanization conversation today. The first is that local-level decision-makers should take back the power — the “If Mayors Ruled the World” line of thinking. The second puts the power in the hands of multilateral groups organized around nation states, giving cities almost no voice. Susan Parnell of the African Centre for Cities, in her remarks as last week’s keynote speaker, noted that both are equally simplistic.

National urban policies are a way to bridge that gap, prioritizing transformative actions that both benefit cities and are required from cities. As urban and national actors move forward from Habitat III and develop strategies to achieve the ambitious goals we set for ourselves, it is essential that we acknowledge and emphasize the urban nexus of the global agenda — where cities play a role in achieving the New Urban Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.

Without this deep understanding, we will be fated to create policies and investments that are inefficient and duplicative, and which leave key players out of the conversation.

Originally published by WRI’s Alyssa Fischer on Citiscope

Voices of Efficiency: Dinh Quang Cuong, Amit Prothi and Da Nang’s Plans for a Resilient, Efficient Economy

Mon, 2017-05-22 22:23

Da Nang, Vietnam. Photo by Jean-Pierre Bluteau / Flickr

The government of Da Nang, Vietnam has prioritized building efficiency as part of its new Resilience Strategy to address public health and economic risks from climate change. In 2016, the city began working with the global Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA) partnership. Local leaders are developing ways to signal to property developers, owners and building managers that efficiency is a public priority, and it is essential to work together to implement locally-relevant efficiency actions.

To understand more about driving action on efficiency in Da Nang, WRI’s Shannon Hilsey talked with two local change agents: Dinh Quang Cuong is the Director of the Climate Change Coordination Office and the Chief Resilience Officer for Da Nang. Amit Prothi is an Associate Director for 100 Resilient Cities, working out of the Singapore office on resilience challenges in Da Nang. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Shannon: Why did you choose to work on energy efficiency?

Cuong: I chose to work on energy efficiency in Da Nang because I was encouraged by the city’s vision and policies for energy and the environment. City planners are trying to build Da Nang into an environmental city. It is an active and modern city, engaging with both adaptation and mitigation, with some initiatives focusing on energy efficiency. I was also encouraged by the Paris Agreement in 2015, when Vietnam committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 8-25 percent by 2030. Da Nang is one of the most important parts of the country to take action on that commitment.


Amit: I come from an architecture and urban planning background. When I was a student, I became more and more interested in sustainable urban development. I’ve been striving throughout most of my career to look at how urban development can be more sustainable. Not just buildings, but how complete cities can be more sustainable. When you look at where urbanization is happening globally, much of it is in Asia. I wanted to get involved with how to make a difference in Asian cities because right now we are at a point where much of the projected urban development hasn’t happened yet. We have an opportunity to set into place new practices that are resource efficient and that see bigger returns.

Da Nang is a great example: The city has grown from 660,000 people in 1997 to more than 1 million now, and it is projected to double by 2030. To accommodate current and future residents, the city must continue to develop and expand. We have the opportunity to influence this development, including a stronger focus on building efficiency.

How does building efficiency fit into Da Nang’s economic, environmental and social goals? And, more specifically, as experts that have worked on resilience plans for Da Nang, how can energy efficiency support the city’s resilience efforts?

Amit: Da Nang is one of Vietnam’s five major cities, and it is one of the fastest growing. It is also one of the most attractive travel destinations in Southeast Asia, so foreign direct investment funnels into the city, spurring large-scale urban development. 100 Resilient Cities supported Da Nang to develop its Resilience Strategy. During that process, we identified economic resilience to be a key element: How does Da Nang ensure it stays economically viable in the future? When the city reaches 2.5 million people in 2030, will there be jobs for everyone? A key stress that was highlighted during our discussions is the power supply—while it is sufficient today, could it be problematic as Da Nang keeps growing? Hotter periods related to climate change are expected to increase energy demand in the future. Additionally, Da Nang has ambitions to develop clean industries utilizing advanced technology. Will the city be able to access a sustained power supply that is required to support such industrial development? This is where the BEA comes into play. It gives Da Nang the timely and much-needed opportunity to explore how to become more resilient to power shocks and continue expansion of its industrial and service base to accommodate future growth of the city.

What actions is Da Nang taking to improve building efficiency, and why were these actions selected? What are the main challenges to implementing them?

Cuong: Da Nang has been working on building efficiency for many years. Looking to the future, the city is planning to implement energy solutions for 2017- 2022 in four key areas: 1.) how to enhance energy savings in hotels and public buildings; 2.) how to develop recycled energy in the city; 3.) how to save energy in industrial manufacturing and 4.) how to use energy efficiently in public lighting areas. We are trying to plan areas in the city where we can develop solar energy.

Within the framework of the BEA, there are three areas: 1.) how to build policy about energy savings; 2.) implement energy saving management solutions in one hotel (2-3 stars) and 3.) set indicators to track the progress of energy savings in the city and within the project. We are creating a guiding document to encourage relevant agencies in the city to cooperate with each other on how to supervise and track the progress of energy savings in Da Nang.

One of the biggest challenges in implementing building efficiency is securing financial resources. We have high demand, but resources are limited. The second challenge is that energy efficiency is a fairly new field, and not all people clearly understand the benefits. Third, it is really difficult to influence investors to spend money on energy efficient technologies and persuade them on the cost-benefits of doing so. Last, but not least, the regulations from the central government aren’t strong enough to be effective and aren’t very adaptable.

Amit: Right now, the building construction industry in Vietnam is used to the old products. There is an evolving market for newer energy-efficient products, but those tend to be costlier. As the market expands, and the up-front cost of building energy efficiency starts to go down, you will see more of the market picking this up on its own. Cuong talked about what the government is trying to do, but, from the private side, there hasn’t been much awareness. What I’m hopeful for in Da Nang stems from tourism and the big hotel chains. As those big groups focus more on energy efficiency, most likely from a branding and resource efficiency point of view, they can lead the charge on building efficiency.

How did the leadership and vision emerge for this project? Who have the critical players been, and what roles did they play?

Cuong: The approach of the city is to include not only city government but also the private sector, universities and research institutions in the BEA project. All of these players are important for the development of BEA activities in Da Nang. Therefore, identifying one key player is hard. But, from my perspective, the city government is the leader in this process.

Amit: The country has made a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the highest level. That mandate is trickling down to cities, like Da Nang, to see how they can start to address this at their end, particularly given that they will be growing quickly. Da Nang has capacity needs, both in terms of knowledge and resources. This is an area that requires a considerable amount of investment. We are trying to position Da Nang at the receiving end of global funds, knowledge, technology and resources.

Cuong, as the Chief Resilience Officer, can become the long-term champion of these issues. When he retires, he can look at what he has done for urban resiliency for our children and grandchildren. That’s my hope.

Toward Car-Free Cities: The Inalienable Right to Park in Bogotá

Fri, 2017-05-19 19:28

Cars Park Illegally in Colombia’s Capital City, Bogotá. Photo by Carlos Felipe Pardo / Flickr

Toward Car-Free Cities,” a blog series by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Urban Mobility Team, explores the challenges and opportunities for Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies. TDM focuses on reducing the demand for private vehicles through combining public policy and private sector solutions. It is an essential component for comprehensive sustainable transport planning that complements public transit, walking and biking.

A particular TDM strategy, parking policy, is key for managing urban travel demand. This blog explores the current parking challenges facing Bogotá, Colombia, and how they fit into a larger agenda for expanding mass transit and improving mobility infrastructure in the city. Through the different lenses of New York City, Bogotá, Stockholm and London, the series examines the social and political barriers that cities need to overcome to successfully implement TDM strategies. The blog series also discusses the future trends of TDM and its implications, particularly in the developing world. 

Despite growing automobile ownership in Colombia, only 14.8 percent of residents actually own their cars. This rate is especially low when compared with other countries: 23 percent in Chile, 24.9 percent in Brazil, 27.5 percent in Mexico and 79.7 percent in the United States. While a small portion of the population owns cars, parked cars dominate the streets of Colombia: on sidewalks, blocking bicycle lanes and on many streets despite “No Parking” signs. Every now and then I venture out to remind drivers of their wrongly-parked cars, only to receive strong negative responses. I got tired of taking pictures and publishing them on social media because nothing changes. A scarce police force in Bogotá attempts to control illegal parking, but the officers are largely unsuccessful. Recently, however, singers dressed as traffic cones have reinforced control, persuading drivers to park legally, with some success.

The parking challenge was highlighted as a global problem by The Economist, which suggests that eliminating free (or low-cost) parking is an effective way to reduce congestion, pollution and urban sprawl. They indicate that the biggest single difference between streets in Los Angeles, London and Tokyo is parking. While Los Angeles promotes parking, London has some regulations and Tokyo prohibits on-street parking entirely. For decades, Japanese authorities have requested proof of parking space ownership as a requisite for getting a new vehicle license.

What can we do to solve the parking problem? Trying to address this challenge through increasing the supply of parking means finding space for cars to park. This requires business, offices and homes to dedicate more space for parking. This option was appealing for and implemented in many cities, but the result brought the city even further from a solution. Large plots of land were used for parking lots around offices, parks and shops, making it increasingly difficult to access destinations on foot and by bicycle, and fostering environments in which public transport is very costly. This poses a great burden on the city, one that is well-documented in The High Cost of Free Parking.

Seeing as the supply-side approach is largely ineffective and even detrimental, I propose this alternative, three-pronged strategy: 1) Eliminate parking minimums, the requirement that each building should have a given minimum number of parking spaces and establish limits to parking supply in zones with public transport availability (already in place in London, São Paulo and Medellin); 2) Eliminate price caps, or limits to parking fees, for off-street parking and 3) Mange on-street parking and parking in city-owned, public spaces, including the use of variable parking fees (like San Francisco and Moscow).

Parking minimums make real estate more expensive and promote motorization. Therefore, zoning regulations that eliminate parking minimums make a big difference in reducing costs and promoting use of public transport. As a result of not having a minimum parking requirement, The Shard, the tallest building in London (with 87 floors), has only 48 parking spots. In Bogotá, where the zoning code requires parking minimums, BD Bacatá, the tallest building (with 67 floors), has 433 private and 334 public parking spots. The good news is that Bogotá is starting to think of eliminating parking minimums.

“Well-intentioned” price caps on off-street parking also result in the promotion of excessive car use, and have the unintended consequence of reducing parking lot availability. Price caps have become a deterrent to land owners dedicating space to parking lots. If price caps are set at a low rate, cars will take advantage of the cheap, long-term parking, leading to a loss in revenue for the owner and ultimately the closure of the lot. This has been observed in Bogotá since the introduction of price caps in 2003: the city has more cars, but the availability of off-street parking is down, to the point that parking lots are an “endangered species,” forcing hardcore car users to park illegally.

Alongside eliminating parking minimums and price caps for off-street parking, cities should strive to adequately manage on-street parking. A publication by GIZ, authored by Paul Barter, provides guidance on this topic. If on-street parking is free or managed informally at relatively low cost, we will continue to see cars on top of sidewalks, bike lanes and other forbidden places. Instead, however, if cities charged for on-street parking, parking would be regulated. Revenue from on-street parking can be used for enforcement and for improvements in public space and quality of public transport services. A conservative estimate for the revenue Bogotá could collect from on-street parking is around US $50 million per year. While parking-meters have been around since 1935, Bogotá has not jumped aboard the train, and is therefore missing out on a huge financial opportunity. However, plans for regulating on-street parking are underway.

Managing parking is a key component of effective and efficient urban mobility. If Bogotá wants to improve upon its current parking challenge, the city must work to dismantle the current parking regulations.

This was originally published in Spanish on El Tiempo and TheCityFix México

How to Attract Private Investment to Energy-Efficient Buildings? Follow the 5 “S’s”

Thu, 2017-05-18 21:24

Energy efficiency building monitoring system. Photo by Argonne National Labs/Flickr

The 2017 Sustainable Energy for All Forum kicked off with a stark warning: The world is not on track to reach its 2030 energy goals, including those on efficiency. To speed action, leaders in government and finance will need to better coordinate policy and investment to move more money toward clean energy.

More than ever before, investors see opportunities to make money in energy infrastructure upgrades like efficient buildings, clean transportation and renewable energy generation. But to create healthy investment markets, financiers say that governments need to adopt regulation and foster voluntary programs. Good public policies can complement and drive private investment to building efficiency. How? In the buildings sector, we hear at least five ways.


Investors seek predictable outcomes. Without clear policy or guaranteed returns, private investors are unlikely to lend to building efficiency projects.

Governments can establish policies that set expectations for the building sector. Cities that adopt and enforce building energy codes, for example, can quickly increase local demand for energy efficiency technology. Stable demand means a stable market for finance. Tanya Müller García, Secretary of Environment for Mexico City, said at the forum that the city’s new construction regulation, which includes energy efficiency standards for the first time, is beginning to create more demand for voluntary energy efficiency.

Private investors also want evidence that the money they lend will be repaid. In new markets where a record of repayment does not yet exist, governments that guarantee repayment can better attract investment. Risk-sharing agreements, such as one between the Government of India and the World Bank, designate who will take financial losses and by how much, taking some burden off of financial institutions.

Berlin is pushing forward innovative approaches to efficiency. Photo by VV Nincic / Flickr


High transaction costs can undercut investor profits. To reduce these costs within their portfolios, investors look for markets with high demand and large transaction sizes. Commercial financiers typically aren’t interested in an investment until it reaches a scale of around $10 million, as Bruce Schlein, a sustainability and finance leader at Citi, noted in a forum panel.

To create the scale needed for commercial investments, government action can aggregate demand for finance from multiple projects. The Berlin Energy Agency, for example, creates pools of public and private building efficiency projects to make them attractive to energy service companies that provide technical assistance and funding. To date, the program has reduced energy bills by more than $199 million.


Investors need a way to assess bundles of projects, rather than looking one by one. In established markets like auto sales or student loans, lenders have common standards for categorizing financial products and risks. The financial sector is only beginning to use these for buildings.

Existing market standards, including green building certifications like EDGE, LEED and others, are often familiar to investors. Investors may, therefore, better understand projects that use these certifications, which can increase the likelihood of investment. Governments can use policies such as financial incentives to encourage broader adoption of these existing market standards, which can help increase the demand for building efficiency technologies to meet those certifications.

Project documentation standards, like the Investor Confidence Project protocols, make projects comparable by standardizing the data points provided to and assessed by financiers. Standard data also allows investors to assess multiple projects quickly, categorize them by risk and sell them in groups to a secondary market, as is beginning to happen in initiatives like the Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans (WHEEL) in the United States. Secondary markets in turn enable larger-scale investments and greater confidence in returns.


The building market’s fragmented nature presents challenges for investors looking for profit. Even in a single city or district, investments in building efficiency could involve a wide variety of technologies (air conditioning, boilers, lighting), property types (homes, offices, schools) and decision-makers (building managers, homeowners).

To complicate matters, each market segment involves different barriers and motivations for investments in efficiency. For example, homeowners are often motivated by a desire for a comfortable temperature in their house, but any costly or inconvenient upgrades discourage action. Businesses tend to be more concerned about productivity and their reputation, and will therefore be more likely to consider the lifecycle costs of their investment.

Governments and NGOs need to design mechanisms that appeal to the varying motivations of building decision-makers in different market segments. For institutional real estate investors, for example, Carbon Trust demonstrated why greener commercial buildings are attractive investments: They rent at a premium, have lower vacancy rates, and make employees happier and more productive.

Jakarta in the evening. Photo by Osrin/Flickr


Cities that only offer short-term or one-off building efficiency policies are unlikely to develop the scale or stability needed to transform their real estate market toward demanding efficiency. But governments that develop a long-term vision with a sequenced package of policies create a healthy market for building investment.

The government of Jakarta, for example, adopted both a new energy code for all buildings and a tax rebate for buildings that exceeded standards, encouraging investment by those that simply want to comply with the law and more investment by those who see efficiency as an opportunity to reduce costs or improve their business. As of May 2016, the program was saving around $68 million every year.

The pathway to commercial financing may also follow a sequence. Bruce Schlein of Citi observed that the company’s investments in energy efficiency often stemmed from an early combination of philanthropy and government support. To replicate this elsewhere, government, finance and civil society groups in local markets should cooperate closely on stepping stones to success.

Building Efficiency Accelerator: Putting Principles into Action

Each of these methods align with actions cities are taking in the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA). Cities that join the BEA partnership commit to implementing a building efficiency policy and a demonstration project, which often then mature into a project or program investment pipeline.

As the 28 Building Efficiency Accelerator cities move to implement their actions in 2017 and fund the implementation of future efforts, their commitments are complementary and reinforcing. Clear policies encourage investments, and investor interest encourages government action – getting us back on track to deliver against our 2030 Sustainable Energy for All goals. The combination leads to strong markets for building efficiency that attracts more private investment at less public cost: an efficient solution for clean, affordable energy.

Toward Car-Free Cities: Why Congestion Charging Failed in New York

Mon, 2017-05-15 22:40

Traffic Congestion Plagues New York City’s Times Square. Photo by Javi Sánchez de la viña/Flickr

“Toward Car-Free Cities,” a blog series by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Urban Mobility Team, explores the challenges and opportunities for Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies. TDM focuses on reducing the demand for private vehicles through combining public policy and private sector solutions. It is an essential component for comprehensive sustainable transport planning that complements public transit, walking and biking.

Through the different lenses of New York City, Stockholm and London, the series examines the social and political barriers that cities need to overcome to successfully implement TDM strategies. The blog series also discusses the future trends of TDM and its implications, particularly in the developing world.

In 2016, New York City had the third worst traffic congestion in the world. New Yorkers spent an average of 89 hours sitting in traffic, and, due to increased vehicle traffic, car speeds are declining city-wide. From 2010 to 2015, the average traffic speed in Manhattan’s Midtown region decreased 20 percent, to 5.21 mph. Due to the inability of traveling efficiently on city roads, congestion is putting New York City’s future economic growth and competitiveness at risk. Currently, it is estimated that traffic congestion costs the region US $13 billion each year, and this number is expected to grow.

To combat individual car-use, New York City decided to employ congestion changing, a well-known strategy for TDM, where vehicles are charged a fee to enter Manhattan during peak hours. City officials saw it as a viable option to solve their congestion challenges.

The Congestion Charging Proposal

In 2007, former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg introduced congestion charging legislation as part of his PlaNYC Sustainability Plan. After Bloomberg’s proposal was introduced to the New York State Legislature, a commission explored different approaches for implementation. The commission ultimately decided to charge a US $8 daily fee to all cars traveling in Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. Tolls collected on various city bridges and tunnels would offset the charge to ensure no driver would pay more than US $8 per day. The proposal stated that proceeds from the charge would be used for improving mobility infrastructure. Most New York City residents supported the plan, as a result of its promise to enhance city infrastructure: In a 2008 poll, 59 percent of residents voted in favor and 38 percent were opposed.

The Barriers to Gaining Approval

Unlike other cities that have implemented congestion charging, New York City needed to get approval from three legislative bodies: New York City Council, both houses of the New York State Legislature (Senate and Assembly) and the Governor of New York.

The City Council supported congestion charging by a vote of 30-20. While the Senate was expected to approve the plan, the Assembly was not supportive, thereby blocking the vote and allowing the short window to acquire federal funding to close. Without funding, the bill died and, with it, the congestion charging plan.

Weighing Fees and Congestion

Most of the Assembly’s opposition stemmed from members representing the outer boroughs of the city (Queens and Brooklyn), highlighting the financial impact on people (although only 5 percent of residents commute by car and would pay the congestion charge).  Their main arguments included the feasibility of using public transit as an efficient alternative to driving, the cost-benefit of saving time driving versus the charge and looking at congestion charging as a realistic means to decrease city congestion.

The plan gained support through a strategy developed by the Mayor, key constituents, elected officials and advocacy groups. There was extensive public outreach and involvement to connect the benefits of congestion charging to improving transportation options and achieving sustainability goals. In the end, however, this strategy wasn’t enough. For a congestion charging proposal to pass, it is critical to persuade elected officials, for they hold the vote. In New York City, many small interest groups have the ability to influence the decisions of elected officials, but, in this case, there was an apparent lack of communication.

The Future of TDM in NYC

Since the proposal’s demise, there have been several attempts to revive congestion charge in Manhattan. An ongoing discussion includes introducing tolls for all East River crossings into Manhattan. Currently, only the tunnels are tolled, while the bridges are free. The Move NY Fair Plan, a bill introduced in 2016, would toll bridge crossings, and revenues would fund public transit and road infrastructure. The bill was introduced in the New York State Senate but has yet to be voted on.

New York City remains an example of how difficult it is to influence public opinion, elected officials and ultimately implement TDM strategies. The lessons from New York are helpful in advancing a successful agenda for implementing TDM measures in other cities around the world. In upcoming blogs, this series will explore diverse global experiences to provide valuable input to planners and decision makers facing urban mobility challenges.

4 Steps to Promote Safer Speeds that Save Lives

Sat, 2017-05-13 01:14

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Implements Zona 30 Low-speed Zones. Photo by Mariana Gil / WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

This week is UN Global Road Safety Week, focused on the theme “Slow Down, Save Lives.” WRI works to make cities around the world safer and more sustainable by implementing street design and regulations that reduce vehicle speeds while supporting walking and cycling. There is a growing body of evidence on the impacts and wider benefits of such efforts, which we’ll explore in blog posts this week. 

Roughly 3,400 people around the world die every day from traffic crashes. In most of the Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC), more people die in traffic crashes annually than from violent crimes. While the location and circumstance of the traffic fatalities differ, between one-third and one-half of them have something in common: speed. Humans can only stand so much force from crash impact, and much of this is determined by vehicle speed. In the city of Mumbai, 91 percent of total crash fatalities are attributed to excessive speeding. In the United States, more than 9,200 crash fatalities a year are due to speeding.

There are a few key actions communities can take  that can reduce—or even help eliminate—traffic deaths and serious injuries. Here are four basic steps:

1. Set a safe speed limit.

Achieving safe speeds starts with safe speed limits. The surprising reality is that only 47 countries currently have suitable laws on urban speeds, representing 13 percent of the global population.

The speed limit should be set and enforced based on the type of road, the quality of the road infrastructure and the safety level of the local vehicle fleet. This can happen at the national, state or local level, or at all three. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends speed limits of 30 kmph (19 mph) on urban streets with high volumes of pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists, and up to 50 kmph (31 mph) on urban arterials with fewer pedestrians. Seemingly small differences in speed really matter. There is a 10 percent potential for death if a pedestrian is hit by a speeding vehicle at 30 kmph (18.64 mph), which doubles to 20 percent at 35 kmph (22mph). At 50 kmph (31 mph), the likelihood of death is more than 80 percent. In the first month of reduced speed limits on two major arterials in São Paulo in 2015, fatal crashes fell by 29 percent from the year before.

Pedestrian death risk increases at higher vehicular speeds. Graphic by WRI Health and Road Safety team

2. Promote and enforce the speed limit.

In many places, even if speed limits do exist, they may not be enforced by authorities or known and followed by drivers. Technology like speed cameras can help. For instance, Washington, D.C. saw a 60 to 80 percent reduction in speed violations within four to six months of camera deployment. During the same period, the city experienced a 70 percent reduction in traffic fatalities.

Whatever the means of enforcement, cities should adopt a low tolerance for speeding. In many cities, speeding drivers are not given tickets until they are 10 kmph (6 mph) or even 16 kmph (10 mph) over the speed limit. But an increase of only 10 kmph can be the difference between life and death.

3. Design streets for their speed limits.

A driver’s choice of travel speed is influenced by the characteristics of the road, so street design is critically important. Narrow lanes are proven to reduce speeds, along with resulting in more attentive driving. Partial lane-narrowing designs, known as chicanes and chokers, help to slow down vehicles midblock. They also reduce the distance a pedestrian has to travel to cross a road. Chicanes can reduce crashes with injuries by 54 percent, while chokers help to reduce speeds by up to 14 percent. Speed humps and speed cushions can reduce crashes with injuries by 50 percent. Raised crossings also require cars to slow down, and help to improve the driver’s awareness of pedestrians. Evidence from Latin American cities shows that raised crossings result in a 10 percent reduction in midblock speeds. Details on these and other evidence-based measures can be found in WRI’s Cities Safer by Design report.  

The impacts of safer street designs. Graphic by WRI Health and Road Safety team

4. Get communities on board.

Most people aren’t aware of how speed affects their safety and well-being, or that these issues can be addressed. Print, broadcast and online media campaigns help build awareness. However, the most effective means of getting attention and changing public perception takes direct engagement, imagination, and local flavor.

In New York, the “That’s why it’s 30” campaign featured advertisements making fun of New Yorkers’ tendency to “know everything,” while speed-activated signs displayed a digital skeleton to speeding drivers. Like a growing number of cities, New York has also had great success with tactical urbanism – making temporary changes to an intersection, street or neighborhood to allow citizens to experience the benefits of better street design and slower speeds for themselves. In many cases, such temporary interventions wind up becoming so popular that they are made permanent, such as the iconic Broadway redesign. These measures  are so effective that the WHO is encouraging Slow Down Days for Global Road Safety Week this week.

The “That’s why it’s 30” campaign in New York was launched in 2010 to make residents aware of the speed limit and the risks of exceeding it. The 30 mph speed limit has since been reduced to 25 mph for even greater safety. Photo by NYC Department of Transportation

As communities experience the benefits of lower speeds, they will begin to demand them, as has been seen in London. Starting in the 2000s, the city introduced small 20 mph zones to improve safety in some neighborhoods. This intervention reduced fatalities by 23 percent within the zones, and by 3 percent in adjacent areas. The benefits were so well received that by 2016, 9 out of 13 inner-London boroughs had adapted 20 mph limits.

As awareness of the benefits of safer speeds gains momentum, the demand for decision makers to design safer and more enjoyable streets will continue to grow.


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