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New Urban Transport Models Can Help Create Sustainable Cities

Fri, 2016-10-14 02:17

Shanghai, China encourages bicycle use to combat traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo by Marko Simo / Flickr

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive. One section of the WRR is on sustainable mobility enabling better, safer, cleaner and affordable access for all, and will be presented at the WRR launch event in Quito October 16.

Emmanuel, a 40-year-old tailor in Awoshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana, is a good example of challenges that face commuters in cities around the world. He lives just 11 kilometers (about 7 miles) from his job in the central business district, but spends 15 percent of his household income getting there, mostly on trotro, a small van providing informal public transport service, similar to the magic in India, the daladala in Tanzania or the combi in Peru. Congestion in the city center makes bus drivers avoid it by taking circuitous, time-consuming routes that can more than an hour to commute, and more direct travel options are often prohibitively expensive.  The solution Emmanuel sees for his commuting difficulties would only make traffic congestion worse: he hopes to get his own car.

Making transport sustainable for all city residents is a prominent part of the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document of Habitat III. This demonstrates the international development community’s recognition of how important mobility is for prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Making that vision a reality presents challenges to city leaders as they who struggle to address the immediate need to move people from homes to jobs with limited resources. In many cases, cities continue with old, unsustainable models that rely too heavily on cars and roads. And the problems of traditional transport – including traffic fatalities and the health effects of air pollution — will continue to be felt primarily by society’s most vulnerable.

Between 2000 and 2015 the use of motor vehicles worldwide jumped 67 percent to 24 trillion vehicle kilometers (15 trillion miles) from 14 trillion (8.7 trillion miles). During that period, the total number of vehicles on the road surged 49 percent to 992 million from 664 million, reflecting the growing urban middle class in developing countries. Electric vehicle stock grew dramatically, but still accounted for just 1 million in 2015, up from fewer than 20,000 vehicles in 2010. While new technologies such as e-hailing apps provide flexibility and convenience, these ad hoc private services further increase the focus on cars for mobility, rather than inclusion in a comprehensive transit plan that fosters the use of clean modes like walking and cycling.

Putting Cities in the Driver’s Seat

Addressing these challenges will be essential if cities are to achieve the New Urban Agenda’s sustainable transport goals. WRI’s World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City will examine this issue in a working paper that looks at the possible policies city governments can use to propel their communities towards sustainable urban mobility.

There are plenty of good examples on how to do this. There are currently more than 12,600 km (nearly 8000 miles) of metro or urban rail and 5,400 km (3,300 miles) of bus rapid transit (BRT), collectively providing 154 million trips a day in 250 cities. Walking and biking also are gaining momentum. In U.S. cities, for example, commuting by bicycle increased 62 percent between 2000 and 2013.  And some cities, like London, Shanghai and Bogotá, discourage excessive car use with congestion pricing, vehicle quotas or license plate restrictions as they work to tackle congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

WRR examines policies that have the potential to capitalize on that momentum. Noting that the most sustainable cities have high proportions of residents who walk, bicycle and use public transport, we look at policies that increase this behavior. These can include changes in land use, with a mix of residential and commercial use; dedicated pedestrian zones and bicycle lanes; and better planning and coordination of transit policies across metropolitan areas to ensure service covers all areas of the city.

Another challenge is the traditional focus of public finance on building highways rather than on more sustainable transportation options, as well as the lack of comprehensive mobility plans, especially in metropolitan areas where different municipal governments are not adequately coordinated.

New mobility solutions like e-hailing and car sharing can be a welcome part of the transport mix, but as a complement to a coordinated system. Cities need to be more in the driver’s seat instead of the passenger’s seat.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Three Challenges to Safe and Affordable Urban Housing

Thu, 2016-10-13 19:07

Informal urban housing, like this in Mumbai, is all that many new city-dwellers can afford. Photo by Robin King/WRI

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive. One section of the WRR is on safe, secure and well-located affordable housing, and will be presented at the WRR launch event in Quito October 16.

A good home gives families a base to build the foundations of society. A good home can give people physical and financial security, let them care for one another in healthy living conditions and encourage and empower them to seek better jobs, including paying work done at home. The right to adequate, affordable housing is promised in the consitutions and laws of more than 100 countries, but efforts to ensure these rights are often inadequately implemented. Still, there is currently a worldwide shortage of affordable housing.

Jussara in Porto Alegre, Brazil, moved to the city in search of economic opportunity, but had to change homes multiple time in search of affordable housing, and faced decades of evictions and unsafe housing. “The government just ‘throws’ people anywhere, but doesn’t protect us,” she said. Jussara finally found housing in the city center, closer to services and job opportunities, but she and her extend family are illegal occupants of a downtown building due to lack of affordable options.

Jussara near her home in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Photo by Fernanda Boscaini and Caroline Donatti/WRI Brasil

Here are three critical challenges to ensuring safe, affordable urban housing:

1.      Importance of core services in informal settlements and slums

In many rapidly urbanizing areas, large segments of the population live in substandard housing, with uncertain property rights, and where access to basic services – such as clean water, toilets, electricity and garbage collection – is limited. More than 828 million people were living in informal settlements in the global South in 2010 — one-third of its urban population – and the challenge is expected to get worse as urbanization intensifies in Asia and Africa. UN Habitat estimates that there will be 889 million living in slums by 2020. The global affordable housing gap  will grow from 330 million urban households now to 440 million by 2025, which means over 1.6 billion people living without affordable legal housing worldwide.

2.      Need to support housing rental markets

Policies that set eligibility requirements for formal renting or homeownership often lock out the poor, as they require extensive documentation – such as proof of employment and wage earnings – that is unavailable to those who work in the informal economy.  A healthy housing market includes a range of options and arrangements. Emphasis on one type of housing arrangement leads to shortages for important segments of the city’s population, especially for the poor and lower middle class, who often then end up in informal and less secure living arrangements.

3.      Making better use of underutilized land in city centers

Creating secure, affordable housing in and around cities — rather than in distant areas — is essential to ensure economic productivity, environmental sustainability and equity for the whole metropolis. If there isn’t enough affordable housing in the city, more poor and lower middle class residents will be pushed to the outskirts, far from infrastructure, social networks and existing jobs, creating long travel times and additional expenses. Location and access to services matter.

Many cities have attempted to solve the problem of informal settlements by either enticing or forcibly relocating residents to the urban periphery where land is cheaper. This only enlarges the urban footprint, increasing traffic congestion, the cost of services and other social costs. A national housing initiative in Mexico, for example, resulted in construction of housing communities outside cities, significantly increasing commute times that have been reported to last as long as two hours one way. The plan was so unpopular that residents eventually abandoned far-flung housing for accommodations closer to the city center. Similar situations have occurred in Brazil and India, where slum eradication and resettlement don’t solve urban problems; they just move them elsewhere.

Housing will be one of many issues discussed at Habitat III and addressed in the New Urban Agenda.  Valid goals and approaches to affordable and sustainable housing are found throughout as a key element of sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity for all. The next step will be to move beyond paper to implementation.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Three Challenges to Safe and Affordable Urban Housing

Thu, 2016-10-13 02:02

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive. One section of the WRR is on safe, secure and well-located affordable housing, and will be presented at the WRR launch event in Quito October 16.

 

A good home gives families a base to build the foundations of society. A good home can give people physical and financial security, let them care for one another in healthy living conditions and encourage and empower them to seek better jobs, including paying work done at home. The right to adequate, affordable housing is promised in the consitutions and laws of more than 100 countries, but efforts to ensure these rights are often inadequately implemented. Still, there is currently a worldwide shortage of affordable housing.

Jussara in Porto Alegre, Brazil, moved to the city in search of economic opportunity, but had to change homes multiple time in search of affordable housing, and faced decades of evictions and unsafe housing. “The government just ‘throws’ people anywhere, but doesn’t protect us,” she said. Jussara finally found housing in the city center, closer to services and job opportunities, but she and her extend family are illegal occupants of a downtown building due to lack of affordable options.

Here are three critical challenges to ensuring safe, affordable urban housing:

           1.      Importance of core services in informal settlements and slums

In many rapidly urbanizing areas, large segments of the population live in substandard housing, with uncertain property rights, and where access to basic services – such as clean water, toilets, electricity and garbage collection – is limited. More than 828 million people were living in informal settlements in the global South in 2010 — one-third of its urban population – and the challenge is expected to get worse as urbanization intensifies in Asia and Africa. UN Habitat estimates that there will be 889 million living in slums by 2020. The global affordable housing gap  will grow from 330 million urban households now to 440 million by 2025, which means over 1.6 billion people living without affordable legal housing worldwide.

2.      Need to support housing rental markets

Policies that set eligibility requirements for formal renting or homeownership often lock out the poor, as they require extensive documentation – such as proof of employment and wage earnings – that is unavailable to those who work in the informal economy.  A healthy housing market includes a range of options and arrangements. Emphasis on one type of housing arrangement leads to shortages for important segments of the city’s population, especially for the poor and lower middle class, who often then end up in informal and less secure living arrangements.

3.      Making better use of underutilized land in city centers

Creating secure, affordable housing in and around cities — rather than in distant areas — is essential to ensure economic productivity, environmental sustainability and equity for the whole metropolis. If there isn’t enough affordable housing in the city, more poor and lower middle class residents will be pushed to the outskirts, far from infrastructure, social networks and existing jobs, creating long travel times and additional expenses. Location and access to services matter.

Many cities have attempted to solve the problem of informal settlements by either enticing or forcibly relocating residents to the urban periphery where land is cheaper. This only enlarges the urban footprint, increasing traffic congestion, the cost of services and other social costs. A national housing initiative in Mexico, for example, resulted in construction of housing communities outside cities, significantly increasing commute times that have been reported to last as long as two hours one way. The plan was so unpopular that residents eventually abandoned far-flung housing for accommodations closer to the city center. Similar situations have occurred in Brazil and India, where slum eradication and resettlement don’t solve urban problems; they just move them elsewhere.

Housing will be one of many issues discussed at Habitat III and addressed in the New Urban Agenda.  Valid goals and approaches to affordable and sustainable housing are found throughout as a key element of sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity for all. The next step will be to move beyond paper to implementation.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Why Now Is the Time to Make Energy Access in Cities a Top Priority

Tue, 2016-10-11 18:30

Two men in Bosnia and Herzegovina install solar panels on their roof. Photo by UNDP in Europe and Central Asia / Flickr

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, on October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive.  

Adelaida, a banker and mother born and raised in Accra, is a typical middle-income resident of Ghana’s capital city. She earns about $250 a month, but because she spends about a quarter of her income on electricity, Adelaida is considered energy-poor. While most homes in Accra are connected to the national energy grid, they are often unable access electricity due to the high cost. Not only is this very expensive, but service is frequently interrupted by unannounced power cuts, hampering Adelaida’s ability to do her household chores and store food.

When delegates gather in Quito for Habitat III to adopt the New Urban Agenda—a vision for inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities—they should remember the Adelaidas of the world. As a forthcoming paper of the World Resources Report shows, ensuring access to affordable energy and the economic opportunity it brings will be essential for a sustainable, prosperous urban future.

The Urban Side of Energy Access

Energy access has often been viewed through a rural lens, but it remains a vexing and overlooked urban problem as well. In urban areas around the world, 132 million people lack access to electricity and 482 million people cook over ‘dirty’ solid fuels, such as wood or charcoal. Cities that are already struggling to provide clean, affordable, reliable energy for their residents will likely find it challenging to keep pace between now and 2050, when the urban population is expected to be 2.5 billion more than it is today, with most of the increase in Africa and Asia.

Energy is a prerequisite for economic growth and productivity, as it provides the services necessary for people’s homes and livelihoods. Furthermore, how a city consumes energy has major impacts on human health.  For example, household air pollution from solid fuels accounted for 3.5 million deaths globally in 2010. Moving forward, cities in the rapidly urbanizing parts of world face three fundamental challenges:

1.      How to provide quality energy access, while addressing the vexing issues of reliability              and cost?

The urban poor in developing countries spend a significant portion of their income on energy, often as much as 14-22 percent. In Kibera, Nairobi, energy expenditures can reach up to 20–40 percent of monthly incomes. Even where populations have access to electricity, unreliability and inefficiency can be acute problems, particularly in South Asia. For example, the average number of power outages per month experienced by firms in South Asia exceeded 25 in 2o13. Because of this unreliability, people and firms with grid connections are often forced to use dirty diesel generators to supplement their power—at costs many times that of conventional grid electricity.

2.     How to increase energy services while improving efficiency?

In a number of megacities in the developing world, the growth rates in electricity consumption far exceed population growth. While increasing electricity consumption is a development imperative, it will be difficult for many cities to sustain this rate of consumption, particularly given inefficiencies and line losses. In Lagos, for example, line losses are estimated to be 40 percent of total electricity consumption, compared to less than 10 percent in London or Los Angeles.

3.     Given the climate imperative, how to shift to cleaner, less carbon-intensive energy?

Cities in the developing world will not be able to follow the unsustainable development models of wealthier, more developed cities. Dramatic greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions are necessary—at least 40 to 70 percent below 2010 levels globally—if there is to be a likely chance for global warming to stay below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) by century’s end. And because cities are responsible for about 70 percent of global GHGs, they play a substantial role in this mitigation effort.

Exploring Potential Urban Solutions

The forthcoming WRR paper on energy will ask the key question: how can cities in the developing world simultaneously provide cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable energy services to the underserved, while ensuring that the city becomes more economically prosperous and enhancing overall environmental quality?

The report will present solutions that, first, meet the urgent need to enhance services for the underserved in terms of access, cost, reliability, health and livelihoods, and that, second, avoid long-term lock-in of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from energy infrastructure. The focus will be on urban energy solutions that can largely be implemented within the city itself. The aim is to inform urban change agents—a broad suite of actors from national and regional government, international finance institutions, civil society, and the private sector—on critical urban energy action areas.

As the international community focuses on implementing the New Urban Agenda after Quito, urban energy must be a priority. Providing clean, affordable, reliable energy in urban areas, particularly in regions that are rapidly urbanizing, is also indispensable to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of ensuring modern energy access to all and creating cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This is a seminal opportunity to create a new city, where everyone has access to energy to power their lives and thrive.

World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City – Framing the Opportunities and Challenges

Thu, 2016-10-06 21:29

Surat, India, where a plague outbreak triggered urban transformation. Photo by qusai_haider/Flickr

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI provides research to help create cities that live, move and thrive.

Once every 20 years, the world’s urban leaders gather to determine the best course of action for the world’s cities. This year, at Habitat III, the 21st century challenges for cities are clear: the planet’s urban population is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050, with much of that growth occurring in lower income countries and in cities with lower budgets per capita to address the challenges created by urbanization.

WRI’s World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City examines whether providing equitable access to core services leads to a more economically productive and environmentally sustainable city.

The Challenge for Cities

The next generation of cities will be very different from those of the past, which requires a re-examination of conventional responses to the challenges of urbanization. Imagine the combined populations of China and India—more than 2.5 billion people—moving into the world’s cities by 2050, mostly to cities in Asia and Africa. By mid-century, 52 percent of the world’s total urban population will be in Asia and 21 percent in Africa.

While the global poverty rate is falling, the proportion of the poor living in cities is greater than ever before. This makes it harder for cities to provide basic services for all residents. Our research finds that as much as 70 percent of urban residents in emerging and struggling Asian, African and Latin American cities lack reliable access to core services such as housing, water, energy and transportation. City leaders face a tension between meeting the immediate and growing demand for services, and making longer term decisions that affect the built environment.

What does this mean for Job Mauti in Nairobi, who walks two hours to work each day to support his large extended family, and uses kerosene and an illegal electricity connection to provide energy for cooking and lights for studying in his home? What does it mean for Anita in Delhi, who has a university degree and a good job, but must spend a long time taking a combination of buses, metro and rickshaws to get to work, and still feels unsafe? Or Didi in Porto Alegre, Brazil, whose family has a house with access to services, but in an area where crime is a constant threat?

For these three city-dwellers and millions more like them, the lack of access to core services can mean they are forced to fend for themselves in inefficient and costly ways that hamper their quality of life and risk damaging the environment.

Approaches to Meeting Core Service Needs

The World Resources Report takes equitable access to core services as its entry point and explores whether meeting the needs of the urban under-served leads to a more productive and environmentally sustainable city. The WRR will examine how cities can provide their growing populations with secure, affordable shelter located near economic opportunities and essential services. It looks at how effective policy approaches are over the long term. The WRR specifically explores upgrading of informal settlements, support for rental markets, and creative uses of underutilized land. The report examines how cities can provide clean, affordable, reliable energy through innovations like modern fuel, clean and efficient cook stoves, and distributed renewable energy. It also analyzes how cities can put people instead of cars at the heart of decision-making, to support walking, biking and accessible public transportation.

How Can We Transform Cities?

Sector-specific approaches are a start, but they are not enough. To build thriving cities, we need approaches that transcend isolated sectoral solutions and piecemeal approaches. Through a preliminary analysis of two case studies, Medellín and Surat, we observed that urban transformation encompasses some common features—a strong coalition of urban change agents with a shared vision, successfully addressing a seminal problem that unleashes a cycle of positive change, the availability of financial resources to implement ambitious reforms, and a long-term political commitment. Despite these common features there is no single path for every city. Through a series of more in-depth, city-level case studies we will ask the question: Is it possible to learn from cases of successful transformations in a way that can help other cities usher in their own transformation?

Medellin, Colombia, transformed itself from the murder capital of the world into a thriving metropolis, in part by improving access to core services in imaginative ways. For example, the city constructed a cable car system to connect isolated hillside communities to the city center. This and other urban development projects helped the municipal government build a coalition with political leaders and the private sector, which in turn built momentum for more changes, such as new schools, new parks, a museum and a revised housing policy that legalized informal homes. No single factor explains the transformation in Medellin; a mutually reinforcing set of factors made the change happen.

In Surat, India, an outbreak of plague prompted a change in the healthcare system and triggered urban transformation. The city government initiated vigorous cleanup efforts, changes to waste management and water systems, and new public health monitoring. These reforms were accompanied by changes to the governance and budget processes, and further buoyed by strong municipal leadership and coalition-building with the private sector and civil society groups. The result was transformation in still other areas, such as flood risk management and building climate resilience.

These are only two examples where targeting a core urban service that improves the quality of life for the majority of people in a city can lead to lasting positive change and transform the city. The WRR will continue to dig deep into more such examples in the coming year. Stay tuned for more.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Q&A with Ani Dasgupta: What’s at Stake for Cities at Habitat III?

Thu, 2016-10-06 00:28

A successful Habitat III and implementation of the New Urban Agenda means a successful future for cities, like Bangalore, India. Photo by EMBARQ / Flickr

WRI is engaging in Habitat III – the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20 – to help create the sustainable, equitable, prosperous cities of the future. Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, answers key questions to explain what’s at stake:

Why is Habitat III so important?

Cities are crucial to the future of the planet — 2.5 billion more people will live in cities by 2050. How we build and manage cities is crucial for quality of life, productivity and our ability to meet our goals on climate change on a global scale.

Habitat III is a once-in-20-year event – this is only the third one – that brings international leaders together under the UN banner to create the momentum for positive change in cities. More than half the world’s people live in cities and 6 billion will live in cities by 2045. So it is vital for Habitat III to inspire leaders to take action so that all people can live, move and thrive.

Habitat III has a lot in common with international negotiations over the Sustainable Development Goals and the global meetings on climate action that led to the Paris Agreement, except that Habitat III has not traditionally been a binding agreement. Because most of us live in cities, and so many more will join in the future, success at Habitat III is essential for the future of the planet.

What is the New Urban Agenda?

Over the last couple of years, under the UN’s stewardship and organization, world experts have been meeting to discuss what we need to do to help cities move forward by making them more productive, environmentally sustainable and livable. The vision built on these discussions forms the New Urban Agenda, the declaration that will come out of Habitat III. This will provide an action plan for building cities that work for the planet, for the economy and for people.

What challenges do city planners face?

Urban leaders face difficult choices as cities grow at unprecedented rates, most quickly in Africa and South Asia, often in smaller, poorer cities with less capacity to deal with the change. Immediate needs get priority in these strapped cities, but that can risk locking in policies and infrastructure that can’t be sustained over the long run.

Planners need to help cities make better choices to solve their current problems and help them to prepare for the future. Planners need to set examples of solutions that work and find ways to adapt them to local needs — I think that the role of city planner is becoming more important than ever.

What are the most promising ways to address these challenges?

Every city is different, so every city will develop a custom set of solutions. Cities that are growing fast, which often have lower capacity for making transformative change, need to focus on a few core services that are at the foundation for a city to grow sustainably.

Where people live matters, so the first thing cities need to focus on is land-use planning, affordable housing and more compact growth.

Second, it is very important to address how people move around. If people live closer to work, they won’t have to move very far or very fast. We have to ensure that walking, cycling and public transport are key parts of urban mobility, rather than allowing dominance of cars in cities to continue.

Finally, services like water, sanitation and energy need to be provided in innovative ways, so that making them accessible to all people in a city is a priority.

Getting basic services right is crucial for future cities to grow in a way that keeps us on track for climate and development goals. That way, we will have economically thriving cities that are environmentally sustainable so they can provide a high quality life for everyone.

Can cities be part of the solution to climate change?

Cities are very much part of the climate challenge today – about 70 percent of greenhouse gases are emitted in cities – but I think they will also be a part of the solution.

To give an example, there are a billion cars in the world today, most of them in cities. If we don’t do anything about it, by 2050 there will be 3 billion cars. If those cars use the fuels they do now, we will have a 6-degree world, with global temperatures more than 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F) warmer than before the Industrial Revolution. We cannot get to a 2-degree world if there is not a dramatic reduction in cars.

This transformation is possible. Habitat III can energize solutions and mobilize resources that we need.

How can the Quito meeting help create new kinds of cities?

Habitat III is an exciting opportunity for all of us to come together and agree on a vision and path forward for cities around the world. I believe that if we build cities that provide equal access to services for all citizens and work toward sustainable mobility and land use, we will build cities that have a high quality of life for everyone, are economically productive and work toward a sustainable future.

What would success at Habitat III look like?

We’ve been closely following the texts along the development of the New Urban Agenda. We are looking forward to world leaders taking this chance, not only to agree to the New Urban Agenda, but also to create momentum for change in cities worldwide. In my mind, a successful Habitat III must include:

  • a very clear implementation agenda and a monitoring process;
  • national commitments to developing policies that empower cities;
  • financing plans that back up the solutions that emerge in Quito.

If these things happen, we will all be proud of the Habitat III process and the outcomes of Quito.

To learn more about the challenges cities face, look for the WRI’s forthcoming World Resources Report.

Chengdu Shows How Cities Can Turn Climate Commitments into Action

Wed, 2016-10-05 20:32

Chengdu, China is a leader in low-carbon planning. Photo by Axel Drainville / Flickr

The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative supports key leaders in China, India and Brazil in improving urban quality of life and environmental sustainability. WRI’s blog series on the Initiative will highlight some of the projects that are working to create better cities.

Cities are starting to get serious about curbing climate change. In the past two years, more than 500 cities worldwide have joined the Compact of Mayors, a coalition committed to ambitious climate action. This year, the Compact of Mayors merged with Covenant of Mayors to form the new Global Covenant of Mayors, with more than 6,000 cities and municipalities. This global group joins the many regional and national initiatives dedicated to city-level climate action, such as China’s Alliance of Pioneer Peaking Cities(APPC), a group of more than 20 Chinese cities that have committed to peak their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ahead of the national target year of 2030.

But with all these great commitments comes the next logical question: How to put them into action?

Chengdu, China, Puts Evidence-based Low-carbon Planning to Practice

In addition to commitment, cities need systematic planning to reach their climate targets. According to the Compact of Mayors, this planning should include four key steps:

1)      develop a greenhouse gas inventory;

2)      set an emissions-reduction target;

3)      develop an action plan; and

4)      track performance on a regular basis.

Practical guides and tools such as the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) can help cities implement each of these steps. More than 500 cities – with a total combined population of 400 million and nearly 3 billion tons of annual GHG emissions –have committed to measure their emissions using the GPC to develop action plans to reduce emissions and publicly report on their progress.

Chengdu, China, is leading by example with these four steps to low-carbon planning. With a population of over 14 million, Chengdu is one of China’s largest cities in China, and rapid industrialization and urbanization brought a decades-long increase in GHG emissions. That started to change in 2011 when Chengdu partnered with WRI’s Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative.

Chengdu Development and Reform Commission developed its first greenhouse gas inventory in 2015 (based on 2010 data). This inventory revealed valuable insights about the sources of the city’s emissions. For example, it was found that Chengdu’s electricity is quite low-carbon because more than 70 percent of it is hydroelectric. So shifting industries toward electrification could be a way to further reduce Chengdu’s carbon emissions.

Using the inventory results, Chengdu then created a detailed analysis to forecast its potential future emissions trajectories under different economic, energy and mitigation scenarios. It found that controlling emissions from construction materials manufacturing and chemical industries are among the key measures needed to peak the city’s emissions. In terms of energy mix, limiting oil consumption and increasing electrification will lower the emissions peaking level. Based on the analysis, Chengdu committed to an ambitious target to peak its emissions by 2025, which officials announced at the China-U.S. Climate-Smart / Low Carbon Cities Summit in June. Then, Chengdu developed a detailed roadmap and action plan for achieving the target that includes measures such as setting an energy cap, establishing a smart grid, instituting low-carbon transport and constructing green buildings. This year, Chengdu will update its greenhouse gas inventory with 2015 data and institutionalize a mechanism for tracking performance.

National Policies: The Other Piece of the Puzzle

To help tackle climate change, more cities need to take action as Chengdu has. International platforms like the Compact of Mayors and the new Global Covenant of Mayors can help, but there’s also a role for national governments.

National governments need to link cities’ actions to national policy to get buy-in from political stakeholders at all levels of government. That will help cities leverage in-country policies and financing mechanisms. Linking city actions to national policies can also expedite change. For example, China has made low-carbon cities a top priority for its national climate agenda. In 2011 and 2012, the National Development and Reform Commission selected 42 cities and provinces to join the National Pilot Low Carbon Cities Program. This program’s success prompted the Commission to add about 50 new cities this year. All these cities and provinces will set emission peak targets ahead of the national 2030 target, demonstrating how national governments can help deliver results at scale.

Curbing climate change is a herculean feat. While countries have reached consensus on the Paris Agreement, tackling global warming will ultimately require on-the-ground action in countries and cities. More cities should join Global Covenant of Mayors and APPC cities to ratchet up their actions in line with the Paris Agreement.

The Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative was made possible through the generous support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

Bangalore’s Airport to Become a Leader in Solar Energy Production

Tue, 2016-09-27 21:30

Airports around the world, including Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, are installing solar panels. Photo by Takashi M / Flickr

The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative supports key leaders in China, India and Brazil in improving urban quality of life and environmental sustainability. WRI’s blog series on the Initiative will highlight some of the projects that are working to create better cities.

Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport plans to become the largest solar-producing airport in India, aiming to generate 14.6 megawatts (MW) of solar power. The airport announced in December that it will source 40 percent of its electricity from solar energy, offsetting approximately 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of more than 3,200 passenger vehicles each year. The airport is now deciding upon a developer to execute the project.

The commitment is the next step in India’s push to transform its airports and achieve national and state-wide renewable energy commitments to diversify the electricity supply and mitigate emissions. Just last year, the city of Kochi’s Cochin International Airport became the first airport in the world to run completely on solar power. More cities will need to take note of the potential of airport solar if the country is to achieve its ambitious commitment to 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022.

Why Solar Energy for Airports?

Air transport is often associated with high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from aircrafts, but airports themselves also create a significant impact. Heating, ventilating, air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, chillers and lighting systems all contribute to an airport’s electricity consumption, which can amount to 100-300 GWh per year, the same as 30,000 to 100,000 households, or a small city.

Solar can be a good renewable energy solution for airports, as airports typically have a lot of buildings and open land available for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. As the case of Bangalore’s airport shows, in addition to the on-site options, off-site generation of solar energy with the electricity being wheeled across a transmission and distribution network is also possible. This makes solar technology an effective tool for cutting airport operating costs, supporting small business development, reducing greenhouse gases and achieving renewable energy goals. Furthermore, airports are well-defined communities that can be easily studied and benchmarked.

Creating Policies to Better Incentivize Solar

To encourage growth in the solar sector, it is important for governments to create policies that support solar suppliers, consumers, improvements to utility infrastructure and innovations in procurement financing. Bangalore’s airport is an excellent example of how this can work.

In July-August 2014, the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG), a WRI-led initiative, participated in the state of Karnataka’s regulatory hearings, advocating for off-site solar procurement. At the end of the process, the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) passed an order creating new financial incentives: all solar power generators in the state that are operating by March 31, 2018, and are contracted to sell power to consumers, will be exempt from certain grid usage charges for 10 years. Because the typical payback period for a utility-scale solar project is about seven years, these policy changes have provided long-term clarity for solar developers and consumers. The new policy has been critical in enabling the Bangalore airport to proceed with its solar project plans. WRI supported the leadership and technical teams for the Airport to implement their clean energy vision.

Scaling Success Worldwide

Solar power is taking off in airports both in India and around the world. For example, Kochi’s Cochin International Airport hit a major milestone this year when it stopped paying for its electricity altogether and started contributing energy back to the grid. Furthermore, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) have agreed to install an additional 116 MW of solar PV capacity across 16 airports, with 24.1 MW operational by the end of the this year. That’s in addition to Indian airports’ existing capacity of 5.4 MW.

Beyond India, the Indianapolis International Airport hosts the largest airport-based solar farm, generating 20 MW of solar energy through panels attached to tracking systems that maximize output by moving with the direction of the sun. And Malaysia’s first airport solar power system at Kuala Lumpur International Airport combines ground-mounts, parking canopies and rooftops to achieve huge electricity savings with little space. These technologies are expected save the airport approximately 2.1 million RM (US $627,000) annually based on 2014 energy costs.

The decision to invest in energy-saving, cost-saving solutions has ranked the Bangalore Airport amongst its peers pioneering solar PV in a growing industry. Airports are politically and socially visible, hosting millions of passengers each year. If they embrace renewable energy, it has the power to create ripple effects throughout the world.

The Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative was made possible through the generous support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

Friday Fun: Scaling Sustainable Building Solutions—Collecting Actionable Building Data without Ever Stepping Foot Inside

Sat, 2016-09-24 01:55

Thermal image of the city of Boston. Image courtesy of Essess

What do a sun-harnessing mapping tool and a nighttime-venturing, camera-rigged SUV have in common? They both may hold an answer to scalable, cost-effective solutions to make our built environment more sustainable.

As cities and citizens look to make buildings more efficient and productive, we hear over and over that it is hard to get actionable data without spending a lot of time and money. Technology may be changing that. Two technologies, Mapdwell’s Solar System and Essess’ Thermal Analysis Program, both originating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offer innovative approaches to improve the buildings we live and work in every day—without ever stepping foot inside.

Mapping the Sun’s Potential

Mapdwell’s interactive Solar System platform informs building owners and occupants about the solar potential of their rooftops. It combines satellite imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data to develop 3-D models of neighborhoods and cities. By zooming in on individual buildings and taking into consideration obstructing trees or structures, the technology determines the quantity of sunrays that can reach rooftops. Cities all over the United States, as well as two districts in Santiago, Chile, are employing Solar System technology.

Solar Potential of Rooftops in Lo Barnechea, Santiago, Chile. Image courtesy of Mapdwell

On the Solar System platform, users can simply enter their street address to obtain detailed economic, financial and environmental data about their building’s solar potential—installation cost, revenue and payback period, even the estimated offset tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the equivalent number of planted trees. For example, the building that houses WRI’s global headquarters in Washington, DC has the potential for a 166 kilowatt solar system with a seven-year payback period, the equivalent of 176 offset tons of CO2 and 4,100 planted trees. The portal goes even further to allow users to configure their own customized solar system, based on their individual priorities, e.g., monthly savings on utility bills or portion of roof covered with solar panels.

Mapdwell Solar System interface showing New York. Image courtesy of Mapdwell

The most notable thing about this technology is its scalability. The abundance of earth satellite data enables this technology to be replicated and scaled-up across the globe, in both the developed and developing world. Chile is already using Solar System, and the company plans to expand their international reach in the near future. But while satellite data is prolific, LiDAR data is not. It can be very costly to acquire, requiring special planes to fly over swaths of land to develop a 3-D model. If LiDAR is used for multiple applications—e.g. developing digital elevation models and delineating watersheds—it can be very cost-effective, making projects more feasible in places that may be limited on funds.

Mapdwell encourages individuals and communities to “work with the sun,” be informed, generate their own energy and reduce their utility bills. But what if buildings required less energy to operate in the first place? That’s where the second featured technology comes into play.

Spotting Building Leaks

While Mapdwell’s Solar System relies on the sun to collect data, EssessThermal Analysis Program requires the darkness (and coldness) of the night. Essess has developed a robust, mobile, thermal imaging vehicle system—a car equipped with a camera that takes thermal photographs of buildings while driving around a neighborhood, something akin to Google StreetView vehicles. These thermal photographs capture weak spots in the building envelope—identifying energy leaks in building walls, windows, doors and roofs that simple energy-saving solutions could seal. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the building efficiency market, reducing the time it takes to conduct an energy audit— from hours, to seconds. In its hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Essess collected data from 17,000 buildings in 16 hours—a feat that would have taken about five years (and significant financial resources) to do with traditional energy audits.

Identifying energy leaks with Essess’ thermal imaging technology. Image courtesy of Essess

The inherent scalability and cost-effectiveness of this process make it an ideal candidate to apply in cities around the world. But, due to the nature of thermal scans, this technology is only viable in regions that would allow for a 20° Fahrenheit temperature differential between the interior and exterior of the building, a condition that rules out much of the global south. Regardless, this technology has the potential to change how we conduct energy audits – equipping building owners and utility companies with the knowledge to make better-informed decisions.

Building The Future of Efficiency

These innovative technologies have the potential to revolutionize the buildings we live and work in. Scalable, cost-effective technologies like these can transform the building efficiency market – and could be even more powerful if combined, as recent research suggests.

In Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Breaking Car Addictions Starts in the Workplace

Thu, 2016-09-22 21:30

CAMG, Administrative City of Minas Gerais, started a few measures to reduce employees car dependency. Photo by Ana Paula Hirama / Flickr

The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative supports key leaders in China, India and Brazil in improving urban quality of life and environmental sustainability. WRI’s blog series on the Initiative will highlight some of the projects that are working to create better cities.

Without dramatic change in cities, the world will hold more than 2 billion cars by 2050, putting human health and the planet at risk. Belo Horizonte, Brazil is finding that changing the world’s car-centric culture starts in the workplace.

Local governments throughout Brazil have long-struggled with how to solve the problems caused by rising car ownership, such as air pollution, traffic congestion and auto crashes. Cities like Porto Alegre and São Paulo have experimented with Traffic Demand Management (TDM) policies like license plate restrictions, increased parking prices and more, but they’ve met with mixed results. Many Brazilian cities simply lack the necessary public transport infrastructure, economic stability and political will to make city-wide TDM policies feasible.

Changing Travel Habits in the Workplace

A project in Belo Horizonte offers a solution.

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities partnered with the state government of Minas Gerais to encourage more sustainable transportation habits by the workers of the Cidade Administrativa de Minas Gerais (CAMG, Administrative City of Minas Gerais). The state government headquarters employs about 17,000 people, many of whom spend more than two hours per day commuting by private car or motorcycle.

WRI researchers and staff from CAMG started with a step-by-step guide on how to develop a corporate mobility plan, researching employees’ commuting habits and workplace infrastructure and transportation-related costs to develop a Corporate Mobility Diagnosis Report. From there, the two organizations identified potential opportunities for decreasing employees’ vehicle use while improving their commutes and overall quality of life.

When WRI and CAMG asked workers driving cars and motorcycles every day about what would make them change their habits, 84 percent said a high-quality public transport system. Forty-nine percent said they would use the city’s Bus Rapid Transit system, MOVE, if lines connected to stations close to CAMG.

So now CAMG is working with Belo Horizonte’s Transit Agency (BHTRANS) to replace two bus lines with faster, cheaper and more reliable MOVE lines. The new lines will also connect important bus terminals not served by previous bus routes, giving more CAMG workers access to public transit. These new services will start operating in late 2016.

CAMG is also installing bike parking and showers for employees, and a new bike lane will connect the office to the nearest public transit terminal. CAMG is also considering implementing carpool policies and parking fees to further discourage private vehicle use and incentivize more sustainable commuting options.

A Good Policy for Employees and for Companies

If done correctly, CAMG’s plan will save employees money and commuting time while also reducing car use.

There are benefits for CAMG and other companies that implement TDM policies, too. Policies that improve quality of life and value employees’ time have the power to attract and retain talent. According to Fortune Business Magazine, 90 of the 100 Best Places to Work in 2014 had corporate mobility plans in place.

Scaling Up Success

The Belo Horizonte project was not only an opportunity for CAMG, but for city officials to experience the process and benefits of a workplace TDM plan. Now, Belo Horizonte is planning to launch the first corporate mobility public policy in Latin America. The city-wide policy will require large companies to implement a corporate mobility plan in order to offset the impact of thousands of employees’ daily commutes. This pioneering policy will become an example for other Brazilian cities to follow, as well as cities around the world.

The Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative was made possible through the generous support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

Improving Life for the Urban Under-Served Makes Cities Better for All – But That’s Not the Only Reason to Do It

Tue, 2016-09-20 23:40

Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN Habitat, at preparatory meeting for Habitat III in Surabaya, Indonesia. Photo by Anjali Mahendra

The New Urban Agenda – a vision of inclusive, resilient, sustainable cities where everyone has access to resources and economic opportunity – will be center stage next month at the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, known as Habitat III.  Held only once every 20 years, the objective of this third global gathering on urban development in Quito, Ecuador, is for countries to adopt an agenda to guide sustainable urban development over the next two decades.  Agreed at the United Nations on September 10, the Agenda created after gathering responses from the international community on multiple earlier drafts, points to the need to tackle inequality in the world’s cities as one crucial way to achieve this.

Sustainability is understood typically as being based on three pillars – equity, environment and the economy.  A new World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City, suggests that starting with equity can help achieve gains along the other two pillars towards a sustainable city that works for all. Economic concerns often take precedence when urban policy is made, and environmental concerns have drawn attention in recent years with the focus on climate change and the potential risks to and resilience of cities. But inequality in access to services has exacerbated and has created heavy economic and environmental costs.

At a recent panel discussion to promote the World Resources Report (WRR) in Surabaya, Indonesia, urban specialists offered perspectives on equity as an entry point in moving a city along a pathway of transformative change towards greater sustainability. David Dodman, of the International Institute for Environment and Development, cited “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better”, arguing that health and social problems are worse in more unequal societies. Joseph D’ Cruz of the United Nations Development Program, emphasized that crime and conflict are reduced when there is a shared prosperity and when cities do not grow in an ‘enclave’ sort of way.  D’Cruz noted that an urban economy benefits when all residents can afford to be consumers, strengthening the overall market ecosystem.  Ajay Suri from the Cities Alliance brought up the tangible example of Agra, India, where slum upgrading, drainage improvements and increased sanitation services improved the waste management in the city, encouraging tourism and providing sustainable income for the poor.

Leave No One Behind

But while improving life for those who lack access to services makes cities better for all, that’s not the only reason to do it. Panelists were unanimous that urban change agents need to address the needs of the under-served, independent of other benefits to the city.  D’ Cruz conveyed that there is a responsibility to help the under-served – and to leave no one behind.  George Soraya of the World Bank, emphasized that development should not be directed simply at the urban wealthy. The fundamental question is:  do mayors want the poor to be actively part of the city?

The experts pointed to a number of critical factors needed to enable transformative change that starts with urban equity:

  • Government ownership. Rubbina Karruna of the UK Department for International Development, cited the commitment of 23 mayors of towns and cities in Bangladesh to improve urban sustainability.
  • Multi-sector approach. Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini offered details on the transformation of the kampungs (urban neighborhoods) in Surabaya, where there was a concerted effort to address many sectoral issues, including wastewater management, flood control, education, health and small- and medium-sized enterprise development.
  • Land tenure for marginalized city dwellers. Rose Molokoane of Shack/Slum Dwellers International asserted that when there is threat of eviction from the lack of tenure, it is difficult improve informal settlements.
  • Community participation. Molokoane emphasized that it is essential to consider the organization of the community and to involve the community in planning, using the phrase, “Nothing for us, without us.” In Kenya, people use illegal electricity connections because they lack access to it legally.  Karruna brought up the example of a community-led infrastructure finance facility in Zimbabwe, which has brought construction jobs to the community.  Communities need to be actively involved.
  • Adequate finance.  D’ Cruz said that cities must generate and manage their own finances, instead of relying solely on national or provincial transfers.

As the first World Resources Report papers roll out during Habitat III and beyond, let us hope that the importance of a more equal city is firmly rooted in the New Urban Agenda – for the benefit of the city and for transformative urban development, but most significantly because cities should leave no one behind.

Nossa Cidade: The Challenges of Connecting Brazil’s Metropolitan Regions

Mon, 2016-09-19 20:07

Evening commute in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil / Flickr

 

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Leaning on the expertise of specialists at WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities, the series features in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, resilience, road safety and other key themes for a healthy urban environment. Each month, a new subject explores the sustainable development of our cities from a different angle. 

One of the main reasons many Brazilians dream of owning their own car is that cars give them the ability to travel great distances quickly with autonomy and security. For years, Brazilian urban development has prioritized individual transport, heightening the desire of owning a private car and discouraging collective transit infrastructure. If increasing public transit use within a city is challenging, one can only imagine the challenge of intercity mobility, especially in larger metropolitan areas.

Despite the scarcity of public transit, the number of Brazilians commuting daily, from one city to another, is increasing. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the number of people traveling to a different city daily for work or school rose 93.9 percent from 2000 to 2010. In 2000, 7,327,041 people commuted, and, in 2010, that number jumped to 14,357,834.

Traffic jam of individual, personal vehicles in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil / Flickr

According to the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), between 2000 and 2010, the population of metropolitan areas grew above the national average for population growth. City centers, however, grew well below the average. According to IPEA, high property prices in major cities and low purchasing power for the average citizen shape this trend. Despite significant rates of urban employment, Brazilians tend to live outside of city centers, where land is cheaper. By commuting daily, Brazilians risk hours in traffic, environmental abuse and quality of life. Furthermore, when citizens drive individually and increase the number of road vehicles, these burdens exponentiate. However, despite these concerns, it is difficult to dissolve the dream of car ownership without an intercity public transportation service.

Additionally, car-centric, intercity infrastructure amplifies the financial burden of commuting. For example, inhabitants of Brazil’s urban areas dedicate about 15 percent of their annual income to their daily commutes, spending on average five times more on private transport than public. Several other issues, including access to better healthcare, education and culture, are linked to the ease of intercity travel. Without a proper mobility system, Brazilians are denied important services and are placed under socio-economic stresses.

Niterói, metropolitan region of Rio. Photo by Marinelson Almeida / Flickr

The Economy Suffers from Time Lost to Commuting

How citizens manage their time affects the economy. For example, long commutes can lead to “sacrificed production,” meaning the longer one’s commute, the less time one spends producing goods or contributing to society. According to the Federation of Industries of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FIRJAN), annual losses in the Brazilian economy from metropolitan congestion reach 111 billion reais (US $34.8 billion), the equivalent of 4.4 percent of Brazil’s GDP. Furthermore, more than 17 million workers spend an average of 114 minutes commuting in each direction. Among Brazil’s 37 metropolitan areas, Rio de Janeiro has the longest travel time: 2.8 million workers travel an average of 141 minutes each way. As a result, the annual cost of “sacrificed production” in Rio exceeds 19 billion reais ($5.7 billion USD), equivalent to 5.9 percent of metropolitan GDP.

Upon identifying these problems within Brazil’s urban planning and transit infrastructure, in early 2015, the Brazilian government enacted the Statute of Metropolis, outlining general guidelines for planning, managing and implementing public policies in metropolitan areas. The Statute gives Brazilian cities a three-year period to deliver their Integrated Urban Development Plans (PNDI), which specify guidelines for strategic projects, actions and investments, as well as zoning guidelines. These development plans are up to the discretion of the cities but must meet the standards of the Statute. Furthermore, PNDIs are intended to spur social participation and promote transparency and dialogue between governmental officials and civil society.

São Paulo has integrated city transport but lacks intercity connectivity. Photo by Mariana Gil, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities / Flickr

Cities across Brazil are evaluating their current successes and developmental goals as they shape their PNDIs. For instance, São Paulo, home to 39 cities and 21 million people, has a serious lack of connectivity, meaning developing a robust PNDI is essential. For example, intercity bus lines do not link the greater metropolitan area with the capital city. Integration only occurs between the intercity bus, metro and trains from the São Paulo Metropolitan Train Company (CPTM). “It is up to us, organized society, to implement the Statute. And for that, we have to create an inter-federal governance structure. A council bringing together representatives of government, private sector and civil society to discuss the metropolitan issues, “said Luiz José Predetti, Director of the São Paulo Metropolitan Planning Company SA (Emplasa) during a WRI Brasil event in Rio de Janeiro last September.

Unlike São Paulo, Curitiba’s transport system serves as a model for metropolitan transport. The state’s capital is a pioneer for implementing bus rapid transit (BRT)—a system that prioritizes public transport over cars. Since the 1980s, Curitiba’s Integrated Transport Network (RIT) has successfully connected cities in the metropolitan area. Nevertheless, there are still ways Curitiba can improve its transport system. For example, enhancing its Green Line operation would further strengthen interconnectivity in the region.

The expansion of Curitiba’s Green Line can further improve intercity transportation in the region. Photo by mariordo59 / Flickr

Similar to Curitiba, cities in Florianópolis also serve as examples for metropolitan transit management. In April, governmental officials implemented the Urban Mobility Plan of Florianópolis (PLAMUS), an initiative to enhance public transport in the region, including bike lanes and BRT. A technical study, conducted between 2014 and 2015 with the support of WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities, preceded the Mobility Plan to diagnose problems of urban mobility in Florianópolis’s 13 cities.

Future Changes Show Promise for Integrated Transport

In order to solve mobility problems and meet the Statute of Metropolis guidelines, Rio de Janeiro is already working on its PNDI. “When we do not have a model, a design, and are just doing more of the same, we cannot guarantee a sustainable development process. In the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, urban expansion is 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) per year. We make a Herculean effort to improve the existing infrastructure. Building a solid planning effort, as we are doing here, is very exciting, “said Vicente Loureiro, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Chamber, at an event held in June by the State Government in partnership with WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

In addition to PNDIs, the Metropolitan Chamber, with support from the World Bank, is formulating a Strategic Plan for Integrated Development of the Metropolitan Urban Region of Rio de Janeiro, or “Shaping the Metropolis.” WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities is on the plan’s Advisory Board, a body made up of civil society, the private sector and academia. This group will propose strategies and guidelines for consideration when preparing “Shaping the Metropolis.” This plan is intended to guide governmental decisions for the next 25 years. The guidelines discuss six aspects of metropolitan life: economic expansion, natural and cultural heritage, mobility, housing and social facilities, sanitation and environment and space reconfiguration. It will serve as an example of integrated management to other Brazilian metropolitan areas.

Originally published in Portuguese at TheCityFix Brasil.

History in the Making: Habitat III Negotiators Release Final Draft of the New Urban Agenda

Thu, 2016-09-15 22:31

Quito, Ecuador will host Habitat III in October. Photo by Claudio Alvarado Solari / Flickr

Last week, the final draft of the New Urban Agenda (NUA)—the document at the center of Habitat III in Quito next month—was released. After an unexpected stalemate at the Preparatory Committee in Surabaya in July, Habitat III negotiators convened this week in New York to finalize the text, which will lay the groundwork for global urban development for the next 20 years. After a marathon, 38-hour closed door session of informal negotiations, delegates were able to find common ground on many of the most challenging issues, including language around the Right to the City, the future of UN-Habitat and its role in Habitat III implementation and many more minor, but still vexing, topics.

The final draft includes references to or endorsements of many essential issues, including the role of voluntary commitments from cities and stakeholders, follow-up reporting processes and the importance of national urban policies. Despite these positive steps, the draft lacks clear linkages to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, specific reference to a platform for action and clear guidance for country and stakeholder reporting expectations. These issues will be critical as decision-makers and stakeholders prepare for Quito.

The Quito Implementation Plan and Stakeholder Action

Ambitious action from non-state actors will be key to effectively implementing the New Urban Agenda and ensuring a positive legacy for Habitat III. Many stakeholders have raised questions and concerns about how non-state actors can get involved in Post-Quito implementation. Paragraphs 21 and 154 of the Agreed Draft of the NUA emphasize the importance of these activities, but there is not a specific reference to the Secretariat’s Quito Implementation Plan or any other action platform linked to the Lima-Paris Action Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. This raises concerns that securing buy-in and commitments from diverse stakeholders may be a challenge.

National Urban Policies That Empower Cities

Strong and inclusive national urban policies will be central to scaling action for sustainable cities at all levels of government. Paragraphs 89-91 outline the need for countries to create and implement national urban policies that decentralize decision-making power into the hands of local and sub-national decision-makers and equip them with the resources and financial mechanisms they need.

However, it’s important that these policies empower cities and sub-national regions to find their own solutions. In the forthcoming weeks, stakeholders should be on the look-out as countries gear up to announce commitments for this kind of national legislation in Quito.

Ensuring a Strong Reporting Process

Paragraphs 161 through 169 call for “voluntary, country-led, open, inclusive, multi-level, participatory, and transparent follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda…tak[ing] into account contributions of national, sub-national, and local levels of government and…supplemented by contributions from the United Nations system, regional and sub-regional organizations, major groups and relevant stakeholders.” This reporting process, which will be led by UN-Habitat, has the potential to ensure that the New Urban Agenda is not another document lost to time, but rather a force of action, propelling stakeholders across sectors to make commitments and create change.

To ensure effectiveness, however, there needs to be clear guidance on how countries and other stakeholders will be expected to support the reporting process, especially in light of the SDG’s and Paris Agreement’s reporting requirements. These important international processes are only minimally referenced or omitted entirely in the New Urban Agenda, but they should be leveraged to benefit the NUA follow-up process. The reporting process and guidance for countries should be discussed in depth and agreed in Quito in order to make the most of the resulting energy and momentum.

Contentious Issues Remain: Future of UN-Habitat and the Right to the City

One of the more controversial issues throughout the Habitat III negotiations has been the concept of the Right to the City, which has been championed by many Latin American countries, and is seen as a mechanism to create better, more collaborative relationships between authorities and urban residents. Though the phrase remains in the text (Paragraph 11), the commitment to this concept has been watered down so as only to note that some cities refer to the “shared vision of cities for all” as the “right to the city.” While this compromise was accepted by advocates, they remain disappointed by the status of what they see as a central tenet of a progressive future for urban development.

The final hurdle for negotiators was the role of UN-Habitat, which ended in a compromise essentially passing the buck to the General Assembly to act as a non-partisan evaluator of the “effectiveness, efficiency, accountability, and oversight of UN-Habitat” (Paragraph 172). This debate, which has been a constant refrain since the beginning of the negotiations, has focused on the role of UN-Habitat as an organization, rather than how the UN System as a whole can more proactively support and manage one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century—sustainable urban growth. This compromise, thanks to the timing of the new Secretary General appointment and the long-awaited UN reform, provides an opportunity to rethink how the New Urban Agenda can be implemented and supported by the greater UN.

What to Look for in Quito

As the world gears up for Quito, countries and non-state actors alike should begin to solidify their commitments and develop ambitious action agendas, keeping in mind that cities have an essential role in achieving not only the goals of the New Urban Agenda, but also the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Interested parties should keep an eye out for opportunities to participate in more in depth discussions of reporting frameworks, ideas for future UN support of the New Urban Agenda and stronger linkages to the other global processes. Moving forward together, we can use the New Urban Agenda as a guide to share the vision of a sustainable, equitable urban future with decision-makers and ensure that our energy and resources are going towards creating cities for all.

Driverless Uber and nuTonomy: A Future to Cheer or Fear?

Wed, 2016-09-14 01:58

Uber’s Self Driving Car Undergoes Testing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Foo Conner / Flickr

The future is here, or it is very close: Uber announced “driverless” car services in downtown Pittsburgh; nuTonomy, a MIT spin-off technology company, just started commercial trials of autonomous taxis in Singapore.  These developments come way before car manufacturers and technology experts have set their ambition (see table below). This seems to be very exciting news, but will the development of autonomous vehicles be similar to other advances in the car industry, like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or electric vehicles?  These technologies are still growing but at a much slower pace than initially expected.

Driverless Car Market Predictions. Information from Driverless Car Market Watch

Uber and nuTonomy are undergoing full-scale tests, with staff on-board the vehicle: a driver with fingertips on the steering wheel and an expert taking notes and measurements on a laptop computer. For now, a driver is still needed to comply with current regulations. In Pittsburgh, these test rides will be free; you may be selected randomly as the lucky passenger. Still, testing signals a big step for automation in real world conditions that may excite many and reduce fears after Tesla’s assisted driving (autopilot) crashes in the U.S. and China.

Dream Come True or Nightmare in the Making?  

Sci-Fi movies from Dudu in 1971 to The Incredibles and I, Robot in 2004, have sparked our imagination on cars with brains, which take us effortlessly from point A to point B. It seems like a waste of time to operate individual vehicles. With autonomous cars, you can use that time for other activities, like reading, texting or searching for Pokémon without endangering others.

As ZIP Car founder Robin Chase rightly points out, all this may be a dream. Moreover, shared vehicles could save people zillions of dollars, save lives and save emissions (if vehicles are electric and powered with clean energy).  But this could go really wrong if the autonomous cars go back home, increasing traffic and vehicle miles; or keep running around the block, which Chase calls “zombie cars.”

The key, according to Chase’s analysis, is having proper regulations so this new technology is used in shared, rather than individual, vehicles: planning rules are changed so parking is no longer a must; the tax system is changed based on pay-as-you-ride and not on ownership; cars are electric and powered by clean sources; and it becomes necessary to rethink labor security and how income is taxed. She claims, and I agree, that the change is here—in Google Autonomous Vehicles in California, Tesla tests and now in Singapore and Pittsburgh, thanks to Uber and nuTonomy. It is best to recognize the high cost of doing nothing, and it is time to seize the opportunity, at least in the U.S.

It is important to get all the pieces of this puzzle right, first with adequate regulation for shared mobility, then a good set-up for electric vehicles and finally clear rules for shared vehicles.

Do Autonomous Cars Matter in Developing Countries?

Probably yes, but we need to be cautious.  Most developing countries are still far from being car-oriented. City travel is still mostly composed of walking, bicycling and public transport. This is something that needs to be preserved, rather than replaced, with shared autonomous electric vehicles. The great disruptive invention of the last century, the car, has not yet taken hold in many emerging economies. It is best if cars do not become the predominant mode of transport, as megacities in the global south are also the most congested, polluted and unsafe metropolises of the world.

According to Tom-Tom Traffic Index 2016, seven out of the top ten most congested cities are in developing countries, and two are in transition economies. The only city in a developed country is Los Angeles, coming in at number ten.  Can you imagine already-crowded Mexico City with “zombie cars” multiplying road congestion?

Rank of Congestion Level by City. Information from TomTom

Ignoring the advent of disruptive technologies, like self-driving Ubers and nuTonomys, would be a mistake.  But placing policy bets in this future may be an even bigger mistake. Why not still focus on the basics: good urban design, compact and connected with diverse uses; high-quality design for pedestrians, safe bicycle paths and high-quality public transport.  At the end of the day, public transport is shared mobility at its best, and some of it is already electric and autonomous: the driverless metro.  Autonomous public transport may be the best focus, with last mile connectivity in smaller shared vehicles, providing on-demand flexible services.

Driving Forward with Autonomous Vehicles

The vision of zero ownership is very compelling, with safe, autonomous electric cars powered by a clean grid, but it is not complete.  It needs to be coupled with an active promotion of walking, bicycling and attractive, efficient public transport.  This is not far from what Tim Papanderu, the former the Chief Innovation Officer for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and now Google employee, promoted for his city: 50% shared autonomous electric cars and 50% walking, bicycling and public transport, which contrasts the current 64% individual, polluting and inefficient car use.

This may be the basis for a triple zero vision: zero traffic deaths, zero harmful emissions, zero ownership. Uber’s and nuTonomy’s driverless cars (and Google´s, Volkswagen’s, GM´s, Ford’s, Toyota’s, Tesla´s, BMW’s, Dalmier´s, etc.) are very welcome, as long as they are coupled with strong regulations and an adequate transition process, as Robin Chase suggested. 

Friday Fun: 4 Olympic Viewing Parties Transformed Public Spaces into Virtual Arenas

Fri, 2016-09-02 20:51

A Crowd Gathers on Rio’s Olympic Boulevard to Watch and Support Their Team. Photo by ConMen / Vimeo

The Summer Olympics are the largest sporting event, with 205 participating nations and billions of television viewers around the world. From the 1996 Games in Atlanta to the 2008 Games in Beijing, the Olympic TV audience grew from 3.2 to 4.7 billion viewers. Regardless of politics or cultural controversies surrounding the Games, one thing remains clear: people want to watch.

But, the growing trend of public viewing parties has transformed how people experience these events, moving televisions from living rooms or local bars, into city plazas and stadiums. This year, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Suva (Fiji), Kingston (Jamaica) and Kakuma (Kenya) transformed their public spaces with Olympic broadcasts, bringing citizens together and creating open access to the Games.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

Olympic Boulevard in Rio Attracted Thousands During the Games. Photo by Jonas de Carvalho / Flickr

Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Olympics, created the largest live viewing party in the history of the Games, allowing everyone to partake in the electric atmosphere. The Olympic Boulevard, located on the newly renovated Porto Maravilha, was decorated with large broadcast screens, food trucks and the Amanhã (Tomorrow) stage. Over the course of the Olympics, the Boulevard became a main attraction for thousands of daily visitors to enjoy live music and art performances. For Rio, hosting the Games was about more than sports, as the city sponsored an entire culture program, Celebra, to showcase Brazil’s cultural diversity. “The idea is to integrate the city with the Games,” stated city governmental officials. Using the Games and their virtual broadcasting to highlight Brazilian culture and identity, the city created a memorable and inclusive Olympic celebration.

Live-Broadcast Screens and Giant Murals Decorate the Olympic Boulevard in Rio. Photos by Jonas de Carvalho / Flickr

Suva, Fiji:

‘Go Fiji Go’ HD (Rio Olympics Rugby Song 2016) from Shabir Nabi on Vimeo.

On August 12, more than 4,000 spectators gathered in the National Stadium of Fiji’s capital city to watch their rugby team defeat Britain for the nation’s first Olympic medal. By halftime, fans were already singing and dancing, united by their national sport.

People from all over Fiji traveled to the capital city, Suva, to watch the match. The Fiji Village reported that 51-year-old Peni Matai traveled eight hours by minibus from the village of Serua, where there is no access to television. All over the island, banks and shops closed for a few hours to watch the match.

Winning Olympic gold was more than a sports victory—it has become a national symbol of hope unity. For a country that has experienced four coups d’etat in the last 27 years, and in 2014 held its first election since 2006, hope and unity are rare and important. Upon seeing thousands of Fijians cheering under one flag in National Stadium, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama remarked that “Rugby has always lifted the spirit and always brought us together. Right now, whatever political party, there’s no difference. Everyone is coming together to celebrate.”

Kingston, Jamaica:

Rio 2016 – Jamaicans celebrate record-breaking runner Usain Bolt from Stephen Greaves on Vimeo.

Usain Bolt’s 100m sprint may have taken only 9.81 seconds, but the celebrations he ignited in Kingston, 3,600 miles away, continued well into the night. Fans lined the streets of the capital city to watch Bolt make history on giant live screens. Not even heavy summer rain was enough to deter the fans, as they brought traffic to a standstill amidst the wave of cheers, banging pots and booming stereos.

For those who could not join the street party, anywhere else would do. Shoppers in a MegaMart in Kingston crowded around the TV section as the race began. Just as the streets of Kingston were erupting, so were the isles of the MegaMart. In Jamaica, home to the fastest man in the world, a ten second race is more than enough to celebrate.

Kakuma, Kenya:

Refugee Children Intently Watch the Games in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Footage courtesy of Amnesty International.

The world’s largest refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya is home to over 150,000 people. This summer, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) partnered with the humanitarian organization  FilmAid to broadcast the Olympic Games inside the camp. For many refugees, this was their first time watching the Games and was a chance to connect with the world outside of the camp. Additionally, this year marked the first time the Olympics had a Refugee Olympic Team, and five of the athletes were from Kakuma. So, for Kakuma, viewing the 2016 Olympics was incredibly special. Throughout the duration of the tournament, everyone in the camp was glued to the screen, cheering for the athletes they watched train for months before.

The two week viewing event in Kakuma became a source of hope and inspiration to the refugees living there. Magu Ngumo, Creative and Content Director at FilmAid, underscored the importance of the event: “Screening the Olympics in Kakuma is a chance for young refugees to see the athletes and themselves represented, not just as victims of war and disaster, but as individuals who have dreams.”

Olympic viewing parties enable the Games to transcend stadium walls, bringing people together in city centers and public spaces and providing an opportunity for citizens to engage with their communities. All they need is a big enough screen.

 

Refugees in Kakuma watch Team Refugees compete at Rio Olympics- Footage Courtesy of Amnesty International from malcolm on Vimeo.

An Olympic Legacy: Why Rio’s Residents Now Have a Different City at the End of the Games

Tue, 2016-08-23 20:38

Passengers board Rio de Janeiro BRT, Transoeste. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil / Flickr

The Olympics have given us the opportunity to meet the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro. The landscape of Guanabara Bay, the famous beaches, Sugarloaf Mountain, Lagoa and the tropical forest are so beautiful, it feels natural that the Portuguese selected this place as the capital of their empire, while Napoleon’s Army occupied the Iberian Peninsula. Rio de Janeiro remained the capital of Brazil after its independence, until the foundation of Brasilia in 1960. Today, it remains the symbol of the whole country.

Rio, like many host cities before, has tried to harness the Olympic experience to showcase the friendly face of Brazil and leave a legacy. This friendly face is evident in the beautiful opening ceremony, the incredible sports arenas and fair treatment of the entire Olympic family. Rio was a great Olympic host amid a political crisis, an economic recession and great social disparity. Given the economic and social state of Brazil, however, is legacy worth the Olympic cost?

Rio’s reported Olympic budget is 37.6 billion reais ($11.9 billion), of which 24.1 billion reais ($7.6 billion) are for city infrastructure and 7 billion reais ($2.2 billion) are for the Olympic committee. Like Olympic Games before, the final costs are higher than initial projections. All the Olympic Games between 1960 (Rome) and 2012 (London) had cost overruns of 179 percent, and London was the most expensive in history ($14.8 billion), with cost overruns of 101 percent. Rio is not far behind, already reporting cost overruns of 51 percent.

The Olympics are not the only event Brazil has organized in recent years. It hosted the FIFA World Cup, the World Youth Congress and Pope Francis, Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development and the World Games of the Armed Forces. In order to prepare for these events, Rio had to advance its mobility infrastructure, particularly its mass-transit. While it has been costly, the city created necessary infrastructure that otherwise would not have been built or would have taken decades. Large city projects include a metro extension, the construction of a downtown light rail, a large-scale renewal in the old urban port area (now Porto Maravilha), the construction of several BRT lines (Transoeste, Transcarioca and Transolímpica), bicycle path advancement and public space and sports venue improvement.

The metro extension of 16 kilometers (10 miles) opened on June 30, just days before the Games, to Olympic families and attendees of ticketed events. It connects the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana to the suburb of Barra de Tijuca, the Olympic park. During construction, the cost of the project doubled from about 5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) to 9.7 billion reais ($2.8 billion, $175 million per kilometer).

The light rail (VLT Carioca), a 28 kilometer (17 mile), single line, came into service on June 5, two weeks after the announced date. It has an estimated cost of 1.2 billion reais ($370 million, $13 million per kilometer).

The new BRT lines in Rio have been launched gradually, expanding with each major event. Transoeste, a 56 kilometer (34.7 mile) line from Barra de Tijuca to Santa Cruz, opened in 2012 for Rio+20. It services 250,000 passengers per day and cost $343 million ($6 million per kilometer). Transcarioca, a 39 kilometer (24.2 mile) line opened for the FIFA World Cup Football in 2014. The line connects the international airport to Barra de Tijuca, carrying 450,000 passengers daily and had a cost of $758 million ($19 million per kilometer). Transolímpica, a 26 kilometer (16 mile) line, was put into partial operation on July 10 of this year, for the Olympics. So far, the line has cost $400 million ($15 million per kilometer). In total, Rio constructed 121 kilometers (75 miles) of BRT in just seven years. This accomplishment stands out when compared with Mexico City, which completed 125 kilometers (77.6 miles) in 11 years and Bogotá, which completed 113 kilometers (70.2 miles) in 18 years.

Perhaps the most impressive Olympic project is the renewal of the urban port, Porto Maravilha, encompassing five million square meters (1.93 square miles) in the old industrial harbor area. The project includes the demolition of an elevated highway, construction of a road tunnel, enabling of public spaces and construction of the Museum of Art and the Museum of Tomorrow. The total cost of the project was $2.2 billion financed through real estate development in city.

Mayor of Rio Eduardo Paes is very happy with the city’s infrastructural improvements. Changing the city is impressive. International events are able to create this transformation by drawing on federal support and private participation. We all enjoy the Olympics, but the inhabitants of Rio will continue to enjoy a different city at the end of the Games.

Originally published in Spanish on El Tiempo

Rio Olympics’ Legacy: Urban Mobility

Mon, 2016-08-22 23:31

The TransCarioca BRT offered improved transport during the Olympics and beyond. Photo credit: Mariana Gil/WRI

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the first South American city to host the modern games, famously faced challenges in the run-up to the event – from construction delays to a polluted venue to worries about the Zika virus and urban crime – many of which have been overcome. But there’s a question that always comes up for Olympic cities after the torch is extinguished: was it worth for its residents? In Rio’s case, as for previous Olympic host cities, the long-term benefit may be in doubt, but is definitely yes when it comes to public transport.

In advance of the games, the length of mass transit systems in Rio, mostly Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) were more than double what had been promised for the Olympics, from 76 to 156 kilometers (47 to 97 miles). The downtown Light Rail System (LRT) was not part of the Olympic transit promise, while metro extension increased from 4 to 16 km (2.5 to 10 miles).

These improvements set the groundwork for a world-class mass transit system for Rio, but it depends on strong follow-up. The next city administration, which takes office in January 2017, needs to secure financing to finish the TransBrasil BRT corridor. If service reserved for Olympic ticket holders is transferred to city residents after the games, as expected, and the TransBrasil line is completed, the number of daily mass transit trips will increase substantially. According to city forecasts, the share of daily trips made by mass transit – BRT, metro, train — is likely to increase from 18 percent to 63 percent of all daily trips. How did that happen?

 

Numbers reveal that Rio delivered more than what was promised for transport

Rio has learned from experience. Before being selected to host the 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro failed in two previous attempts, in 2004 and 2012. Both times, transport plans relied heavily on implementing metro rail lines and motorways. The history of difficulties in financing rail construction cast doubt on whether transport would be in place on time.

Hosting mega-events has been part of the Rio’s strategy since the 1992 Earth Summit. For the 2007 Pan American Games, two new metro lines and a light rail transit system connecting the international and domestic airports to the west zone of the city were promised, but never implemented.

In its third, successful attempt to host the Olympic Games, Rio knew the city needed a realistic and coherent proposal. The focus of its transit strategy changed from rail to bus, featuring innovative BRT corridors. The backbone of the transport plan included a high-performance bus based transit network integrated with existing boat and rail systems. And beyond getting cars off the road and moving visitors, athletes and locals where they need to go, the new BRT system would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using a more fuel-efficient fleet.

When evaluating Rio’s proposal, the International Olympic Committee requested extensive studies to estimate the capability of TransCarioca BRT to handle the extra demand. WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities proved that BRT would not only suffice but also provide better value. Relatively minor changes in station layout and mix of services made it possible to achieve significant gains in system capacity and performance.

Maps compare what the city promised to the Olympic Committee and what was implemented

Maps compare what the city promised to the Olympic Committee and what was implemented

There is already evidence that BRT has had a positive impact in Rio. Rider surveys  have shown encouraging results: nine of every 10 respondents said the cost of travel had decreased or stayed the same with BRT compared to other means of transport, while two-thirds had a favorable impression of the connected bus network. The survey showed that for the regular commuters who are the system’s primary users, travel time has been cut by about 35 percent. This type of feedback will continue to inform recommendations to improve the BRT network.

There are pending challenges for when the Games are over, like fully integrating all public transport modes and finishing the implementation of the BRT network. But the Olympics offered Rio the possibility of having a public transport network that is capable of shaping its future urban development, making it a more compact, connected and coordinated city. Rio has the potential to become a flagship for reliable and sustainable mobility, inspiring other cities in Latin America. That would truly be an Olympic legacy.

This blog is also posted on WRI Insights

Historic Reform to Transform the Urban Model in Mexico

Fri, 2016-08-19 19:58

Mexican cities, like Guadalajara, strive for urban reform. Photo by Alex Lomix / Flickr

Mexico is an eminently urban country. 78 percent of the Mexican population lives in an urban locality of more than 2,500 inhabitants, and 63 percent live in urban centers with more than 15,000 inhabitants. Urban development should be a priority for Mexico’s public and political agenda, and the country needs to resolve these problems holistically. It needs to invest in the development and implementation of a compact, connected, coordinated and competitive urban vision. The great challenge to establish planning instruments that allow cities to have the financial resources, institutions, policies, programs and incentives necessary and appropriate to achieve an urban transformation at the local scale.

Over the past six years, Mexico has been working towards a goal to “increase productivity and democratize [its] economy, as well as ensure the effective exercise of social rights to all Mexicans, connecting human capital with economic opportunities to reduce gaps of inequality and promote wider social participation.” At the same time, the country is committed in various international forums to move towards a low carbon economy which, among other things, means reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) 30 percent by 2030. The role of cities here is significant: all 93 cities in Mexico (concentrated in 56 metropolitan areas) with over 100,000 inhabitants, contribute 88 percent of the total gross output of the country and account for 83 percent of employment in Mexico.

Cities are the doors that open our economy and connect us to the rest of the world. However, our current urban model is characterized by being distant, dispersed and disconnected (3D). Cities lose competitiveness; our urban model does not guarantee access to a clean environment, decent housing, and a healthy life but, on the other hand, leads to social and spatial inequality (35 million inhabitants today spend more money on transportation than on basic needs) and greater traffic congestion and pollution (inhabitants of Mexico City lose 3.3 million man-hours a year to traffic congestion).

CTS EMBARQ Mexico has consistently advocated for urban reform to reverse this trend. There is some progress in this direction:

  1. The creation of the Ministry of Agricultural, Territorial and Urban Development (SEDATU) to plan, create, coordinate, manage and implement land management policies, ensuring decent housing and urban and rural development.
  2. The development of the National Development Plan (NDP) which, for the first time, incorporates urban targets that promote sustainable urban mobility, public space and dense and compact growth.
  3. The publication of the National Urban Development Programme (PNDU) and the National Housing Programme, with clearer and more specific definitions of the new urban model for Mexican cities.
  4. Changes in some operating rules for credit and housing subsidies.

But these advances have not been consolidated, meaning that there have been no significant changes in the pattern of our cities or in the quality of citizen life. Heading to Habitat III, there are still several outstanding issues to address in Mexico that are essential in promoting new sustainable urban models. The first is to reform the General Law on Human Settlements (LGAH), which dates from 1976 and was last updated in 1993 (the last renovation was in 2014). It focuses on the regularization of land tenure and massive housing construction. The shift towards a sustainable model will need to require profound changes in the legal framework and must consider:

  1. The long-term planning, linking plans and budgets
  2. Mechanisms for metropolitan management
  3. Integration of policies for land use and mobility
  4. Compact, coordinated and connected cities
  5. Sustainable urban mobility
  6. Land management instruments
  7. Funding Mechanisms

The second challenge is to establish a portfolio of institutional, financial, fiscal and planning instruments that allow us to implement a legal framework that can strengthen institutional planning and progress. Finally, it is essential to establish and standardize urban technical standards, regulations and local planning to ensure the consistency between various levels of government.

The time is now to move from good intentions to policy implementation: institutional, programmatic and budgetary. Mexico needs to reform its cities and provide citizens with equal access to opportunities in order to ensure a higher quality of life.

Originally published in Spanish on TheCityFix Mexico

Of Lords and Ladies: Exposing Mexico City’s Corruption, Unsafe Roads and more

Tue, 2016-08-16 19:26

Ecobici rider traverses the busy road in Mexico City. Photo by Alejandro / Flickr

A video went viral earlier this month in Mexico. Ari Santillan, urban activist and contributor to TheCityFix Mexico, was biking home after work on a dedicated bus-bike lane in Mexico City when a car, driving illegally in the lane, started harassing him to get out of the way. Ari refused to do so, angering the driver, who became more aggressive. When Ari finally found a police officer, the driver tried to run him over. Luckily, Ari was able to jump off his bike and leave the incident unscathed.

What happened next has become an all too common scene in Mexico. The driver, an upper-middle class man driving an Audi, got out of his car, threw the bike to the sidewalk and started shouting at Ari—and then at the police officer. When the officer tried to stop him from getting into his car and driving off, this man, now known as “Lord Audi,” started to push the officer away. Eventually the man managed to escape the officer’s grip and drive off, dragging with him an EcoBici bike that a fellow citizen had parked in front of the car to stop him from driving away.

Far from being a unique occurrence, this kind of event is becoming more and more recurrent in Mexico—a country with a profound class division, plagued with corruption issues. Particularly in Mexico City, people from all socioeconomic levels are fed up with their living conditions and tired of the rich and powerful acting above the law and doing as they please, without any fear of punishment.

A Problem Reaching Across Society

This incident highlights several problems facing Mexico City. For decades, the city followed a car-centric model of development, and investment in public transport fell. As a result, the city is now “the most congested city in the world,” according to a report released by TomTom in March 2016.  However, the local population views actions against excessive car use negatively, and local officials often don’t want to risk of taking unpopular actions. Because of this, the city is plagued by road safety issues, particularly for cyclists and pedestrians, who often find themselves in vulnerable and dangerous situations on the streets.

A further problem is the prevalence of what can be described as the law of the jungle, where self-interest is the main driver for people’s actions, without regard for their neighbors. Recently, there have been multiple cases of people believing and acting as if their socioeconomic status puts them above the law—including a media mogul who ordered his bodyguards to hit a government official and rob his cellphone as revenge for forcing them to obey the law; and a young woman who, after being pulled over for DUI, tried to bribe the police while cursing at them. Faced with an authority unwilling to do anything to solve the problem, the victims of this kind of behavior—everyone who isn’t a member of this social class—have no choice but to document the incidents and denounce them in social media. This is where the Lord/Lady designation comes from—as a way of mocking this sense of entitlement.

Lastly, the video simply highlights the lack of enforcement on the part of public authorities. Many police officers in Mexico have little training, work under unfavorable conditions and do not know how to deal with these kinds of incidents. And when they do know how to handle this kind of situation, a bigger problem arises—corruption. In the end, most Lords and Ladies do not have to face justice, as a quick bribe or exertion of influence will get them out of trouble.

What Can Be Done?

Cities Safer by Design, an urban design guide published by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, aims to promote safer streets by changing the way we build and design our cities.  The ideas and principles presented in the guide can be used from this point forward by Mexico City’s authorities to redesign the streets. Currently, streets in Mexico City do not provide enough safety to its most vulnerable users.

Additionally, there needs to be a shift in how Mexican citizens consider themselves part of society. There’s currently a general lack of empathy and social awareness noticeable at all social strata. Public awareness campaigns, through the government or private actors, can be a good way of changing the common mentality. For example, “Yo me fijo, yo respeto” (I’m aware, I respect), a campaign that Mexico City’s government launched earlier this year, is part of the Vision Zero strategy to reduce traffic fatalities.

Corruption and lack of enforcement will continue to be tough challenges to tackle. However, there has been recent progress through campaigns that invite people to denounce acts of corruption they’ve witnessed, through NGOs dedicated to fighting corruption and through policies that have improved working conditions in police departments across the country.

Perhaps There’s Hope After All

There’s an undeniable shift taking place in the public conversation around these kinds of incidents—mainly as a result of widespread social media. Perhaps this kind of awareness will finally create the profound change needed to make Mexico City, and cities across Mexico, safer and more just places for all. 

Three Lessons for Unlocking Efficient Cities for All

Fri, 2016-08-12 00:05

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home of the Johnson Controls Headquarters, strives to enhance efficiency in city buildings. Photo by zekedawg00 / Flickr

Urban efficiency is all about linking the potential of buildings, energy and infrastructure to create smarter, more sustainable cities. But what does success look like, and how do cities get there?

This past June, 34 city mayors, sustainability directors and energy efficiency professionals gathered at Washington, DC’s National Press Club for a roundtable discussion, led by Johnson Controls, to discuss this very question—what does the implementation of urban efficiency measures in US cities look like?

Three key messages recurred throughout the discussion: the need for involving community members in decision making, the ability for government to play a variety of roles in different contexts and the importance of demonstrating the many positive environmental, social and economic impacts of energy efficiency projects.

Involving the Community in Decision Making

More often than not, decisions about communities are made without the input of community members. Multiple city representatives from the roundtable expressed how important it is to change methods of governance, noting that if leadership and top-level decision making do not reflect the interests of community members, community projects won’t be successful. Yet in order for this to happen, governments need to be open to co-production. Involving—not just engaging—the community in the decisions that will impact them is the only way to get buy-in from residents and build trust and awareness.

Georgetown University’s Dr. Francis Slakey shared a story at the beginning of the roundtable about building trust to create community involvement. “Glenda and the $8 Transformation” tells the story of a woman from a low-income neighborhood in Tennessee who was reluctant to implement a local organization’s “solutions” for her high electricity bills. When approached, she immediately distrusted government agencies and organizations who she felt had long since abandoned her. Yet after continued discussion and engagement with her community, the woman followed the organization’s suggestion and—to her surprise—ended up seeing a 66 percent reduction in her electricity bill the very next month. With this, trust was re-established.

When Glenda’s electricity bills decreased substantially, she told her neighbors about this “$8 transformation,” who in turn told their neighbors, and suddenly a sense of community was established, complete with neighborhood barbeques—something that had been missing for as long as Glenda could remember.

Stories like these highlight the importance of establishing trust in a community—the first step in building awareness and creating buy-in from residents for changes in the community.

Finding the Right Role for Government

As outlined in a recent report from World Resources Institute, Accelerating Efficiency: 8 Actions by Urban Leaders, governments can take several roles to improve urban efficiency: 1) as regulators, 2) as owners or investors and 3) as conveners or facilitators.

First, when government serves as a regulator in the energy efficiency space, it becomes responsible for adopting and enforcing building energy codes, which establish a minimum level for energy performance. However, these codes are generally written as prescriptive standards, and several participants noted that this stringency can inhibit innovation and greater systems-level efficiency. They can “lock in” existing methods, and—unless updated regularly—may not represent best-in-class practice or technology.

As a regulator, government can also be a source of grants or incentives. Participants discussed the possibility of using innovative government programs, such as Property-Assessed Clean Energy programs (PACE), to ease the financial burden on building owners as they try to go beyond the existing energy code. They noted that many home owners and organizations often have trouble securing financing for the last part of a loan to make energy efficiency improvements, but that cities can provide financing (revolving loans) or credit enhancements based on energy savings and incentive programs with local utilities.

Second, as owners of buildings and infrastructure, governments can lead by example. One city representative at the roundtable highlighted the importance of showcasing energy efficiency projects—like publicly displaying energy performance information on municipal buildings and investing in net-zero-energy schools. Another city representative discussed how they installed solar technology and combined heat and power technology to turn wastewater sludge into energy in order to meet the city’s renewable energy targets. They realized that the community could benefit from these new clean energy resources and services while also creating a new source of revenue and greater efficiency for the city.

Third, as conveners, governments can mobilize resources and facilitate interaction among stakeholders in order to improve energy efficiency. One city representative mentioned that they assigned a Chief Information Officer (CIO) to serve as the focal point for sustainability initiatives and community trust-building. Another representative discussed how cities can commit to meeting the minimum level of demand for a long-term power purchase agreement in order to enable solar installations for residential and non-profit organizations.

But Efficiency Isn’t Just About Energy  

In addition to the many environmental benefits of energy efficiency projects, many city representatives noted the positive economic and social benefits as well. One city mayor referred to a LED streetlight initiative in which the city converted 6,900 traditional streetlights to LEDs. An investigation into this city’s streetlights showed that 10 percent of the streetlights were not functional—a dark reality for public safety in some of the city’s neighborhoods. While this project saved the city 60 percent of its energy bill, the street lighting improvements also helped create a lighter and brighter environment for residents.

Energy efficient LED streetlight initiatives can also impact citizens’ happiness, as noted by another city mayor, who saw community satisfaction rates nearly quadruple after project completion. And in some cities, streetlights are going beyond their traditional illumination powers and providing energy metering data to city governments and utility companies. One city participant noted that the control systems on newly installed LED streetlights alerted them to voltage issues that had previously gone undetected.

Learning from One Another to Overcome Common Challenges

Despite these inspiring examples, challenges still exist in bringing urban efficiency to the next level. Common problems include data access and privacy, complex decision making processes surrounding multi-family buildings and lackluster performance of “low energy” buildings.

The Urban Efficiency Roundtable provided cities from across the country an opportunity to connect, share experiences and discuss opportunities for the future. In the end, it’s this kind of open dialogue and communication that will be the key to making our cities more efficient—identifying what works, replicating it and scaling it.

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