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The blog of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on urban mobility, development and efficiency
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Beyond Emissions: 5 Cities Achieve Social and Economic Development by Reducing GHG Emissions from Transport

Wed, 2016-05-18 18:00

Vélib Bike Station in Paris, France. Photo by mariordo59/Flickr

Low-carbon transport has many social and economic benefits that can accelerate local sustainable development and that deserve recognition beyond their role in addressing climate change. A new series of papers from the Low Emissions Development Strategies Global Partnership’s (LEDS GP) Transport Working Group highlights case studies that provide evidence of the variety of social and economic benefits of low-carbon urban transport—from job creation and saved time and money, to fight poverty, safer roads and cleaner air.

Here are five cities that are maximizing these benefits and leading the way:

BRT Saves Guangzhou, China US $14 Million Annually

Bus rapid transit (BRT), can help reduce the amount of time and money people spend on transport, lower the government’s operations budget and cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With about 12 million people in Guangzhou’s metropolitan area, the city suffered from an overloaded bus system and daily congestion. Launched in 2010, the BRT carries 850,000 passengers every day and has succeeded in shifting 10-15 percent of trips away from private vehicles. High capacity buses move 29 percent faster than pre-BRT traffic, reducing fuel consumption and making operations more efficient. In addition to generating annual savings of US $14 million and reducing 86,000 tons of CO2 every year, passengers personally save $103 million in out-of-pocket travel costs and 30 million hours of travel.

Velib, Paris’s Bike Share, Employs 400 People

A broad range of jobs—in construction, management, sales and services—can be created by adopting low-carbon transport. With a 6.6 percent unemployment rate in Paris and young people making up a large number of the unemployed, Velib is looking to make a small dent by providing directly 400 full-time and part-time jobs to local youth. Employees have a variety of educational backgrounds and take up services, warehouse and call center jobs. While Velib already has about 20,600 bikes at 1451 stations spread throughout the city, the municipal government is playing an increasingly supportive role to create a bike friendly environment—developing road safety campaigns, speed restriction zones and about 125 miles of new bike lanes for more connectivity. This has helped increase ridership by 70 percent since Velib’s introduction, cutting emissions down by 32,330 tons of CO2 per year.

Ahmedabad’s BRT Will Prevent 77 Percent of Traffic Fatalities by 2040

Globally, private vehicles cause about 70 percent of all traffic related injuries, and it is estimated that traffic crashes will be the third greatest cause of premature deaths by 2020 as a result of rapid motorization. With a focus on safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists, low-carbon transport can help improve traffic safety in cities. For example, strategic changes—protected stations, designated entry and exit points, level boarding for safe access to buses—to Ahmedabad’s BRT system, Janmarg, have led to 79 percent positive safety ratings for the system. Since 2009, Janmarg has carried over 140,000 daily passengers, and is slated to reduce a third of the city’s total CO2 emissions by 2040, an 84 percent reduction from the baseline.

Stockholm’s Congestion Charge Cuts Hazardous Particulate Matter by Nearly 10 Percent

Fossil fuel consumption by motorized transport releases exhaust fumes that contain particulate matter hazardous to human health and detrimental to the climate. However, Stockholm’s congestion pricing system shows how cities can cut vehicle pollution to curb climate change. By pricing vehicles during peak hours in congestion-prone zones, the city is able to distribute traffic flow uniformly throughout the day and cut back on road blockages. Private vehicles are charged 15 kronas ($1.77) on workdays and double in evening and morning rush hours. This stimulated about a 9 percent increase in public transport ridership from 2005 levels and an 18 percent reduction in traffic volumes by 2011. Together, this cut down the particulate matter by 9 percent and mono-nitrogen oxides by 7 percent and has been generating daily revenues of $500,000 to 2.7 million for the city. These funds are then reinvested for expanding bike lanes and new bus lines.

Lagos’s BRT Reduces Poor Households’ Transport Costs from 17 to 11 Percent of Income

Key to low-carbon transport is connecting low-income groups to social and economic opportunities in their city in a clean way. Nigeria’s Lagos BRT system, BRT-Lite, provides a high-quality, efficient and affordable service to the local population, about 61 percent of whom live under poverty. Lagos is the fastest growing city in Nigeria, and a high rate of private vehicle ownership has resulted in 27,500 vehicles congesting the city’s roads daily. On average, a resident of Lagos spends about 17 percent of his or her income on either private vehicles or public bus and minibus services. The BRT system has helped reduce the income spent by poor households on public transport from 17 to 11 percent, as BRT fares are 30 percent lower than those for traditional public transport.  

These five stories from the LEDS GP’s series of papers demonstrates how cities can accelerate the provision of social and economic benefits for city residents by choosing low-carbon transport policies and projects. Many more national and subnational leaders should take note from these inspiring examples, innovating and enabling low-carbon transport through greater investment, public-private partnerships, new regulatory frameworks and more public participation.

The Rise of the Urban Energy “Prosumer”

Mon, 2016-05-16 20:12

An increasingly important actor on India’s urban scene could help reach the ambitious Indian goal of reaching 40 GW of rooftop solar power capacity by 2022. Meet the urban electricity “prosumer,” a consumer of electricity who also produces it and can sell it back to the grid, often through a rooftop solar PV system. For major cities in developing countries, the prosumer could be an essential ingredient in meeting the growing need for electricity.

A “prosumer” produces and consumes electricity, often through rooftop solar panels, and sells it back to the grid. Photo by Helena Wright/Flickr

The use of rooftop solar PV systems is catching on with prosumers, thanks to improved performance of rooftop solar panels, more consumer choices, lower costs and available subsidies. Increasing retail electricity tariffs and unreliable supply have been other drivers as households look for alternative electricity sources. By late 2014, an estimated 30 percent of the global cumulative installed capacity of PV was owned by residential entities. Today, in the US alone, more than 600,000 homes and businesses have on site-solar. And the boom in residential solar in the US isn’t set to slow down: UNEP estimates that the number of residential customers with solar PV is predicted to more than double by 2020, with an average of 1.7 GW added capacity annually.

How India’s New Tariff Policy Supports Prosumers

In India, renewable energy is expected to play an essential role in generating added electricity capacity, according to the Ministry of Power’s recent Tariff Policy, which makes the promotion of renewable electricity one of its primary objectives. The policy endorses the idea of prosumers as a way to spur growth in renewables, particularly rooftop solar PV systems, encouraging state governments to support solar friendly policies. By October 2015, the country had a total installed rooftop solar PV capacity of 525 MW. However, this means that reaching India’s national solar rooftop target of 40GW by 2022 will require increasing current capacity 76 times by that date.

Many Indian states, like Karnataka, already have policies that support rooftop solar PV systems. Karnataka’s capital city Bengaluru, like many large cities in developing countries, is struggling to meet its energy needs. In September 2015, the city’s utility, BESCOM, failed to meet the needs of its 8.9 million customers by falling 900 MW short of meeting its 3,400 MW peak demand.  Part of Bengaluru’s struggle to meet demand is due to increasing pressures of water scarcity and droughts on the city’s highly dependent hydro power plants. To alleviate pressure and meet energy demand, major cities like Bengaluru are exploring ways to increase prosumer adoption of rooftop solar PV through net-metering, a policy that gives consumers financial incentives to generate electricity for the grid by paying prosumers 9.56 rupees per kilowatt hour (kWh) (equivalent to 0.14cents per kWh) for surplus electricity produced. As of May 2016, this rate changed considerably to 7.08 rupees/kWh for systems smaller than 10kW, and significantly lowers the amount prosumers would receive for surplus electricity.

Examples of How BESCOM’s Net-Metering Program Works

Since Bengaluru introduced the net-metering program in 2014, over 5.6 MW of rooftop solar panels have been installed by residents, business owners, schools, and other public institutions, and have been connected to BESCOM’s grid. But the program will need to accelerate quickly for the state of Karnataka to meet its solar goal of 400 MW of grid-connected rooftop systems by 2018.

Overcoming Barriers

To better understand the current barriers to Bengaluru’s net-metering program, WRI published a working paper, Prosumers in Bengaluru: Lessons and Barriers for Scaling Rooftop Solar, which identifies obstacles, including a lack of understanding of rooftop solar PV performance, cost and payback by potential prosumers and confusion over the details of the net-metering program.

Find out more about what cities can do to meet electricity demands by tapping into the prosumer movement.

C40 Financing Sustainable Cities Forum & Workshop

Fri, 2016-05-13 20:37

Global leaders in city finance met in Rio de Janeiro on 5 April 2016 for the first-of-its-kind global forum to accelerate the financing of climate action in cities. The C40 Financing Sustainable Cities Forum brought together over 130 representatives from government, non-government organisations and financial institutions to collaborate on solutions to bridge the gap between city climate ambitions and the investment community.

Forum location: Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Camila Uchoa

The event was part of the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, an ongoing partnership between C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Citi Foundation and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, designed to help accelerate and scale up investment in sustainable urban solutions in cities around the world.

“I ask you all to pool the intelligence, experience and creativity in this room to work out how we can bridge the gap between cities and the finance community,” said Rodrigo Rosa, Special Advisor to the C40 Chair. “How to correct asymmetries of information, eliminate barriers, build confidence among us. If we bridge this gap, we can make sustainable cities a reality. This is the ambition of the collaboration between the City of Rio, C40, the Citi Foundation and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, which brings us here today.”


Representatives of the event partners, from left: Benoit Lefevre, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities; James Alexander, C40; Val Smith, Citi; Rodrigo Rosa, C40 and City of Rio de Janeiro; Toni Lindau, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities; Helio Lima Magalhães, Citi Brazil; and Marco Aurelio Santos Cardoso, City of Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Camila Uchoa

City finance leaders participated in a series of panel discussions and networking opportunities to inspire action, highlight innovation, and create networks to accelerate city climate action through improved financing and new business models. Key themes of the day included leveraging private investment, innovative financing mechanisms and unlocking municipal funding sources for low-carbon buildings, transport and urban development.

Opening panel session on financing thriving and sustainable cities. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Panelists included representatives from the Boston Consulting Group, C40, Citi, the Climate Bonds Initiative, HSBC, the Inter-American Development Bank, UN-Habitat, the World Bank, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities and 2° Investing Initiative, as well as city representatives from Boston, Buenos Aires, Durban, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Tshwane.

Discussions centered on public and private collaboration to increase investment in sustainable urban solutions to improve the quality of life for rapidly growing city populations around the world, with 70 per cent of the global population projected to live in cities by 2050.  They highlighted a number of successful projects around the world and the need for a common language and a forum for cities, service providers and capital providers to engage with one another in productive dialogue to scale up and replicate these successes.

Panelists share insights on finance challenges and opportunities, from left: Horacio Terraza, Inter-American Development Bank; Umar Banda, City of Tshwane; and Clemente Allende, City of Buenos Aires. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Panelist, Umar Banda, CFO of the South African city of Tshwane, summed up the need for collaboration between public and private sectors from his perspective as a leading municipal finance practitioner:

“Cities in developing economies are finding it more challenging to build sustainable economic infrastructure whilst addressing the basic service delivery needs of the poor. It is clear that complex solutions involving the finance houses, the private sector and public sector are needed to build sustainable cities of the future. Cities have demonstrated that the solutions are there. The inaugural Financing Sustainable Cities Forum and Workshop has created the much-needed platform for cities to collaborate with each other and investors to put together a financed sustainable solution to climate change affecting cities.”

Following the Forum, ten C40 cities engaged in a two-day workshop hosted by C40 and the City of Rio de Janeiro in the Palácio da Cidade. The workshop provided a private space for cities to share their finance challenges and good practices and collaborate on practical solutions. The cities each developed concrete action plans to implement the new ideas from the workshop.

City representatives from Bogota, Boston, Buenos Aires, Curitiba, Durban, Lima, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Tshwane, along with C40 and WRI Ross Center staff, at the Palacio de Cidade in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Cities presented on a range of solutions they were pursuing and challenges they were facing under the themes of land value capture, green bonds, revolving loan funds, public-private partnerships, development finance, energy efficiency for affordable housing and infrastructure planning.

Sergio Eduardo Martinez Jaimes sharing insights from the City of Bogota during the workshop. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Cities were also given a preview of a prototype of the Financing Sustainable Cities Platform, which will launch online as part of the second phase of the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative. The solutions-focused Platform will highlight options available to improve urban services and help the public and private sectors work together to fund, finance and deliver sustainable solutions.

C40, WRI Ross Center and the Citi Foundation will be working together through the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative to provide these cities and many others with the ongoing support they need to help turn their plans into action.

Additional photos from the Forum are available on the C40 Flickr page. For more coverage of this event, see the blog article by Val Smith, Citi’s Director and Head of Corporate Sustainability. For more information on the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, please contact Skye d’Almeida, C40 Sustainable Infrastructure Finance Network Manager on

What Can We Learn from Thailand’s Inclusive Approach to Upgrading Informal Settlements?

Thu, 2016-05-12 20:15

Housing along the canals in Bangkok. Photo by Alex Berger/Flickr

Currently, an estimated one billion people worldwide live in informal settlements where they lack access to basic services and infrastructure and are often threatened with forced eviction. While the overall proportion of the world’s urban population living in informal settlements has decreased in recent years, the absolute number is expected to increase to 3 billion by 2050 due to rapid urban population growth mainly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa—the world’s poorest regions.

Last month in Pretoria, South Africa, governments, NGOs, academics and members of informal communities convened for the UN Habitat thematic meeting on informal settlements. The Pretoria Declaration, which emerged from the discussions, stresses the importance of empowering the poor, upgrading settlements in place rather than relocating people, developing a range of tenure arrangements and establishing new financial mechanisms.

This is easier said than done. Cities often struggle to address the challenge of informal settlements. However, some initiatives, like Thailand’s Baan Mankong program, offer a glimpse of an instructive and locally-adaptable solution that can work at scale. The Bann Mankong program improved the lives and living conditions of more than 90,000 households in 1,546 communities across Thailand between 2003 and 2011 while spending the equivalent of just $570 per family. Urban decision makers can learn a lot by looking at Baan Mankong’s story

Thailand’s Baan Mankong Program Empowers Poor Communities to Take Ownership of Their Own Housing Development

Traditionally, slum upgrading is planned, administered and funded solely by the government or a third party. As a result, the community is often excluded from the planning and implementation process, leading to fragmented improvements in a few targeted slums.

Instead of treating residents as just beneficiaries of government aid, the Baan Mankong program (“secure housing” in Thai) facilitates a process that is entirely community driven. The program supports networks of poor communities to survey and map all the poor and informal settlements across the city and develop plans for comprehensively upgrading them. Residents partner or consult with experts from local governments, NGOs and academia, but it’s the members of individual settlements that take the lead in surveying and mapping the community, developing plans and budgets for upgrading housing and infrastructure and negotiating some kind of secure land tenure—the ability to live somewhere without fear of eviction. Once the communities have reached an agreement on the land tenure and have completed their upgrading plans and budgets, the implementing agency, Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), issues infrastructure subsidies and/or subsidized loans directly to the community. This empowers the poor to determine where and how they want to improve their community.

When it comes to housing, this means putting communities in charge of identifying land and building their own homes. Through the Baan Mankong program, communities have full authority to negotiate land deals and tenure directly with public or private landowners, including the owner of the land they currently occupy. These negotiations can be difficult, as the community is forced to prioritize their tenure, spatial and geographical preferences, given the constraints of available land and limited resources.

For example, communities may accept less secure tenure arrangements, such as long-term leaseholds, in order to remain in an area near jobs. A community that wishes to remain in an area where land is in short supply may decide to forgo development of larger, detached homes, opting instead to build denser communities of smaller two or three-story row houses.

While every project is different, Baan Mankong’s community-driven process empowers communities to determine how best to meet their unique needs. Between 2003 and 2011, more than 60 percent of the households involved were able to negotiate land deals that allowed them to remain in place and more than 78 percent were either able to negotiate a long-term lease (43 percent) or cooperative land ownership with title (35 percent).

A Closer Look at Why Baan Mankong’s Approach Works

The success of the Baan Mankong program is the result of the financial capacities and social support networks it creates. To qualify for the program, communities must first establish a savings and loan group and register themselves as a cooperative—bringing them together financially and politically. The combination of these two requirements brings a number of benefits.

First, individuals within informal settlements often have very little in terms of equity or assets. They often face unemployment or irregular income, which can make traditional loans and rigid payment deadlines unviable. By pooling resources together within a savings and credit group, the community is able to unlock new financial options—like small emergency and livelihood loans for members who would never qualify for formal bank loans otherwise.

Second, the combination of these two requirements allows residents to function as one and support one another, signaling the community’s ability to effectively organize and manage themselves and their finances. Because loans are issued directly to the cooperative, the burden of repayment falls on the entire community. If one family becomes unable to make a payment on its housing loan, the community has a vested interest in finding a solution. In this way, the community serves as a social and financial support network for members.

Third, the government-subsidized loans allow cooperatives to charge a slightly higher, yet still affordable, interest rates. This additional money is placed in a reserve fund that the cooperative can draw from to cover late payments and community managed welfare programs—another form of protection to ensure that the community does not default on its loan and that its most vulnerable members are supported.

Lastly, the program sets ownership requirements that overcome a common challenge to slum upgrading. Market forces often encourage the poor to sell their homes and return to slums, resulting in the gentrification of upgraded communities and eventual displacement of poor residents. The Baan Mankong program overcomes this by requiring the community to keep its land for a 15-year term. This long-term, obligatory commitment helps the community meet the often difficult process of loan repayment and adjust to functioning as a cooperative. After the loan is repaid, each community can then choose whether to maintain the cooperative or switch to individual ownership.

Inspiration for the New Urban Agenda

Community-driven upgrading initiatives that allow inhabitants to collectively manage their own funds, determine their priorities, negotiate forms of tenure and design and implement their own housing projects are achieving success at scale and offer insights for further exploration. Employing a similar model, the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) implemented a large-scale and ambitious five-year project, the Asian Coalition for Community Action Program (ACCA), which supported citywide slum upgrading in 215 cities in 19 countries throughout Asia.

Models such as ACCA and the Baan Mankong program reflect the Pretoria Declaration’s emphasis on community empowerment via control over the upgrading process, resource allocation decisions, collective financing mechanisms, and provisions of different types of tenure. While it is important for initiatives to adapt to the local context, aspects of these success stories in Asia are worth keeping in mind in the lead-up to Habitat III conference in Quito and the New Urban Agenda – the strategy document to guide urbanization across the world for the next two decades.

A forthcoming WRI working paper looks at informal housing in the broader context of access to affordable housing within the city and urban services challenges. This paper will be part of the next World Resources Report (WRR) on Sustainable Cities, which explores how cities can become more economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable and socially equitable.                                                                                                  

Special thanks to Somsook Boonyabancha and Thomas Kerr who spent several days with WRI staff sharing their knowledge and experiences.

4 Surprising Ways Energy-Efficient Buildings Benefit Cities

Wed, 2016-05-11 18:30

Building efficiency offers benefits to cities. Photo by Hsiuan Boyen/Flickr

Urbanization presents major challenges: congestion, sprawl, inefficiency, health hazards and high cost of living, just to name a few. But the choices we make for our cities can transform these challenges into opportunities: mobility, connectivity, economies of scale, healthier lifestyles and economic opportunity.

Experts spend a lot of time identifying solutions to seed these transformations, but too often they forget about cities’ most iconic landmarks—buildings. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is an often overlooked strategy that can help alleviate many of the challenges cities face—from climate change to public health problems to unemployment and poverty.

New WRI research examines the vital role building efficiency can play in shaping sustainable cities of the future, as well as ways policymakers can accelerate it in their own communities. Here’s a look at four of the economic, social and environmental opportunities building efficiency creates:

1. Buildings are large, long-lasting investments. Efficient buildings provide better social and financial returns.

The construction sector represents 10 percent of world GDP, 10 percent of the workforce, and, in emerging markets, will likely make up 16.7 percent of GDP by 2025. This is a lot of money spent on buildings. These are good, long-term investments, especially because buildings last 40 years or more and construction creates more jobs than other sectoral investments.

Investments in the building sector are less risky and create better returns when directed toward energy-efficient buildings. Globally, buildings and construction are responsible for 60 percent of electricity use, 12 percent of water use, 40 percent of waste, and 40 percent of material resource use. In cities, buildings occupy 50 percent or more of the land area. Each of these is a cost, but each efficiency improvement in energy and resource use removes a cost that the city and its residents no longer have to pay.  For example, each additional $1 invested on energy efficiency avoids more than $2 on energy supply spending. Efficiency savings free up money for other investments, stretching scarce resources.  .

Improvements in efficiency are particularly important for the lowest income urban residents, who pay a larger portion of their income on energy and are least able to afford higher energy prices or cope with unexpected fluctuations in energy costs.

Comparison of the lifespans of energy-consuming equipment and infrastructure

2. Building efficiently the first time offers huge economic opportunities, particularly for developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

With cities expected to add 3 billion people between 2008 and 2050, almost doubling the global urban population, the world is poised for a building explosion. In fact, an area equal to roughly 60 percent of the world’s current total building stock will be built or rebuilt in urban areas by 2030, mostly in developing or emerging countries such as China, India and Indonesia. Without changes in construction practice, related emissions are also expected to skyrocket.

But how cities choose to build makes a big difference. There is tremendous potential to implement best-in-class building practices in new construction in rapidly growing countries. These countries could in reap the economic and climate benefits of energy-efficient buildings and avoid “locking in” decades of inefficiency and the need for more costly renovations later.

Projections for building sector emissions, by region.

3. Building efficiency is one of the most affordable ways to curb climate change.

In addition to reducing infrastructure costs and household expenses, building efficiency also provides the most bang for the buck in reducing climate change-causing emissions. Efficiency improvements in buildings often have low or no marginal cost, or provide a return on investment in the form of energy cost savings in as quickly as six months to a year. This is a significant difference from emissions-saving investments in other sectors such as agriculture or transport, which are relatively expensive or result in lower emissions reductions.

Economic mitigation potential in buildings, agriculture, industry, energy supply, forestry, transport and waste sectors

4. Building efficiency can significantly reduce illness and death related to air pollution, particularly in the places suffering the most.

Every year, approximately 3.3 million deaths are caused by energy-related outdoor air pollution—such as smog from coal-fired power plants—and 3.5 million deaths are due to indoor smoke. The highest rates of exposure are in developing cities, where people are dependent on indoor fuel combustion for heating and cooking. In China and India, the regions with the highest air pollution-related mortality rates, the largest contributors to these deaths are residential and commercial energy use—buildings are at the heart of the problem.

Energy-efficient buildings reduce indoor air pollution because they offer cleaner combustion and better ventilation than traditional buildings. And because they use less energy, they also curb outdoor pollution by reducing the fossil fuel pollution created by power generation. Reduction in indoor and outdoor air pollutants can decrease incidence of illnesses such as asthma and lung cancer, as well as lower the rate of premature deaths. This saves not only lives, but also the financial and social costs of medical treatment and lost productivity.

Deaths associated with outdoor air pollution in 2010

Sources for air pollution linked to increased mortality

Efficient buildings—those that make highly productive use of natural resources—are vital to achieving sustainable development. By investing in them today, cities can yield “triple bottom line” benefits—including economic, social and environmental opportunities—long into the future.

Financing Sustainable Solutions: What Cities Need to Deliver on COP21 Commitments and Beyond

Thu, 2016-05-05 23:52

A view of Rio de Janeiro’s Transcarioca Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Corridor. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil/WRI Brasil

Cities are at the forefront of combatting climate change. Many cities and municipal governments and agencies were party to the Paris Agreement reached at COP21 in December, and many have committed to ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and meaningful climate strategies they must now implement. I recently participated in the first-of-its-kind global financing forum, hosted by the City of Rio de Janeiro, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), World Resources Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities(WRI) and the Citi Foundation, where decision-makers from the private sector and nearly 20 global city governments convened to discuss the financial challenges cities face in pursuit of their sustainable climate strategies. The Financing Sustainable Cities Forum highlighted cities’ priorities around delivering sustainable urban solutions, including: cutting red tape, transit-oriented development and public-private partnerships.

An overriding theme of the forum was the sense of urgency many cities expressed for greater technical expertise in setting up public-private partnerships, a mode of project delivery that cities are increasingly looking to as a means of more efficiently delivering urban services. While public-private partnerships are great tools for leveraging private capital, their details determine how risks, revenues and costs are shared between a city and private partners over the term of a project. Experience and expertise are both required to ensure a strong partnership.

Forum attendees also emphasized the need for guidance in how to encourage an appropriate regulatory environment that will enable these emerging new urban strategies. For example, car-sharing, ride-sharing, and bike-sharing systems are taking off in cities around the globe, but many cities still have laws ranging from taxi licensing to helmet regulations that either hamper these new services or outlaw them entirely. Cities are reluctant to change longstanding regulations without knowledge of what has been successful elsewhere.

Finally, a strong interest in transit-oriented development matched the results of the U.S.-focused Menino Survey of Mayors, which Citi supported. Transit development is often a complex dance of system funding, land use planning and the engagement of private sector property developers and existing community members. Spurring development along a new or existing transit corridor takes more than simply building the system itself. Cities usually need to create a mix of land use changes, financial incentives, and community engagement to promote successful developments around transit, and challenges vary from one location to another.

While we saw significant sharing of best practices, attendees also walked away with city-specific finance action plans that included practical steps they can take over the next 12-18 months to improve the productivity, livability and sustainability of their cities. The event strengthened links between cities around common interests and C40 will support the cities to continue to collaborate after the workshop through focused working groups and C40 peer-to-peer networks.

Although financing innovation and enabling progress in cities around the world is at the very core of Citi’s DNA and the Citi Foundation’s commitment to promoting greater economic opportunities, we also recognize that innovation doesn’t just miraculously materialize; sometimes it needs a little push. In the world of sustainable financing, cities and bankers are often frustrated in their efforts to bridge the gap between what cities want – to achieve their sustainability goals through innovative new approaches – and the current reality of the financing options that are feasible and accessible. Historically, municipal infrastructure finance relied on the monolithic model of a single city agency, business unit and infrastructure project. But that model is largely obsolete. Today, a wide variety of urban stakeholders are learning to work together – across silos – to tackle some of our most pressing local and global challenges.

This Forum was the first of several convenings being supported by Citi Foundation and its Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative with C40 and WRI. For more information on Citi’s work with cities, please visit Citi for Cities.

A New Coalition Will Prove Sustainable Cities Are Better for Growth, Better for Climate

Thu, 2016-05-05 17:30

A view of the Mumbai Skyline. Photo by Vistyb/Flickr

Cities are all about efficiency. It’s why they exist: to allow easy access to jobs, goods, services and ideas. However, in many countries, new and expanding cities are sprawling, car-dependent and uncoordinated – a set-up that’s not only inefficient, but carbon-intensive.

Thankfully, a new vision for sustainable urban growth is spreading, emphasizing the economic and environmental benefits of compact, connected and coordinated cities. More efficient urban growth can drive a productive, equitable economy while limiting traffic accidents, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Wide consensus is forming among national and local leaders, who understand the economic case for an urban transition. But while we have agreed on a better vision for future cities, what remains to be seen is the “how” of the transition.

To find these solutions, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, New Climate Economy and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group are teaming up to launch the Coalition for Urban Transitions. The Coalition, unveiled during today’s Climate Action 2016 Summit, will bring together global leaders and evidence-based solutions to make the economic case for a new model of urban development: one that is more productive, safer, healthier, more inclusive and lower carbon.

Working with 20 partner organizations, the Coalition will develop a continuous stream of economic evidence and policy strategies to help national and local decision-makers working towards a transition. It will be championed by a high-profile Urban Leadership Group, expected to include members of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and other prominent city, national and international leaders.

Together, these institutions and individuals span the globe. What they all share is a common purpose: unlocking a better urban future for all.

This will be one of the first major international initiatives to focus on the economics of urban transitions, and will focus in particular on the role of national policymakers. Through high-level thought leadership and a series of country studies, the Coalition will help put effective urban infrastructure investment where it belongs—at the heart of national economic development planning.

The Economic Case for Better Urbanization

Analysis by the New Climate Economy finds that investing in public transit, building efficiency and waste management in cities could unlock an economic dividend worth almost $17 trillion by 2050 from energy savings alone – and that’s just a fraction of the wider benefits. This could also reduce carbon emissions each year by more than the current annual emissions of India.

Evidence-based solutions like improved finance for infrastructure, integrated land-use planning, and transit-oriented development can empower sustainable, economically dynamic cities. For example, WRI Ross Center research shows that investing in sustainable transport could save as much as $300 billion per year, while C40’s Transit Oriented Development Network is advancing policies for integrated land use and transportation.

Better Planning for Better Cities

Individual cities often do not have the resources to carry out large-scale investments in smart urban infrastructure. Only 4 percent of the 500 largest cities in developing countries are deemed creditworthy in international financial markets.

National governments, though, working hand-in-hand with cities and the private sector, can unlock the power of urban areas to invest and innovate. For example, national leaders and ministers can:

  • Develop national urban infrastructure strategies (like China’s National Plan for New Urbanization) and set up integrated land use and transport authorities to more effectively plan and connect urban growth;
  • Reduce or eliminate fossil fuel subsidies to remove incentives for car-centric development and encourage more sustainable transport;
  • Change planning laws to encourage mixed-use development over sprawled, segmented cities; and
  • Scale up innovative finance mechanisms to support large-scale urban infrastructure projects.

National economic planning has too long ignored the real importance of cities, so that’s where the Coalition for Urban Transitions comes in. It will link city-level strategies with broader economic development planning, so that individual city efforts add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Next Steps

The Coalition will work on the ground with three to five rapidly urbanizing countries on their national urban infrastructure and financing strategies. Potential countries include China, India and a number of rapidly urbanizing African, South Asian and Latin American economies. The work will be demand-driven, based on timely and relevant research, and done in close collaboration with key economic decisionmakers.

There’s evidence this method of change works. Last year, the New Climate Economy collaborated with the Ethiopian government to inform its national level urbanization strategy. It found that Ethiopia’s development was too focused on its capital, Addis Ababa, at the expense of its other cities. The Unlocking the Power of Ethiopia’s Cities report mapped out potential city clusters and corridors of economic activity that could enhance the role of secondary cities without taking away from Addis’s growth. Policymakers incorporated this more efficient approach into Ethiopia’s new Five Year Growth and Transformation Plan, which is being implemented today.

With the help of the Coalition for Urban Transitions, leaders at all levels can be empowered to transform cities through relevant research and locally appropriate policies. By working to inform economic development planning, we can have better cities, better growth and a better climate.

For more information on the new initiative, visit 

How Does Your City Prioritize Energy Efficiency Actions? Participate Now in a New Survey!

Tue, 2016-05-03 20:09

Photo by Brendan Corey Benson/Flickr.

Are you involved with decision making, operations or investments in the buildings and real estate sector? If the answer is yes, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities invites you to please share your insights in a survey designed to expand our understanding of energy efficiency in cities.

Since 2007, Johnson Controls and partner organizations have regularly conducted the Energy Efficiency Indicator survey, which looks at the trends and challenges that decision makers cite as influential when they make choices about energy efficiency and buildings. You can view results from previous editions of the survey on the Building Efficiency Initiative website.

This year, there are five new questions specifically for policymakers and staff who manage, budget or are responsible for investments in local government facilities or who set subnational policy. These new questions align with the eight building efficiency actions that the Building Efficiency Initiative at WRI has been working on, and the results will help the team better assist cities in identifying efficiency priorities.

If you are a decision maker or local government policymaker, click here to respond to the survey. The survey takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, and closes on Friday, May 13. In the following months, we will follow up to report back with our findings.

Delhi’s Air Quality Crisis: Lessons from Beijing, Mexico and Bogotá

Fri, 2016-04-29 01:17

Delhi, India. Photo by Andrew Kadis/Flickr

With 26 million inhabitants, Delhi’s metropolitan area is the fifth largest in the world. But the city also has terrible air quality, with an annual average particulate matter 15 times the recommendation of the World Health Organization. Air pollution is responsible for 10,000 to 30,000 annual premature deaths in Delhi, and is the fifth leading cause of premature death in India, with 620,000 deaths every year.

This high level of harmful pollutants is a consequence of various problems with the city’s transport system. Most of the particles come from the tailpipe of motor vehicles and dust from traffic in unpaved or poorly maintained streets. Delhi has the largest vehicle fleet in India, with close to 7.5 million units. According to India’s Center for Science and the Environment, motor vehicles are the “Silent Killer” of Indian people.

Delhi’s response to the poor air quality has been a series of policies. In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered sulfur content in diesel fuels be reduced from 1 percent to 0.05 percent by 2001. Then, in 1998 the Supreme Court ordered that all commercial vehicles (buses, taxis and three-wheeled “auto-rickshaws”) be converted to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) by 2002. At the same time, strict emission standards were developed for all vehicles. Metro operations started in 2000, and the system has become one of the fastest growing urban rail networks in the world, with 213 kilometers (125 miles) carrying 2.4 million passengers per day.

Delhi strategy was successful during the early years. Particulate matter fell by 16 percent between 2002 and 2007, but it started to increase dramatically after 2007, as motorization and average trip lengths in the megacity grew as well. What went wrong? One plausible response is that the strategy was incomplete, not taking into account policies and decisions that promoted urban expansion to the surrounding states of Haryana and Upi. This included the large-scale expansion of the road network, expressways and flyovers, unrestricted ownership and use of motor vehicles, increase in the number of light duty diesel vehicles (SUVs) and growth in unsustainable fuel subsidies.

As a result of the air quality crisis in 2015, the local government experimented with license plate restrictions, separating even-odd plate numbers during a 15 day trial period. It brought congestion relief, but did not reduce air pollution by much. One side effect of reduced congestion was faster bus rides for six million commuters. The experiment was repeated again in April 2016. These restrictions may seem useful in the short term, but do not solve the problem.

So what else should the city do to reduce air pollution? Beijing, México and Bogotá’s experiences fighting air pollution can provide some clues.

Beijing’s Air Quality Stabilizes amid Rapid Economic Growth

The Chinese capital has also faced very difficult challenges, but in 2015 its air quality registered at about one-third of Delhi’s PM2.5 level. This progress can be attributed to high investment in public transport (metro and buses), combined with transport demand management (TDM) measures. Bejing introduced plate restrictions during the Summer Olympic Games in 2006, and the city currently restricts 20 percent of the fleet according to plate numbers. In 2010, Beijing introduced a vehicle registration quota which distributes only 20,000 new licenses every month through a lottery system—reducing the number of vehicles permitted. Currently, city authorities are discussing the possibility of implementing a congestion charge.

By the end of 2015, the city’s economy had continued to grow 6.9 percent. The air quality situation was promising, with stable concentrations compared to the previous two winters, but still 5 times the limits recommended by the WHO.

Mexico City Makes Great Strides, But Recently Declares Emergency

Mexico City’s local government has been working to improve its air quality for more than three decades, focusing first on technology and then shifting to a focus on sustainable mobility. In the 1980s, the city ordered a reduction of the lead content in gasoline, closed a petrol refinery in the Valley of Mexico and relocated industries to the periphery. In 1989, it also introduced emission control standards for manufacturing firms and prepared an air quality plan, which included a reduction of the sulfur content in diesel as well as car restrictions.

The air quality plan was accompanied by improvements to the public transport system and a greater focus on walking and cycling. The city expanded the Metro system (Line 12, 20 kilometers, 367 thousand passengers per day), built the Suburban Rail Buenavista-Cuatitlán (27 kilometers, 150,000 passengers per day) and implemented the Metrobús BRT system (125 kilometers, the most extensive BRT network in the Americas, moving one million passengers per day). Mexico City also launched and expanded a successful bike share system called Ecobici and a network of dedicated bicycle lanes. They also pedestrianized key streets downtown and introduced an on-street parking management system called Ecoparq.

Mexico City’s PM levels have been falling since the 1980s, but the city has experienced a recent spike. Graph by

All this helped improve air quality while also improving access to mobility. Particulate matter smaller than PM10 fell from an average of 160 µg/m3 in 1989 to 40 in 2014. Nevertheless, Mexico City’s air quality has recently taken a turn for the worse. On March 4, 2016 the city declared the first air quality contingency in 14 years. The crisis is the result of not advancing emission standards (México still keeps Euro IV standards), an aging fleet and delays in the plan to reduce sulfur content in diesel fuel.

México, like Delhi, has also experienced rapid growth of its vehicle fleet—from three million in 2000 to close to nine million today. Urban expressways (“Segundo Piso” or second floor) have also expanded quickly. Exemptions to the “Hoy no Circula” policy on vehicle restrictions made it a very ineffective measure. Although vehicle ownership grew threefold, the plate restrictions ended up affecting only 3 percent of the vehicle fleet in 2016. However, with the recent air quality crisis, the city eliminated the exemptions and reinstated restrictions not only for cars but also motorcycles, including new vehicles.

Fortunately, Mexican authorities are conscious that this is only an emergency response, and that the city will need to focus on sustainable mobility and transport demand management measures in the future.

Bogotá Makes Steady Progress, But Is Not There Yet

Bogotá has also shown progress in air quality management, but it still has not met the standard set by the WHO. As in Mexico, progress is the result of a mix of multiple measures focused not just on air quality, but on improving mobility in general for the city’s residents. Average levels of PM10 have declined from 100 µg/m3 in 2015 to 50 in 2015 (though still 2.5 times the WHO’s recommended average).

The city has reduced sulfur content in diesel fuel, introduced traffic restrictions to trucks and buses and replaced public vehicles with newer technologies, including 428 hybrid electric buses.  These measures reinforce steps that Bogota has taken since 1998: license plate restrictions (initially 40 percent of the fleet, now 50 percent in an even-odd scheme during peak hours), the construction of the BRT System TransMilenio (now 113 km long, serving 2.4 million passengers per day) and the implementation of an extensive bike network (now 410 kilometers long). Bicycle use in the city has increased from less than 1 percent of total trips in 1998 to 4.5 percent in 2015 and public transport has remained stable over the last 20 years.

With steadily falling PM levels, Bogota’s air quality is improving, but the city has not yet achieved the WHO’s recommend level. Source: Dr. Nestor Rojas, National University of Colombia, with data form the Air Quality Monitoring Network, managed by the Secretary of Environment, Bogotá.

In the near future, the city will need to finalize the implementation of the integrated public transport system, initiate new projects—like the first metro line—and expand and improve TransMilenio and the bike network. The goal of the 2010-2020 air decontamination plan is to achieve average concentrations below 20 µg/m3 of PM10 and less than 10 µg/m3 of PM2.5. Achieving this is possible, but will require continual work.

A Matter of Life and Death

Some cities facing air quality problems have resorted to extreme measures, like banning vehicles from circulation. These emergency measures can be useful in the short term, but they are ineffective in the medium and long term. Structural changes are needed, not just to improve air quality, but to meet people’s mobility needs. Cities need transport demand management (TDM) measures, like parking management and congestion charge, as well as more high-quality public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling. Avoiding sprawl through compact, connected and coordinated urban development is also an important part of the equation, along with clean fuel technologies and emissions standards. Improving air quality is a matter of life and death.

This blog continues the discussion on Air Quality in Global Cities at Connect Karo 2016, an annual conference organized by WRI India. To learn more, click here.  

Pioneering Open Government Innovations in São Paulo and Austin with the OGP Subnational Pilot Program

Tue, 2016-04-19 21:27

Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Gabriela Sakamoto/Flickr.

Cities are where real progress is made for sustainable development. They’re where governments are closest to their citizens and where essential public services like education, health and transport are delivered to people. However, with this proximity comes a responsibility for cities to be more transparent, accountable, and responsive to their citizens’ needs. A more open government at the local level can directly improve quality of life for all.

Last week (April 12, 2016), the Open Government Partnership—a global organization that works with countries voluntarily committing to greater openness and transparency—announced that it is opening up membership to subnational governments, including cities, municipalities and regional bodies. Fifteen pioneers in open government were selected for their commitment and leadership in driving innovation and reform at the local level.

To celebrate this step forward, we’re highlighting two of the fifteen urban pioneers—Austin, Texas and São Paulo, Brazil—who have made incredible strides towards improving people’s quality of life through open government.

Open Data for Better Transport in São Paulo, Brazil

With 11.3 million residents, São Paulo is one of the OGP’s largest subnational nominees. The city has been working towards a more open government by focusing on technology and has opened up data and decision making processes to support public participation. For example, the new Open São Paulo Portal has enabled more citizens to be part of decisions made about the budget as well as services like transport and education. The Open São Paulo Portal served as the starting platform for two laboratories, Mobilab and LabProdam, and continues to provide a collaborative space for citizens, tech innovators and the public sector to advance collective goals like better mobility.

Mobilab is a partnership between São Paulo’s public transport and planning agencies, private operators (like Easy Taxi), local citizens, universities and innovators. Established in response to public protests and dissatisfaction with public transit services and rising bus fares, Mobilab was founded on the principles of public participation and open data. The city recognized the need to innovate new transport solutions while also increasing transparency and public satisfaction. Opening up data from traffic signals, parking meters and public transit GPS systems, the lab has supported the creation of many mobile apps that have improved the way transit users plan their trips and travel throughout the city.

Similarly, LabProdam is an organization looking to “develop tools aimed at improving social participation, transparency, innovation, and integrity and conduct discussions and activities on open government, especially in the area of technological innovation”. One product they’ve developed is the Contador de Ciclista or “Cyclist Counter,” which measures the use of bike lanes throughout the city using simple technologies like webcams and mobile apps. The cycling data is then made public for cycling advocates, city planners and elected officials.

Citizen Engagement in Urban Planning in Austin, Texas

Over the past five years, Austin has embraced the open government movement as well as democratic innovation and citizen engagement. For example, instead of an executive decision by city officials, the city council openly debated their application to join the OGP pioneer program. A Council Resolution was passed to support the city’s participation, showing support for the principles of transparency, accountability and responsiveness.

Two excellent examples of civil society engagement are Imagine Austin and Code Next—initiatives that are helping to shape Austin’s urban environment through citizen engagement. Imagine Austin, a master planning and visioning effort adopted in 2012, is founded on co-creation and co-implementation with citizens, community organizations and businesses. The initiative created Austin’s long-term plan, guiding regional development for the past four years. During the two-year planning process, Imagine Austin received over 18,500 public inputs through community forums, social media campaigns, local media outlets, surveys and other media.

Building on recommendations that came from the Imagine Austin planning process, CodeNext is a new, collaborative initiative that revises and updates Austin’s zoning and land use codes. The project works with the community “to preserve, protect and enhance the City’s natural and built environment.” While urban zoning and planning codes are typically considered highly technical in nature, CodeNext is helping to demystify urban development among citizens—drawing on the community’s perspectives and using their input to shape the city’s development.

Creating a Culture of National and Local Collaboration

Over the next 18 months, Austin, São Paulo, and the rest of these 15 selected subnational governments will make progress towards becoming more transparent, accountable, responsive and participatory cities. Additionally, the national governments participating in the OGP will work with urban pioneers both in the pilot program and beyond to help create and implement city-level open government initiatives and policies through national action plans.

Cities will play a large role in helping the world achieve its climate and sustainable development goals—from the Paris Agreement to the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. By prioritizing open government, these cities will also help create a more inclusive and equitable future.

TheCityFix Is Looking for a Writing and Editing Intern!

Fri, 2016-04-15 21:30

TheCityFix, produced by the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, is now accepting applications for a full-time Writing and Editing Intern in its Washington, DC headquarters. Are you up for the challenge? Photo by Carlos Felipe Pardo/Flickr.

Are you passionate about creating sustainable, thriving cities? Do you have the skills to translate complex, technical material into compelling content for an engaged online community? Do you want to work for a top-tier environment and global development research organization?

TheCityFix, an online network dedicated to advancing the conversation on sustainable cities and urban mobility, is now accepting applications for a Communications Intern in its Washington, DC office. TheCityFix is produced by  WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, a global program working to improve quality of life for millions of people around the world.

Read on for more information, or apply today.

About the Job

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is seeking a creative professional to assist its Marketing and Communications team in generating content for blog and news section, as well as monthly email newsletters. This internship is ideal for recent graduates or early-career professionals in communications, marketing, public relations, environmental studies, urban studies, English, liberal arts, or related studies. You will get real world experience in a fast-paced environment. Internships may vary in length depending on your schedule, interest, and abilities.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities integrates WRI’s global analysis and builds on its on-the-ground experience in urban planning, sustainable transport, energy, climate change, water management, and governance. The Center galvanizes action that will help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world. It operates through a global network of offices in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Turkey, and Washington, DC where this internship will be located.


The intern will gain experience in the following areas:

  • 70% Edit, write, and publish online as support to experts
  • 15% Research news stories, blogs, new initiatives and trends, interact with and assist WRI experts in promoting their work
  • 10% Email marketing
  • 5% Organize content on websites, databases, social media


Required qualifications

  • Recent graduate or early-career professional with a degree in communications, marketing, public relations, urban studies, environmental studies, English, liberal arts, or related studies
  • Interest in sustainability marketing and communications
  • Excellent written communication skills
  • Capable of meeting tight deadlines on a regular basis, and organizing an editorial calendar
  • Strong editing/interviewing/note-taking skills
  • Expert knowledge of MS Word
  • Extremely well organized
  • Strong research ability
  • Ability to learn new technologies and online platforms for publishing quickly
  • Taste for graphic design

Preferred qualifications

  • Experiencing writing and editing content for a daily online publisher
  • Knowledge of photo editing software
  • Experience with Drupal 7, WordPress, and Vertical Response
  • Experience in developing marketing materials, working with videos, podcasting, blogs, web content management, graphics and email systems
  • Basic knowledge of HTML
  • Proficiency in Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, and/or Mandarin Chinese a plus

Final candidates will be required to take a writing test.

Salary: This is a paid intern position with an hourly rate based on experience.

Duration: 6 months, starting immediately

Location: Washington, DC

Qualified applicants should apply online at All applications must be submitted online through this career portal in order to be formally considered. 


About WRI

The World Resources Institute is a global research organization that goes beyond research to put ideas into action. We work with governments, companies, and civil society to build solutions to urgent environmental challenges. WRI’s transformative ideas protect the earth and promote development because sustainability is essential to meeting human needs and fulfilling human aspirations in the future.

Established in 1982, WRI is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization respected globally by policymakers, NGOs, and corporate leaders because of the rigorous quality, balance, and independence of its work. With its think-tank roots, WRI values innovative ideas, working collaboratively, and thinking independently. WRI employees see the results of their hard work and have the satisfaction of making a significant difference in the world.

Currently a $50 million organization with an international staff of approximately 350, WRI has offices in the U.S., China, India, Brazil and more, and active projects in more than 50 countries. WRI provides objective information and practical proposals for policy and institutional change that foster environmentally sound, socially equitable development.

A New Way to Measure Road Safety That Doesn’t Wait for Crashes to Happen

Fri, 2016-04-15 21:08

Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Dario Hidalgo.

In order to improve road safety, decision makers need accurate information about their city’s streets. Traditionally, road safety analysis has relied on historical data of actual crashes. However, the drawback of this “crash-based approach” is that it is reactive—we have to wait for crashes to occur in order to prevent them. And in developing countries, this data is often poor-quality and limited.

Instead of analyzing past crashes, a more proactive approach is to analyze traffic conflicts. A traffic conflict is a scenario that could have resulted in a crash, but didn’t because the drive took some action—slowing down, changing direction or sounding the car horn. A key advantage of thinking about traffic conflicts rather than crashes is that they occur more frequently, making it possible to conduct studies in a much shorter time span. In a high-traffic situation, only several days are needed to collect enough data required for a conflict-based analysis, whereas a traditional crash-based approach would require a minimum of three to five years.

Because of this flexibility, more cities should turn to conflict analysis as a way to measure and assess road safety.

Better Technologies Have Helped Improve Analysis Accuracy

Because the process of a serious conflict is almost identical to that of a serious crash, analyzing traffic conflicts can provide insight into how crashes happen. When researchers only look at crashes, which are relatively infrequent compared to conflicts, they are only looking at the tip of the iceberg. Taking into account conflicts provides a much more holistic picture of the road safety situation.

Hyden’s Safety Pyramid (adapted from Hyden, 1987)

Although more studies are needed, the few conflict studies that exist have been able to predict crashes just as accurately as those that analyze historical crash data. These studies have been particularly accurate for situations involving pedestrians or resulting in injuries or fatalities.

Early traffic conflict studies required a team of trained human observers who could physically recognize, assess and record the frequency and potential severity of traffic conflicts. However, this kind of manual observation can be both resource and time intensive, and can sometimes lead to variability in the data. As a result, researchers have been increasingly moving towards automating the process of traffic conflict analysis, using low-cost sensors to create a video-based analysis. The sensors record information about traffic continuously and use sophisticated software to map all road users’ trajectories. Furthermore, researchers can often simply use existing CCTV infrastructure and inexpensive consumer-grade video sensors to collect highly-detailed traffic data. It doesn’t have to be overly complex or expensive.

Putting Theory into Practice in Bogota, Colombia

In partnership with Brisk Synergies, a team from WRI Ross Center of Sustainable Cities has conducted pilot studies using automated video-based conflict analyses in Bogota, Colombia.

The selected site for the pilot study was an eastbound section of Calle 80, a popular arterial street which extends east-west through the city. A 40 meter-long gap in the street’s raised median allows drivers to change lanes and, despite road markings indicating one-way merging, it’s common for drivers to merge in both directions (left to right and right to left). From 2011 to 2015, six crashes have been recorded along this short segment, two of which resulted in severe injuries and four which only resulted in property damage.

Conflicts of interest: Movement A involves a vehicle (or motorcycle) making lane change from right to left vs. through traffic vehicle (or motorcycle); and Movement B involves a vehicle (or motorcycle) making lane change from left to right vs. through-traffic vehicle (or motorcycle).

The video data was collected with consumer-grade visible light cameras (GoPro HERO4 Session) with settings at HD resolution and 30 frames per second. Over a two hour period, the camera was temporarily mounted on a pedestrian bridge.

Temporary installation of camera. Photo by authors.

Snippet of collected video data. Photo by authors.

The results of the video-based conflict analysis found that:

  • 6.8 percent of detected and tracked motorists made lane changes
  • 72.7 percent of all lane-changing motorists are involved in some sort of conflict

From this analysis, the research team created heat maps tracking where conflicts occurred. These maps showed that conflicts occurred very close to the median, suggesting that many motorists get stuck in the lane next to the median waiting for an opportunity to merge. The short distance of this gap in the median and the high travel speeds indicates that closing the gap could help improve safety.

Heatmaps of conflicts. Graphic by authors.

Changing the Paradigm around Road Safety Improvements

Despite the many advantages of conflict analysis, many road safety analysts lack an understanding of the opportunity, limiting practitioners’ acceptance of non-crash based approaches. However, with the international development community’s widespread acceptance of Vision Zero to improve road safety, cities shouldn’t wait for crashes to happen in order to analyze and fix dangerous areas. Given these recent innovations in technology, cities should embrace a conflict analysis approach to better understand the urban environment and improve safety for all.

This blog post was based on the following research: Chang, A., S. Zangenehpour, L. F. Miranda-Moreno, and C. Chung. 2016. Why wait for crashes to happen to prevent them? From reactive to proactive road safety analysis. 

Sustainable Transport Investment Could Save $300 Billion a Year—within Existing Financial Flows

Mon, 2016-04-11 21:30

Rio de Janeiro’s TransCarioca bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor. Photo by WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities/Flickr.

Investing in sustainable transport infrastructure is something national and local leaders want as a way to cut climate-warming emissions – 23 percent of the global total – generated by the world’s transportation systems. But it has become a daunting prospect due to the public perception that it’s prohibitively expensive. New research that compares both high-carbon and low-carbon paths for transportation shows that public perception is mistaken: a low-carbon investment strategy is actually more affordable than the carbon-intensive way. The potential savings could be $300 billion each year and is within existing financial flows.

How Much Investment?

The latest research from WRI projects that to stay on course to keep the planet from warming more than 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels, we will need $2 trillion in annual global capital investment to building low-carbon transport, with a $300 billion annual saving compared to fossil-fueled business as usual, which would bring 4 degrees C (7.2 degreess F) of global warming. This figure is based on  reviews, analysis and consolidated estimates of near-term global infrastructure requirements from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Economic Forum (WEF), the McKinsey Global Institute, the New Climate Economy (NCE) and the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy/University of California, Davis.

This consolidated global estimate of required capital investment in sustainable transport includes what’s needed for construction of new projects and upgrading old ones, taking in the projected cost of land transport – such as roads, parking, bus rapid transit and rail – and airports, seaports and inter-regional transportation systems.

The synthesis of estimates produced two different scenarios: a 2 degrees C pathway for transport costing $2 trillion per year and a business-as-usual scenario that would see 4 degrees C of warming at a cost of $2.3 trillion per year. That’s where the $300 billion in savings comes in for a low-carbon strategy.

Compared with current transport capital investment of $1.4 trillion to $2.1 trillion, the 2 degree C scenario is well within financial reach.

The benefits of low-carbon transport go beyond money, offering social, economic and environmental advantages over business as usual. Sustainable transport cuts down on road congestion, air pollution, urban sprawl and the use of motor vehicles. These problems can cost countries about 10 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP). The social costs of road transport in terms of degraded public health and loss of life totaled $3.5 trillion just in China and India. And road congestion can slice into a city’s GDP: 3.5 percent in Buenos Aires, 2.6 percent in Mexico City and 4 percent in Cairo.

Good urban policy can make a difference. For example, Brazil’s National Urban Mobility Law, which makes sustainable transport a priority, allows cities like Belo Horizonte to get public finance from the Brazilian government for comprehensive plans to enhance public transport, integrate transit fares and improve infrastructure for non-motorized forms of transportation.

Shifting Transport Investment

To shift from high-carbon to low-carbon transport investment, national and local policymakers need to influence markets and create policies that encourage the private investment in sustainable solutions. National decision makers — such as ministers of transport and finance – should focus on investment portfolios for sustainable transport. Multilateral Development Banks also play an influential role in offering incentives to make this investment switch by supporting national policies are in line with commitments to tackle the impacts of climate change and build low-carbon transport systems.

Friday Fun: Eating Like a Local Made Easy With Three Street Food Apps

Fri, 2016-04-08 21:29

Street food in Singapore. Photo by Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen/Flickr.

When venturing to foreign cities, generations of adventurous travelers have always been seeking out new ways to find authentic, local cuisine. Street food, ready-to-eat foods and beverages prepared and sold by vendors, are found in cities large and small across the world. From roasted chicken served on sticks on the streets of bustling Kampala, Uganda to spicy, seasoned currywurst hidden in Berlin’s corner shops, street food gives travelers the chance to get out of their comfort zones and to eat like a local.

Finding the best street food isn’t always easy when traveling to a new city, but three apps are making it easier for both locals and travelers to find the best street food. Beyond helping users find their next meal, these mobile applications are helping vendors increase revenues and their customer base—creating opportunities for businesses in the local economy.

Street Food Bangkok

Bangkok is known to tourists and locals as the street food capital of the world. However, the best street food vendors are often hidden throughout the winding alleys and hidden crooks of the city, making it difficult for someone to stumble upon some of the most delicious and authentic Thai dishes. The Bangkok Street Food App was launched in September 2015 by the Thailand Foundation, a unit of Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The app includes information on street food from 120 shops and stalls, covering 25 different types of locally famous dishes. The downloadable app is linked with Google Maps, which gives clear directions and distances from a user’s location to the shops and stalls. Directions are made available in English and Thai if they choose to travel via taxis or other modes of public transport.


Available throughout virtually all of India, street food allows visitors to experience authentically delicious Indian food staples. From the savory and famous Indian street food staple, chaat, to the equally good fried samosas, Indian street food is enjoyed by both locals and visitors.

Finding the best vendor became easier with the STREET SAATHI mobile app, which launched in March 2015 and connects users both foreign and local to connect with the local economy. The app details the location local street sellers and gives users directions on how to reach them. The listings are diverse, from full meals to local sweets, beverages and fruit sellers.

British St. Food

While England might be better known for its historic sites and beautiful landscapes than its culinary tradition, the British food app British St. Food is working to not only change the perception of the British food scene but also build a bigger and stronger street food community throughout the country. Launched in September 2009 and available in cities like London, Liverpool and Dorchester, the food app connects locals and tourists to fresh, cheap and delicious local dishes. From authentically British fish and chips to deliciously marinated kebabs, the app showcases the best street food in Britain and gives visitors and locals the chance to not only find food but also support local businesses. With live GPS maps showing who’s trading where and when, the app details the specials of the best traders, and encourages users to photograph – and review – their food.

What did we miss? Share your favorite street food apps in the comments below!

Why Reducing Speeds Is Key to Improving Traffic Safety

Thu, 2016-04-07 01:57

In order to save lives and reduce congestion, São Paulo, Brazil is lowering the speed limit on roads across the city. Photo by Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

At a training session at the World Bank in Washington, DC two years ago, Dr. Kavi Bhalla  from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health asked attendees to look down at the palms of their hands. The meeting included professionals from all over the world who worked with national and local governments on transport policy and projects. When people hesitantly followed his call and placed their hands in front of their eyes, Dr. Bhalla said “your hands are tarnished with blood”.

This shocking start to the lecture was meant to demonstrate that road planners have been making a grave mistake for 100+ years by using road capacity and speed the key objectives of their work. Indeed, this approach has been a monumental failure. Not only has road construction not improved traffic in urban areas, but it has also increased the number of fatalities and serious injuries. Urban expressways and highways have become “parking lots” during peak hours and deadly traps the rest of the day.

More Road Space = More Congestion, More Fatalities

Mobility does not improve with additional car capacity because of basic economics. Since Ibn Taymiyyah in the XIV Century and John Locke in 1691, it has been clear that demand for a good or service increases as price goes down, all things equal. In road traffic, the principle is the same: when travel time falls, car traffic goes up. Any additional capacity that was gained through road expansion is lost to more traffic due to induced demand  (a.k.a. “rebound effect”) after 3-4 years. As Lewis Munford wrote in 1963: “increasing road width to reduce congestion is the same as loosening your belt to fight obesity.”

At the same time, constructing more urban expressways reduces road safety—particularly in the early stages of a city’s development. As a road is widened to accommodate more traffic, average speeds go up—significantly increasing the risk of fatalities and serious injury. Impact at high speed is beyond the limit of what the average person can survive, putting pedestrians in particular at greater risk. The probability of a pedestrian dying in a crash when hit by a car at 50 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour) is 85 percent.

Shifting the Paradigm

For many years, road safety plans have placed the burden of responsibility on drivers and pedestrians. These traditional plans insist on focusing on educating road users so that they “abide by the traffic rules.” While this can help, it does not solve the road safety problem, as human beings are fallible.

A new approach to road safety, called “Vision Zero” (since 1997 in Sweden) or the “Safe System Approach” (since 1998 in Australia), recognizes that people will make mistakes, and aims to reduce the effects of our mistakes by designing a safer system. This is a considerable change in perspective: the user is no longer held responsible for crashes; instead, responsibility is shared with the designer, builder and manager of the road.

A Slower City Is a Safer City

One result of this change in thinking is that it is no longer acceptable to design urban roads for high speeds. This approach opposes common proposals for building fully segregated urban expressways as a means to solve congestion. Fortunately, cities—not just countries like Sweden and Australia—are moving past the old car-oriented logic:

Of course, Hidalgo, de Blasio, Mancera and Haddad have all encountered challenges. A common response from the public is that speed reductions are absurd. Commentators blame them for making drivers commute more painful, but the reality is that reducing the speed limit only affects average speeds by 3-5 percent. This means that travel times are reduced just 7 seconds per kilometer (12 seconds per mile). Others claim that lower travel speeds result in higher emissions, when there is evidence that indicates otherwise.

Any city serious about road safety should reduce speed limits. But this is about more than simply posting new signs, as compliance is usually low and citywide enforcement is too expensive. The real solution is cities safer by design. This involves changes in road design, increasing the number of pedestrian crossings with traffic lights on arterials, changing intersection design, narrowing traffic lanes, introducing traffic calming devices like road bumps and raised pavements, providing high-quality, connected sidewalks and bike lanes and installing speed cameras for automatic enforcement. It is not just a matter of “education and enforcement.”

If we don’t lower speed limits in our cities, we are committing ourselves to a future full of traffic fatalities and injuries. It’s time to change that.

This article was published in Spanish as an Op Ed in El Tiempo, on March 4, 2016

Sustainability in Westeros: King’s Landing’s Quest to Become a Green City

Fri, 2016-04-01 20:12

Dubrovnik, Croatia, where HBO’s Game of Thrones films scenes of King’s Landing. Photo by Víctor González/Flickr.

This post includes spoilers from season 4 of Game of Thrones.

KING’S LANDING, West. – King Tommen of House Baratheon has signed a decree that will work to make King’s Landing the most sustainable city in the Seven Kingdoms. The decree shocked many, as the capital city has long faced problems with waste management and pollution.

The king has asked his small council to create a Sustainable City Working Group to spearhead the efforts. First on their list: better the living conditions of the communities located outside the city walls. City officials will work to improve sanitation in these settlements and ensure residents have access to clean water. 20,000 gold dragons have also been allocated to repair existing living quarters and build new dwellings in Flea Bottom, one of the poorer areas of the city. The city is recommending that residents purchase additional rushes to better insulate the floors of their home.

King’s Landing is suffering from water and air pollution, clouding the sky and poisoning Blackwater Bay. Image Credit: IBAlex

Air pollution is another ongoing health issue in King’s Landing, with smoke from the many cook fires clouding the sky around city. Many have expressed concern that now that winter is coming, the pollution will only get worse.

“With winter upon us, I can only imagine how hard it will be to breathe once every home is lighting their fires,” one resident of Pigrun Alley told TheCityFix. The city hasn’t outlined a specific plan for reducing wood burning, but has said that it is “exploring ways to improve insulation in city buildings” and is “actively researching wood that produces less smoke when it burns.”

The decree also focuses on reducing food waste, and the Working Group will explore ways to reuse waste from royal events. With another food shortage in sight, preventing starvation will help the city avoid more riots.

The City Watch will work to improve mobility in the busiest areas of the city. During tourneys and other events, the city is often overrun with visitors, creating congestion in the streets and squares of King’s Landing from pedestrians, horses and carts. To reduce equestrian traffic, each horse stabled in the city will be assigned a number, with odd-numbered horses assigned to “Odd” days, and even-numbered horses dedicated to “Even” days. The small council has decided to rely more on ravens—rather than riders—to send out messages.

Copyright © Jeffrey L. Ward / Bantam and or Random House, Inc.

After the Battle of the Blackwater several years ago, the city has struggled to contain the wildfire that still coats the shore by the mouth of the Blackwater Rush. Hundreds of sea birds and fish washed ashore in the months following the battle, and communities bathing in the river have reported skin irritations and rashes.

King Tommen acknowledges the public’s concerns about the feasibility of the plan, but is confident that King’s Landing will be a model of sustainability for years to come.

“From this day on, the Hand, small council and I will work tirelessly to restore Blackwater Bay to its former glory and clean up King’s Landing. In the years ahead, swimmers will return to our banks, fishermen will catch bounties of fish and visitors from all lands will flock here to lay their eyes upon the pristine views from our capital city.”

Happy April Fool’s Day! This year, we’re taking a look at the fictional city of King’s Landing from the popular book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” and the HBO series “A Game of Thrones” to see what a sustainable city would look like in the kingdom. To learn more about the city where the show is filmed, take a look at this behind-the-scenes video.  

Unlock Bangalore: Making the Right Decisions for Sustainable Growth

Thu, 2016-03-31 21:46

To ensure a high quality of life for Bangalore’s residents, the city will need to address traffic congestion, urban expansion and energy efficiency. Photo by bionicgrrrl/Flickr.

Bangalore is India’s third most populous city and is among the top 100 cities that contribute to the global economy. 75 percent of Bengaluru’s income is from the service sector, with over ₹ 500 billion (approximately US $7.6 billion) from IT and real estate. Several Fortune 500 companies have their offices in Bangalore. In 2014, the city received the ninth highest number of foreign investment projects in the world.

While this growth has increased incomes, it has also led to infrastructure problems, like poor quality of water, unreliable power and traffic congestion. Public investments in infrastructure have not kept pace with growth, giving rise to self-provisioning solutions like diesel-powered generators, bore-wells and packaged water that have created environmental and health concerns. Bangalore needs to sustain its economic growth and improve quality of life for its citizens to maintain its appeal for investors and talent. In its attempt to address congestion, limit sprawl and improve efficiency, Bangalore has to now make key decisions on land-use, infrastructure, transport and energy.

Addressing Congestion

In the last 20-30 years, Bangalore has been building wider, faster roads and flyovers in response to the growing number of vehicles in the city. This approach has failed. Not only has it made it unsafe for pedestrians, but it has also resulted in the city having the sixth worst traffic jams in the world. With the metro still under construction, the city’s public bus operator, BMTC, carries the majority of the commuter load—42 percent. However, increasing costs and inefficient operations has resulted in a less than optimal quality of service. Every day, 5.2 million people commute via 6,700 buses operated by BMTC.

To actively address congestion and solve mobility and accessibility issues, Bangalore needs to (1) redesign roads to make them safer for all users, and specifically for pedestrians and cyclists, (2) improve speed and quality of bus-based mass transport, including bus rapid transit (BRT), in addition to Namma Metro, (3) integrate various modes of public transport and intermediate public transport through schedule, fare and physical integration, (4) develop progressive regulations for emerging shared mobility options like ridesharing, carpooling, shared bicycles and taxi aggregators and (5) ensure car-users pay the full cost driving, including the costs of parking and congestion.

Managing Urban Expansion

Bangalore has led the growth of India’s technology industries. These emerging economies are located in the suburbs and peripheries of the main city and have global access. While the core city is undergoing some transformation, the peripheries have seen rapid growth. From 2006 to 2012, the metropolitan region added 1228 square feet per minute. Over 10,000 gated residential developments now dot the region. Areas such as Whitefield and BIAAPA are manifestations of this growth. In order to manage expansion in a sustainable manner, Bangalore needs to:

  1. Move from a traditional static land-use approach for planning and development, and adopt a strategic spatial planning approach.
  2. Leverage the US $2 billion investment in Namma Metro by implementing transit-oriented development principles in its well-serviced core area.
  3. Develop peripheral and satellite ring roads as area-based development projects rather than mere road projects by integrating land-use and transport
  4. Adopt local area planning that allows for improved infrastructure and services for new and existing wards
Improving Energy Efficiency

BESCOM, the city’s electric utility, serves 8.9 million customers—almost the entire population of the city. However, the utility has been struggling to supply sufficient power to meet the 3400 megawatt peak demand. In 2015, due to technical challenges and dropping hydro reserves, the gap between demand and supply was almost 900 megawatts.

Bangalore consumes 40 million units every day, which is projected to increase to 74 million units by 2030. To meet this growing demand, Karnataka proposes to increase generation capacity by 22.5 gigawatts, of which 14.5 gigawatts will come from non-renewable energy sources. Distribution losses are at 14 percent, with additional transmission losses.

In order to reduce the demand-supply gap, the city needs to (1) identify and overcome information, technical and financial barriers to installation of rooftop solar PV, (2) focus on energy-efficiency and demand-side management via by promoting the use of energy efficient appliances and user education, (3) facilitate the procurement of renewables by large electricity consumers to reduce their dependence on diesel and other pollutants and (4) promote increased public participation in BESCOM’s decision making

Bangalore is at a critical juncture in its growth, where decisions today will be “locked-in” for the next 40-100 years. By addressing congestion that shifts the conversation from vehicles to people, managing urban expansion towards sustainable growth and implementing practices that provide clean, reliable energy for its people, Bangalore can move on to a path of improved livability and sustainability, and maintain its competitive status in the global economy.

This piece was originally published on Learn more about our talk series on Unlock Bengaluru here.

The Women Who Are Changing Mexico’s Cities

Wed, 2016-03-30 23:51

A woman bikes in Mexico City. Photo by Alejandro Luna/Flickr.

In Mexico, the issue of gender often goes unrecognized. A popular blog documents the all-too-common “all male panels” or public events where all the speakers or participants are men, or where women only occupy placeholder positions, like hostesses. Even in sustainable transport and city events, this can be common.

However, progress in women’s representation is slowly becoming a reality, thanks to a growing interest among women in professional fields—like urban and transport planning—typically associated with men.

Creating Progress for Gender Equality in Education, Government and Beyond

Only in 1953 were women granted certain the right to vote in Mexico. Other changes included the international non-discrimination standards set in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979). These laws laid the foundation for women’s right to jobs, education and more.

Women in Mexico only first gained access to higher education in 1960. In the 70s, many women began entering the fields of education, psychology and social work, but it was not until the 80s that women began to study a wider range of fields and in the late 90s that women began to enter jobs previously considered masculine. According to a study in 2004, women occupied only 31 percent of the jobs in engineering and technology while men occupied 69 percent.

In addition to the issue of women’s representation in education and entrance to professional fields, women in Mexico often face discrimination and challenges on the job. Cultural stereotypes of what being a woman should be—family, motherhood, a housewife—as well as resistance to women occupying managerial positions can make professional progress difficult. The lack of public policies helping women to participate in management and decision-making positions does not help.

The highest position occupied by a woman in Mexican government has been in federal ministries. The first time a woman occupied a position in a ministry was in the 70s, and since then, there have only been 30 at this level. Despite gradual progress in other aspects of society, there are still fewer women in decision making positions at the national level. Of all middle and senior management positions, just over 27 percent are occupied by women.

While there is less disparity in the social sciences, the disparity is greater in fields typically associated with masculinity in Mexican culture—urban planning, engineering and architecture. This has resulted in fewer women architects and engineers and also fewer women in decision making positions on urban issues. Despite this, the situation is slowly changing. Here, we take a look at a few women who serving as role models for women’s leadership in city issues traditionally dominated by men.

Adriana Lobo

Adriana graduated as a Civil Engineer at the Polytechnic School of the University of Sao Paulo and completed academic credits towards an MBA at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM). She began her career in the 90s directing planning projects in urban and regional transport in seven countries in Latin America and founded her own transport consulting firm in 2001, which she led for 2 years. In 2004, she became the Executive Director of CTS EMBARQ Mexico, making her one of the most specialized leaders in BRT and Integrated Transport systems not only in Mexico, but throughout Latin America. Adriana also manages a team of 25 women and 22 men.

Julia Martinez

Julia is known colloquially in Mexico’s climate change community as “The Biologist.” She studied biology at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and started her career working on climate change in Mexico in the early 90s. Climate change was just beginning to emerge as an issue, and Julia was one of the few women taking leadership. From 1995 until 2013, Julia worked in the public sector and in 2014 she joined CTS EMBARQ Mexico. Today, Julia is one of Mexico’s strongest activists on climate change and is one of the leading experts on energy efficiency in buildings. Julia now helps manage ambitious initiatives, such as the Building Efficiency Accelerator in Mexico, a partnership in support of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative that works with cities to improve building efficiency.

Martha Delgado

Martha has been a recognized leader in sustainable development in Mexico for over 25 years. She studied education at the Intercontinental University and has worked in both the public sector and in civil society organizations. Despite opposition, Martha helped create the Mexico City’s public bike share system, ECOBICI. Thanks to Ecobici, Mexico City now sees 35,000 trips by bike on a daily basis. Martha also implemented the Bicycle Mobility Strategy and the program Let’s Bike. More than 20 years later, Martha remains an international leader on climate change.


Sara Topelson

Sara studied architecture at UNAM and art history at the National Institute of Fine Arts. From February 2000 to May 2003, she was the Director of Architecture and Historic Preservation at INBA. She also held the position of Sub-minister of Urban Development and Planning at the Ministry of Social Development. Sara was a key player at a national level in 2012 with the creation of the Ministry of Rural, Urban and Land Development, which separated urban issues from broader social development topics—an important step for urban reform. She was also Minister of the International Union of Architects (UIA), and she became its first woman president in 1996. Sara is currently the General Coordinator of the Center for Research and Documentation Foundation House and continues to lead as a project coordinator for Topelson Grinberg Architects.

Laura Ballesteros

She has worked in both the private sector and the public sector. Before becoming a deputy in the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City, she served as an advisor. She helped facilitate the city’s new Mobility Law and became one of the leading advocates for mobility. Today, she is the Sub-minister of Planning in the Ministry of Mobility of Mexico City, an agency that is also often exclusively male. In this new position, she has worked on the New Traffic Regulation with civil society, incorporating speed reductions and other measures to advance safe and sustainable mobility.


Claudia Sheinbaum

In 2004, Claudia was Minister of Environment in Mexico City and did something unimaginable and unbelievable: under her leadership the first city bike path was built. Claudia studied physics and received her Master’s and PhD in Energy Engineering in UNAM. At first, she was criticized for improving public transport with Metrobus, one of the great milestones in Mexico City’s recent history. Today, Metrobus is considered not only a success in Mexico but internationally. Claudia currently serves as the delegate from Mexico City’s Tlalpan district to improve mobility and development in the area.


Tanya Müller

Tanya has worked in Mexico City’s last two administrations, with Marcelo Ebrard and Miguel Angel Mancera in the Ministry of Environment. She holds a PhD in International Agricultural Economics and Management and works as an agronomics engineer. She founded and is currently the President of the Mexican Association of Nature Roofs, which researches and promotes green walls and roofs. She implemented the first green roofs project with Chapingo University and Zurich University, and made Mexico City a pioneer nation-wide by installing flat natural roofs. During her time with the Ministry of Environment, Tanya has made significant progress for energy efficiency issues and, under her leadership, both Ecobici and the Sunday “Move on Bikes” program have expanded. Additionally, she has significantly expanded the bike path network in Mexico City in order to encourage more cycling.

Gisela Méndez

Gisela studied architecture at the Technological Institute of Colima, and she has a Master’s degree in Urban, Regional and Environmental Policies from the University of Architecture of Venice and a PhD in Urbanism from UNAM. She directed the Planning Institute for the city of Colima and served as Director of Research and Capacity Building at CTS EMBARQ Mexico from 2012 until February 2016, when she became the Colima’s Secretary of Mobility—the first at the state level in the country. Gisela is a big inspiration, demonstrating the potential for local activism.


Who are the women leaders who inspire you? Share in the comments below!

What Has EMBARQ Co-Founder Lee Schipper to Do With a Book About Inspiring Successful Workshops?

Mon, 2016-03-28 21:32

EMBARQ Co-Founder Lee Schipper. Photo by EMBARQ.

Although Lee Schipper is not with us any more, for me his spirit is still there.

Many years ago, I met him at a meeting of the International Energy Agency in Paris and was fascinated by his inspiring talk. As representative of the European Commission, I invited him to further talks in Brussels. Through this professional exchange, we also became friends.

Then I got the notice of his death.

As cancer is also quite an issue in my own family, an idea came to my mind while writing my first book about workshops and trainings that guarantee success:

So what does all this have to do with sustainable cities?

To achieve sustainable cities, technology is important. But it is also about people and their interactions and commitments to putting great ideas into practice. Good workshops can support this. It is often not only about technology but also about the right use and implementation. Good trainings can help significantly.

As a professional facilitator, I accompany smart city developments with stakeholder involvement, and I see the urgent need for better workshops. Maybe you are also annoyed by boring, endless meetings without results? And you’d rather have workshops with high involvement, committed participants and a well-planned agenda? Then, get familiar with the principles of workshop facilitation!

I recognize that people want a change in thinking. As professional trainer, I am convinced that with better training sessions, you can teach people how to use new technologies and change city residents’ behavior. Additionally, we not only have to train the professionals, like craftsmen, but also politicians. To achieve this, understand the principles of didactics based on brain-research and psychology! Lee was a natural on that. He was a great trainer inspiring us with a lot of humor.

To summarize, innovative technologies are extremely important, but it is also about process and a changed behavior and mindset to get to sustainable cities! Lee was aware of that and hopefully his spirit will live on and continue inspiring us all to continue our work toward achieving sustainable and liveable smart cities.

I wish all Lee Schipper scholars success with their studies!

Birgit Baumann is donating 10 percent of her annual book sales to the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship. Click here to learn more about her book “Blühende Workshops und Trainings mit Erfolgsgarantie” (forthcoming in English). Click here to subscribe to her newsletter and stay updated.

Friday Fun: How Innovators Are Using Mobile Apps for Informal Bike Share and Repair

Fri, 2016-03-25 20:18

In addition to extensive bike infrastructure, Copenhagen is a hotbed for innovative mobile apps connecting cyclists. Photo by Claudio Olivares Medina/Flickr.

Cities can do a lot to promote cycling, but the private sector and civil society can play a significant role in helping build a safe and convenient cycling culture. For example, innovative startups in Singapore and Copenhagen are developing mobile apps to make bike share even more flexible and user-friendly repairs more convenient than ever. By reducing the need for hard infrastructure, these innovators are creating informal bike share programs that can better respond to local context and needs.

Singapore’s Bike Share Startup Bypass Traditional Infrastructure

In 2015 a group of university students in Singapore launched ZaiBike, a bike share system that is inexpensive, accessible, and available 24/7. Users can locate and reserve available bikes—which Zaibike has purchased and equipped with their technology—via a mobile phone app, and they have 10 minutes to get to the bike and unlock it. At the end of their journey, they can leave the bike anywhere near their destination.

Singapore has experimented with bike share in the past but gave up due to low ridership. There was another attempt in 2014 when the Land Transport Authority issued a call for proposals and industry studies on how bikeshare could be implemented in the country, but no formal program exists to date.

ZaiBike’s founders believe that cycling is often the cheapest, fastest, and most convenient way to cover shorter distances. They also recognize the benefits that come with a less infrastructure-intensive bike share system. Unlike more formal bike share schemes, ZaiBike does not require specially manufactured bikes or docking stations. In addition to being more flexible and space-efficient, the system can easily be scaled up by simply acquiring more bicycles.

Launched at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, ZaiBike is currently working to expand to areas of the city that are farther from the university campus. The team is mindful of Singapore’s particular culture and infrastructure, including strong interest in mobile phone technology and potentially limited space for bike parking, and is continuing to design a system that is sensitive to the local context.

Connecting People with Bikes and Repairs in Copenhagen

On the other side of the planet, innovators in Copenhagen recently started Donkey Republic, a bike sharing system that has been likened to Uber and Airbnb. As with ZaiBike, Donkey users can locate, book and unlock bikes with an app at any time of day or night. However, one unique feature is that Donkey allows individuals to turn their bikes into rentals. Users are able to select a specific type of bike, which has either been purchased by the startup or is loaned out by bike shops and private owners. Owners can purchase a “donkey kit” containing an app-operated lock, a handlebar panel with instructions for the rider, and stickers to identify the bike as part of the system. Once a bike is in the Donkey system, the owner is free to rent it out.

As of now, this system lacks the type of flexibility that ZaiBike provides – so far Donkeys are only available at 15 specified locations across the city, though this may increase, as the startup aspires to expand to over 20 countries. Donkey Republic’s founders believe their system overcomes common frustrations with public bike share systems, such as lack of available docking space when a rider wants to return the bicycle or is charged extra fees for a journey that takes longer than expected.

For bicycle owners who may be deterred by the inconvenience of flat tires, another Copenhagen-based startup called Cycle Savers is coming to the rescue. This bike repair app brings the mechanic to the rider, anywhere, anytime. Those in need of help use the app to set their location, select a service and request a mechanic. The mechanic contacts the customer to arrange a time, then shows up and repairs the bike. This system is flexible and convenient, removing the limitations of bike shop hours and locations, and enabling people to work as mechanics on a flexible and freelance basis.

These startups prove that fresh ideas, motivation, and mobile technology can make it easier to bike in cities. What are your favorite bike apps? 


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