Latest from Cityfix

Subscribe via Latest from Cityfix feed
WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities' online resource for the latest news and analysis on urban sustainability and development, from a global perspective.
Updated: 6 hours 45 min ago

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? 

Three Paths, Three Continents: How Shenzhen, Buenos Aires and Kiev Are Lowering Energy Consumption in Their Buildings

Thu, 2016-03-24 21:16

By prioritizing energy efficiency in its own public buildings, the city of Buenos Aires is setting an example for building performance across Argentina. Photo by David Berkowitz/Flickr.

Shenzhen, Buenos Aires and Kiev’s experiences pursuing energy efficiency demonstrate that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to achieving better buildings. Each found a unique path to improve energy efficiency for a more sustainable and prosperous city.

Shenzhen Goes Above and Beyond National Building Standards

A decade ago, the southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen was facing some very discouraging statistics. The city’s buildings were using nearly twice as much energy per square meter as those in Shanghai or Beijing and three times as much as those in developed countries. Voluntary building energy efficiency standards had been in place for three years but few developers spent the extra money on energy-saving design or equipment options. Shenzhen  decided to create new mandatory efficiency standards in November of 2006 that went above and beyond the then current national Chinese energy efficiency standards, making the city the first in China to release its own regulations for energy efficiency in buildings. These mandatory green building standards applied to affordable housing projects and required that all new housing projects be inspected to ensure they met standards and stricter energy reduction goals.

Shenzhen set energy conservation targets for various sectors, including a 15 percent reduction in public and office buildings, 20 percent for government buildings and a 50 percent reduction for energy use in newly constructed buildings. These building energy conservation goals represented 49 percent of Shenzhen’s total energy conservation targets in 2008 and helped put Shenzhen on the map as a model for other cities.

In May 2007, Shenzhen’s government launched a low-carbon eco-district, called the Guangming New Area, which promotes energy efficient industrial practices and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, Guangming New Area was selected as China’s first Green Building Demonstration District to promote the idea of green buildings and energy efficiency to the rest of the country.

Buenos Aires Analyzes Energy Consumption Patterns to Set Goals

Like Shenzhen, Buenos Aires found itself challenged by poor efficiency in most of its buildings. The Argentinean capital lacked knowledge about the available solutions that could be used in its public buildings. To overcome this knowledge gap, the Environmental Protection Agency of Buenos Aires enacted the Program of Energy Efficiency in Public Buildings (PEEEP), which analyzes and monitors energy consumption patterns from five different public building types. PEEP gave the local government the data and clarity required to develop energy reduction policies.

Launched in 2008, PEEP was created with the goal of optimizing energy consumption in public buildings and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To participate, the Environmental Protection Agency requires that participating buildings implement a number of measures, including energy audits, energy management tools and improvements to building operation and maintenance procedures.

The information gathered from PEEP was used by policymakers to draft the Energy Efficiency law, which was approved by the city council in 2009. The law has established guidelines for energy efficiency and mandates the adoption of energy efficiency measures in all public buildings. The law also requires that at least 50 percent of the savings generated from improved efficiency will be used to fund educational programs on energy efficiency. Other local governments in Argentina are now looking to the example set by Buenos Aires to establish similar programs.

Kiev Retrofits 1,270 Public Buildings

In the early 1990s, Kiev, Ukraine’s capital and largest city, was facing problems common to building efficiency: lack of funding, direction and awareness. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine’s low retail energy prices and lack of energy conservation policies contributed to overall inefficiency. Ukraine’s economy was one of the most energy intensive in the world.

Starting in the late 1990s, Kiev’s local government started to address inefficient energy usage by implementing energy tariff reforms, including better metering and consumption-based billing for consumers. This allowed heat tariffs to be set at cost-recovery levels, providing economic incentives for consumers to reduce their use and acclimated Kiev residents to programs designed to improve energy efficiency. From 2000 to 2005, the Kiev City State Administration (KSCA) established the Kiev Public Buildings Energy Efficiency Project. Financed through a World Bank loan, a Swedish Government grant and KCSA funds, the project successfully retrofitted 1,270 public buildings in the city, including healthcare, educational and cultural facilities.

Savings from the retrofits were estimated at 333,423 Gigacalories, or about 26 percent of original heat consumption. The upgrades also improved building comfort levels, helped foster an energy efficiency services industry and raised public awareness of the importance of energy efficiency. Kiev’s retrofitting project is an example of how a city can benefit from partnerships both nationally and globally to find solutions to local problems.

There’s More than One Path to an Energy Efficient City

Shenzhen, Buenos Aires and Kiev are three examples of cities that have overcome a lack of technical knowledge, limited awareness of the options available and uncertainty about how to measure or understand building performance. These stories demonstrate just a few of the paths that a city can take to become a leader in energy efficiency. What path will your city take?

Creating a Common Narrative for Financing a Sustainable Urban Future

Wed, 2016-03-23 18:30

Bogotá’s Transmilenio bus rapid transit (BRT) system shows how capital providers and city planners were able to finance and implement a low-carbon project at an unprecedented scale. Photo by Claudio Olivares Medina/Flickr

Good ideas that get cities results are worth replicating. Sounds simple enough. But when it comes to scaling up and investing in sustainable urban solutions, it’s complicated.

With more than 400 cities making commitments to climate action through the Compact of Mayors, the world made significant progress at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) last year in Paris. Now that the negotiations are over and the commitments have been made, we face the challenge of financing and implementing sustainable urban projects that will improve the quality of life for residents and turn this collective vision into a reality.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, C40 and the Citi Foundation are partnering together to help cities around the world accelerate the implementation of low-carbon urban solutions. By drawing on WRI’s on-the-ground knowledge, C40’s unique network of global city leaders and the Citi Foundation’s agenda for urban economic progress, the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative is developing new approaches to overcoming what is commonly, but mistakenly, seen as simply a financing gap.

Recent economic research estimates a US $4.1 to 4.3 trillion annual investment gap between the urban infrastructure we have and the amount we need. According to the traditional narrative, there is simply insufficient supply and financial appetite for sustainable urban projects. However, the situation is much more complex. Demand for sustainable solutions is growing, and investor appetite for new markets and non-traditional assets is increasing as well. So why is funding for sustainable urban projects often stuck at an impasse?

What really seems to be happening here is that these two sides are talking past each other. On the one hand, cities claim there is a lack of available financing for their projects. On the other hand, capital providers say that there isn’t a robust enough pipeline of viable, bankable projects. Without a common language and a forum for cities, service providers and capital providers to engage with one another in productive dialogue, potential projects become stalled during the idea phase, reinforcing the belief that there is a lack of financing or bankable urban projects.

Fortunately, we know that there are already a number of successful projects around the world that are delivering, funding and financing leading sustainable solutions in innovative ways. From on-demand rickshaws in Bangalore to energy efficient public lighting in Rio de Janeiro, this kind of innovation is the result of service providers, capital providers and cities talking with one another about technical and financial options that are available. Often, key players in the sector simply don’t know how public-private partnerships can help or how new financial products can provide alternative sources of investment. A process that is collaborative from the beginning is more likely to find innovative solutions to complex local challenges.

Bogotá’s Transmilenio bus rapid transit (BRT) system, for example, shows how capital providers and city planners were able to finance and implement a low-carbon project at an unprecedented scale. Since 2000, TransMilenio has grown from 14km to 112km of dedicated bus lanes that now carry 2 million passengers per day. By successfully aligning all stakeholders early, Transmilenio adopted a business model that drew investment from local sources and established a public-private partnership to manage operations. With integrated, collaborative planning and all sectors taking part in financing and implementing the BRT project, Bogotá has become healthier and more sustainable in the long term. The Colombian capital is proof that potentially game-changing solutions exist. However, cities need the mechanisms to explore flexible business models that take into account their unique needs.

Creating a global environment that is conducive to investment in sustainable urban projects will require close collaboration and open dialogue between cities, technology providers and capital providers. The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative—which consists of a learning community, technical assistance, and a web-based engagement platform—is designed to help city decision-makers, financiers and technical experts better understand their choices and work with one another strategically. By facilitating knowledge sharing and best practice, and creating a space for innovation, the partnership between WRI, C40 and the Citi Foundation is helping to foster a conversation today for the thriving, sustainable cities of tomorrow.

World Water Day: How “Sludge” Can Power China’s Cities While Cutting Emissions

Tue, 2016-03-22 21:20

Sustainable sources of energy, like sludge-to-power, can help reduce air pollution in Beijing, China. Photo by Peter Dowley/Flickr.

Last December, Beijing’s city government issued a “red alert” for smog levels—the highest possible designation. Schools and construction sites closed, traffic was restricted, and air pollution reached 10 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit. Meanwhile, residents in neighboring cities went about their daily routines despite air quality ratings up to three times worse than Beijing’s, and coal-burning factories continued to run.

Devastating smog is a too-frequent occurrence in Beijing and across northern China—and an acute reminder of the dangers of China’s rampant coal use. The national government has committed to peak its emissions before 2030 and increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy sources to 20 percent of the national energy supply by 2030. It’s currently pursuing a portfolio of emissions-savings technologies to achieve these goals and shift away from fossil fuels like coal.

One unexpected place where China has a major opportunity to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions is through its wastewater treatment systems. Bioenergy wastewater treatment plant technology can both reduce China’s emissions and improve water quality, and the country is beginning to invest in this approach in a significant way.

This World Water Day, we’re highlighting this world-class example of technological innovation, environmental sustainability and sound economics aligning at the nexus of water, cities and energy. Bioenergy, or “sludge-to-power” treatment, is a solution that should continue to be a part of China’s emissions-reducing strategies—and an example for other cities around the world.

How Sludge-to-Power Works

Bioenergy plants work by converting the organic matter, or “sludge,” left over from treated sewage into electricity. The plant heats the solid waste, then employs microbes to digest it, which produce methane. The plant then burns that methane to generate power for water treatment. Excess methane can generate electricity for the facility, or power cars as a substitute for compressed natural gas (CNG). Leftover solid waste is sterilized, and can be used as fertilizer for certain types of crops. Other sludge-energy byproducts – called biochar – can be used to grow potted trees on landfill sites to restore landscapes or on city streets to help lower temperatures and improve air quality.

A WRI study recently analyzed the potential for sludge-to-energy systems in Xiangyang, China. After examining nutrient recovery, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, reclaimed methane and cost of sludge disposal systems, we found that sludge-to-energy systems can make a positive environmental impact. They reduce solid wastes, greenhouse gases and water pollution, all while saving money. Selling fertilizer, biochar and even extra energy back to the grid can create new revenue for a wastewater treatment plant.

City managers should start to see sludge as a resource, rather than as a waste product, that they can incorporate into low-carbon development plans. This is particularly important because China’s wastewater treatment plants produce 30 million tons of sludge per year that must otherwise be hauled away by truck and disposed of. Bioenenergy systems not only reduce those tons of solid waste that are usually spread on the land or in landfills, polluting streams and groundwater, they also reduce the greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts associated with thousands of truck trips to and from treatment plants.

A Growing Popularity in China

The idea is starting to take off in China. WRI’s study gave China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development science-based confidence to promote sludge-to-energy systems in other cities. A ministry official presented the benefits of sludge-to-energy systems at several major events in 2015 and early 2016 to audiences from wastewater and sludge management agencies, private companies from China and the United States, as well as international bilateral organizations. Last May, WRI hosted Chinese government officials from Beijing and other Chinese cities at DC Water’s Blue Plains sewage treatment plant in Washington, D.C. the first in North America to use an advanced Norwegian bioenergy system that is compact enough to fit in relatively cramped urban plants.

As a result of these and other efforts, four large cities in China—Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu and Hefei—began installing or are planning sludge-to-energy systems. Chengdu included five plants in its latest Five-Year Plan.

Based on WRI estimates, these plants collectively can help reduce 700,000 tons of emissions per year, comparable to one-third of the emissions produced each day by all the cars on U.S. roads. This relatively small contribution leaves plenty of room for improvement. Wastewater treatment in China produced more than 30 million tons of sludge in 2015. If 10 percent of that sludge was treated in a sludge-to-energy facility, the emissions reduction could reach 380 million tons of CO2/year, roughly equal to Ukraine’s emissions in 2012.

Additionally, the plants are expected to produce nearly 40 million cubic meters of compressed natural gas for taxis and city buses—enough to fill the tanks of 2 million taxis—while also powering the sludge disposal systems themselves.

These pioneering cities should be commended for their vision and investments, but many more lag far behind. WRI is now working with the World Bank and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to promote sludge-to-energy in other places around the world. Turning sewage into power is a win for everyone involved, and presents an opportunity for hundreds of other cities.

On International Day of Forests, a Look at How Trees Help Make Cities Healthier

Mon, 2016-03-21 23:22

The cherry blossoms blooming in Washington, DC. The city urban tree canopy is about 35 percent. Photo by Karen Blaha/Flickr.

While the words “forests” and “cities” don’t traditionally go hand in hand, urban forestry has started to bridge that gap. While some cities have minimal tree cover due to inadequate soil or a lack of space, others are nearly half covered by these leafy, carbon-storage machines. Additionally, in recent decades, cities around the world have started to think about urban forests and their benefits as the need for climate change mitigation has increased. On the whole, trees improve the quality of life for the millions who live and work in urban areas by filtering polluted air, reducing smog formation, preventing erosion and cleaning up contaminated land, supporting local wildlife, and sheltering buildings from heat and cold—saving up to 10 percent of the energy needed to regulate a building’s temperature.

On this International Day of Forests, here’s a look at three cities that have taken urban forestry to the next level:

Tokyo, Japan

Omotesando Avenue, Tokyo. Photo credit: Kakidai/Wikipedia.

After the city was bombed during World War II, the number of trees on Tokyo’s streets fell from 105,000 to 42,000—nearly 60 percent. In the years following, the city lost another 35,000 due to disease and as many were cut for firewood. Fire from the bombings destroyed much of Tokyo’s forest cover in addition to decimating street trees, creating large empty parcels of land as well.

In 1946, the city created a plan to secure 10 percent of urban lands for green areas and turn the barren parcels of land into urban parks. Beginning in 1948, the city started restoring street trees as well when new supplies of trees became available from nurseries. By 1980, the number of street trees exceeded 235,000.

As of 1990, 21,630 hectares of Tokyo’s green space is made up of forest, meant to help conserve water—one of the many benefits of tress for the natural environment. Tokyo’s urban forests and trees have also helped to supply the city with clean drinking water, a system of wastewater disposal and storm water control.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland from above. Photo by Destination

Ireland is called the “Emerald Isle” for the large amount of green space in its countryside, and it should come as no surprise that the same can be said for its cities. Formed in 1992, the Forest of Belfast in Northern Ireland includes all of Belfast City. Since the end of the Troubles in 1998, nearly 200,000 trees have been planted across parks, playing fields, streets, schools, factories, and along streets and river banks.

The Forest of Belfast’s management has brought together partners from local and central governments, environmental organizations and local citizens who become volunteer Tree Wardens. With the help of the Belfast City Council, support from European funding aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation has allowed the partnership to help 300 groups plant 90,000 trees in the last three years alone.

Until recently, the perception of forests in much of the United Kingdom has been that the “woods” are out in the countryside and are meant to provide habitat for wildlife and act as a means of timber production—and that cities have trees only for aesthetic beauty. There is now growing recognition that trees can provide a whole range of benefits to cities, thanks to the Forest of Belfast.

Washington, DC

Washington, DC. Photo by Moya Team/Wikipedia.

The District of Columbia has a long history of planning, enhancing and maintaining its urban forest. Beginning in 1872, Governor Alexander Shepherd ordered that 60,000 street trees be planted systematically to “improve the quality of life in the Nation’s capital.” Because of his actions, DC’s unofficial title became The City of Trees.

An 1889 Harper’s Magazine article even proclaimed “The city of Washington, the capital of the nation, exceeds in beauty any city of the world…. But above all, its magnificent trees, make it without peer.”

Since then, there has been a municipal agency responsible for tree maintenance across the city. As of today, DC’s urban tree canopy hovers near 35 percent, with nearly 2 million trees across the city. These trees remove 540 tons of pollution per year, store 526,000 tons of carbon and reduce the cost of energy usage in buildings by $2.6 million per year—resulting in an estimated $96,000 in avoided carbon emissions.

A Future of Urban Forests

So, city dwellers, let’s begin thinking of ways to better incorporate these trees and forests into our daily lives. While moving out to the country may have been the way to connect with nature’s benefits in the past, it’s not the only solution now.

Friday Fun: Crowdsourcing Apps Help Planners “Tame” Chaotic Bus Systems

Sat, 2016-03-19 02:11

A bus in La Paz’s informal sector. Photo by Jumaï Hadrien/Flickr.

Cities across the world are harnessing the power of technology to connect directly with citizens about pressing issues, from infrastructure planning to questions about how to spend their budgets. Now, transportation planners are getting in on the game in order to capitalize on the information that people have on their phones.

In contrast with cities in North America and Europe, bus systems in many cities around the world often rely on a mix between formalized public transport systems and informal networks of small, privately owned vehicles. Drivers of these small vehicle rely on receiving as many fares as possible in a day and, as a result, sometimes face complex incentives to provide faulty service. Attempting to reorganize bus systems can cause mass protests, as Quito, Santiago and other cities have learned.

However, some cities are experimenting with technology to make chaotic transport systems work better for people. Here are three cities using mobile apps to crowdsource information from people to help bring order to their public transport systems.

Mapathon – Mexico City, Mexico

Photo by Dani Simons/Flickr.

Despite recent interventions to organize its bus system, residents of Mexico City still rely on small, private buses called peseros for 60 percent of trips by public transport. Routes are unmapped, causing city officials to recommend that uninitiated visitors avoid using them.

In an effort to make some sense of these routes, fourteen organizations—including EMBARQ Mexico—joined forces to plan Mapathon CDMX, a gamified scavenger hunt to map these routes. From January 29 – February 14, 2016, over 3,500 people each downloaded the app and traveled the city’s buses, earning prizes for distance travelled as well as for taking routes with smaller percentages of passengers using smartphones. Data created by the mapathon will be publicly released and a hackathon is already in the works in the hopes that people will create apps and visualizations around the data that might just make Mexico’s buses a little more user-friendly.

Tramicida – La Paz, Bolivia

The streets of La Paz are dense, with upwards of 17,000 public buses of various types carrying only between 7 and 14 passengers on average. The result is a system of intense competition between bus drivers to travel only on the most profitable routes, fighting for passengers. Drivers often do not finish their routes or require passengers to pay an additional fee to get to their desired destination—what is locally termed trameaje.

In response, the government of Mayor Luis Revilla instituted in February a number of policies aimed at improving bus drivers’ behavior. They developed the app Tramicida—or “Route-icide,” which relies on riders to report when bus drivers fail to finish their route, charge too much or have an unclean bus. Citizens can take photos of the license plates and submit their complaints anonymously.

(App photo by Gobierno Autónomo Municipal de La Paz)

Findmyway – Cape Town, South Africa

 Private developers at WhereIsMyTransport? have been working directly with Transport for Cape Town (TCT) to develop a multimodal journey planning app that helps passengers navigate across the bus and rail systems. At the same time, it funnels (anonymized) data back to the local transport authorities that they can then use for planning purposes. While the app does not yet cover the informal minibus system, the developers are aiming to expand to these soon.

Users of the app also send reports back to planners about poor service or problems with vehicles, allowing TCT to have more direct engagement with users. As Madeline Zhu, WhereisMyTransport’s Head of Communications put it, they see “technology as a way to create a conversation between users and transit planners.”

(App photo by WhereIsMyTransport)

DC’s Metro Closure Shows Why Creating Trust in Public Transit Matters

Thu, 2016-03-17 02:59

The Washington, DC Metro. Photo by RJ Schmidt/Flickr.

Washington, D.C., one of the most powerful cities on Earth, has been thrown off-stride by a transit crisis. Starting March 16, the U.S. capital’s Metro system, which serves more than 710,000 passengers daily, closed down for 29 hours for emergency power cable inspections, two days after cable fires caused significant delays on three of Metro’s six lines. Weary customers found alternatives, but this is another transit disappointment in a metropolitan area that has dealt with old railcars, late trains and a lack of accurate schedules. Trust in Metro is at a low point. But, the shutdown isn’t just bad for the Metro; it has broader impacts for the whole of the city.

Public transit is essential to an environmentally sustainable urban future. But it requires public confidence in the transit system. To get people out of their personal cars, there needs to be an attractive alternative. The benefits for the entire city are clear: less traffic congestion, more productive time for commuters, reduced pollution, and better public health and safety. Without trust in the system’s reliability, though, it will be an uphill battle.

When people lose confidence due to unexpected closures and a lack of service predictability, they are more likely to turn to cars as a dependable and convenient way to travel. This may already be happening in Washington, where the Metro system has seen 40,000 fewer riders between 2010 and 2014 and a well-documented decrease in user satisfaction. Residents who live close to stations in transit-oriented developments are taking the metro less. Getting these people back to the metro will require offering them high quality, dependable service–but winning people back can take years of reliable service. This week’s system-wide closure may further erode rider confidence in Metro’s reliability.

Finding out what users of systems like Metro need and perceive can help. In Curitiba, Brazil, the QualiÔnibus satisfaction survey, supported by WRI, aimed to measure the strengths and pitfalls of the local bus rapid transit (BRT) system. By learning how users saw the system, the survey allowed planners to make meaningful changes, including improved security systems, better lighting, and improved infrastructure in stations and pathways. In Rio de Janeiro, similar surveys were conducted for the TransCarioca BRT system, ending in targeted improvements that raised user satisfaction from 1.7 to 5.8 on a 10-point scale. By using direct feedback from users, the city was able to make the changes customers wanted, ensuring continued success and safety.

The Washington, D.C. mass transit system would do well to increase responsiveness to specific rider complaints and safety concerns. Acknowledging the perception and satisfaction of transit riders is important, as we take on current challenges to safety and quality of service. Perhaps this week’s shutdown will provide the opportunity for implementation of such changes, as safety inspectors take stock of the condition of the Metro.

When the image of Washington’s Metro is one of broken elevators, delayed trains and electrical fires, it is hard for riders to trust the system. Acting on providing reliable, safe service would be a step toward turning drivers into transit customers, improving sustainability in this iconic city of monuments and cherry blossoms.

Three Stories of How the Internet of Everything Is Changing Transport

Tue, 2016-03-15 19:38
With the arrival of new and powerful technologies, and the declining costs of these technologies, some new possibilities are emerging for cities and their transport systems. For example, the Internet of Everything (IoE) can benefit cities by connecting people, processes, ...


Subscribe to our mailing list

Register to receive news and announcements from WRI Cities Hub

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.