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TheCityFix’s Year in Review: 5 Stories Readers Loved This Year

Wed, 2015-12-30 22:54
A lot happened this year. Despite the diverse range of stories we covered, a few trends emerge that catch our eye. This year on TheCityFix, cities safer by design, bicycles, and compact urban development were some of our top themes ...

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: 3 Series Take a Deep Dive into the World’s Pressing Urban Issues

Tue, 2015-12-29 23:04
Cities are complex systems, and many of the problems facing our urban communities are deeply complex. From the local decision making environment to shared mobility and managing transport demand, three series featured on TheCItyFix this year took a deep dive ...

TheCityFix’s Year in Review: 5 Conversations with the World’s Top Urban Experts and Leaders

Mon, 2015-12-28 19:30
As 2014 comes to a close, it’s important that we look back and take stock of all that we learned—and the people we learned from. Over the past year, TheCityFix had the opportunity to sit down with some of the ...

How Cities Around the World Use Public Space to Celebrate the Holidays

Wed, 2015-12-23 19:30
For cities, holidays signal a transformation in atmosphere. Street lights change colors, decorations are hung, and festivals turn sleepy downtowns into largescale celebrations for locals. Just as families and individuals adorn their homes with ornaments and trimmings, cities use their ...

Reimagining Mumbai

Thu, 2015-06-25 23:30

It is time for Mumbai to embrace strategic spatial planning and local area plans as a sustainable path forward. Photo by Tarun R/Flickr.

This article originally appeared on

How can Mumbai become a Smart City that the nation is proud of? The recently published Draft Development Plan (DP) for Mumbai was so poorly received by various stakeholders that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis scrapped it on the 21st of April, 2015. It has to be reworked in just four months – an opportunity to bring in much needed change in the planning discourse.

Since the DP followed a traditional process of proposing land uses and development control regulations, it is no surprise that the plan did not deliver on the local needs, sentiments and aspirations of citizens. This process of development planning is mandated by the State’s Town Planning Act, a remnant of outdated British laws, which were made when the current complexities of large metropolitan cities were not yet imagined.

Previous development plans for Mumbai too, have faced challenges, such as prolonged delays of up to 15 years, indicating clearly that they are no longer realistic or nimble enough to respond to a changing city. These generalized plans typically did not respond to local variations and needs, did not have infrastructure plans linked to them, and did not manage to implement several reservations such as open spaces, local roads, dispensaries etc.

If the future of the city is pegged on a plan that is open to comments from citizens only once in 20 years, then this is a recipe bound to backfire. What then is the alternate that the city can explore?  The answer lies in strategic spatial planning.

Strategic Spatial Planning separates the visioning tool from the regulatory tool. It envisions the city’s future while formulating strategic decisions and projects that will help leapfrog over the current and potential challenges of the city.  This tool is not legal in nature, and serves as a platform for various stakeholders to freely express opinions, conduct negotiations and arrive at agreements without the fear of repercussions. This negotiated planning method brings together various government departments (planning, physical and social infrastructure, and funding agencies) along with local businesses, religious groups, resident welfare associations, NGOs and citizens themselves.

While the process could be messy to start with, it results in a ‘co-produced’ vision for the city. Strategic Spatial Planning provides a long term vision, alternate future options and strategic projects that are linked to clear budgets. These strategic projects bring about a collective structural change to the city addressing the real needs of stakeholders, irrespective of the number of departments that need to be co-opted to manage implementation.

Typically anchored by a strong government agency, or a mayor in international contexts, such a paradigm shift in planning is critical to prevent large metropolises from succumbing to becoming diseconomies. The traditional regulatory land-use plan could continue to be used for giving out building permissions and sanctions as well as providing a legal certainty for actionable inter-sectoral projects rolling out of this visioning tool.

Actionable projects are to be realised at the smaller disaggregated scale of the Local Area Plan (LAP). These LAPs need to be mandated to ensure participation of local stakeholders in the plan making process to incorporate local knowledge, dynamism and local values. Due cognizance of these local area priorities, at regular intervals, should go back upward to inform the strategic plan and the regulating plan to ensure realistic planning and budget allocations.

Mumbai being the largest and most populous city in Maharashtra has a plethora of agencies helping to run the city. The instrument of the local area plan must serve as the common platform for the planning agencies and the services provisioning agencies to come together in a coordinated manner.

Agencies and experts in international cities, such as Europe and South America for example, have chosen strategic spatial planning and local area plans as a real alternative to static land use, regulatory control and statistical extrapolations. It is time Mumbai followed suit.

Smart Cities No Longer an Urban Legend

Thu, 2015-06-25 19:12


Ahmedabad has overcome a variety of challenges to ensure smart development. Photo by sandeepachetan/Flickr.

This article was originally published in The Economic Times.

Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally launches the government’s ambitious Smart Cities initiative, which aims to tackle key issues resulting from India’s rapid urbanization.

In addition, the ‘Atal Mission’ and ‘Housing for All by 2022’ will also be announced. Both initiatives are very welcome for the development of the country as they will kick-start the process of building new smart cities and rejuvenating existing urban centres to become more sustainable, thriving cities.

A first in many respects, the new process of launching a competition where cities bid for smart city funding is inspiring. This has worked well at helping gather thoughts and ideas towards defining smart cities, and innovative approaches towards how these can be implemented. The competition idea has also meant that key stakeholders have been involved quite early on in the planning, and see themselves as ready partners in the process of building cities.

Going forward, it will be interesting to witness the growing levels of engagement from the public in general, and from planning agencies in particular, in the implementation process of smart cities. The Center encourages planning and public participation in the process; city and state authorities will need to champion the effort to make it a success. The Smart Cities effort also provides the platform for strategic planning.

It is very important for people to work from a vision for the future, rather than be limited by the legalities of a master plan. We need to move from compliance-based incremental changes, to starting with a big vision of what the city needs, coming up with strategic projects, and support that vision and plan with strong laws and processes to achieve sustainable change.

Ahmedabad is a great example of how a city, having outlined a long-term vision for itself and anticipated how to get there, has overcome several obstacles to ensure smart development. The key is to envision the desired change right from the start and strive towards it.

For example, Ahmedabad has been using the unique Development Plan, Town Planning Scheme (DP-TP) approach of creating a vision through the DP and ensuring local area implementation that engages the local population through the TP scheme.

The bus rapid transit system, Janmarg, is now 88 km and ensures trunk connectivity in all major city roads.

Launched in 2009, the system includes features of the highest global standards and is considered a best practice of BRTs in south Asia. Bengaluru is another example of a city having implemented sustainable public services. The country’s largest bus system, operated by the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, was transformed by the introduction of the Bangalore Intra-city Grid (BIG) system in 2013.

This integrated system optimizes routes for improved efficiency, quality of service and capacity. Still in its early stages, BIG currently serves over 1,50,000 passengers a day. When fully implemented, the network will improve public transport experience for 2.5 million commuters daily. Bengaluru has also seen community participation in its planning processes.

In March 2013, World Resources Institute (WRI) experts partnered with the community at Hosur Sarjapur Road Layout, a fast-developing area in Bengaluru, to pilot a neighborhood improvement plan using this bottom-up approach. Key urban issues, including mobility, accessibility, signage, place identity, biodiversity and public spaces were studied at the neighborhood scale.

Through various stakeholder meetings, the community was encouraged to come forward with their ideas, challenges, fears, hopes and aspirations for what they wanted their neighborhood to look like.

The community was mobilized to not only define clear areas that could be improved, but also to create and test a sustainable, implementable vision for the area.

Acknowledging that the government’s 100 Smart Cities initiative is ambitious, it is important to build capacity to meet this ambition. We will require a revision and reoriented strategic planning processes, as well as pulling together a ready pool of specialists, technical experts, professionals and private players to participate.

There must also be a strong political will to implement the changes required to make our cities healthier, liveable and smarter.

How Indian Cities Can Ensure Sustainable and Efficient Growth

Mon, 2015-06-01 20:52

Indian cities, like Hyderabad, need to focus on limiting urban growth, investing in natural infrastructure, and promoting clean energy in order to ensure sustainable and efficient development. Photo by Kara Newhouse/Flickr.

Cities exist in a region and cannot be defined by their geographic or municipal boundaries alone. The future trajectory of urban growth is often defined by migration patterns from surrounding regions, which in turn, is substantially determined by the relative socio-economic opportunities. It is therefore critical to understand the economic geography of land, water, and energy resources of the region, to be able to properly plan urban growth. People living outside urban areas face livelihood limitations, which is why they migrate to cities in the first place.

These limitations are most often linked to the poor management of natural resources. Smart growth planning therefore needs to take into consideration the restoration of these resources in rural or peri-urban areas – the birthplace of urban migration. So which is the best way to go about planning for a future India that is largely urbanized, and growing in unprecedented ways? Here are my top 3 suggestions. I believe that each strategy will ensure urban growth that is both sustainable and efficient.

Limit Urban Growth

India’s urban expansion doubled from 222 million in 1990 to an estimated 410 million in 2014. In 2000–11, one-third of India’s new towns sprung up within a 50 km neighborhood of existing cities containing more than one million people. Urban areas have become substantial contributors to the national gross domestic product (GDP). This pattern of urbanization in India is lopsided, because there is rapid growth occurring in sprawling peri-urban areas, and on the periphery of existing big cities.

Meanwhile, nearby agricultural or fallow land is being rapidly converted to commercial, industrial or residential uses. These landscapes and their resources, such as forests and water, become rapidly degraded and growth becomes unsustainable. We have evidence that the economic, social and environmental cost of unstructured urban growth outweighs the benefits of urbanization. Analysis by WRI, compares two possible futures for the urban expansion of Ahmedabad city, projected to have 13 plus million residents by 2040. The larger the sprawl, the worse the impact on citizens in terms of road fatalities and emissions from road transport.

If we limit urban sprawl through smartly designed and cost-effective urban systems such as the transit infrastructure, cities will yield both environmental and social benefits. Citizens can travel safely, quickly and comfortably, they can become healthier and boost their productivity, and the natural resources supporting the city can be put to better use. Limiting urban sprawl means that cities will become compact, efficient, and have a reduced carbon footprint.

Invest in Natural Infrastructure

In 2011, only 71 percent of urban households had access to tap water and 61 percent to treated tap-water. This number falls to less than 50 percent in small and medium cities. Nationally, some 27 percent of urban households depend on frequently contaminated groundwater sources through wells and hand pumps, contributing to the nationwide pressure on declining water tables. It is evident that in a rapidly urbanizing India, groundwater over-extraction, pollution of fresh water sources, inefficient and unsustainable water management and a lack of integrated centralized mapping of India’s aquifers all pose a high risk to water security.

Investments in integrated water management policies is thus critical. Results of a WRI study of a watershed development project in Kumbharwadi, located in a drought prone district in Maharashtra, showed an increase in net present value of nearly $ 2.5 million over 15 years. Other benefits included improvements in agricultural and livestock income, as well as savings related to traveling for fuel and government-supplied water tankers.

Like water, forests too provide resilience to agricultural and urban landscapes. They perform a number of eco-system services by acting as recharge zones, increasing agricultural productivity, water filtration, flood mitigation, coastal protection and improving air quality through carbon sequestration. In fact, the World Bank estimates conservatively that ecosystem services contribute 3.6 percent to the nation’s GDP.

WRI estimates that tree planting efforts in Kumbharwadi resulted in carbon sequestration benefits worth $1 to $1.4 million. In addition, it led to several market and non-market benefits to the community, such as improved fuel wood and fodder supply, improved diet, as well as improved resilience to droughts. Greening India’s urban growth clearly means solid investments in natural infrastructure. This must occur within urban spaces and their surrounds, as well as at a regional level so that urban life can be better sustained by its surrounding forest and water resources. Restoration of degraded landscapes and watersheds through the Government’s Green India Mission will provide multiple benefits toward better livelihoods and environment.

Clean Energy

While 90 percent of urban India now has access to electricity, the low quality of energy access and irregular power supply continue to be of concern – especially in smaller and medium-sized cities. This means that India must address the large-scale inefficiency in the supply chain of energy services in all sectors of the economy. Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to utilize limited energy resources, and national investments in this approach would be a good first line of defense.

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency’s programs for energy efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances and buildings need to be pursued aggressively to deliver significant reductions in urban India’s energy consumption, local air pollution and carbon emissions. However, accelerating investments in renewable energy sources will have a game-changing effect on the energy landscape, ensuring a rapid transition for cities and their surrounds towards low-carbon growth.

The Indian government’s push toward 175 GW of solar and wind power through private sector engagement is a welcome strategy. Cleaner energy supplies imply preparing the market for structural transformation. We also need to support innovations that also secure social and economic benefits to nurture growth within the sector. Not least, we must help citizens recognize the value of choosing clean energy. Already, through WRI’s electricity governance initiative in Tamil Nadu, TEGI, consumer and civil society groups are demanding this in support of efficient market mechanisms for energy.

Combined Potential

India has one of the slowest rates of urbanization for its income levels. This gives us a bit of time to choose the right model of urban growth: one that creates well-coordinated, energy and resource efficient cities with the regional capacity to sustain economic growth and well-being for all its citizens. The three strategies I just described have the potential to combine into a model of growth that cities in India can adopt in order to modernize sustainably and efficiently. They will have a positive impact on urban form, as well as the quality of life, for years to come.

This article originally appeared on and RTCC under the title “Three steps to build a greener and climate resilient India”.

Friday Fun: Creatively Engaging Road Safety with a Graphic Narrative

Fri, 2015-05-08 21:32

“Wishful Thinking” shows that, although traffic collisions are often blamed on individual behavior, urban design can be a powerful tool for improving road safety. Graphic by Nikhil Chaudhary.

India has the highest number of accident fatalities in the world. But the pressing issue of road safety is rarely taken seriously. This is particularly apparent, given the high frequency and intensity of risks that motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists take on a daily basis.

Statistics of road fatalities and injuries are often publicized with the intention of encouraging responsible behavior on the road. At the same time, the conversation about road safety generally centers on individual behavior—like following traffic-rules, using of helmets and seat belts, and avoiding drinking and driving. However, the root of the problem—and solution—is elsewhere, as collisions are the result of a combination of individual behavior and physical infrastructure.

Addressing physical infrastructure and urban design is necessary to improving road safety in our cities. To close out the third UN Global Road Safety Week, let’s take a look at a comic strip that creatively engages with road safety in India:

“Wishful Thinking” by Nikhil Chaudhary.

Collisions often lead to a blame-game between pedestrians and motorists, rather than a discussion of how we can design our streets for safety. The comic strip—produced for Equal Streetsembodies this dilemma. It tells the story of an average pedestrian and driver in India who are involved in a collision. Both the pedestrian and the motorist are portrayed as equally responsible for the incident. But as we examine their individual perspectives, it becomes clear that their behavior is influenced by the roads they have to navigate.

The comic strip ends as a call for safe streets for all. The red line that divides the two perspectives emerges as a graph of the deaths resulting from traffic collisions. The narrative reminds us that these numbers are avoidable, if we design our cities and roads to be safe places.

Comics, because of their visually compelling form and long history of social critique, can be a powerful medium for promoting road safety. The story represented here makes us pause, and consider how our streets can be safer for all.

Friday Fun: Lessons and Innovations from India’s Temporary City, the Kumbh Mela

Sat, 2015-05-02 00:38

A spiritual gathering of millions of people in India, the Kumbh Mela can be considered a temporary urban environment and offers many fascinating insights for urbanists. Photo by AlGraChe/Flickr.

In January, 2013, a city emerged on the banks of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in Allahabad, India. Temporary bamboo and fabric structures appeared on a floodplain that had been underwater just weeks before. Metal plates were laid down for roads, pontoon bridges were constructed, and health facilities were erected. From January 14 to March 10, as many as 34 million people are estimated to have passed through the festival, which occupies an area larger than that of Athens, Greece. And then, as March came to a close, everything was taken down and recycled, not to return to Allahabad for the next 12 years. The settlement vanished.

This gathering is called the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu religious festival and pop-up city like none other in existence. Beyond its magnificence and scale, Kumbh Mela has many lessons for urbanists on how to create and maintain a city that works for people.

A Place of Public Ritual

The Kumbh Mela has been called the largest gathering in the world. It is a pilgrimage destination that rotates every three years between the four cities of Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik, and Ujjain, the dates determined according to Zodiacal calculations on the positions of the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter. The festival always occurs on a river or confluence of rivers where, it is believed, Lord Vishnu spilled a drop of amrita (the nectar of immortality) as he flew away from a battle. Pilgrims, at a predetermined time, wash themselves in the river to remove themselves of sin. In addition to the primary ritual of bathing in the waters, attendees also engage in devotional singing, a mass feeding of holy men and poor, and assemblies where religious doctrine is debated.

All of these people, however, must also have water, food, and places to sleep. The gathering demonstrates exaggerated versions of the problems cities face, but has also been the driver of many potential solutions to these problems.

A Valuable Site for Learning and Innovation

The sheer size and temporary nature of the gathering make it an unmatched laboratory for urban planners and designers, who can watch urbanization (and de-urbanization) occur at a fast-forward pace. A team from Harvard closely documented the 2013 event from beginning to end, and has recently released their findings as a book.  They highlight that the process is necessarily tightly controlled and administered, and planned for months ahead of time by a centralized team. The construction included 35,000 toilets, 340 miles of water infrastructure and 95 miles of roads, all in the duration of a few months. The temporary settlement takes the form of a planned grid, and has 14 sectors with height limits, dividing walls, and even gardens.

The event has also become a laboratory for innovative tech solutions. Ramesh Raskar of MIT Media Lab, along with several partners at Ink, has created Kumbhathon, a movement which has engaged in several “Buildathons,” working with the government, private sector, and civil society in the city of Nashik (the next hosting city) to develop innovative solutions to the festival’s pressing problems. These solutions include cashless and smartphone-less payments for housing and services, bike-sharing, smartphone apps for navigation that show where crowds are thickest, crowdsourcing of location data to find missing people, and data collection to prevent the outbreak of epidemics. These solutions, while created to address the unique circumstances of a pop-up city, all have applications beyond the festival, both in other large gatherings and in everyday city life.

The Kumbh Mela is remarkable for the devotion its attendees display. The rituals, the colors, and the music all contribute to a striking event. Perhaps equally astounding, however, is the fact that the gathering, despite its constraints, is able to function at a basic level, delivering necessities and services to people. The fact that solutions can be found even under these extraordinary conditions is a signal to other city leaders that they can foster learning and innovation under comparatively ordinary circumstances. They can take note of the Kumbh Mela’s progress, learn from it, and bring a bit of this ephemeral city home with them.

A Conversation About India’s Smart Cities: CONNECTKaro 2015 in Tweets

Thu, 2015-04-30 01:48

At this year’s CONNECTKaro conference, participants discussed a range of topics pertinent to sustainable urban development in India–including smart cities, buses, women’s safety, and safe access to mass transit. Photo by Johann/Flickr.

From April 15 – 16, 2015 over 300 experts—including government officials, policy makers, urban planners, and transport practitioners—participated in a global conversation about Smart Cities at CONNECTKaro 2015. The conference was hosted by EMBARQ India in New Delhi, and key speakers included Nitin Gadkari (India’s Minister for Road Transport and Highways), Marcio Lacerda (Mayor of Belo Horizonte, Brasil), Manish Sisodia (Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister), Jeff Olson (Director of Alta Planning), and Suresh Prabhu (India’s Minister for Railways).  Here are some of the top tweets, quotes, and discussions that came from the conference’s panelists and participants.

The opening session at #CK2015 discussed the role of smart cities for moving India forward:

200m people will soon move to Indian cities. Which cities? Are there jobs? What quality of life? Jamshyd Godrej at #CK2015 @EMBARQIndia

— Divya Kottadiel (@dkottadiel) April 15, 2015

@nitin_gadkari We need to look for solutions beyond metros, hence the focus on creating #smartcities that become centers of #growth #CK2015

— WRI India (@WRIIndia) April 15, 2015

Participants at CONNECTKaro also explored  land management strategies for smart development: retrofits, redevelopment, and green-field development:

Merely deploying information technology is not the goal of #SmartCities – Dr O.P.Agarwal #CK2015 on land management for smart cities — Lakshmi Rajagopalan (@laksrajagopalan) April 15, 2015

Only 7% of Mumbai’s first Development Plan of 1965 has been implemented – Rajan Athalye Kalpataru @EMBARQIndia #CK2015 @RejeetM — Zainab Kakal (@zainabkakal) April 15, 2015

The session on smart mobility discussed how new technologies can enhance citizens’ mobility experience—from modelling and engineering, to design and planning:

“A Transport Interchange is critical to be created for improving usability of public transportation” Peter Piet #CK2015 EMBARQIndia — UxD Insights (@UxDInsights) April 15, 2015

SDG’s Peter Piet is speaking today at #CK2015 about integrated transport & the lessons India can learn from the UK & other #smartcities — Steer Davies Gleave (@SDGworld) April 15, 2015

“Stories to Watch from Around the World” brought together global experts who shared experiences from their respective countries and discussed the key challenges facing India:

“It’s not just about walking and cycling, its about the quality of life in a #city” Jeff Olson, @altaplanning at #CK2015 #StoriesToWatch

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 15, 2015

And a session on transit-oriented development (TOD) focused on the opportunities and challenges of implementing TOD in Indian cities:

New phenomenon of 3D cities – distant, dispersed and disconnected – @ZamoranoEMBARQ TOD session #CK2015

— Lakshmi Rajagopalan (@laksrajagopalan) April 15, 2015

Robin King: Transformation takes time, but its not going to happen on its own. We need creative and transformative policies #CK2015

— Madhuri Dass (@MadhuriDass) April 15, 2015

Participants examined potential solutions that Indian cities can use to address women’s safety in public transport:

“88% of the #women we surveyed claimed that they were harassed while using public #transport.” Ranjana Menon at #CK2015 @ranj87 #Bhopal

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 15, 2015

“It is not a women’s issue, it is all the whole city problem” Kalpana Vishwanath Talking #gendersafety #ck2015

— Dario Hidalgo (@dhidalgo65) April 15, 2015

EMBARQ India introduced 5 examples of how emerging businesses are innovating urban mobility. Entrepreneurs from Traffline, Zoomcar, Alta Planning + Design, and Personal Air Quality Systems Pvt. Ltd. presented:

“What #India needs: 500 startups across 10 #cities in the next 5 years” @jyotchadha on #mobility platforms at #CK2015

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 15, 2015

The bicycle of the future will not look like the bicycle of today – Jeff Olson at #CK2015 @EMBARQIndia

— Sameep Arora (@asli_alsi) April 15, 2015

Representatives from Raahgiri Day and Equal Streets sat on the panel about India’s open streets movement:

“Cycling for huge population in India isnt an option.We need to find a reason for others to cycle, make cycle available”#CK2015 @EMBARQIndia

— Harry (@haristweet) April 15, 2015

“Better Growth, Better Climate”discussed how India can benefit from global climate and development platforms, leveraging the smart cities initiative to attract funding and grow sustainably:

“Savings in global infrastructure amount to 3 trillion USD by 2030 from more compact, connected, coordinated urban development” #CK2015 — EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

“Provide sustainable last mile #mobility mode options such as walking, cycling and NMT to integrate #SafeAccess” Dr. Sanjay Gupta at #CK2015 — EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) was launched in December 2014. A session at the conference discussed case studies and focused on the complexities of applying the GPC:

#CK2015 framing policies are important, but mapping execution & presenting outcomes is more important for #smart city

— iamglobe (@iamglobe) April 16, 2015

An interactive workshop engaged with participants about how to plan, design, develop, and maintain safe access to and around mass transit stations:

“Provide sustainable last mile #mobility mode options such as walking, cycling and NMT to integrate #SafeAccess” Dr. Sanjay Gupta at #CK2015

— EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

In workshop ‘Safe access to mass transit’ learning how to get #SmartCities #CK2015 — Diego Monraz (@MonrazDiego) April 16, 2015

Mr. Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister, Government of Delhi, talked about the short, medium, and long-term strategies for urban and transport development in Delhi:

“Unless we have confident mass transport for Delhi, there is no solution for traffic” @msisodia #CK2015 — Jyot Chadha (@jyotchadha) April 16, 2015

Cities need connectivity and safe access for women @msisodia #CK2015

— Jaspal Singh (@jaaaspal) April 16, 2015

“Bus Karo” focused on the challenges to improving bus service in Indian cities:

#BRT is not a choice but is necessity – International Energy Agency #CK2015

— Jaspal Singh (@jaaaspal) April 16, 2015

Another session covered the ways that developers can look at energy-usage patterns within communities to make cities more sustainable and equitable:

“What is added to #housing is not affordable and what is affordable is not added” #CK2015 @EMBARQIndia — WRI India (@WRIIndia) April 16, 2015

In light of the growing number of road fatalities across Indian cities, a session on road safety focused on how we can adopt a sound design principles for road safety:

“With the #RoadSafety Bill 2015, we aim to save 2 lac lives in the first 5 years.” Suhaan Mukherjee, PLR Chambers at #CK2015 — EMBARQIndia (@EMBARQIndia) April 16, 2015

A workshop on parking addressed urgent need to combat on-street parking through strong institutional and enforcement mechanisms, and off- street parking through building regulations:

The cost of #parking in India is the the lowest in the world, even lower than Bangaldesh, OP Mishra, Director, NDMC at #CK2015

— WRI India (@WRIIndia) April 16, 2015

— Lakshmi Rajagopalan (@laksrajagopalan) April 16, 2015

Friday Fun: From Stadiums to Public Parks, the Impacts of Space for Sports in Cities

Fri, 2015-04-17 22:03

With around 300 million people playing basketball in China, the Chinese Basketball Association is looking to build nearly 800,000 new courts in Beijing (pictured) and other cities across the country. Photo by Filipe Fortes/Flickr.

There are countless ways to analyze—and visualize—sports. For instance, there’s a wide spectrum of where and how sports are played in cities around the world. Professional sports typically take place in expensive stadiums, which are expected to draw crowds of fans and consumers. On the other hand, amateur sports happen at a much more local level. Sports often play a large role in cities and frequently receive a lot of attention from both elected officials and the public.

So how are amateur and professional sports venues producing different economic and social impacts in cities across the globe?

Making Space for Soccer in India

Space for recreational soccer fields has become an increasingly pertinent issue in India, especially in Mumbai. Many companies have formed to develop unused land in response to the demand for soccer space, and they construct fields “in the unlikeliest of places.” These fields are usually small and hastily built on any land that’s available, but they’re providing ample opportunities for soccer aficionados to play and diverting public attention away from field hockey.

Developing these informal fields in Mumbai offers the city numerous benefits. From an economic perspective, small business owners in this new industry have been able to capitalize on otherwise unusable properties and city residents are participating inexpensively. From a social perspective, this development is providing city residents with space for physical activity and has been a source of inspiration for aspiring professional athletes.

In the Dominican Republic, Baseball Takes All

In the Dominican Republic, baseball is the official national sport. Baseball requires little equipment, and is a “ubiquitous” part of Dominican life, providing many young players with the chance to become professional athletes. A couple unique aspects of Dominican baseball are the training programs for aspiring professionals and huge athletic facilities that exist for the country’s almost 30 major league teams. The city of San Pedro is well known for fostering successful baseball players, and houses the majority of major league-sponsored facilities.

Although baseball infrastructure has produced many economic benefits, it’s also had some social drawbacks. “Baseball factories” stimulate the economy with foreign money. In San Pedro specifically, baseball funds help finance public works projects, like plazas. However, the social ramifications of these baseball facilities in the Dominican Republic are typically negative. In contrast to the American system, in which many children play sports through school, Dominican children turn to buscones—people who often take advantage of rising athletes, acting as both coaches and agents. In fact, it’s commonly said that “parents risk a son’s childhood with baseball instead of going to school.”

In China, Basketball is Both a Recreational Activity and an Emerging Profession

China currently is home to around 300 million professional and amateur basketball players. In Beijing, common playing areas include public courts or schools, and recreational basketball is in high demand. At the professional level, there is a need for professional basketball facilities across the country. However, it’s uncertain whether the planned facilities—if and when they are constructed—could generate enough fan interest to be profitable.

In China, whereas the economic benefits of investing in basketball infrastructure are mixed, the social benefits are generally positive. Economically, amateur sports offer facilities the chance to profit from people who are eager to play. However, for professional basketball to grow in popularity, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) will have to invest in infrastructure for the league. Even though the CBA has played in the stadiums remaining from the 2008 Olympics, 800,000 new courts have been planned for development. Socially, recreational basketball can create a sense of community for China’s many only children, and the CBA promotes cultural diversity within the teams. Instead of players leaving to play for international teams, like those from the Dominican Republic, Chinese teams have been actively recruiting American players, like Stephon Marbury.

Sports for Sustainable, Healthy, Vibrant Cities

Around the world, sports serve many purposes. They can be an athlete’s profession, an avid player’s recreational outlet, or a team-building activity for anyone. Sports infrastructure varies widely, making it well-suited to sports’ many purposes. Across India, the Dominican Republic, and China, it’s clear that sports and sports infrastructure play an influential role in city and national development. From an economic perspective, they provide opportunities for new industries and encourage international funding. From a social perspective, they provide recreational outlets and cultural diversity, and, occasionally, professional opportunities.

Looking forward, it’s likely sports infrastructure will receive increasing attention from cities, especially as the process of greening sports facilities and implementing sustainable architecture becomes a bigger part of the discussion.

Urbanizing India: A Closer Look

Thu, 2015-04-16 14:30

This year’s CONNECTKaro conference focused on how Indian cities like Bangalore (pictured) can use technology for smarter development given the country’s rapid urbanization. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI.

From April 15 to 16, 2015 in New Delhi, city and transport leaders from around the world came together for the third annual edition of WRI India’s CONNECTKaro conference. This year’s theme of Smart Cities for Sustainable Development and focused on the role of technology, sustainable mobility, and vibrant public spaces for Indian cities.

India will be one of the last major countries in the world to experience the urbanization of its population. In 2010, 31 percent of India’s people lived in its cities. By 2030, this is expected to rise to 40 percent. This means that an additional 220 million people will move to cities across the country.

Which cities will these people go to? Is it possible to create jobs for these people? Will they have a good quality of life?

An Enormous Challenge

Approximately 100 million people will go to or be born in the top 10 cities; and the next 100 million people will go to or be born in next 80 cities with populations of over one million. A McKinsey study quotes, “If India optimizes the productivity of its cities and maximizes their GDP, the economy could add more than 170 million urban workers to its labor force by 2025.”

Urbanization will bring wealth and also challenge equity. The number of urban households with true discretionary spending power is estimated to increase sevenfold—to 89 million households—in 2025. Will this additional wealth mean a better quality of life? This wealth will surely increase the competition for constrained resources—such as public finance, water, road space, and more.

The newly elected BJP government is committed to addressing these urban challenges. It announced the 100 Smart Cities program when it came to power, thereby setting the stage for one of the biggest urban renewal programs. Just recently, a top government panel approved Rs. 2.73 Lakh Crores (US$ 2,730 billion) to develop 100 smart cities and upgrade basic civic infrastructure in another 500 cities over the next ten years.

Cities and urbanization clearly have the potential to be an environmentally sustainable way to work and live. Life in compact settlements requires less transport, less energy for cooling and heating, and directly occupies (and therefore, alters) less terrain than more spatially dispersed settlements.

What Are Smart Cities?

There is no single, correct definition of Smart Cities. The idea behind creating them is to enhance human economic and social well-being, and to reduce costs and resource consumption. Collectively, the city has to work for all its citizens. A city has to be a place where its citizens can live, work, and thrive.

The discourse on Smart Cities includes a wide variety of topics—including governance, technology, citizen participation, transport, energy, health and pollution, water, and waste.


Today India’s top 10 cities occupy 0.1 percent of the total land area, and its top 100 cities occupy 0.26 percent of the land. This land area will need to expand as more people come to live in cities, and it will be important to ensure expansion happens efficiently. Land management will be a critical element of the smart cities program.


Indian cities in the last two decades have made large investments in building wider roads, flyovers, and elevated roads. This has only led to an increase in cars and associated negative results—like air pollution and road traffic fatalities.

Global evidence shows new trends are emerging that are transforming the mobility paradigm from “moving cars” to “moving people”. Emerging global trends include bus rapid transit (BRT), unified cashless transactions across modes, taxi aggregators, bicycle sharing, car-license auction policies, and others. Cities need to understand how to adopt the new paradigm, implement new trends, and ensure that all initiatives are complimentary and not competing.

Finance (and Measurement)

Governments, businesses, and investment funds are all beginning to understand the costs and implications of climate change impacts—such as water scarcity, extreme weather events, temperature rise—and want to invest in sustainable infrastructure.

Measuring environmental and social impacts is critical to ensuring that additional capital costs (in most cases) actually produces real results. Measurement methodologies will be key for cities to raise capital from the private sector, launch fiscal instruments like bonds, and access funds from the green climate fund.

Public Spaces

Public spaces are where everybody in the city can meet as equals. Cities need safe, clean public spaces. Streets are the largest public space in a city and fostering vibrant streets can prioritize human interaction and create great public places where people can rest, relax, and play.

Streets where one can walk or bicycle freely create sustainable and healthy lifestyles for everyone, regardless of age, gender, ability, ethnicity or economic background. The Raahgiri Day open streets movement is a great start in this direction.

Technology for Disruptive Change

Efficiency through technology is clearly useful. Many truly transformative services can be “disruptive”, and create entirely new value propositions that may turn our ideas of ownership, participation, measures, and experience on their head. So why not go back to a problem that is pressing and needs new technologies and disruptive ideas for solutions?

A Smart City may not have single definition but it will require a willingness to sacrifice old ways and single-minded pursuits. Decisions will need to be built on strategic and evidence-based foundations, transforming cites to become places we would all like to come home to.

Why cities need to address river flooding now

Wed, 2015-03-11 20:33

Situated in Thailand’s expansive Chao Phraya river basin, Bangkok is particularly susceptible to urban damage due to river flooding. Photo by Chrisgel Ryan Cruz/Flickr.

Cities contribute 70 percent of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and play an essential role in climate change mitigation. However, since average global temperatures are already rising and the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly palpable around the world, cities also need to focus on adaptation measures in order to strengthen their resiliency and better protect billions of global urbanites.

With the changing global climate, river flooding in cities worldwide has emerged as an immense challenge to urban resilience. Currently, approximately 21 million people worldwide could be affected by river floods on average each year, and that number could increase to 54 million in 2030 due to climate change and widespread urban development.

The Aqueduct Global Flood Analyzer, a new online tool developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI), quantifies and visualizes the reality of global flood risk. The Flood Analyzer allows users to estimate the urban damage caused by river flooding in various scenarios, and to gauge both the GDP at risk and the size of vulnerable populations. Given that cities are the primary drivers of economic growth and are home to over half the world’s population, it’s critical that city leaders are informed about the threats that river flooding poses to their citizens’ health, security, and economic well-being.

A threat to urban populations, infrastructure, and economic activity

The Flood Analyzer’s urban damage calculator allows users to estimate the direct damage in dollars that river flooding causes to urban areas. Users can toggle a selected country’s flood-protection level to determine not only how much damage would occur in the country’s urban areas, but also how much damage can be avoided as a result of flood-protection systems. A country’s flood-protection system is a broad category of both natural and hard infrastructure—from natural buffers like expanded flood-plain areas to strategic tools like dams, levees, and land use planning. Additionally, the Flood Analyzer can estimate urban damage in three different scenarios for 2030, depending on the magnitude of climate change and future development patterns.

As the Flood Analyzer indicates, India currently avoids $10.2 billion in annual urban damage with 25 year flood protection level. Investing in flood protection infrastructure will reduce future costs and make Indian cities more resilient. Map by World Resources Institute.

One key insight from the Flood Analyzer is the disproportionate impact of river flooding on countries with high urbanization rates. 15 countries—led by India, Bangladesh, and China—account for 80 percent of the aggregate population exposed to flooding worldwide. Furthermore, many of these countries are particularly vulnerable in terms of affected GDP and urban damage, given their intense concentration of unprotected people and buildings in cities. India, for example, currently has $14.3 billion exposed GDP, and that figure could increase tenfold to $154 billion in 2030 in just a “middle-of-the-road” scenario. In a country where 75 percent of national economic activity will soon be generated in cities, it’s imperative that leaders address their cities’ vulnerability to the urgent risk of river flooding.

Awareness and action for more resilient cities

But India isn’t alone. Climate change is a global phenomenon, and regional river flooding often transcends city and national borders. Although the risks are escalating, there are plenty of opportunities for the public and private sectors to strengthen urban resilience and prevent catastrophic damage. The Flood Analyzer’s easily accessible data will help to raise awareness among decision makers and city leaders about the current and future risks of river flooding. Armed with this information, decision makers will be able to prioritize risk reduction and climate adaptation projects, and implement the most viable, cost-efficient options. It will take time and significant investment, but starting now, city leaders and decision-makers in international relief organizations, local governments, and the private sectors have an informative, powerful tool for developing vital flood protection systems and ensuring the long-term safety and stability of cities worldwide.

Visit and interact with the Aqueduct Global Flood Risk Analyzer here.

Bus rapid transit buses win battle with cars in Indore

Tue, 2015-03-10 21:19

The experience of Indore, India shows why bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes need to be separate from normal car traffic in order achieve its potential as a fast, efficient mode of transport. Photo by EMBARQ/Flickr.

This article was originally published in the Deccan Herald on February 25, 2015.

After five years of construction, Indore opened one of India’s few bus rapid transit (BRT) systems in May 2013. Operations started with a fraction of the total fleet planned, and yet, passengers exceeded 30,000 a day, a fourfold increase compared to the ridership of the regular city bus service that operated along the road before the BRT. But the bus lanes looked “empty” to the eyes of car drivers.

Some car users, who are still a minority, felt something was wrong–that they should be allowed to drive in the bus lanes. A representative of this vision took the case to court and, in October 2013, a Division Bench ordered that cars were allowed to use the bus lanes, as a temporary measure until the case was solved.

The result was appalling: traffic speed declined from 20 km/h to 13 km/h; traffic incidents became common, and demand for BRT declined substantially, jeopardizing the sustainability of the operations. BRT lost its charm, and rather than a symbol of progress and pride, became a dangerous trap. The intention to move people, not cars, was temporarily defeated.

The Division Bench appointed an expert committee to look into the details of the BRT and recommend whether to keep the temporary order or reinstate bus exclusivity.

The panel included members of the institutes of technology and management in Indore, a representative of the Ministry of Surface and Roads Transport, a social activist, and a senior advocate. They recommended that only iBus vehicles should use the BRT lanes, and at the same time made several suggestions for improving infrastructure and services in the corridor.

The Division Bench of two members did not agree on the recommendations, with one judge inclined in favor of keeping cars in the bus lanes and the other following the indication of the committee. As the case was not solved, it was passed to the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, which made a final decision on January 23, 2015.

The High Court decided to ban cars from the bus lanes, and closed the case. From now on, the corridor will be exclusive to iBus vehicles, and is expected to recover speed, safety and convenience to the public transport users, who happen to be the majority of people along the 11.4 km BRT corridor.

Conventional wisdom

With this ruling, the High Court challenges the conventional wisdom that roads are meant for moving cars, not necessarily maximizing people’s mobility, and suggests a type of city closer to European paradigms, where urban roads are designed with pedestrians, bicycles, and public transport in mind.

The High Court ruling on BRT in Indore, which is preceded by a similar ruling in Delhi, confirms that this approach is closer to the needs of Indian cities. BRT was built in Indore to give priority to people in buses, and thus maximize the movement of people, not cars. Allowing cars in the BRT lanes was a mistake, based on the wrong understanding that roads are mainly for vehicular movement.

It will be important, not just following the main recommendation of the experts committee (to limit the facility to iBus vehicles), but to advance other suggestions to improve the corridor, especially:

a) Increase the bus fleet to provide more frequent service and reduce waiting times and bus high occupancy levels;

b) Improve pedestrian crossings to the stations as to provide higher safety standards for vulnerable users; and

c) Introduce additional crossings to prevent people jaywalking and jumping the fences, as they would need to walk very long distances otherwise. With this ruling, the legal system sits on the people’s side – favoring the majority of the people, not just those privileged enough to drive cars.

In the Delhi case, the court said: “Since in a democracy it is not possible to physically seize cars and destroy them, the only democratic solution would be to dedicate road space for buses, which would move fast, and this would act as an incentive for people to switch to public transport. A developed country is not one where the poor own cars. It is one where the rich use public transport.”

These legal decisions are important precedents for many Indian cities planning BRT as part of integrated, multimodal, equitable public transport systems.

The road to safety

Mon, 2015-02-23 21:26

With the highest rate of traffic crashes in the world, Indian cities need to focus on making their streets safe for all road users. Photo by Ryan/Flickr.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express.

As Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, announces a package of assistance on road safety through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Global Safety Initiative, here is an ugly truth: India has one of the worst road safety records in the world, with around 1,37,423 road traffic fatalities in 2013. This makes up about 10 percent of road crash fatalities worldwide. In absolute numbers, more people die in road crashes in India than anywhere else in the world.

It is estimated that 17-18 percent of these fatalities occur in urban areas. This poses a serious threat as the country is rapidly urbanizing. A recent evaluation of road traffic fatalities in Delhi shows that pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 63 percent of total fatalities, against 11.4 percent for the country as a whole.

Million-plus cities as well as small and medium towns have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of fatalities per million population. They also record more road traffic accidents in the evening, which could be attributed to higher speeds, drunk driving and poor visibility. Allahabad recorded the greatest increase in fatalities per million people — 405 percent from 2001 to 2009 — followed by Agra (319 percent).

Things will probably get worse before they get better. Traffic fatalities increased by about 5 percent per year from 1980 to 2000, and since then have increased by about 8 percent per year.

Domestic vehicle sales increased from 97 lakh in 2008 to almost 2 crore in 2014. There is a strong correlation between the increase in vehicles and increase in road fatalities. Some estimates suggest traffic fatalities will grow five-fold in India by 2050 if we do not take adequate action.

Global experience shows that building safer motor vehicles and re-engineered road geometry does not translate into a better road safety record. There are success stories, like Sweden, where a “vision zero” approach to road safety was able to bring down fatalities to five or six annually. The US, on the other hand, managed to bring down the risk of road fatalities per kilometers traveled. However, the total kilometers traveled has grown exponentially in the past decades,  hence total road traffic fatalities continue to be high.

Rather than focusing on improving the safety of fast-moving vehicles, the international road safety discourse now focuses on two objectives: reducing the average speed of vehicles and, importantly, reducing the total volume of vehicle kilometers traveled. Together, this is known as a “sustainable transport approach” to road safety. It includes the redesign of urban streets and transport systems so that greater emphasis is put on public transport, non-motorized transport and transit-oriented development. The sustainable transport approach can also be categorized by the Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework, where the objectives are: avoid growth in vehicle kilometers traveled; shift trips to safer and more sustainable modes, like public transport and non-motorized transport, and improve the general condition of transport in terms of safety, time, cost, comfort.

This means India needs a two-pronged approach to road safety, with an equal emphasis on reducing the risk of fatality per kilometer traveled and reducing the number of vehicle kilometers traveled.

There is a critical list of best practices under each approach. Reducing the risk of fatality means strict enforcement of traffic rules —  drunk driving, helmet use, seat belts and child restraint, as well as air bags. It means improving the behavior of all road users: lane driving, keeping to speed limits, using and respecting pedestrian crossings etc. It also means improving road geometry — identifying accident-prone spots and re-engineering them. And finally, it means ensuring that the vehicles manufactured are safer. Governments and planners should require many of these standards by law and build a strong system for their enforcement.

Reducing the number of vehicle kilometers traveled means increasing safe access to presently vulnerable road users — bicyclists and pedestrians. Planners should make access to urban streets safer through better design and adequate space for pedestrians and other non-motorized transport users. It also means encouraging alternate, preferably non-motorized, forms of transport, such as cycle rickshaws, for shorter or local commutes. The use of mass-transit systems such as buses and trains to assist long-distance commutes is strongly recommended.

Planners should rationalize new road infrastructure investments by asking if it is a priority if only a small percentage of commuters own or drive cars. In Mumbai, for instance, just 14 percent use private cars or two-wheelers, whereas the majority spend a large part of their commute as pedestrians or users of public transport. As is often repeated within the transport sector, a rich nation is not one in which the poor have cars but one in which the rich use public transport.

The two things India must get right for its economic future

Wed, 2015-02-11 21:09

Renewable energies and connected, compact cities are the key to unlocking sustainable economic growth for India’s urban future. Photo by Binu K S/Flickr.

Taking even a quick look at India’s current pattern of growth, it’s not hard to see both the rising energy insecurity and the stress that cities across the country are experiencing. Congestion, urban sprawl, and poor access to reliable energy are daunting challenges to the development of the country. However, by developing connected, compact cities and encouraging more renewable energy use, India can pave the way for sustainable economic growth, universal access to energy, and enhanced quality of life for its citizens.

Pollution and poverty are holding the country back

India’s cities are bursting with growth. The country’s urban population will exceed 600 million in the next 15 years, and cities will account for 75 percent of national GDP. However, even economic output is likely to be impacted by congestion, urban sprawl and high levels of pollution. Delhi, Patna, Gwalior and Raipur already have some of the worst air pollution levels in the world. In fact, the World Bank estimates that the impact of growth-only oriented policies are costing the Indian economy a staggering 5.7 percent of the GDP as a result of urban air pollution, and 3.5 percent of the GDP as a result of ecosystem service losses.

India’s quickly rising demand for energy is consistent with the country’s recent urban growth. Large swaths of the country—especially the rural poor—have little or no access to a reliable source of power. With limited natural resources for domestic production, energy will continue to be a serious constraint to growth and development unless policy changes, new business models, and innovative finance solutions are adopted to harness energy-efficient technologies, tap renewable resources, and advance universal access to energy.

Rethinking our priorities for an urban future

Evidence shows that designing connected and compact rather than sprawling cities can save trillions of dollars globally. Recent thinking about urban planning highlights the need for: a) efficient public transport systems that can reliably move city residents to their destinations, b) high-quality, walkable public spaces, and c) environmentally sustainable infrastructure such as reliable water supply and sewer systems.

Focusing on renewable energy to fuel India’s growth has big advantages. Given the increasing affordability of new technologies, renewable sources will provide greater energy security for a country struggling to maintain its rapid economic growth, while also reducing the environmentally harmful impacts of current energy usage

Cities use the most energy, and produce the most greenhouse gas emissions. By focusing on building and appliance efficiency and integrating energy planning models from both the demand (energy efficiency) and supply (renewables, distributed generation) sides, India will make progress toward ensuring reliable and sustainable energy access for all.

Current targets are a good starting point

The Indian government has made ambitious public commitments to both sustainable energy and urban development. It has already announced plans to build 100 smart cities across the country by 2024 in a collaborative public-private partnership. On energy, the government has revised its solar targets for 2022 to 100 gigawatts—more than five times the previous goal—and is considering a new target of 60 gigawatts in wind energy capacity. In fact, discussing clean energy was a big part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda during President Obama’s visit to New Delhi last month.

Recommendations for a new economy

Local governments are the best placed to lead development on smart cities, as well as to look at integrated resource planning. A few immediate recommendations for these governments include:

  • Integrate public transport infrastructure and land development to ensure efficient expansion of urban areas and accommodate growing populations.
  • Focus on infrastructure, especially public transit, water, sewage, sanitation and power
  • Strengthen existing regulation to make sustainable energy more accessible for the poor
  • Reduce power-sector losses and utilize savings to invest in energy-deficient areas in partnership with clean energy entrepreneurs
  • Implement innovative financing models to make distributed and grid-scale renewable energy more viable
  • Focus on better distribution models for power and give micro-grids a boost
  • Strengthen urban governance, by employing more transparent, accountable, and  technology-enabled decision-making processes
Looking at the long-term

In the long-term, the Indian government and its partners—whether public or private—will need a more holistic path towards development. Growth in cities is unstoppable; but why is there such massive growth in Indian in the cities in the first place? The discourse on sustainable development must address the causes of urbanization. Eventually, India’s path to sustainable economic growth will have to take into account the economic geography of land, food, water and energy, as well as the development of peri-urban and rural areas of the country.

Why public transport needs to work for women, too

Mon, 2015-02-09 20:49

Public transport in India needs to be safe, accessible, and responsive to the distinct needs of women. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

Men and women use public transport in different ways because of their distinct social roles and economic activities. Since women’s reasons for traveling generally differ from men’s, the purpose, frequency, and distance of their trips are also different. Additionally, safety and perceived social status play a complex role in shaping women’s transport behavior as they move between urban, suburban, and rural areas. Equitable access to public transport is about making the transport system work for women and meeting their need for safe, efficient, sustainable mobility.

Shorter trips, more often, in unsafe environments

According to the UN, women often “chain” their activities by combining multiple stops and destinations within a single, longer trip as a result of their household and caretaking responsibilities. This makes it costlier for women to use public transport, since they may have to pay for numerous single-fare, one-way tickets throughout a chained trip. Additionally, women may be traveling with children, elderly parents, or groceries, adding complications and inconvenience if transport isn’t reliable, simple to use, or physically accommodating. Finally, transport routes beyond the central commuter corridors may not be in service during off-peak hours, when women are most likely to need public transport to access their social and economic networks.

In many cases, women have more domestic responsibilities like taking care of children, running household errands, and maintaining familial and community ties. Public transport has the potential to make employment opportunities, healthcare resources, and education accessible to women. However, due to poor transport planning, women often do not have equal access to public transport, putting these resources out of reach and limiting financial autonomy. Furthermore, sexual harassment and violence in stations and vehicles remain persistent problems for cities around the world. When women continually feel unsafe and lack the ability to report incidents, public transport ceases to be an equitable and accessible form of mobility.

How London, Toronto, and New Delhi are working to make transport more gender equitable

Good design can go a long way in making public spaces more inclusive of women, but ensuring gender equity should also be a priority in the planning, procurement, operation, and evaluation of all modes of public transport. So how are cities changing to make safety and access a reality for women?

London’s public transport operator, Transport for London (TfL) uses information technology to enhance women’s safety. For instance, the Technology Innovation Portal at TfL allows users to submit innovative technological ideas and solutions to meet key challenges, like women’s safety. In 2004, TfL created the Women’s Action Plan, which called for discounted fares as well as low-floor and step-free buses. TfL consulted 140 women’s advocacy groups in London and launched an annual Safer Travel at Night campaign in order to better understand their specific concerns. Today, TfL’s Women’s Action Plan and Gender Equality Scheme have been lauded by the Transportation Research Board as the most comprehensive efforts by transport operators to meet the distinct needs of women.

Metropolitan Toronto Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) is a collaborative relationship formed by various community-based women’s organizations, the Toronto Transit Commission, and the Toronto Police Department to conduct comprehensive safety audits of the city’s transport system. The partnership works to empower women in the community by developing research and policy recommendations based on its safety audits. Then, METRAC engages government actors to create safer neighborhoods, schools, campuses, workplaces, institutions and public spaces. In the past, METRAC has successfully delivered designated transport waiting areas, well-lit parking garages, assault prevention programs, and better safety policies and practices in hospitals and other workplaces.

Jagori, an Indian NGO, addresses issues of women’s safety in Delhi by focusing on the right to participate in equitable, democratic, and inclusive city life, free from violence and fear. Jagori emphasizes the responsibility of local governance and urban planning circles to include women in their decision-making. Since its launch in 2004, Jagori’s Safe Delhi Campaign has conducted over 40 reviews with the help of the app Safetipin, which maps safety scores for public spaces and identifies ways areas of improvement that matter for women.

Making gender equality a priority in transport planning

During EMBARQ India’s Talking Transit Workship in Bhopal, participants discussed the importance of capacity building, public participation, and enforcement for improving women’s safety. Police, transport agencies, and advocacy organizations need to collaborate and coordinate with one another to reduce sexual harassment and violence in public transport, because individual and isolated initiatives—like CCTV cameras—are not enough on their own. Instead, transport agencies need to measure, plan, implement, monitor, evaluate, and share insights in order to make long-term progress and deliver concrete improvements. This requires clearly allocating responsibilities and identifying individuals so that ideas and initiatives are successfully implemented.

Urban transport should equitably serve all city residents, regardless of gender. Women don’t have genuine access to transport if transport systems aren’t designed to meet their distinct mobility needs, and if public spaces aren’t safe or even perceived as safe.

For truly sustainable, equitable cities, we need to make public transport work for women, too.

How to enable safer access to mass transit in Indian cities

Tue, 2015-02-03 01:02

Bus rapid transit (BRT) stations should be easily accessible and safe for pedestrians. Photo by Meena Kadri/Flickr.

It is increasingly recognized that cities are both powerhouses of economic growth and the primary drivers of economic prosperity, worldwide. This holds true for urban India as well, where exponential growth is expected not only in existing metropolitan areas, but also in the innovative form of 100 new smart cities. This rapid growth presents a huge opportunity to create more sustainable, livable Indian cities, but continuing business as usual patterns will only exacerbate the present challenges of intense traffic congestion, poor air quality, and inequitable access to urban transport. To take advantage of the opportunities presented by urbanization, Indian cities can adopt a more sustainable path by prioritizing people-oriented, integrated transport development.

Fortunately, India has recognized the need for sustainable mobility and has invested US$15 billion in the planning and construction of 19 bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and ten metro rail systems nationwide. While these plans and investments are steps in the right direction, many high-end mass transit projects are being planned in areas that are poorly designed for pedestrians and cyclists, resulting in a lack of safety, security, comfort, and convenience. Projects are often planned and implemented in isolation, without proper thought given to how citizens can access transit hubs. Finally, despite their potential role in public life, the areas around transit stations are not yet perceived as integrated places of multi-modal connectivity, where large volumes of people can live, work, and interact with one another on a daily basis.

Creating safe, accessible transit hubs requires local solutions

Non-motorized transport modes like bicycling and walking are common in Indian cities, accounting for between 25 and 55 percent of all trips. However, the focus in planning and development circles remains improving and increasing road space for vehicles. Additionally, projects to improve access to transit stations across the country are often piecemeal and vary in their approach and area of intervention. New transit systems are not always supported by robust feeder systems that connect commuters to their final destinations, even though Indian cities feature a host of mobility options provided by cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, taxis, and private bus operators. These services should be integrated into mass transit planning to provide last-mile connectivity and greater accessibility for residents.

Although cycling accounts for half of all trips in some Indian cities, cyclist safety is not always a priority among urban planners and designers. Photo by Benoit Colin/EMBARQ.

While numerous international examples of accessible transit stations exist, Indian cities face unique planning challenges and require appropriately localized solutions. Some of these include high density urban communities, the prevalence of non-motorized transport, informal employment, lower levels of enforcement with limited public participation, and uncoordinated institutional structures. Until today, there has been no clear guidance for Indian city leaders on designing safe, accessible transit stations.

Safe Access to Mass Transit: A new manual

To help planners and city leaders overcome these challenges, EMBARQ, part of the Sustainable Cities program of the World Resources Institute in India, has developed the Safe Access Manual: Safe Access to Mass Transit Stations in Indian Cities. The manual presents a sustainable, people-oriented approach to station accessibility. The new manual lays out clear guidelines for developing accessible stations that prioritize pedestrians and cyclists, integrate multiple modes of transport, enhance the local economy, and serve as vibrant public spaces. It further emphasizes equitable access – particularly women’s safety – as well as safety for non-motorized transport users, in general. Finally, the manual suggests tying together the planning, implementation, maintenance, and evaluation of station areas in a single participatory process to allow local and state authorities to better co-ordinate with one another and ensure that safe, accessible mass transit becomes a reality.

This graphic details the safe access approach to station accessibility planning. Graphic by EMBARQ India.

As Indian cities continue to grow at a rapid pace, mass transit stations need to be developed in ways that meaningfully engage with local residents, businesses, city agencies, and other stakeholders in planning and decision-making processes. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the distinct service needs of an area, so that local communities can develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for their surroundings, including their transit station. When city planners properly address issues of equitable access, mass transit stations become safe, dynamic places for all to enjoy.

Learn more about the role of urban design in creating safe, accessible transport systems in the Safe Access Manual here.

Live from Transforming Transportation: Making sustainable urban mobility a policy reality

Sat, 2015-01-17 02:45

On the second day of Transforming Transportation, panelists discussed the challenges and opportunities for implementing sustainable mobility plans. Photo by marcusrg/Flickr.

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC15) is the annual conference co-organized by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport arm of the World Resources Institute’s (WRIWRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the World Bank. This year’s conference focuses on Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity, and takes place on January 15 and 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC15, by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to for video streaming of select sessions.

“Radical change is needed for us to address the challenges of urbanization.” This call to action came from Sherielysse R. Bonifacio, assistant secretary for the Philippines Department of Transportation and Communications, during the second day of the Transforming Transportation conference in Washington, DC. Bonifacio outlined how Manila’s car-oriented policies have had disastrous impacts on quality of life in the city. According to her, there are 6.1 million trips by private vehicles in Metro Manila every day. Manila is not alone in its history of car-oriented development. To ensure that cities are livable, sustainable, and equitable, speakers at Transforming Transportation have advocated for a new growth model that prioritizes non-motorized and public transport.

So how do cities get there?

A panel of experts at Transforming Transportation discussed the process for creating sustainable urban mobility policies in Brazil, India, the Philippines, Mexico City, and Copenhagen. Recent mobility law’s in Mexico City and Brazil show how prioritizing sustainable transport can transform cities. However, the panel described how identifying the right policy intervention can be the easiest part of the process. Beyond this, successful sustainable mobility policy changes involve a holistic, integrated approach to mobility, institutional strength with clearly deviated responsibilities, and public engagement to generate widespread support.

An integrated approach to mobility services

According to Rosário Macario, professor at Lisbon Technical University, “The focus of a mobility law should not be mobility but accessibility.” Accessibility is not only a consequence of transport infrastructure, it is also the result of land-use planning. Wagner Colombini, consultant at Logit, described that Brazil’s 2012 mobility law encourages cities to integrate land-use and mobility planning to improve accessibility.

For cities to be accessible, their transport systems must also be connected with each other. Gisela Méndez, capacity building and networks manager for EMBARQ Mexico, described that Mexico City has implemented a number of transport improvements in recent years, from bus rapid transit (BRT), to bike-sharing, to metro rail, and more. Still, she argues that these systems need to be better integrated – a priority of Mexico City’s new mobility law.

Photo by Zhou Jia/WRI.

Implementing mobility policies require strong institutions

Sherielysse Bonifacio and Nupur Gupta, senior transport specialist of the South Asia Energy and Infrastructure Unit at the World Bank, described how weak institutional structures have constrained progress on mobility policies. In Manila, Bonifacio argued that private bus operators have too much control over the city’s transport department, which is not proactive enough in developing a rational mass transport system. “We currently have 300 bus operators [running] on one corridor. You can’t integrate and manage this system.”

In India, Gupta argued that the biggest challenge to sustainable mobility policies are the fragmentation of institutional power. India’s constitution gives states control over urban development. “The elephant in the room is the institutional side… We have a situation where there is huge fragmentation of responsibilities…[and] there is no entity at the local level responsible for urban transport.” This results in constant delays to transport projects, and a lack of integration between city infrastructure.

Involving the public for people-oriented mobility policies

Creating effective mobility policies requires a deep understanding of citizens’ needs. In Copenhagen, Niels Tørsløv, deputy director “City in Use” at City of Copenhagen, explained how the city is using technology to monitor cycling use after sporting events in order to better plan biking infrastructure.

Generating the political will to advance sustainable mobility often requires strong public support. Macario described how Brazil’s mobility law – which prioritizes pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport – was shaped by bringing together diverse stakeholders. It then underwent five years of in-depth discussion among the public. During this period, she described that “the discussion of mobility in Brazil changed completely. People started thinking about mobility differently. That was the cornerstone of the policy.” By “embedding society in the change process,” public support helped push the policy through and is helping create more sustainable cities across Brazil.

Stay tuned for continued coverage of Transforming Transportation later today on TheCityFix! In the meantime, join the conversation online using hashtag #TTDC15 and by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter.

Live from Transforming Transportation: How connected cities are good for people and business

Fri, 2015-01-16 23:50

Day two of Transforming Transportation kicked off with an exploration of how connected cities present opportunities for businesses to better meet citizens’ needs. Photo by Mariana Gil/EMBARQ Brasil.

Transforming Transportation (#TTDC15) is the annual conference co-organized by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport arm of the World Resources Institute’s (WRIWRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the World Bank. This year’s conference focuses on Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity, and takes place on January 15 and 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC15, by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to for video streaming of select sessions.

The world’s cities are growing at unprecedented rates. Urban areas are expected to add 1.4 billion people between 2011 and 2030 and house 60% of the global population by 2030.

Experts often discuss the idea of creating “connected” cities – compact urban areas featuring public transit, bike paths and walkways – as a way of curbing climate change, improving safety and boosting citizens’ quality of life. As a panel of experts highlighted at today’s Transforming Transportation conference, connected cities also present multiple opportunities and benefits for businesses.

So what is a “connected” city?

“I see a city as connected when citizens have peace of mind regarding mobility – making transportation available so that every citizen in a country can be present in the right place at the right time,” said Arvind Singhatiya, vice president of corporate affairs for OLA, an Indian car service similar to Uber.

Two big factors are converging to influence a city’s connectivity. For one, the rise of technology. “The electronic fabric in cities around the world is, for the first time, providing a level of connectivity that allows other things to happen,” said Michael Dixon, general manager of IBM’s Global Smarter Cities Business program. “We’re seeing people able to share information and make decisions in ways that weren’t possible in the past.”

The other factor is collaboration – allowing all stakeholders, from local government officials to urban planners to citizens themselves, to share knowledge and ideas. “This bottom-up connectivity is very important,” said Marisella Montoliu Muñoz, director of Urban and Disaster Risk Management with the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice.

Opportunities for business to generate impact

We’re now seeing several opportunities for businesses to contribute to better connected, integrated cities like never before. It’s a relationship that benefits businesses as well as the world’s city dwellers. For example:

Rise of the “on-demand economy”

Services like Uber and OLA allow any citizen with an internet connection to access reliable transportation whenever and wherever they need it. It’s a fundamental change in capitalism that presents unprecedented business opportunity. “For businesses, the real opportunity is to work out what are the business models where we can improve service and reduce costs by applying technology?” said Dixon.

A robust job force

Connectivity gives citizens better access to goods and services throughout a city, including jobs. It’s a design that benefits both residents and businesses. “That ability to reach in an affordable way the places where they live to the places where the jobs are has to do with the attractiveness of a city to business,” said Montoliu Muñoz.


Cities around the world face Herculean problems – from traffic congestion to air pollution and its associated health impacts to road accidents and fatalities. Collaboration between businesses, city leaders, urban planners and other stakeholders can foster innovation to solve these difficulties and improve the lives of city residents.

For example, many cities struggle with the problem of “last-mile connectivity.” The city provides public transit systems, but citizens live too far away to utilize them. Enter shuttle systems: “In many large urban cities, you have an arterial rail system,” said Dixon. “The idea of this connected car system where people can get from their homes to transit and back again is very attractive.”

OLA arose to help solve a similar problem in India. Delhi in particular boasts a large population with relatively poor city infrastructure – citizens face challenges in getting to where they need to be on time. OLA’s vehicle-response time is about 15 minutes, and every OLA car replaces the need for about six vehicles on the road, according to Singhatiya. 

Arvind Singhatiya discusses how OLA’s use of technology improves cities’ connectivity while reducing private vehicle use. Photo by Zhou Jia/EMBARQ.

Data for change

Thanks to sophisticated technologies and software systems, businesses and governments now have access to increasingly robust data sets. Sharing this data between the two groups can improve business and ensure good policy-making. For example, Uber recently agreed to share its transportation data with the city of Boston. OLA plans to do the same with some of the 60 Indian cities in which it operates. “We are using analytics to understand commuters’ behaviors and using technology to asses roads and traffic conditions,” said Singhatiya. “This will help authorities to identify where they need to have flyovers, and which places have more traffic during specific days.”

Planning for the long-term sustainability of cities

Of course, these are just a few opportunities for businesses to impact connectivity. The space is continually evolving and innovating.

Perhaps the main lesson to keep in mind from today’s session is that investing in connectivity is simply good strategy – for businesses, for cities, and for citizens. “When cities are connected, businesses grow because every transaction happens at the right time,” said Singhatiya. “And this leads to a growth in economy.”

Stay tuned for continued coverage of Transforming Transportation later today on TheCityFix! In the meantime, join the conversation online using hashtag #TTDC15 and by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter.



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