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Bengaluru’s Krishna Rajendra Market Station Provides an Opportunity to Test a More Inclusive Approach to Development

Thu, 2018-02-22 14:13

KR market has been an important economic and social hub for years. Will a new metro station change it all? Photo by Nicolas Mirguet/Flickr

To keep pace with a rapidly growing population, Bengaluru is making huge investments in transportation infrastructure. One of the city’s newest metro stations, Krishna Rajendra Market Station, is a vibrant case study of how urban development can affect different communities. Located in the heart of Bengaluru’s informal economy, KR Market Station represents not only the metro system’s rapid expansion but the ways it might be managed differently to bring benefits to more residents

Rising land prices and changing economic and urban design policies risk pricing out current businesses and customers and short-circuiting a vibrant local economy. More inclusive development of Krishna Rajendra could help form policies that are a win-win for the community as well as the government.

Traditional markets are hotspots for local and informal economies, playing an important role in developing cities. Photo by Amartya Deb

Value Gains Expected to Finance Metro Expansion

Traditional markets like Krishna Rajendra play an important role in reducing poverty in rapidly developing cities. They are hubs for job opportunities and offer lower prices for goods and services, making the city livable for a diverse population. KR Market is estimated to provide jobs to more than 5,000 people and house businesses worth INR 40 lakhs ($60,100) a day. It’s an important component in connecting the urban core and its services, goods and employment opportunities to communities on the periphery.

Bengaluru is financing its metro expansion through land value capture, however, a strategy that will likely lead to restructuring the market area through reconstruction and regeneration in order to maximize land values in the vicinity of stations. With current political and policy efforts in place, a certain degree of change can therefore be expected in KR Market.

While on one hand the metro project may drive land diversification and densification, on the other, current benefits, such as affordable housing and employment opportunities, may be at risk. An increase in rent and cost of living would make it difficult for those that work and reside in the area to remain.

A study analyzing the effects of an elevated highway through KR Market in 2000 showed that the project severely affected hawking and street vending by reducing the space for pedestrian movement by more than 50 percent and increasing the informal rent of hawking and vending spaces. There is cause for concern that development related to the new metro station will have a similar impact or worse on existing vendors.

Some scholars argue that adaption to change is easier for smaller businesses. But my visit to KR Market in July 2015 forewarned that the aging hawkers and venders that populate the area, along with workers who lack permanent tenure, are among the most vulnerable groups. They will find it difficult to adapt to change. Many stakeholders on the ground did not have a clear understanding of the interventions planned for the area. Changes will therefore come as a shock to many, making adaptation difficult.

What is the best way to dodge this bullet? Make the planning process more inclusive, democratic and equitable.

The Many Benefits of Enhanced Participation

The unique pedestrian culture of Krishna Rajendra Market encourages vending for thousands in the market who are at risk of being displaced. Photo by Amartya Deb

Participatory processes and capacity-building programs can help communities prepare for urban change. While public meetings seeking community feedback and suggestions can be helpful in obtaining new ideas and solutions, transparency and awareness about plans that are already made is also important. Clarity about expected changes can help community members plan and adapt. Internet-based portals are common, but a pilot project from Nikšić, Montenegro, showed that employing a diversity of communications channels, including media, brochures, meetings, presentations and consultations, greatly improves citizen response.

Encouraging the creation of community cooperatives and other organizing groups is another way to increase participation and transparency. Such informal groups can help communities become more resilient to shocks and stressors – natural and man-made – by providing social security, voice and representation. The COOP project funded by the UK Department for International Development has used this method to encourage informal entrepreneurship in the cities of Moshi and Arusha, Tanzania.

Participation is not only important for preserving existing communities but also planning for relocation, if necessary. Experiences from Nairobi show that relocating hawkers and vendors to designated zones can be beneficial to them, provided the zones are created and registered based on the type of good sold. More importantly, the locations of the new zones were mutually agreed upon by the government, hawkers and vendors.

These cases show that a participatory approach, whatever the specific solution, can lead to more diverse benefits from urban development projects. Bengaluru has an opportunity, with the venerable Krishna Rajendra Market, a pulsating node of local and informal economies, to find novel solutions toward more inclusive, sustainable development.

Amartya Deb is a student at the University of Sheffield, specializing in cities and global development. Deb is also former consultant of World Resources Institute.

Q&A with Davis Wang: Beyond Bicycles, Financial Sustainability, and Why Mobike Is a Public Transport Company

Tue, 2018-02-20 14:13

Mobike went from one bike to 8 million bikes in three years. Today, the company aims to be sustainable and integrated with public transit. Photo by Kentaro IEMOTO/Flickr

WRI Ross Center sat down with Mobike CEO Davis Wang at Transforming Transportation 2018 to talk about Mobike’s explosive global growth, next steps for more integrated urban mobility, and the company’s place in the crowded and growing global transport sector.

“There are opportunists in the industry that are trying to make quick money and don’t care about sustainability – they don’t have any social responsibility,” he says. “The difference between Mobike and other companies is that we realized that Mobike belongs, to some extent, to the public transportation sphere.”

What are the main mobility challenges that Mobike is trying to address?

Davis Wang: Twenty years ago, China was called “the kingdom of bicycles.” There were roughly half a billion bicycles on the roads. Since then, we successfully trained 300 million people to drive a car, but the problem is that there is not enough space.

Three years ago, we started Mobike because we wanted to do something good for cities and for transportation. Our mission was to persuade people to use bicycles again after 20 years of declining popularity. We thought shared bicycles could be the solution to the problem. One bicycle can be used by many people, and with the help of technology, we are trying to persuade people to use shared bikes.

We put our first bike on the streets in September 2015. We went from 1 bike to 8 million bikes, from one city – Shanghai – to over 200 cities in 15 different countries. We have a strong belief that, by scaling up intelligent dockless bikeshare we can make cities a better place to live.

Do you see any similarities or differences in terms of challenges and solutions in other countries you have expanded to?

Wang:  Traffic jams and air pollution are among the many challenges of urban mobility shared by modern cities both in and outside China, which is the reason why we wanted to expand globally. The differences we see are in user behaviors and local policies. The industry developed rapidly in China before any policies existed, leading to oversupply in some Chinese cities – that’s why we saw those piles of bikes that made headlines. And from these mistakes we have learned to work with policymakers. In every new city, we work closely with the local governments on a customized rollout plan, providing an outstanding experience that benefits both our riders and the municipality itself.

Why has Mobike been so successful in shifting user behavior and grown so quickly?

Wang: Bike sharing is not a new thing. Station-based bike sharing has been around since the 1960s. What allowed Mobike to expand so quickly was the convenience. It’s a lot like landline phone booths: they were convenient, but not that convenient. Mobike is like the advent of mobile phones: when you need to make a call you just do it from anywhere you are without having to go to a phone booth.

The price we are offering is also super affordable, both in China and abroad. When you are deciding whether to buy a bike or not – to spend $300+ or not, plus the cost of regular maintenance – you also have to think about where to park it, where to store it in your home, and you have to worry about possible theft.

Mobike is more affordable and more convenient. I think this is how we managed to persuade more than 200 million people to use Mobike in just over two years.

What important considerations do policymakers need to consider in designing cities for people, not cars?

Wang: The transportation industry is generally quite traditional. Taxis have been around for 100 years, but what happened in the last couple of years has brought disruption to the industry.

Think about how Uber is trying to change taxis with technology and data. Before, you wouldn’t have ever known the performance of a driver. Now, everything can be quantified. The impact Mobike has had on traditional bike sharing is similar. We are generating a lot of data – almost 30 terabytes a day. We can share that data with city governments and policymakers to contribute to the optimization of transport planning.

Thirty years ago, every city in China had bike lanes, but after the mass deployment of cars, they were swallowed up. Right now, mayors are trying to rebuild bike lanes, but on which roads? Mobike provides over 30 million rides each day, and from the data we can learn which roads are being used the most, speed of travel, etc. We can share all this data with policymakers and help them make better decisions about cycling infrastructure and traffic management.

When we advise cities on bike sharing, the biggest concerns are often about financial sustainability. Do you have any advice on how to develop successful business models that integrate with city government objectives?

Wang: One key benefit for cities is that our model requires no public funding. When we bring Mobike to a new city, we develop a very detailed launch plan that includes budgets and a payback period. We share this plan with policymakers so they can see our finances are solid.

We can improve systemic efficiency, thanks to technology and the design of the bikes. Let’s compare two cities: in New York, they have 7,000 bikes but 120 employees, so every person is responsible for 50 bikes. In Shanghai, one Mobike employee oversees 3,000 bikes. We also designed the wheels of our bikes with 5 spokes, not the typical 32, which are more fragile. We deployed more than 2 million five-spoke bikes, and less than 10 wheels have broken in the past year. With these specially designed bikes, we can significantly decrease management costs. We are not like Gucci; we are like Walmart. We try to keep a super low profit margin so more people can use our product.

Bicycles are just the beginning for us. We see potential to use our expertise in applied mobile networks to connect buses, electric vehicles, rental cars and more to build high-efficiency, technology-driven public transportation. To fulfill this goal, we are developing a pilot program in a Chinese city where everything is connected and we can work together on how to optimize public transportation, where the government can even purchase services from us, and we provide access to data for planning.

Mobike recently endorsed the Shared Mobility Principles. Can you tell us why Mobike signed on?

Wang: There are opportunists in the industry that are trying to make quick money and don’t care about sustainability – they don’t have any social responsibility. The difference between Mobike and other companies is that we realized that Mobike belongs, to some extent, to the public transportation sphere. Once you belong to that sphere you have to uphold your responsibilities. That’s why we were happy to join this initiative, together with other companies in the field, to contribute to, and to achieve, sustainability in public transportation.

3 Things Cities Can Learn from Cape Town’s Impending “Day Zero” Water Shut-Off

Fri, 2018-02-16 14:13

Theewaterskloof Dam, Cape Town’s main reservoir, is almost empty. Photo by Flickr

Cape Town is running out of water. After three years of intense drought, South Africa’s second-largest city is just a few months away from “Day Zero,” the day when the city government will shut off water taps for most homes and businesses.

The impacts of such a shutdown will be devastating. Citizens will have to wait in long lines at state-managed distribution points to receive a mere 25 liters of water per day, less than half the water needed for one average shower. Experts are already warning of public health concerns like poor sanitation leading to faster spreading of dangerous diseases, especially for the city’s poorest residents, and forecasting that pipes may crack from dry conditions, endangering future water distribution if and when the drought ends. The Western Cape Premier has warned that “normal policing will be entirely inadequate” to manage the chaos that could ensue.

Although this instance is one of the most extreme, Cape Town is not the only city to suffer from intense water scarcity in recent years. From São Paulo to Los Angeles, cities around the world have made headlines due to severe droughts intensified by climate change and exacerbated by poor water management.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are three steps cities around the world should take to boost water security and resilience:

Understand Risks

Many cities are experiencing growing water risks. Climate change is shifting cloud patterns and the hydrologic cycle in certain regions, making rainfall more variable and droughts more common and intense. At the same time, the world’s cities are growing at a rate of 3 million people per week, increasing competition over scarce resources.

Each city has unique risks it must be aware of. For example, Cape Town has medium-to-high inter-annual variability, meaning precipitation varies greatly from year to year. Although Cape Town has suffered droughts in the past, wet years usually follow, refilling reservoirs that supply the city with almost all of its water. But during the current record drought, reservoir levels have fallen to 25 percent.

In addition, Cape Town has extremely high water stress, which means that the water demands of its population – which has doubled in the past 18 years – are competing for the available water supply with other users. While city officials were aware of these risks and took steps to mitigate them, they did not anticipate rainfall patterns departing so significantly from the norm to culminate in record drought.

Amidst rapidly changing landscapes, cities like Cape Town must carefully measure and forecast the impacts of climate change, population growth and competing demands on their water systems.  Tools like Aqueduct and The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Water Blueprint can help map the bigger picture, but risks will differ by watershed. Each city must ultimately assess its unique water risks and plan accordingly.

Manage Your Water Budget

Cities have finite water resources, whether sourced from nearby watersheds, dams or pumped directly from underground. Where the water originates from differs by location – oftentimes a diverse set of users, such as power plants, farms and homes, compete for this same water. It’s a city’s job to manage its own water budget in the context of this broader landscape, understanding sources and uses, and allocating resources within these realities.

Water management becomes even more difficult in times of drought. For example, as the Western Cape’s reservoirs began to dry in 2015 and 2016, the national government allocated 40 percent of the province’s water to agriculture, leaving 60 percent to Cape Town. This controversial decision caused a great deal of debate in local politics, and is now seen as one of many culprits for the current crisis. This situation is common for many cities, but leaves them fighting with other sectors when water supplies decline.

One solution is for city planners and water utilities to undertake proactive, integrated urban water management strategies that consider drinking water, wastewater and urban drainage (stormwater) more comprehensively, helping cities to build greater resilience and efficiency. This method also takes a holistic view of water sources and uses across a city, recognizing that the actions of every stakeholder impacts the others. Amid the nearly six-year California drought, the city of Los Angeles began developing a One Water plan to better manage limited water resources, stave off the impacts of climate change, and slash the city’s purchases of imported water by 50 percent.

Invest in Resilience

To withstand a changing climate and growing populations, cities must be resilient to the unexpected. Identifying opportunities for rainwater harvesting, dams and underground storage, treating and reusing greywater and wastewater, and investing in water efficiency is key to boosting resilience to drought and increased water competition.

Cities should also look beyond their boundaries and invest in “natural infrastructure” for protection. Green spaces such as forests and wetlands can act as a sponge by shielding cities from floods and storms and regulating flow during dry seasons. Research also shows that pairing natural infrastructure with traditional “grey” infrastructure like wastewater treatment plants can help cities create jobs, buffer against the impacts of climate change and save money on water treatment.

Inadequate built and natural infrastructure compounded the effects of São Paulo’s 2014-2017 drought. The city lost more than 30 percent of treated water through theft and leaky pipes. Deforestation of the Amazon disrupted the “rivers of the sky” that regulate rainfall across Brazil, and loss of nearby Atlas forests also destroyed local water systems. São Paulo, Cape Town and other cities should consider natural infrastructure as one of many solutions for resilience to future water shocks.

A Call to Action for Cities

The situation in Cape Town is unique in many ways, but there are common threads that tie it to São Paulo, Los Angeles, and cities around the world facing growing water risks. In the countdown to Day Zero, the South African national government and the City of Cape Town are working hard to help residents avoid the drought’s worst effects. But other cities should also use this moment as a warning – without better water risk measurement, management and resilience, the next Day Zero could be coming to your corner of the world.

Betsy Otto is the Director of WRI’s Global Water Program.

Leah Schleifer is the Communications Specialist for WRI’s Water Program.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

As Cities Grapple With Mobility Revolution, 10 Principles Emerge to Guide Them

Thu, 2018-02-15 01:08

Bike sharing is part of the paradigm shift in urban mobility. Photo by NYC DOT/ Flickr

Mobility is undergoing a huge shift – from the emergence of shared cars and bicycles to the impending self-driving cars – and we’re just starting to understand the full effect on cities. The revolution has implications for equity, accessibility and sustainability, and has caught many cities unawares, leading to court battlesunexpected impacts on congestion and lots of uncertainty.

A consortium of leading city and transport organizations, including WRI, developed the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities to help cities make sense of these changes. Now, with 15 of the world’s leading transport and technology companies signing on, innovative players from the private sector have sent a powerful message of support around a common vision of the future for cities, and how we can get there.

By supporting the Principles, these companies, which include Didi, Lyft and Uber, as well as bike-sharing giants Ofo and Mobike, are throwing their heft behind a set of basic ideas about how mobility should work in cities.

10 Principles:
  1. We plan our cities and mobility together
  2. We prioritize people over vehicles.
  3. We support the shared and efficient use of vehicles, lanes, curbs, and land.
  4. We engage with stakeholders
  5. We promote equity.
  6. We lead the transition towards a zero-emission future and renewable energy.
  7. We support fair user fees across all modes.
  8. We aim for public benefits via open data.
  9. We work towards integration and seamless connectivity.
  10. We support that autonomous vehicles (AVs) in dense urban areas should be operated only in shared fleets.

There are 10 principles (listed above), but let me highlight three of them, and elaborate on the ways they can help us solve urban mobility:

Public Benefits from Open Data

New mobility companies are generating stupendous amounts of data – everything from congestion and speeds in every segment of the city roads 24/7, to origins and destinations of trips, to traffic safety hotspots based on vehicle braking patterns. The standardization of open data allows cities a way to responsibly tap into these data streams to inform traffic management and transport planning. While this has become a common talking point, we haven’t yet seen much movement. Companies endorsing this principle (number eight in the list of 10) is a big deal.

When cities have access to anonymized transport data, they are able to make better decisions for public transport services; understand and respond to traffic speeds, lane and curb use; plan transport infrastructure with more accuracy; and respond to traffic accidents and other unexpected events, like disasters, much faster and more effectively.

Open data also enables entrepreneurs to innovate and compete – all way-finding apps rely on open data, for example – as well as make it easier for travelers to plan across multiple modes of transport.

Fair User Fees

Principle #7 encourages fair user fees across all modes of transport, a step that would level the playing field and let the market do its work.

Buses and rideshares are both part of the solution. Photo by Via Tsuji/ Flickr

Streets in cities are scarce and valuable resources, yet right now we enable use of that space today with hidden incentives, subsidies and priorities, often focused on the least efficient mode of travel, the individually used private automobile. On-street parking, the most convenient and valuable space to park, is paradoxically cheaper than off-street garage parking. In peak periods, buses carrying 60 passengers are caught up in streets congested by single-occupancy-vehicles. Fuel taxes in many countries do not cover the cost of building and maintaining road infrastructure. Electric vehicles don’t pay fuel taxes. All internal combustion engine vehicles get a free pass on the real costs of their emissions and traffic incidents on the health of city residents and the cleanliness of the buildings and air. Meanwhile, pedestrians and bicycles, which are both clean and space-efficient, must vie for space.

Fairer user fees can help iron these inconsistencies out. The cities, private sector companies, NGOs and advisors that endorse these principles are stating their belief that user fees should include the price of externalities such as congestion, pollution and traffic safety risks. Revenues from pricing externalities can then be redistributed to the society through better and more affordable public transport services and safer walking and bicycling infrastructure, for example.

Shared Autonomous Vehicles in Dense Areas

Autonomous vehicles are the next major disruptive technology on the horizon. Principle #10 encourages shared rather than individual ownership of autonomous vehicles in dense urban areas.

The decision to move a car today is made primarily based on its marginal costs – how much more is it going to cost me to take this trip? People usually think in terms of fuel, tolls and parking costs and ignore the single-largest marginal expense: your personal time (or that of a paid driver).

Freed of the driver, the marginal cost of moving a car will be insignificant. Researchers at UC Davis calculate this cost at 10 cents per kilometer (15 cents/mile). Rather than pay for parking, it will be cheaper to keep the vehicle flowing in traffic or return home to park for free. There’s a possible downside: Autonomous cars could become everyone’s personal courier for pickup and drop-off of any item, leading to more congestion and pollution, not less. Shared vehicles eliminate that danger.

Requiring that AVs be shared in dense metro areas also flows directly from earlier Principles. If we support Principle #5 (equity), shared means that the poor, too, will be able to enjoy the benefits of self-driving cars by purchasing just a seat rather than the whole vehicle. If we follow the guidance of Principle #3 (efficient use of city lanes, vehicles and curb access), these vehicles should be shared.

Shared fleets do not imply one type of vehicle. There would still be a diversity of vehicles and price/quality options, including what we call now mass transit. But sharing does maximize public safety and emissions benefits, and ensures that professionals manage maintenance and software upgrades.

Destination Disrupted

The Shared Mobility Principles were written in 2017 by a founding coalition of nine NGOs, including WRI. The endorsement of these 15 companies, which account for 77 million passenger trips a day, signals that businesses are also buying in to the idea that sustainability is necessary for the health of cities. Most importantly, we need these companies to put their shoulders to the wheel. Each in their own way have changed mobility. Now we need their expertise in technology and innovation to improve it.

Robin Chase is co-founder of Zipcar and a WRI Board member.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

How 3 Cities Are Navigating the Transition to Electric Buses

Tue, 2018-02-13 14:13

As today’s urban areas house more than half the world’s population and produce more than 80 percent of global economic activity, cities are uniquely positioned to deliver sustainable solutions. However, poor local air quality and issues related to global climate change are negatively impacting the lives of millions. Promising solutions exist – cities are increasingly turning to low- and zero-emission buses to decrease environmental impacts while creating economic, environmental and health benefits, for example. Transitioning bus fleets to clean technologies can also improve quality of service and reduce costs in the long run. So why aren’t all cities closing the curtain on diesel-fueled fleets and transitioning to electric?

To better understand this question and evaluate the barriers that cities face when taking on electric buses, the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative interviewed three experts in three different cities going through the process, each with the objective of improving quality of life for residents and their urban environment.

Santiago, Chile

In Santiago de Chile, Carlos Melo, deputy secretary for transport for the government of Chile, explains how sub-par bus service, high levels of pollution and Chile’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030 pushed the city to invest in electric buses. The city views electric buses as an opportunity to deliver on its climate targets and decrease air pollution, achieving multiple goals at once.

“The most important challenge is the lack of trust that operators have in this new technology,” says Melo. Building confidence in these new technologies, by creating incentives allowing operators to embrace them, is a challenge that cities all around the world are facing.

Bangalore, India

The number of motor vehicles in Bangalore is increasing dramatically, contributing to congestion and air pollution in this city of more than 10 million people. Poor air quality is a chief concern for Ekroop Caur, finance secretary for the state of Karnataka. Caur emphasizes the need to jump right into electric technologies, instead of “moving from one fuel to another, or from one technology to a slightly better one.” These technologies are the “future of the entire mobility sector.”

To lessen the financial burden for Bangalore, the city planned to use a hiring model rather than purchase buses outright, which lowers the total cost of ownership.

London, United Kingdom

Each year, nearly 10,000 people die from the long-term effects of air pollution in London. Richard Harrington, engineering director at GoAhead London, highlights the critical need to cut emissions in the city. In 2019, London will implement an ultra-low-emission zone within which most vehicles will need to meet strict exhaust emission standards or pay a daily fee. Additionally, there will be 12 city corridors in which vehicles are required to meet the European Union’s Euro 6 emission standards.

“Any city in the world can transition to electric bus technologies,” says Harrington, pointing to planning, preparation and a high level of coordination between city officials, manufacturers and power suppliers as important components for success.

While striving toward the same goal, each city faces distinct barriers. Many sustainable development projects, from electric buses and bike sharing to more energy efficient buildings, stall due to lack of funding, limited internal expertise, or challenges in coordinating across different public and private sector agencies. The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative is helping cities address these challenges by bridging ideas and implementation through the development of innovative business models and identifying the ingredients of successful sustainable urban projects around the world.

The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative (FSCI), funded by the Citi Foundation, is a partnership between WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group that helps cities accelerate and scale-up investments in sustainable urban solutions through the development of innovative business models.

This video was launched at World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Christopher Moon-Miklaucic is a Research Assistant with Urban Innovation and Finance at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Talia Rubnitz is Communications Assistant with WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Better Coordination, Engagement Needed to “Bend the Curve” for Cities, Say Experts at World Urban Forum

Mon, 2018-02-12 15:09

WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta at the World Urban Forum, February 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Valeria Gelman/WRI

Cities are essential to achieve not only the New Urban Agenda, an unprecedented statement of intent by 167 countries more than a year ago in Quito, but the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement, said a series of urban policymakers, experts and activists in Kuala Lumpur on February 11. While this is perhaps not a surprising conclusion from a room full of urbanists, the fact that most of the world’s economic activity and people do now reside in cities makes them an indispensable element to sustainable development.

As thousands of people flocked to Malaysia’s capital for the 9th World Urban Forum, WRI Ross Center, the Coalition for Urban Transitions, and C40 Cities held a high-level event, “Thriving Cities, Prosperous Countries: From Agenda to Implementation,” that focused on three core areas of change: housing, infrastructure and financing.

“Cities are not on track,” said WRI Ross Center Global Director Ani Dasgupta, setting the stage for the afternoon. We need to “bend the curve,” he said, towards better urban land use, lower carbon emissions and fewer people living in poor quality housing.

.@AniDasguptaWRI: You need to have a real commitment to ambition, sometimes beyond your current means, to bend the curve for cities #wuf9 #citiesforall

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) February 11, 2018

What’s clear is that improvements will require much better coordination between city leaders and their counterparts at the national and regional level. Much of the action needed to fulfill global commitments to end poverty, reduce inequality and tackle climate change are the responsibility of local authorities. But there is also strong evidence that local governments cannot succeed without a proper enabling environment. Central governments largely determine the extent to which power and resources are devolved, and national policies and regulations play a major role in shaping urban form and function.


WRI’s Robin King summarized three major challenges behind the crisis in urban to housing today: the growth of under-served, disconnected, sub-standard homes; an overemphasis on ownership; and land policies that push the poor to the periphery of cities. These housing and land use woes are closely connected to transport problems.

“At the strategic planning level, the housing-transport connection is not established,” said LSE Cities Executive Director Philipp Rode. He spoke about recent research from the Coalition for Urban Transitions that shows the missing link between housing, transport and land use across case studies in 10 countries, from Nigeria to the United States.

“The vibrant #cities we really want to see in the world will be built by co-creation and participation with locals, not through policies which decide how and where people get to live,” says @RKinBangalore #citiesforall #WUF9

— Urban Transitions (@NCEcities) February 11, 2018

Demonstrating national leadership in India, Minister Hardeep Singh Puri unveiled a new initiative from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs that aims to ensure every citizen has a home by 2022, the country’s 75th anniversary of independence. Puri said the Global Housing Technology Challenge aims to build or incentivize the construction of 12 million new homes.

“This program requires resources that, with humility, I can say, are way beyond our capabilities,” Puri said, but the challenge is meant to help draw resources and attention to the issue. “Housing is a fundamental need that must be satisfied,” he said, noting that to keep pace with rapid growth, India requires 700-900 million square meters of new commercial and residential construction every year, equivalent to the area of Chicago.


The infrastructure gap for cities everywhere is enormous. Many of the most rapidly growing cities today have relatively few resources per capita compared to their counterparts in past waves of urbanization, making it difficult to keep pace with growth, noted Victoria Beard, a fellow at WRI Ross Center and lead for “World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City.”

As a result, too many people face a tradeoff between affordable housing, on the edges of urban areas and access to jobs in central areas, said Sameh Naguib Wahba, global director for urban and territorial development at the World Bank. He urged a focus on land ownership policies, noting that tension around informal settlements is a major challenge for cities of the global south.

New technologies may help raise funds to expand infrastructure. A recent global survey found that new mobility services headlined by private companies like Uber and Lyft can also make public transport more affordable, accessible and sustainable, said WRI’s Diego Canales. Successful land value capture mechanisms like “CEPACs” in São Paulo and “betterment levies” in Colombia can help property owners and governments recoup funds to further invest in infrastructure. When this happens, “children in cities are more likely to be educated, which allows them to make more money, increasing wellbeing and GDP,” said Diego Fernandez, secretary of social and urban integration for Buenos Aires.


Despite some innovative examples, the global funding gap for infrastructure is projected to be a staggering $49 trillion worldwide by 2030 without major changes, said Dan Dowling, director of cities and urbanization at PwC.

This means national support for urban infrastructure is required – and the rationale for investing is quite clear, said Former Vice Minister of the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kyung-Hwan Kim. Eighty percent of GDP worldwide comes from urban areas, he said. “It’s our job to convince national governments that investing in cities is worth it for the entire country.”

“Cities make an enormous contribution to countries: 80% of GDP worldwide comes from cities,” says former @Korea_land Vice Minister Kyung-Hwan Kim. “It’s our job to convince national governments that investing in #cities is worth it for the entire country.” #WUF9 #cities4all

— Urban Transitions (@NCEcities) February 11, 2018

Andrea Fernandez, C40’s director of governance and partnerships, talked about common barriers to raising money for cities. Many large cities simply don’t have the capacity or well-documented financial history to meet the requirements of big investors, she said. Mechanisms like C40’s Cities Finance Facility are working to turn great visions into more finance-ready projects and provide technical assistance and capacity building.

UK Department for Internal Development Cities Advisor Rubbina Karruna added that “one thing that [development banks] and donors can do is emphasize to national governments the importance of investing in sustainable urban infrastructure for the success of their cities and countries.”

Public-private partnerships can help in some circumstances, but Victoria Beard warned against relying too much on the panacea of private investment. In forthcoming research on water and sanitation provision, she noted they have found the private sector has played very little role to date.

From What to Who?

A thread that emerged throughout the day was an increasing focus not only on what needs to happen and how but who needs to be involved.

“Solutions come from convening the right people in the right room,” said Jesper Nygård, CEO of Realdania. “No one can do it alone.”

“I’ve been a part of every World Urban Forum,” said Rose Molokoane, deputy president of SDI, a worldwide organization that helps the urban poor mobilize with a stronger voice, “and governments are always talking about needing to work together better.” In a challenge to the audience, Molokoane said she wants to see more weight behind governments’ professed interest in more collaborative and inclusive policymaking. “We don’t know who they’re talking to because they’re not talking to us.”

.@sdinet‘s Rose Molokoane: They talk about “more inclusive cities” — we don’t know who they’re talking about because they’re not talking to us #citiesforall #wuf9

— WRI Ross Center (@WRIRossCities) February 11, 2018

We need to have more conversations about how get from technocratic solutions to political effect, Philipp Rode said, especially if we acknowledge that the change needed is dramatic.

Indeed, WRI’s Jessica Seddon, closing out the session, announced that applications are open for the first WRI Ross Prize for Sustainable for Cities, an award meant to highlight transformative urban projects. Criteria include inclusive project planning and benefits, and upending entrenched ways of doing things.

National and local policymaking need better coordination, but also better alignment with the needs of residents – a proposition tested in the World Resource Report through a focus on equity as a means to a better city for all.

“The vibrant cities we really want to see in the world will be built by co-creation and participation with locals,” said Robin King, “not through policies that decide how and where people get to live.”

Experts from WRI Ross Center and the Coalition for Urban Transitions are engaging throughout the 9th World Urban Forum. For more, follow @WRIRossCities and @NCEcities.

Emily Kaldjian is the Communications Manager for the Coalition for Urban Transitions.

Schuyler Null is a Communications Associate for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. 

Dockless Bike-Sharing Is Reshaping Cities – But We’re Not Sure How Yet

Thu, 2018-02-08 14:13

Dockless bike-share systems are emerging in cities around the world. But what will be their future impact?
Photo by Luca Lo Re/ WRI

Bike sharing systems in busy urban cores are not new. The first major breakthrough started 20 years ago with the so-called “third generation” of bike sharing systems introducing the use of smart cards to unlock and rent bikes. Today, bike sharing is experiencing another breakthrough in the form of dockless systems, where riders can pick up and drop off bikes nearly wherever they’d like using only their smartphones.

In just the last three years, dockless bike sharing has expanded from small, campus-scale systems in China to more than 17 million bikes worldwide. In Beijing alone, Mobike CEO Davis Wang estimates 4 million people use the company’s ubiquitous orange bikes daily. The main players, the Chinese companies ofo and Mobike, offer services in more than 200 cities.

Dockless bike sharing is clearly becoming a global phenomenon. But what are its long-term implications for cities? Can dockless systems help increase cycling demand and reduce congestion and pollution? Or will its downsides outweigh any gains for urban users? A closer look at these systems presents a mixed picture of what to expect.

Why It’s So Popular

Dockless bike-sharing systems are expanding rapidly because they present many advantages to individual users. First, the registration process is relatively easy and quick, and once in the system, users can unlock bikes with a tap of their smartphones. They are also more flexible compared to station-based systems with a greater range of action, since their use is not limited to areas with docks, and there are no problems finding a docking spot at the end of a journey. Finally, user fees for single trips are generally cheaper than station-based systems.

From a macro perspective, dockless systems are attractive for their potential to increase cycling demand in cities, which in turn can reduce mortality risks, improve health, reduce local air pollution, reduce noise and increase local business revenue.

Dockless systems can also bring bike sharing to places where building new stations might be difficult, like historic zones. Moreover, their implementation requires less capital  investment since they do not need new physical docking infrastructure. The main players in the market are backed by private venture capital, which makes dockless implementation quicker and cost-free for the city (at least direct costs), with the possibility for easy pilot projects.

Finally, dockless systems produce a tremendous amount of data on people’s travel patterns, which could theoretically be used to aid city planning and policymaking.

Why It’s Not Perfect

The rapid development of dockless systems has not come without thorns, however. Without designated docking stations, users can leave bikes anywhere, which can generate problems with the distribution of vehicles and the use of public space.

Generally, dockless private providers do not redistribute bikes within their area of operation, relying on users to move bikes around themselves. As a result, in some cities with many providers and users we’ve seen clogged sidewalks, piles of broken bicycles and even bikes parked along highways. Vandalism, improper use (e.g., parking bikes behind private fences where others can’t access), dumping and theft are other problems some cities have experienced.

Moreover, despite the low price of shorter trips, dockless systems may not be as well suited for daily commuters as station-based systems, where generally the more the user rides, the cheaper the cost. Furthermore, the smaller user fees combined with exposure to vandalism and theft leave ample room for questioning the long-term financial sustainability of dockless providers. At the end of 2017, three dockless companies went bankrupt, and some see the market as a bubble ready to burst.

Since providers generally do not have service contracts with cities, their abrupt demise or changing financial calculus could lead to service disruption for users. More importantly, to date, there has been little data sharing between dockless providers and municipal governments, leaving the potential to inform urban planning decisions largely unrealized.

The boom of dockless systems is also changing the bicycle supply chain industry. Some manufacturers in China have already switched to producing shared rather than private-use bicycles, driving up the price of components with potentially profound implications for the bike industry and bike usage worldwide.

Finally, the environmental impact of the mass manufacturing of so many bicycles with an average life span of two to four years has yet to be evaluated, and it’s unclear whether they can or will be recycled at the end of their lifetimes.

What’s Next

Possible solutions to some of these challenges are nonetheless on the horizon. From data sharing to overcrowding, better collaboration between dockless providers and local governments could solve many of the problems integrating this new mobility option into urban transit networks.

Some cities that want to have more control over dockless schemes, like Seattle, San Francisco, Paris, London, São Paulo, Florence and Milan, have already introduced new regulations to require regulated or designated parking areas, insurance for users, safety and maintenance standards, the capability to remove and redistribute the bicycles within the city, and the obligation to share specific data collected with local authorities to better inform city cycling strategies. Similar measures have been recommended by the European Cyclists’ Federation, and dockless planning guides for cities have started to emerge.

It’s too early to draw informed conclusions on the effects dockless bike sharing is having on urban mobility. These new systems have the potential to become excellent first- and last-mile connectivity solutions for cities, linking transit hubs together and extending their range to reach more residents. But we need to see steps to reduce the waste seen in some cities and closer coordination between local governments and dockless companies to develop long-lasting regulations to operate safely, sustainably and civilly.

Luca Lo Re is an Energy, Climate and Finance Associate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. He works on the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, an initiative of WRI Ross Center and C40 Cities, funded by the Citi Foundation, helping cities develop business models that can accelerate the implementation of sustainable urban solutions.

50 Shades of Shared: How On-demand Technology Reshaped India’s Urban Mobility Landscape

Mon, 2018-02-05 14:13

Technology has revolutionized the use of for-hire-vehicles in India. Photo by Aashim Tyagi/ WRI

India’s urban transport sector has seen tremendous change in the last 15 years. This series examines the evolution of the for-hire vehicles sector (FHVs), the regulatory response to it and its place in the mobility network of the future.

While auto-rickshaws and city-taxis have been the most common for-hire-vehicles (FHVs) in Indian cities for decades, they are also notorious for bargaining over fares, refusing rides and providing poor quality of service. Private dispatch services that emerged in the mid-2000s provided a better experience: air-conditioned, professionally chauffeured vehicles, that could be conveniently booked over telephone.

By the late 2000s, the market was shifting yet again. The arrival of improved mobile internet technology and smartphones to a market of what was then 27 million subscribers brought in phase three in the FHV evolution: on-demand or app-based, taxi-aggregator services.

On the front end, the experience for commuters was slick compared to the “old” days of calling to book a cab or hailing it off the street. Commuters could now book a taxi, and, in some cases, an auto-rickshaw, in real-time at the press of a button on their smartphones.

On the back end, these companies didn’t own any vehicles or employ any drivers, but aggregated existing taxis. With an asset-light model and billions in investment, they scaled rapidly, disrupting the traditional and dispatch markets and sparking controversial debates on the framework regulating all FHVs in India.

They also set the stage for further changes to India’s urban transport landscape.

Phase 3: On-Demand Services

Also known as ride-sourcing or ride-hailing services, on-demand taxi aggregators connect commuters to the nearest driver via an app. The app allows riders to book a ride, displays the vehicle’s estimated time of arrival, calculates a fare  based on distance, duration, and demand, and bills the rider electronically. By digitally matching supply and demand in real time, these services claim to optimize waiting time for riders and idle time for drivers.

In 2010 and 2011, homegrown companies Ola and TaxiForSure launched services for the first time in India. In 2013, San Francisco-based Uber followed. They quickly acquired customers by offering price discounts and attracted drivers through performance-based incentives.

Commuters with smartphones welcomed these services. Policymakers, on the other hand, struggled to fit these companies under existing regulatory formats, due to three core issues with the model:

  1. Aggregation, not ownership: On-demand enterprises neither own nor maintain cars and consider drivers independent contractors, not employees. Uber has argued, in both Indian and international markets, that they are a “technology intermediary,” or platform, not a taxi company, and therefore should not be governed under existing transport laws, like those that apply to taxi companies, but regulated more like online marketplaces such as Flipkart or Amazon.
  2. Permit considerations: Unlike international markets, vehicles attached to on-demand platforms are commercial vehicles, requiring permits under India’s Motor Vehicles Act. In India, a cap on such commercial permits since 1997 pushed companies to instead attach vehicles with tourist taxi permits, creating confusion.
  3. Fares: On-demand services deploy a dynamic pricing model which quickly undercut the government-regulated fares of taxis. The sudden influx of new drivers with air conditioned cars offering rides at competitive, unregulated prices, changed the dynamics of the FHV market. In cities like Mumbai, taxi and auto-rickshaw unions took to the streets asking state governments to regulate the new competitors.

The structural differences from past models created friction. Then, in 2014, the rape of a 27-year-old passenger by an Uber driver in Delhi, opened Pandora’s box. On-demand platforms became the focal point of fierce public debates and regulatory scrutiny, as the Ministry of Home Affairs advised all states to ban app-based taxis. Companies had to consider: If they did not own vehicles and employ drivers, with whom did liability lie for infractions that jeopardize passenger safety? What was their protocol for conducting driver background checks?

The need to protect passengers and create a level playing field for all FHV services led state governments to revisit the existing regulatory framework. In January 2015, Delhi modified its radio taxi licensing rules to incorporate app-based aggregators, and Kolkata’s Salt Lake City became the first jurisdiction to provide a provisional license to on-demand services. In 2016, Karnataka and Maharashtra also released draft rules to protect consumer interests and regulate surge pricing.

However, such attempts to retrofit regulations for new innovations were shortsighted. The Motor Vehicles Act, on which these state laws were based, saw public, private and commercial vehicles as separate categories, requiring different regulations. But on-demand technology blurred that divide. Such categorizations were further challenged by app-based shared services, like OlaShare and UberPool, where multiple commuters share rides by booking only a seat or two rather than the entire vehicle.

The necessity of a new statutory category led to the national Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill of 2016, which defined an aggregator as a “digital intermediary or market place for a passenger to connect with a driver for the purpose of transportation.” The Bill, anticipated to be passed by the upper house of parliament in mid-2018, will bring aggregators, radio taxis and traditional taxis under a uniform, fair and transparent regulatory framework.

Phase 4 and Beyond

Today, Ola operates in more than 100 Indian cities and Uber in 29, with nearly 850,000 drivers across both platforms. The concept of technology-supported aggregation has spread to buses and even motorbikes. But the impact of such models remains unclear. Advocates of on-demand models argue that these services turn underutilized vehicles into shared assets, increase access to transport and mitigate reliance on personal vehicles.

However, large portions of India’s urban population still lack access to this technology. Smartphone usership is increasing, but is not ubiquitous. Some studies conducted in international markets also suggest that on-demand taxis exacerbate congestion and pollution, and compete with public transit. There are also concerns about reduced wages and drivers having to work unhealthy hours to meet their targets.

It is clear that policymakers need to consider the negative externalities of on-demand services and their impact on the entire transport ecosystem to leverage the benefits of new models while carefully regulating them to meet standards. But it is also clear that these new services have opened the doors to innovation in the transport sector by introducing new players to the market and demonstrating how services can be customized to better meet people’s needs. 2016 alone has seen large capital investments in a range of companies providing carpooling, on-demand shuttle, and trip planning services.

Indeed, this drive toward more customization can be thought of as a fourth phase of FHVs. Characterized as “mobility-as-a-service,” several companies have piloted peer-to-peer services, integrated public transport, and combined mobility services that include public and private sector services. Helsinki’s Whim is the poster-child for this movement: an app that can access all modes of transport, allow the user to choose the most suitable combination of modes and pay electronically for the entire journey.

This phase is only just beginning in India and promises many changes yet to come. Despite having the second-largest market of smartphone users in the world – growing from 27 million in 2012 to 300 million today – the ecosystem for mobility-related apps is still emerging with plenty of room for innovation.

The technological capacity to develop a connected, multi-modal transit system, integrated across public, private and shared modes, with seamless payment options is near. But the realization of that vision depends on the Indian government moving beyond its strictly regulatory role and becoming an active partner to this developing mobility ecosystem – having learned the lessons of the last century of transport regulation and being ready for the next.

Ojas Shetty is a Research Consultant with the Urban Innovation team at WRI India Sustainable Cities.

Jyot Chadha is the Global Lead for New Sustainable Mobility at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. 

Improving Urban Climate Resilience in 2018 Requires More Data – and Urgency

Thu, 2018-02-01 14:13

More than 40 million people were affected by floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal in 2017, highlighting the need for improved urban resilience. Photo by Luke Appleby/ Flickr

With the new year just starting, urban decision-makers are planning their 2018 to-do lists, and resilience is the perfect place to start.

In 2017, natural disasters stole the show, flooding the headlines and trending on social media. More than 40 million people were affected by floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, leaving some of the most populous cities completely underwater. In the United States, hurricanes Harvey and Irma were responsible for upwards of $200 billion in damages to buildings, vehicles and public infrastructure, posing significant challenges to economic hubs, like Miami and Houston. In San Juan, the most populous city in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Irma left nearly 70 percent of households without power causing an extended debt and bankruptcy crisis in the city. Local authorities estimate that there was between $45 to $95 billion in damages to the power grid and other infrastructure.

In all, despite not being an El Niño year, 2017 was the second hottest year on record, trailing only 2016 as the hottest ever.

It’s a grim trend for cities. When natural disasters hit, dense areas face considerable challenges, sometimes overwhelming emergency responders. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recognized that climate change poses serious threats to urban infrastructure, the stability of resources in entire urban systems, and quality of life, with the potential to worsen inequality.

Seeing as more than 2.5 billion more people will join the world’s urban population by 2050, addressing these challenges and building the climate resilience of cities is crucial and urgent.

Setting the 2018 Agenda

2018 will feature major decision points for urban climate resilience. World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will bring together experts and decision makers to discuss implementing the New Urban Agenda, taking into consideration the necessity of creating urban resilience strategies to accelerate achieving Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Edmonton, Canada is hosted by the IPCC and will gather international, urban and scientific organizations aiming to identify key research and knowledge gaps related to cities and climate change and catalyze a new generation of data at a local level. The conference will examine resilient urban development and transitioning to a low-carbon urban future.

COP24 in Katowice, Poland, will be the perfect opportunity to find a way to link the results of these two important events. Researchers, academics, policy and decision makers will be able to join efforts and identify ways to bridge these gaps toward achieving more sustainable and resilient cities.

Data for Resilience at COP23

Bridging knowledge gaps on adaptation in cities and informal settlements was a prominent topic of discussion at COP23. The Nairobi Work Programme, a mechanism under the convention created to support adaptation policies and practices, held its 11th Focal Point Forum, focusing on human settlements and adaptation. Experts and country representatives exchanged ideas and best practices for the world’s climate-vulnerable urban groups.

During the forum, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, UN assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of UN-Habitat, highlighted the importance of not only increasing attention to urban climate resilience but of making high-quality data on human settlements more accessible to decision-makers. And not just additional data, but better and more useful data.

Cities need a better understanding of the type of information that’s helpful – how to use it properly, how to engage with local communities and researchers, and what tools and methods are already available. Answering these questions on big data is crucial to raise the conversation to a higher level and create a shared understanding of next steps.

“Decision-makers in cities and human settlements need this knowledge to better adapt and reduce the risks posed by the adverse effects of climate change,” says Youssef Nassef, director of adaptation at UNFCCC.

As the effects of climate change accumulate and ramp up, prioritizing resilience and adaptation in cities should be one of the most important action items for decision-makers – and a key element in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

2018 will be a crucial year in showing cities are ready for the challenge. As Marcus Mayr, associate expert of urban planning and climate change from UN-Habitat, told us: “If we get urbanization right, we will actively contribute to building climate resilience and support sustainable development for the majority of the world’s population.”

Arianna Flores Corral is a Climate Change, Education and Sustainable Development Fellow and Blog Manager for the Global Development Network in New Delhi, India.  

Pre-COP technical meeting for the 11th Focal Point Forum on Human Settlements and Adaptation. Photo by NWP/UNFCCC.


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