3 Big Ideas to Achieve Sustainable Cities and Communities

Kampung Pelangi (Rainbow village) in Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia. © Ruby Mangunsong/World Bank
 

No two cities are the same. What does your city mean to you?

For Razi, an 18-year-old waiter in Kuala Lumpur, and millions of other aspirational youth in Malaysia, cities are where their dreams for joining the middle class can come true.

For Liao Xianmei, a 45-year-old migrant worker in Chongqing, China, and Fatma and Peter, a Tanzanian couple who moved from their rural home to Dar es Salaam, cities are where they can build a better future for their families. 

And for the world’s 65.6 million forcibly displaced people, finding a city of refuge means a chance to regain strength and dignity.

Today, over four billion people around the world – more than 50% of the global population – live in cities. In East Asia and the Pacific alone, for example, cities house 1.2 billion people – almost rivaling the population of India. 

And that number is still fast growing, most rapidly in Asia and Africa, as individuals and families continue migrating to urban areas to seek better livelihoods. By 2050, with the urban population doubling its current size, nearly 70 out 100 people in the world will live in cities.

Rapid urbanization: Unprecedented challenges

Being such huge magnets for talent and investment, it is no wonder that cities have become the world’s major growth engine, generating more than 80% of the global GDP, while helping hundreds of millions lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

However, the speed and scale of urbanization brings tremendous challenges. Widening income gaps, worsening pollution, and aging buildings and bridges are all telltale signs that today’s cities are struggling to keep up with city dwellers’ growing dreams for a sustainable, prosperous future. 

 

Nearly one billion urban poor still live in slums and informal settlements, mostly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and are often excluded from access to affordable housing, good-quality basic services, and better jobs.

“We are mostly fishermen and few of us have other skills, so when we have an oil spill or plastics in the water, we lose money,” said Stephen Aji, chief of a fishing community located in one of the largest slums in Lagos, Nigeria.

Climate change further complicates the urbanization challenge. By 2030, climate change and natural disasters may cost cities worldwide $314 billion each year, and push 77 million more urban residents into poverty.

 

The New Urban Agenda

All is not lost. With 60% of the places that will be urbanized by 2030 yet to be built, we still have the chance to help the urban poor unlock economic potential – and safeguard hard-won development gains for generations to come.

But what happens next is up to us.

The good news is that, as the stakes of urbanization are growing higher, so is the global commitment to making urbanization right. 


Next week, early February 2018, national and city leaders will convene again at the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to move forward with more in-depth discussions around the theme Cities 2030, Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda.In October 2016, at the once-in-20-year Habitat III conference, countries around the world endorsed the historic New Urban Agenda, which sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development and guides global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the era of climate change.

 

GFDRR and the World Bank: Working to build sustainable cities and communities

GFDRR and World Bank-supported operations and technical assistance contribute to the Sustainable Development Goal No. 11 and the implementation of the New Urban Agenda to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable for all. So what will it take?

 

Three big ideas, countless solutions

At the World Urban Forum, the World Bank will offer three big ideas that are essential for successfully implementing the New Urban Agenda:

  1. Enhancing urban resilience to climate change and disaster risks
  2. Financing the New Urban Agenda
  3. Promoting territorial development

The Bank will also be showcasing some of the innovative knowledge and transformative actions that have proven to help end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity in cities around the world.  

Building resilience to natural disasters and climate change

As cities grow, so does their exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters. With over 90% of all urban centers located in coastal areas, cities are facing increasing risks from devastating hurricanes, floods, and other natural hazards due to climate change.

In recent years, the World Bank has worked in more than 7,000 cities and towns across 130 countries, investing over $4 billion during fiscal year 2017 in disaster risk management, and committing over $50 billion through more than 900 projects with climate-related activities.

The World Bank has also facilitated global partnerships to support countries in their urban resilience work:

  • Through the City Resilience Program (CRP), supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the Swiss Economic Secretariat (SECO), and other partners, the World Bank is helping cities around the world raise the finance they need to build resilience to climate change and disaster risks, connecting investors with bankable projects, and keeping millions of people safer and stronger. From Panama City, Panama and Porto Alegre, Brazil to Accra, Ghana and Can Tho, Vietnam, CRP has engaged over 30 cities across the world on developing investment programs that could be financed with a range of financial instruments.
  • At the Paris One Planet Summit, CRP announced a new partnership with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy to provide technical and financial assistance to 150 cities over the next three years.
  • Urban resilience goes hand in hand with environmental sustainability. The World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) works with mayors in developing countries to transform cities into inclusive and resilient hubs of growth, as part of the Global Environment Facility (GEF)’s Sustainable Cities program that is active in 27 cities and 11 countries, and will leverage $1.5 billion over five years.
  • The World Bank Group provides support as a knowledge partner to the Urban 20 (U20) initiative, in which cities share their experiences and develop collective messages to enrich the G20 debates on the global issues of climate action, sustainable development, and their socio-economic ramifications.

Financing the New Urban Agenda

Globally, $4.5 – $5.4 trillion is needed to fill the urban infrastructure finance gap. Only 3% of this amount is available through official development assistance (ODA). This means that cities must strengthen municipal finance, while finding new ways to scale up urban infrastructure finance.

The World Bank provides funding and helps cities and national governments put in place the financial framework to enable them to attract investment to grow in a sustainable manner. Examples include:

  • In East Africa, the World Bank has an operational portfolio of almost $1 billion in urban projects focused on improving financial and institutional performance in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. 
  • In Casablanca, Morocco, a EUR 172 million World Bank loan aims to improve the city’s investment capacity by improving the municipality’s revenue management systems, and attracting private investment in municipal infrastructure and services through public-private partnerships.
  • Johannesburg and Medellin are among the cities that have sought World Bank support to expand their sources of revenue to encompass a wider array of “value capture” and land-based financing tools, thereby leveraging private capital in greater amount and increasing the social, economic, and fiscal return on cities’ public investment.
  • The World Bank’s City Creditworthiness Initiative (CCI) aims to strengthen the financial performance of local governments, and prepare them to tap domestic / regional capital markets without a sovereign guarantee. The CCI has trained over 600 municipal officials from 240 cities in 25 countries.

Promoting territorial development

Only 1.5% of the world’s land is home to half of its production. Thick and persistent divisions between places doing well and those that are not are exacerbating inequalities and human suffering, fueling discontent and disrupting development. There is urgent need to stimulate sustainable, inclusive economic growth in these lagging lands and urban spaces.

This is where territorial development comes in. It helps us understand cities not only as individual entities, but also the connectivity between them that allows faster economic growth and links people to better jobs.

  • The World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Cities: Expanding Opportunities for the Urban Poor report encourages cities in the region to ensure inclusive, equitable urban growth through a multi-dimensional approach to planning, incorporating aspects of economic, spatial, and social inclusion to foster economic growth and reduce poverty.
  • The Africa’s Cities: Opening Doors to the World report notes that improving conditions for people and businesses in African cities by aggressively investing in infrastructure and reforming land markets is key to accelerating economic growth, adding jobs, and improving city competitiveness.
  • In Kenya, areas of the north of the country have mostly been excluded from the benefits of rising living standards. The World Bank is launching the North & Northeastern Development Initiative (NEDI), a multi-sectoral program consisting of projects in transport, water, energy, agriculture, livelihoods, and social protection to connect the region to national and global markets.
  • In Colombia, the national government has put forward a series of institutional and policy changes to promote the peace building process. With the support of the World Bank, these efforts focus on strengthening institutions for land management and territorial planning, as well as improving subnational financial management and investment prioritization.

Looking ahead, the Bank will continue the discussion with global partners on building sustainable cities and communities at the upcoming World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from February 7 to 13, 2018. Watch this space!