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Will 2015 be the year of urban opportunity?

Matthew AWood-Hill16 January 2015

Here at the DPU we’re bouncing out of what has been a very exciting year, celebrating our 60th anniversary, and into a particularly important one in our collective thinking about urban futures.

We’re going to see international discussions taking place on cities and human settlements, disaster risk reduction, development finance, the post-2015 development agenda and climate change.

Image: Matt Wood-Hill, 2014

Habitat III

Something I have seen dominating a lot of our conversations in the last year has been the road to the Habitat III conference. Although this won’t be held until October 2016 (in Quito, Ecuador if you already want to start planning your trip), the lobbying and agenda-building has already begun. We saw this at the 7th World Urban Forum in Medellin, and from numerous speakers at our DPU60 conference in July, including Joan Clos, the Director of UN Habitat.

Habitat III will have a profound impact on the way cities are planned, designed and governed. Given the title of this post, however, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

The Launch of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda; September 2015

2015 will be notable for the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), announcing a post-2015 development agenda that will supersede the Millennium Development Goals.

There are currently 17 Goals in total, which have Ban Ki-Moon’s support, but the numerous targets are yet to be finalised. Indeed nothing is set in stone, and much could yet change in the months ahead.

An Urban SDG

Several staff at the DPU have been busy working as part of the lobby for ‘Goal 11: Make Cities and Human Settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’

Goal 11 is the essence of the ‘urban opportunity’ – the title of the position paper produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

As urbanisation continues globally so does urban poverty. Urban economic output will grow, meanwhile new ways of providing infrastructure and services are required to cater for demand. These concentrated populations represent a vital opportunity that cannot be put off for another 15 years, and this must not become one of those Goals that ‘should have been there all along’. It is in cities that many solutions can, and will need to be found, and therefore this is the optimum moment of ‘urban opportunity’.

I’m looking forward to sharing two blog posts in the next couple of weeks that give greater insights into formulation of Goal 11 and what it sets out to achieve.

 

The Post-2015 framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); March 2015

The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) was the first international framework for the creation of DRR policies and plans when it was conceived to cover a 10-year period in 2005. There won’t be a stand-alone DRR goal in the SDGs, but of particular note to us is the proposed Target 4 within Goal 11 for cities to “incorporate climate and disaster risk considerations in their zoning, building codes, and infrastructure investment decisions”.

DPU staff have been very active in UN-ISDR discussions on updating the HFA, look out for more on this soon. I’m sure that many of us will be following the World Conference on DRR in Sendai closely to see how it relates to discussions on urban resilience.

 

The Third International Conference on Financing for Development; July 2015

While this isn’t a topic I can claim much familiarity with, it is pretty clear that the post-2015 development agenda is going to require a renegotiation of financing commitments. When we look at the unconfirmed SDGs as they stand, the 17 Goals and 169 targets are necessarily ambitious if they truly hope to “end poverty, transform all lives, and protect the planet.” But how these will be implemented is far less easy to understand, and I’ll be looking for a few clues in July.

 

COP21 in Paris; December 2015

COP20 in Lima might be quite fresh in many of your minds. Personally I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu – it seems we’re always told that we’re on the cusp of an epoch-defining agreement, but it slips away.

So could this year really be the year where a global climate deal is finally agreed? And if it is, then so what? We’ve been seeing climate responses increasingly happening at the local level. Let us not forget that the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012, and if global agreements are the way to go, then the international community has been stalling for too long.

 

Communications in 2015

This year I’m looking forward to seeing DPU communications give you greater insights into the key moments above. Staff here have been shaping the debates and will be responding to the outcomes. Ultimately we will continue to work with governments, community groups and other organisations on the ground to support them in implementing these agendas.

We also have an exciting schedule planned for the DPU blog over the next few months where staff, alumni and other contributors from around the world will share their experiences in development practice.

Stay tuned in 2015!

 

Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media and Communications Officer at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit.

Can Green Economy save the world?

TinaZiegler7 April 2011

Post written by: Tina Maria Ziegler. DPU alumna 2009

The UNEP recently published “Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication – A synthesis for policy makers” and this is just one of many publications, about this alleged solution to most – if not even all – of our global problems.

Although the term itself does not necessarily imply the social side of economics or development, Green Economy is defined as ‘key theme in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction’ (UNEP, 2011). This new economic concept claims to be central to poverty alleviation; creates jobs and enhances social equity; recognises the value of, and invests in nature capital; substitutes renewable energy and low-carbon technologies; promotes enhanced resource and energy efficiency; delivers more sustainable urban living and low-carbon mobility; and grows faster than a Brown Economy over time whilst at the same time maintaining and restoring natural capital (ibid). It seems to be the Swiss army knife of sustainable development. However, at the same time this concept also seems to have a quite high potential to become the new buzzword in development likely to succeed the expressionless heritage of sustainability, by pretending to tackle all current global problems and crises without suggesting a fundamental change in economic mainstream ideology.

UNEPs publication states that, “although the causes of these crises vary, at a fundamental level they all share a common feature: the gross misallocation of capital” (p. 1). However, the theory of Green Economy does not seem to challenge the economic concept which reinforces this misallocation. The basis of the Green Economy concept is: fuelling economic growth whilst generating employment and eliminating poverty (ibid). This shows a fundamental believe in the trickle-down theory. Yet, a theory which hardly materialises to truly reach the poor and underprivileged, but usually reinforces the hegemony of superior transnational companies and imperialising governments. I doubt that in the future the installation of solar panels will eradicate extreme poverty just because it was one of the mechanisms of Green Economy.

And doesn’t it seem like an oxymoron to speak about fuelling growth in a world with finite resources? As stated in UNEPs publication the basis for Green Economy are renewable energies and resource efficiency, however, without compromising the current way of production and consumption. The paradox of being more material efficient in producing so called gadgets which are designed to break after two years in order to make more profit by feeding the demand side is simply not tackled by the principles of Green Economy. I sentimentally think back to my former professor for electrical engineering, who opened his first lecture with following statement: “Truly clean electricity is electricity we never used”. Although so simple and trivial when heard, I still find this quote an eye opener. And a good basis for a real change. In my point of view efficiency is not about more efficient products, but about less consumption. This cannot be achieved by clinging onto the capitalist feedback loop of demand-production-consumption.

All I read so far about Green Economy really makes my ‘greening’ alarm bells ring. Actually the expression of ‘greening’ processes and mechanisms is even used quite regularly in this context and I truly hope that this does not imply approaching a rather superficial change of irrelevant economic processes, only to appear more sustainable or responsible and to resell an economic system, which was not successful to tackle poverty and resource exploitation in the past, but to change substantial underlying principles to pursue equity and resource efficiency. However, there is a long way to go. I am in doubt how far this new concept will be of help. I guess I should keep reading about Green Economy, since hope springs eternally.

Reference: UNEP, 2011, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication – A Synthesis for Policy Makers, www.unep.org/greeneconomy

Image Credits: Image via Yeşil Ekonomi Konferansı, http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/06/can-green-new-deal-boost-turkey-economy.php

A planned city model: Curitiba, Brazil.

TinaZiegler25 May 2010

Post written by: Bridges Brazil

Curitiba, the capital of the State of Paraná, a mainly agricultural state in southern Brazil, is indeed the best planned city in Brazil and an international model for sustainable development, is much more than simply the result of a few successful projects. The city’s achievements are the result of strategic, integrated urban planning. This all-encompassing strategy informs all aspects of urban planning, including social, economic and environmental programs.

http://inhabitat.com/files/

"Massive Transport System"

Curitiba’s strategy focuses on putting people first and on integrated planning, and these influences are apparent in all aspects of the city. The strategy is what underpins the individual projects system-wide that improve the environment, cut pollution and waste, and make the quality of life in the city better.

A clear strategy and vision of the future in Curitiba has meant that decisions large and small made over the course of 40 years have added up to a city that’s public-spirited and eco-efficient. Strong leadership resulted in successful, long-term implementation of strategy.
The city had few outstanding historical or natural features, but its architects and urban planners have transformed it into a vibrant center with good quality of life that draws many tourists. Curitiba’s population has more than doubled to 1.8 million over the past 30 years.

Despite major challenges that came with rapid growth, significant improvements have been made to the city’s quality of life in areas including public transportation, preservation of the city’s cultural heritage, expansion of parks and green areas, and social and environmental programs.
Curitiba has a long tradition of innovative and integrated urban planning geared toward the strategic imperative of making the city a better place to live, as outlined in the city’s Master Plan of 1965.  From the 1990s until today, the city’s main planning focus has been on sustainable development and integration of Curitiba’s metropolitan region. Strong political leadership and continuity has been essential to long-term implementation of the city’s plan.

The combination of core values expressed in the city plan allowed planning for efficiency and sustainability even in difficult circumstances (i.e., during the military dictatorship, times of economic crisis in Brazil, despite high numbers of poor migrants flowing into the city).
A clear strategy and vision of the future in Curitiba and creation of an agency to make sure it was implemented has meant that smaller decisions made over the course of years and in many individual programs have added up to a city that’s a model of ecological, people-centered urbanism.

Although Curitiba is known internationally as a sustainable, ecological city, it calls itself “the city of all of us.” In almost any area of Curitiba’s urban planning over the years, it is possible to see how consideration has been given to people in the big picture–and also to see the associated, system-wide sustainability benefits of integrated planning.
This is what’s most unique about the city’s strategy: it maximizes the efficiency and productivity of transportation, land-use planning and housing development by integrating them so they support one another to improve the quality of life in the city.

International Study Groups on Urban Development are organized all year round in this model city.
the group engages professors and students and eventually involves
public authorities, business people, and others. If you require further information on how to enroll to this dialogues, write to Eliel Rosa bridgesndialogues@gmail.com, Executive Director of Bridges & Dialogues Brazil.