Sustainable Urbanization – Economically and Ecologically - Is Focus of New Program

June 26, 2009

  • Urbanization in developing countries is a defining feature of the 21st century
  • While urbanization has enabled economic growth, it has contributed to climate change, pollution, congestion, and the growth of slums
  • The World Bank’s new Eco² Cities Program aims to alter the way cities develop by avoiding growth that fosters inefficient use of energy and resources

June 26, 2009—It took the world hundreds of years to build today’s urban space of 400,000 square kilometers of cities.

It will take only about another 30 years to build that same amount of urban space in cities of developing countries, according to projections for urbanization in developing countries.

This rapid urbanization may be the “single greatest development challenge and opportunity in our century,” says a report outlining a new World Bank program called Eco² Cities: Ecological Cities as Economic Cities, launched today in Singapore.

The report notes that while urbanization has enabled economic growth, it has also contributed to environmental and socio-economic challenges, including climate change, pollution, congestion, and the rapid growth of slums.

The Eco² Cities Program is, in effect, a call to alter the way cities develop—to avoid the kind of growth that fosters heavy and inefficient use of energy and resources, while helping cities become climate-friendly economic centers. And to do so quickly.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to plan, develop, build and manage cities that are simultaneously more ecologically and economically sustainable,” says Katherine Sierra, World Bank Vice President of Sustainable Development.

“The Eco² Cities Program is complementary to the ongoing efforts the World Bank and its development partners are making in sustainable development and climate change.”

Eco² Cities Offers Urban Development Framework

Jim Adams, vice president for the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific region, adds that the pace of urbanization in Asia alone points to the urgency for an integrated economic and ecological approach to city development.

“Eco² is being launched at a critical historic juncture – urbanization in developing countries is a defining feature of the 21st century,” he said. “There is only a short space of time in which to make an impact on how this development takes place.”

The Eco² Cities Program has just completed its first phase—a comprehensive three-part book presenting the overall analytical and operational framework of the program.

The program’s next step is to apply this framework in several cities, and eventually be mainstreamed through national-level urban development strategies.

Representatives from Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia will hear about the program first-hand this week at a presentation in Singapore.

Eco² Cities team leader Hiroaki Suzuki and co-team leader Arish Dastur say the program recognizes that successful cities create economic opportunities for their citizens in an inclusive, sustainable, and resource-efficient way, while also protecting and nurturing the local ecology and global public goods, such as the environment, for future generations.

Urban Sustainability Will Pay Compounding Dividends

Cities like Curitiba, Brazil, Stockholm, Sweden, and Yokohama, Japan, have demonstrated that they can greatly enhance their resource efficiency while decreasing harmful pollution and unnecessary waste.

“By doing so, they have improved the quality of life of their citizens, enhanced their economic competitiveness and resilience, strengthened their fiscal capacity, and created an enduring ‘culture’ of sustainability,” says Suzuki.

“What is encouraging is that most of the imaginative and practical solutions used by these cities are affordable and they generate economic returns, including direct and indirect benefits for the poor.”

Adds Dastur: “Sustainable urban planning is in fact an investment in the future of a city’s economy and welfare. An organized approach that consolidates and transfers these lessons to rapidly urbanizing countries can lock in systemic benefits for current and future generations.”

Cities Develop Their Own Eco² Pathway

The Eco² framework is designed to be adapted to local conditions. Each city taking part in the program should use it to develop its own “Eco² pathway” taking into account its own unique set of challenges and constraints, says Suzuki.

The World Bank plans to provide technical assistance through diagnostics studies that look at how efficiently the city is using resources and identify where improvements could be made.

The diagnostics would also look at the city’s infrastructure systems, urban form, policies and regulations for opportunities to realize greater synergies through integration and coordination of these elements, says Dastur.

The Bank’s technical assistance will also promote the use of life cycle costing—a method that looks at total costs, including resource depletion and environmental impact.

“A fundamental ingredient in the process is the political will to truly make a change – a genuine desire by city leadership and stakeholders to invest in the future of the city and the well-being of the citizens,” says Suzuki. “If we start with that, the knowledge exists, the methods exist, and growing support is now in place.”

Ideal City of the Future Offers ‘Concise Lifestyle’

The Eco² program is an integral part of the World Bank’s new urban strategy, scheduled for formal approval in September. The strategy looks at how to help cities harness their economic growth to improve the quality of life of their citizens.

Abha Joshi-Ghani, sector manager for the World Bank’s global urban unit , says that cities, “if managed and planned in a sustainable way, have the potential to offer a high quality of life with the least amount of resource consumption. They are also more enjoyable places to live.”

“It’s the consumption-oriented lifestyle of residents—not cities themselves—that leads to pollution. Compact, well-managed cities reduce the need for car ownership and long commutes, and are potentially much more efficient in delivering services such as water, sanitation and shelter to large numbers of people,” she says.

“The ideal city of the future is economically and ecologically sustainable,” she adds. “It’s a city which is optimizing its growth potential, creating jobs and attracting people, but at the same time offering a good quality of life, good living standards, services such as water, sanitation, sewerage. It’s also a city which is less consumption-oriented, well managed, financially sound, and which is green and ecologically friendly.”

“Really, it’s a city which offers a very compact, concise lifestyle.”

With 90 percent of urban growth in the next three decades expected to take place in developing countries, Suzuki and Dastur argue what’s needed is a “paradigm shift.”
“We’re building, for all intents and purposes, a whole new world at 10 times the speed, in countries with serious capacity constraints. At the same time, we now know what it takes for cities to be more ecologically sustainable, economically dynamic and socially viable. It would be a tremendous loss if we do not act on this opportunity. The stakes are very high.”

Eco² Builds on Real Cases

  • Curitiba, Brazil, sustainably absorbed a population increase from 361,000 (in 1960) to 1,797,000 (in 2007), through innovative urban planning, city management and transport planning. The city has the highest rate of public transport ridership in Brazil (45%), the lowest congestion-related economic losses, and also enjoys the lowest rates of urban air pollution. While preserving urban density and vibrancy, Curitiba invested in large parks as ecological assets for flood prevention and recreation. Its waste collection and recycling program allows the poor to exchange collected waste for transport coupons and food.
  • Stockholm, Sweden, has demonstrated how integrated and collaborative planning and management can transform an old inner city industrial area into an attractive and ecologically sustainable district. Core environmental and infrastructure plans were jointly developed by three city agencies overseeing water, energy and waste. The goal was to create a cyclical system that optimizes use of resources and minimizes waste. For instance, biogas is produced in the wastewater plant from digestion of organic waste and sludge and used as fuel in eco-friendly cars and buses. Some of the initial results have been a 30% reduction in non-renewable energy use, a 41% reduction in water use, and a 29% reduction in global warming potential.
  • Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city, has demonstrated how an integrated approach to waste management, combined with cooperation from stakeholders, particularly citizens, could reduce solid waste by 38.7% during a period when the population actually grew by 170,000. The city conducted environmental education and promotional activities to enhance public awareness and call for collaborative action. The resulting waste reduction allowed Yokohama to shut down two incinerators, saving the city $1.1 billion, as well as $6 million in annual operation and maintenance costs.