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Building an Urbanization Knowledge Platform

March 30, 2012

The urban populations of Africa and South Asia will double in the next 20 years, intensifying today’s challenges of housing, transportation, sanitation, and public health in cities. Cities that are growing quickly have transport, service, and housing infrastructure strains. They also face new environmental, health, poverty, and crime policy challenges.

These challenges are particularly striking in the developing world, where 90 percent of urban growth is taking place. At the same time, urban areas generate 70 percent of the world's GDP, and, by 2050 will account for 70 percent of its population. Thriving cities are associated with economic growth, improved quality of life, and creativity.

With only about 30 percent of population in cities, South Asia is the least urbanized region of the world (the rate being 40 percent in Africa). Yet the economic transition is well under way, with industries and services accounting for over two-thirds of the region’s economy and over 80 percent of the economic growth. The region currently has five of the world’s 20 megacities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants), and these and other largest cities are leading the economic transition. Spatial and demographic transition is following the economic transition, with acceleration of rural to urban migration and conversion of villages into towns.

How can cities and national governments improve their urban policies? What could the World Bank contribute?

A New Way of Engaging – the Urbanization Knowledge Platform

Delegates representing eight countries in South Asia and four countries in East Asia gathered in Colombo, Sri Lanka in March 2012 to launch the Urbanization Knowledge Platform for the South Asia Region. Participants, including the mayors and secretaries of Kabul, Thimphu, Colombo, and Karnataka, discussed their urban challenges, including inclusive urban growth, urban development and climate change, and sustainable urban regeneration. 

In organizing the event, the World Bank’s South Asia Urban/Water/Disaster Risk ManagementUnit, joined by the Urbanization Knowledge Platform, partnered with Korea Research Institute of Human Settlements (KRIHS) and AusAID.

The mission of the Urbanization Knowledge Platform is to put the world’s best knowledge and data in the hands of policymakers and practitioners, to harness urban growth for better development outcome.

The launch of the SAR Urbanization Knowledge Platform reflects the drive of leading policy makers, practitioners and academics to collaborate in tackling the challenges facing the region. The objectives of the workshop were to provide a platform for key urban policy makers in the region to gather and discuss urban issues and learn from each other, and to agree on concrete next steps for the Urbanization Knowledge Platform. Among the three central topics during the discussion, several common challenges and underlying issues were identified:

Common challenges:

  • Poor urban services
  • Urban environment degradation
  • Flooding
  • Low-income housing and informal settlements

Common underlying issues:

  • Insufficient space for urban development in national development agenda
  • Difficulty of institutional coordination
  • Weak local capacity
  • Land regulation
  • Financing

During the two-day workshop, discussions and conversation were driven by shared experiences from public, private, and civil society participants—including across regions. International experiences were also shared from Singapore, Philippines, and South Korea.

“The government has a clear intention to upgrade the quality of life of the people in slums and shanties by providing them proper housing facilities. It is not only important to give them much higher quality places to live in, but also to facilitate a better quality of community life for them,"said Secretary of Defence and Urban Development in Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The keynote speaker, Jesse Robredo, secretary of Interior and Local Government from the Philippines, shared experiences regarding the role of local and national governments and low carbon development strategy.

The Way Forward

The participants expressed strong desire to continue as a community of urban practitioners following this workshop. The key activities to undertake include:

  • Form a South Asia Region Urban Network, with participation of key think tanks and policy makers, supported by an advisory board as well as a roster of experts for selected areas.
  • Complement face-to-face events with a virtual community that would allow "libraries" and information sharing, exchanges among community members, and case studies on practices of common interest.
  • Prepare for a regional study on urbanization in the South Asia region, with the South Asia Region Urban Network as the key sounding board on diagnosis and policy recommendations.