South Asia is one of the most rapidly urbanizing regions in the world. A deep understanding of the built environment is critical to providing relevant services, managing urban growth, and visualizing disaster risk in this context. For example, good characterization of the built environment allows urban planners, engineers, and policy makers to plan for and design appropriate transportation systems and adequate water supply systems; to estimate the population distribution of cities; attempt to manage urban sprawl; and to identify potential sites for parks and public services. In addition, growing populations, unplanned settlements, and unsafe building practices all increase disaster risk.
As urban populations and vulnerability grow, managing urban growth in a way that fosters cities’ resilience to natural hazards and the impacts of climate change becomes an ever-greater challenge that requires detailed, up-to-date geographic data of the built environment. To meet this challenge requires innovative, affordable, precise, open, and dynamic data collection and mapping processes that support management of urban growth and disaster risk.
The World Bank, through its Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), launched the Open Cities Project in November 2012 to create open data ecosystems that will facilitate innovative, data-driven urban planning and disaster risk management in South Asian cities.
Since its start, Open Cities has brought together stakeholders from government, donor agencies, the private sector, universities, and civil society groups to create usable information through community mapping techniques, to build applications and tools that inform decision making, and to develop the networks of trust and social capital necessary for these efforts to become sustainable. This process has been evolutionary, with opportunities for experimentation, learning, failure, and adaptation incorporated into the project planning. This guide discusses the rationale and design of the Open Cities Project, the major components of its implementation to date, and some of the most salient lessons learned from the project so far.
The Open Cities Project launched its efforts in three cities: Batticaloa, Sri Lanka; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Kathmandu, Nepal. These cities were chosen for
- Their high levels of disaster risk;
- The presence of World Bank-lending activities related to urban planning and disaster management that would benefit from access to better data; and
- The willingness of government counterparts to participate in and help guide the interventions.
In each of these projects, Open Cities has supported the creation of new data while also attending to the cities’ broader ecosystems of open data production and use.
Open Cities has achieved several noteworthy outcomes during its first year:
- Comprehensive and accessible databases of the built environment. For instance, Batticaloa now has a detailed structural database of every building, and Kathmandu has a database of all schools and hospitals to use for risk assessment.
- Improved in-country capacity to update, maintain, and use key datasets. For instance, Kathmandu has created innovation spaces such as the Kathmandu Living Labs, internship opportunities, and university curricula that provide students with employable skills.
- Mainstreamed open-data use and strengthened data collection and management processes at different levels of government. For instance, the Sri Lanka Survey Department asked for support to start incorporating crowdsourcing and community mapping approaches into its regular work flow, and the Government of Sri Lanka sought support for the creation of an Open and Spatial Data Infrastructure.
- Adoption of new applications by multiple levels of government and Bank-financed projects. For instance, forthcoming risk assessments will be driven by detailed data to design physical mitigation investment programs.
- Complementary new partnerships and increased collaboration. New partners to implement projects include the U.S. Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), and the American Red Cross.