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Global South Eco-cities Show How the Future Can Be

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world is currently undergoing a high-stress transition on a scale not seen since the great industrial revolution that swept Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s urban and industrial transition involves many more people and is taking place on a greater proportion of the planet. With rapid urbanization comes a demand for middle class lifestyles, with their high-energy usage and high consumption of raw materials.

This is stretching the planet’s resources to breaking point. And as many have pointed out, if the world’s population is to continue past today’s 7 billion to reach 9 billion and beyond, new ways of living are urgently required. Radical thinking will be necessary to match the contradictory goals of raising global living standards for the world’s poor with pressured resources and environmental conditions.

But there are innovative projects already under development to build a new generation of 21st-century cities that use less energy while offering their inhabitants a modern, high quality of life. Two examples are in China and the Middle East.

Both projects are seen as a way to earn income and establish viable business models to build the eco-cities of the future. Each project is seeking to develop the expertise and intellectual capacity to build functioning eco-cities elsewhere. In the case of the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates, international businesses are being encouraged to set up in Masdar City and to develop technologies that can be sold to other countries and cities – in short, to create a green technology hub akin to California’s hi-technology hub ‘Silicon Valley’. Masdar City is also being built in stages as investors are found to help with funding. Both projects hope to prove there is money to be made in being green and sustainable.

The Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.

Tianjin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin) is a large industrial city southeast of China’s capital, Beijing. It is a place that wears the effects of its industrial expansion on the outside. Air pollution is significant and the city has a grimy layer of soot on most outdoor infrastructure.

China has received a fair bit of criticism for its polluted cities as the country has rapidly modernized in the past two decades. This sprint to be one of the world’s top economic powers has come at a cost to the environment. In this respect, China is not unusual or alone. Industrialization can be brutal and polluting, as Europe found out during its earlier industrial revolution.

But China is recognizing this can’t go on forever and is already piloting many initiatives to forge a more sustainable future and bring development and high living standards back in line with what the environment can handle.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is the second large-scale collaboration between the Chinese government and Singapore. The first was the Suzhou Industrial Park (http://www.sipac.gov.cn/english/).The Tianjin project came up in 2007 as both countries contemplated the challenges of rapid urbanization and sustainable development.

The project’s vision, according to its website, is to be “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development.”

The philosophy behind the project is to find a way of living that is in harmony, with the environment, society and the economy. It is also about creating something that could be replicated elsewhere and be scaled up to a larger size.

The city is being built 40 kilometres from Tianjin centre and 150 kilometres from Beijing. It is located in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, considered one of the fastest growing places in China.

Construction is well underway and can be followed on the project’s website (http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/gal.htm). It will be completed in 2020.

This year, the commercial street was completed and is ready for residents to move in.

Residents will be encouraged to avoid motorized transport and to either use public transport or people-powered transport such as bicycles and walking.

An eco-valley runs down the centre of the city and is meant to be a place for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy.

The basic building block of the Eco-city – its version of a city block – is called the Eco Cell. Each Eco Cell measures 400 metres by 400 metres, a comfortable walking distance. Four Eco Cells make a neighbourhood. Several Eco Neighbourhoods make an Eco District and there are four Eco Districts in the Eco-city. It is a structure with two ideas in mind: to keep development always on a walkable, human scale and also to provide a formula for scaling up the size of the Eco-city as the number of residents increases.

It is a logical approach and seeks to address one of the most common problems with conventional cities: sprawling and unmanageable growth that quickly loses sight of human need.

Agreement was also reached on the standards that should be achieved for a wide variety of criteria, from air and water quality to vegetation, green building standards, and how much public space there should be per person.

An ambitious project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to become both the world’s top centre for eco cities and a living research centre for renewable energy. Masdar City (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/)is planned to be a city for 40,000 people. It is billed as a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies will be “marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.”

The city hopes to become home to hundreds of businesses, a research university and technology clusters.

This version of an eco-city is being built in three layers in the desert, 17 kilometres from the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The goal is to make a city with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by renewable energy. It is an ambitious goal but there are examples in the world of cities that use significant renewable energy for their power, such as Reykjavik, Iceland in Northern Europe, which draws much of its energy from renewables and geothermal sources.

Masdar City is designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster (fosterandpartners.com) and will be 6.5 square kilometres in size.

The design is highly innovative. The city will be erected on 6 metre high stilts to increase air circulation and reduce the heat coming from the desert floor. The city will be built on three levels or decks, to make a complete separation between transport and residential and public spaces.

The lowest deck will have a transportation system based on Personal Rapid Transport Pods. These look like insect eyes and are automated, controlled by touch screens, using magnetic sensors for propulsion. On top of this transport network will be the pedestrian streets, with businesses, shops and homes. No vehicles will be allowed there, and people will only be able to use bicycles or Segway (segway.com) people movers to get around. An overhead light railway system will run through the city centre, all the way to Abu Dhabi City.

“By layering the city, we can make the transport system super-efficient and the street level a much better experience,” Gerard Evenden, senior partner at Foster + Partners, told The Sunday Times. “There will be no car pollution, it will be safer and have more open spaces. Nobody has attempted anything like this.”

Masdar City is being built in stages as funding comes, with the goal of completion by 2016. It hopes to achieve its aspiration to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly city in the world. As for water supplies in the desert, there is a plan: dew collected in the night and morning and a solar-powered desalination plant turning salt water into drinking water.

Electricity will come from a variety of sources. Solar panels will be on every roof and double as shade on alleyways. Non-organic waste will be recycled, while organic waste will be turned into fuel for power plants. Dirty water will be cleaned and then used to irrigate green spaces. Because of the design, the planners hope the city will just use a quarter of the energy of a conventional city.

To keep the city smart and the project on top of developments in renewable energy, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/) will specialize in renewable energy technology.

The cost for the city was pegged at US $22 billion in 2009.

The chief executive of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s renewable-energy company – is Sultan Al Jaber. He sees the city as a beacon to show the way for the rest of the Emirate to convert from a highly inefficient consumer of energy to a pioneer in green technology.

“The problem with the renewable-energy industry is that it is too fragmented,” he told The Sunday Times. “This is where the idea for Masdar City came from. We said, ‘Let’s bring it all together within the same boundaries, like the Silicon Valley model (in California, USA).’”

The project needs to gather much of its funding as it progresses. The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (http://cdm.unfccc.int/) is helping with financing. Companies can earn carbon credits if they help fund a low-carbon scheme in the global South. The sultan is ambitious and sees this as a “blueprint for the cities of the future.” It has been able to bring on board General Electric (GE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to sponsor the university.

It is possible to visit Masdar City and take a tour (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/105/visit-masdar-city/) and it is also possible to view online what has been built so far (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/32/built-environment/).

Resources

1) Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE): Located in Texas, USA, CITE is a fully functioning city with no residents to test new technologies before they are rolled out in real cities. Website: http://www.pegasusglobalholdings.com/test-center.html

2) Digital Cities of the Future: In Digital Cities, people will arrive just in time for their public transportation as exact information is provided to their device. The Citizen-Centric Cities (CCC) is a new paradigm, allowing governments and municipalities to introduce new policies. Website: http://eit.ictlabs.eu/action-lines/digital-cities-of-the-future/

3) Eco-city Administrative Committee: Website: http://www.eco-city.gov.cn/

4) Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. Website: tianjineco-city.com

5) ‘The Future Build’ initiative, a new green building materials portal from Masdar City. Website: thefuturebuild.com

6) UNHABITAT: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the UN agency mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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New Cities Offering Solutions for Growing Urban Populations

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Across the global South, new cities are being dreamed up by architects, city planners and governments, or are already under construction. Two new urban areas being built offer lessons for others in the global South. They both deploy intelligent solutions to the combined demands of urbanization, growing populations and rising expectations.

An eco city in China and a smart city in the Republic of Korea are tackling today’s – and tomorrow’s – challenges.

A joint initiative between China and Singapore, the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City project (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) – located on reclaimed land some 45 kilometres from the booming Chinese city of Tianjin and 150 kilometres from Beijing – is an attempt to create a replicable model for other cities in China and the global South. Already well underway, with the first phase of construction nearly complete, the Eco-City’s hallmarks include encouraging walking, reducing reliance on private vehicles and aiming to generate 20 per cent of the city’s energy from renewable sources. It is run from the Chinese end by Tianjin TEDA Investment Holding Co., Ltd and in Singapore by the Keppel Group.

It is located 10 kilometres from the Tianjin Economic Technological Development Area (TEDA), a fast-growing high-tech business hub in its own right.

Called an “integrated work, live, play and learn environment,” it is a mix of public and private housing based on the highly successful model developed in Singapore.

The concept of an “eco city” was first raised by Richard Register in his 1987 book Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future. It was to be a place that minimizes inputs of energy, water, and food and outputs of waste heat, air pollution, carbon dioxide, methane and water pollution. Like smart cities, eco cities are taking shape in various forms around the world. Some are applying the concept and principles of an eco city to an existing place, while others are being built from scratch.

The Tianjin Eco-City is a mix of elements designed to make it sustainable in the long-term. It includes an “EcoValley” running through the development as its centrepiece green space to encourage walking and cycling between the major centres of the city. It has the usual urban services – from schools to shops and restaurants – but also, critically, a growing range of business parks to support employment.

Unlike green initiatives in wealthy, developed countries, it is hoped the Tianjin Eco-City will prove a more relevant model for the global South. It has factored in the need to make an eco city pay its way and generate new business and innovations. It is trying to address the pressing urgency of China’s growing population and rapid urbanization, while balancing people’s expectations of rising living standards. As in other countries in the global South, people aspire to a higher standard of living and this needs to be taken into consideration when planning eco cities.

Ho Tong Yen, Chief Executive Officer of Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City, says its aim is “sustainable development packaged in a way that is uniquely Asian.”

He says the project is intended to be “practical, replicable and scalable.”

“Practical at its core is building something that the market can support, something that is affordable given the economic development of the region,” he said. “The idea is that this model must be one that is replicable and scalable in other parts of China. Now, strictly speaking, there is no reason it needs to be just for China – it really might be replicable in other developing countries as well. Our starting point, however, is to find a model that might work for China.

“I think it is still a work in progress – a bold experiment – and it is a long-term experiment. The idea is to create an eco city that can support a population of 350,000 over a 10 to 15 year horizon.

“In some ways it is a city that does not look all that much different from other Chinese cities. But if you look at the subtleties – the building orientation, the renewable energy, the transit oriented developments, the walkability concepts – these are all the elements we built into this project.

“An eco city is not necessarily a science-fiction-like concept; it is something that is very real, very do-able. It looks a lot like a normal city – it is not a special city in a glass dome.”

The explosion in information technologies in the past decade has re-shaped the way cities can be planned, run and developed. The connectivity brought about by now-ubiquitous electronic devices such as mobile phones and the ever-expanding information networks connected by fibre optic cables is giving rise to so-called “smart cities.” These urban areas draw on information technologies to use resources more efficiently and reduce waste, while – it is hoped – better serving the needs of residents. Real-time information can be gleaned to monitor energy use, or traffic congestion, or crime, while constant online connectivity enables the efficient delivery of a multitude of services to residents.

Smart cities vary in their scope and ambition. Some are existing urban areas given a modern upgrade, while others, such as the Songdo International Business District (IBD) (songdoibd.com) smart city in the Republic of Korea, are planned and built from scratch.

Built on 1,500 acres (607 hectares) of reclaimed land from the Yellow Sea in Incheon, Songdo International Business District is being built by Gale International and POSCO E&C of Korea. It is considered one of the largest public/private real estate ventures in the world. Due to be completed in 2017, it will be home to 65,000 people (22,000 currently live there), while 300,000 people will commute in daily to work. Fifteen years in the making and costing over US $35 billion, it is called a “synergistic city” because it contains all the elements necessary for people to live a high-quality life.

Currently 50 percent complete, Songdo IBD is considered one of Asia’s largest green developments and a world leader in meeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) (https://new.usgbc.org/leed) standards for green buildings. For example, it has the first LEED-certified hotel in Korea, the Sheraton Incheon. These high green standards have led to the United Nations Green Climate Fund Secretariat establishing its headquarters in Songdo, with a slated opening in 2013.

Songdo is “smart” because information technology connects all its systems – residences, buildings, offices, schools, hospitals, hospitality and retail outlets. This includes more than 10,000 Cisco TelePresence units (http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps7060/index.html)– menu-driven video screens – being installed in the residences to connect them to all the services available in Songdo.

It also benefits from proximity to IncheonInternationalAirport – consistently voted one of the best in the world – giving residents quick access to other Asian cities such as Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong. This connection between urban development and a highly connected airport is being called an “aerotropolis.”

Songdo smart city is just one part of a massive regional development plan, using reclaimed land from the sea and marshlands. The residential and business developments are all being linked to IncheonInternationalAirport, which is being positioned as a transport hub and gateway to Northeast Asia – it boasts of being a three-and-a-half hour flight to one-third of the world’s population. The idea is to create a thriving international business hub that is a short flight away from Asia’s booming and fast-growing economic centres.

“The beauty is you are doing everything from scratch – you are using newer building technology, newer systems,” said Scott Summers, Vice President of Foreign Investment for developers Gale International Korea LLC.

“You are not going into a city and ripping up old things and then put in new systems. You have a greater opportunity to install this technology, the backbone (information technology from Cisco), to allow these services and connectivity to work properly because you are laying wires in buildings from the get-go rather than going in afterwards.”

Summers believes it is the high-tech component of Songdo that will set it apart from other cities in the future. Songdo is being built with a combination of innovative sustainable development technologies and the latest in information technologies provided by Cisco.

“That is one of the reasons we are pushing this technology, because it is how a city operates that is important,” Summers said.

“The operation of a city, to do it well, is going to improve the success of it. (To) embed into the development of the city some of the technologies of sustainable development – to put in the pneumatic waste system, grey water system, the co-generation – all of those things are much easier to do on raw land.”

Sojeong Sylvia Sohn, owner of Songdo’s Kyu, a Korean fusion cuisine restaurant, was attracted to Songdo and is banking on its future growth.

Sohn said Seoul’s “existing commercial area was just saturated.”

“Songdo International City in Incheon is the future for the region and early business tenants are coming here for investment purposes. It has uncluttered streets and modern buildings, being an international city – this makes it attractive.”

Resources

1) Eco Cities World Summit: The International Ecocity Conference Series brings together the key innovators, decision makers, technologists, businesses and organizations shaping the conversation around ecological and sustainable city, town and village design, planning and development. Website: http://www.ecocityworldsummit.org/

2) Richard Florida: The Creative Class Group is a boutique advisory services firm composed of leading next-generation researchers, academics, and strategists. Website:http://www.creativeclass.com/richard_florida

3) Global Urbanist: The Global Urbanist is an online magazine reviewing urban affairs and urban development issues in cities throughout the developed and developing world. Website: http://globalurbanist.com/

4) UN-Habitat: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is the United Nations agency for human settlements. It is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org

5) Eco-Cities: A Planning Guide by Zhifeng Yang. Website: http://tinyurl.com/d26rxdx

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Filipino Architect wants to Transform Slum with New Plan

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A clash is occurring across the global South over the future of urban planning and the ever-growing slums of the world’s megacities. This will be a decisive clash of visions: should cities flatten slums and relocate their residents, or work with slum dwellers, acknowledge the role they play in city economies and improve their lives with better dwellings?

As the world turned into a majority urban place in the 2000s, cities grew at a phenomenal rate. The cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week, according to some estimates. Megacities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this new urban world, it seems. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 percent of the population already lives in slum conditions.

The danger of building unsafe or makeshift homes can be seen in 2010’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, where many buildings collapsed, killing thousands.

One of the Philippines’ leading architects and urban planners,
Felino A. Palafox Jr. of Palafox Associates (www.palafoxassociates.com), is passionate about re-making the slums in his country’s capital, Manila. The city is prone to devastating and sometimes deadly flooding. Palafox believes the vulnerability of slum dwellings and poor urban planning are placing lives at risk.

“We can’t wait for another tragedy,” Palafox told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2010. “We have seen how an unprecedented volume of rainfall like what (storm) Ondoy had brought could prove too much for Metro Manila’s river and drainage system. We have also seen what a massive earthquake could do to an unprepared city like Haiti.

“While there is nothing that we could do to control the destructive power of these natural phenomena, there are steps that we could take to limit the amount of damage.”

If the rapid growth in urban populations is to be safe and sustainable, then new dwellings will need to be built that meet high standards of durability.

The UN Challenge of Slums report from 2003 (www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=1156) broke with past orthodoxy that slums must be cleared, arguing that slums should be seen as positive economic forces, incubators for budding entrepreneurs that offer a gateway to better things for new migrants.

Muhammad Khadim of UN-Habitat summed up the new thinking:

“Ten years ago, we used to dream that cities would become slum-free,” he said. But “the approach has changed. People see the positives. The approach now is not to clear them but to improve them gradually (and) regularise land tenure.”

The arguments behind embracing slums come from the economic changes across developing countries since the 1970s. Growing informal economies combined with fewer social provisions and the shift to urban from rural communities have all contributed to the explosion in slums and informal housing.

Manila is a city of stark and startling contrasts: there are glitzy shopping malls and high-rise office buildings, but also large slums and hungry people begging and selling trinkets on the city’s roads.

It’s a place where the slum clearance-vs-renovation debate is hot and current. The Philippines is currently in the midst of a campaign to clear slums in Manila and move people back to the countryside.

“Many of our people are no longer interested in agriculture, so we need to give them incentives to go back,” Cecilia Alba, head of the national Housing and Urban Development Co-ordinating Council, told the New Statesman magazine. “If we had to rehouse the slum-dwellers inside Manila in medium-rise housing, it would cost a third of the national budget.”

Palafox has a different vision – rebuilding a slum community from top to bottom.

An architect, environmental planner, urban planner and development consultant, Palafox runs one of the top architecture firms in the Philippines, employing more than 100 staff and consultants.

Usually occupied with office buildings in the go-go new business centres of the Middle East and Asia, Palafox has turned his attention to Estero de San Miguel, a Manila slum that is home to some 1,200 families, or 6,000 people.

Families are packed into tiny rooms in a labyrinthine slum complex beside a canal. The rooms are made of wood and floored with linoleum and have to be accessed through a narrow tunnel and tight connecting corridors.

Palafox’s plan is to work with the residents and rebuild it in its current location. In place of makeshift shacks will come modular homes, 10 square metres in size with space for shops and bicycle parking.

The design has the homes extend above a walkway, imitating the way the original slum structures were built.

Palafox is applying innovative thinking to the problem: taking his design direction from the dwellings slum residents build:  “The slum-dwellers,” he explained to the New Statesman, “are experts at live-work space design. They spontaneously do mixed-use! We just have to learn from them.”

Re-housing the residents on site means they can continue to play their role in the city’s economy, and do not have to make a long commute to jobs and opportunities.

Palafox also rebuts complaints about the cost of his plan, arguing the scale of corruption in the Philippines costs just as much.

“OK, the total cost of rehousing slum-dwellers in situ is 30 per cent of GDP (but) I calculate we lose about 30 per cent of the country’s wealth through corruption. If we didn’t have corruption, we wouldn’t need to tolerate slums.”

Another passionate advocate of working with slum dwellers is Father Norberto Carcellar from the Homeless People’s Federation (http://sdinet.org/countries/philippines.htm).

“We have to recognize the value of slum-dwellers to the city,” he said. “These are the ones who drive your car, clean your house and run your store. If these people were cleared from the city, the city would die. Slum-dwellers add social, political and economic value to the city.”

Even in its current form, Estero de San Miguel is a vibrant place, with an Internet café and a volunteer police force.

A BBC report found it lively and economically viable because it has educational and communication technologies that improve living conditions. The residents make their living working as cheap labour for the city.

Oliver Baldera, a carpenter, lives with his wife and four children:

“We’ve been here more than 10 years,” he told the New Statesman. “There’s no choice.

“It’s easier to get a job here and I can earn 400 pesos a day. I can send the kids to school and they eat three times a day – but it’s not enough. I need more space.”

Resources

1) More Urban, Less Poor: The first textbook to explore urban development and management and challenge the notion unplanned shanty towns without basic services are the inevitable consequence of urbanization. Website:http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=649
2) Slum Populations in the Developing World: See a breakdown of the urban/slum population in developing nations. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5078654.stm
3) Architecture for Humanity: An NGO to promote architectural and design solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. Website:http://architectureforhumanity.org/
5) Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website:http://www.bshf.org
6) NGO called Map Kibera began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. Website: http://www.mapkibera.org
7) ArrivalCity: The Final Migration and Our Next World by Doug Saunders. Website: http://www.arrivalcity.net
8) Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website: http://www.slum-tv.org
9) A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth. Website: http://www.jamiibora.org
8) Cities for All shows how the world’s poor are building ties across the global South. Website:http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/24/cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-ties-across-the-global-south.aspx

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Southern Innovator in Southasiadisasters.net

Innovations in Green Economy: Top Three Agenda

c22e6-innovations20in20green20economy20top20three20agenda20december202013

https://www.preventionweb.net/publication/climate-smart-disaster-risk-management-action

South-South Cooperation for Cities in Asia

South-South Cooperation for Cities July 2014

https://reliefweb.int/report/india/southasiadisastersnet-issue-no114-july-2014-towards-urban-resilience

Lima To Delhi: What Can Be Learned On Urban Resilience?

Published: March 2015

Publisher: Southasiadisasters.net

Issue No. 128, March 2015

Theme: Challenges of Urban Resilience in India

Fast-growing cities and urban areas in the global South can be vulnerable because they lack the web of structures and institutions that enable more long-established cities to mitigate risks and, when a disaster does strike, to bounce back quickly. But thanks to many new technologies, and some smart new thinking, it is possible to bring resilience to even the poorest and most deprived urban communities.

The essence of resilience is to build into plans and daily activities a
community’s ability to weather any disaster, small or large. All cities, rich or poor, can experience a disaster of some sort, be it weather, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, shortages, or economic, financial and health crises. New technologies make it possible for all cities, no matter how poor and overcrowded, to build in urban resilience. The ubiquity of mobile phones introduces a powerful city and urban planning tool. Mapping chaotic and unplanned areas is already underway in many cities of the global South (in Brazil and Kenya for example (http://tinyurl.com/qgba8kb).

Impressively, innovators in the South are using affordable microelectronics in the form of mobile phones and laptops to gather data and map it. This computing capability was once the sole domain of big information technology companies such as IBM. Now, a single laptop computer combined with a smartphone equipped with the right software can manage a large urban area, a task that once required rooms full of computers. The data can then be used to manage growth today and re-build after a disaster. Any excuse not to be resilient has been wiped out with this technological leap.

But how to deal with the common reality of feeling overwhelmed by the many obstacles to rational planning and building for urban growth in the South? Innovators have stepped in to take matters into their own hands with simple construction technologies as the solution. One example is the Moladi system of recycled plastic moulds (moladi.net). Anybody can master this simple building technique, as the mortar-filled moulds are designed to fit easily together to construct an earthquake-resistant, beautiful home.

This approach has the advantage of bypassing the failings of authorities to enforce building codes and standards in poor, urban communities, creating safer places to live and preventing the growth of unregulated shanty towns at risk to fire and earthquakes.

Others have found social ways to organize people, even in the most desperate of conditions, providing services and laying down the groundwork for an upgrading of an urban area to improve living conditions and long-term opportunities. The concept of ‘cities for all’ has inspired many to re-energize civic organizations and networking in poor areas to ensure they are not left out of economic growth. In Colombia, a famous example of this is the escalator in the city of Medellin, which connects a hillside slum to the centre of the city, opening up economic opportunities to all (http://tinyurl.com/nm47d3u).

Still more exciting, new technologies are in the works to simplify construction of major infrastructure and new buildings. A future city will be able to gather extensive data on an expanding urban area, make detailed development plans with architects and engineers, and then have robots and 3D fabricating machines quickly lay down infrastructure and erect buildings. Sounds far-fetched?
Well, in China one company recently used a 3D machine to make 10 houses in a single day (http://www.yhbm.com/index.aspx).

An infographic from Southern Innovator’s fourth issue (http://
tinyurl.com/m9vfwur) shows 10 ways any urban area – either planned or unplanned – can build in resilience. All are proven approaches from cities in the global South.

Southern Innovator’s upcoming sixth issue will explore the interplay
of science, technology and innovation in the global South and how people are making the most of 21st century advances to increase wealth and improve human development. Hopefully, all of this innovation will lead to more resilient cities in the future!


– David South,
Editor, Southern Innovator, UNOSSC

https://www.preventionweb.net/publication/challenges-urban-resilience-india

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021