Mapping Beirut Brings City to Light

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


As cities in the global South grow ever larger, their often-chaotic evolution can create sprawling urban mazes that would confuse even the brightest brains.

Streets can be unnamed, unnumbered, twisty, full of dead ends and alleys. Informal settlements can pop up within weeks, whole neighbourhoods are razed to the ground and replaced by gleaming office buildings and apartments within months. Some countries experience political instability and conflict, disrupting daily life and making planning difficult. All this chaos makes business and travel more inefficient, especially to visiting businesspeople looking to trade or tourists simply wanting to look around.

When a city fails to communicate its treasures, something is lost for both parties: the city’s businesses lose valuable custom and the visitor or resident fails to grasp what is on offer. How will you find the restaurant you want, or that shop with the just-right fashions?

Beirut is a city that has had its ups and downs. Once called “the Paris of the Middle East” for its beauty and cosmopolitan atmosphere, it descended into decades of civil war and unrest from 1975, most recently in 2006 it had a war with Israel. Its residents have grown used to a city of turmoil and rapid change. They also have grown used to a city that people navigate by landmarks rather than street names.

Bahi Ghubril grew fed up with the frustration of having to always ask people for directions to get around the city, or getting stuck behind drivers begging pedestrians for directions.

Inspired by London’s famous A-Z (, he researched and launched the Zawarib Beirut Road Atlas in 2005 (!/zawaribworld) and (

It is part of a new trend across the global South: people using the slew of new information technologies and online resources to map and discover their neighbourhoods and cities. In turn, this is fuelling economic growth as people can find businesses and promote themselves to buyers and customers.

It took Ghubril two years to put together the first guide, gathering street images from satellite photos and then combining them with information collected on foot and from local mayors and cartographers.

“The project was born from a need to organise the city,” he told Monocle magazine, “but also as a socio-political project to open up the city to its residents and visitors.”

As an entrepreneur, Ghubril had no previous experience in publishing. He has been an actor and worked in finance.

During the research for the guide, Ghubril developed a rich knowledge of the city’s structure, its bureaucracy and how people really live their lives. His willingness to do this hard work is paying off.

Zawarib Beirut – which translates as Beirut Alleys – has successfully expanded into editions covering nearby cities, a pocket version, eight versions colourfully decorated by local artists, and the first Beirut bus map.

The service has a database including thousands of street names, landmarks, sectors and districts within the 34 municipal regions making up Greater Beirut. It includes useful phone numbers, car parks and a bus map. During holidays, like the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, it publishes a map of all of Beirut’s mosques.

Ghubril promotes the guide directly to the city’s residents. Wearing blue and black t-shirts asking “Lost? ask me,” young women help to distribute the guide on the streets of Beirut.

Other mapping projects depend on the mobile phones that are more and more part of daily life in the South’s slums – even for the poorest people. With the spread of mobile phones, it is becoming possible to develop a digital picture of a slum area and map its needs and population. It has become possible to undertake digital mapping initiatives to truly find out who is where and what is actually going on.

An NGO called Map Kibera ( is working on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Map Kibera project uses an open-source software programme, OpenStreetMap (, to allow users to edit and add information as it is gathered. This information is then free to use by anybody wanting to grasp what is actually happening in Kibera: residents, NGOs, private companies and government officials.

It will literally put Kibera on Kenya’s map.

In Brazil, an NGO called Rede Jovem ( is deploying youths armed with GPS (global positioning system)-equipped ( mobile phones to map the favelas of Rio de Janerio.

The mappers physically travel around the favela and upload information on each individual landmark (restaurants, roads etc.) as they go. They use Nokia N95s mobile phones that are connected to Google Maps ( The project then uses Wikimapa (, and Twitter ( to log the information.

Published: October 2011


1) Zawarib Beirut Road Atlas: The Zawarib Beirut can be purchased from Amazon’s website. Website:

2) Google Maps: A treasure trove of global maps and data. Website:

3) Google Street View: A global database of photographs showing neighbourhoods and streets. Website:

4) Google Maps for mobile: Use Google Maps on your phone, and never carry a paper map again. Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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2011 Trends for the South

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


The world has been through a dramatic and fascinating period since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008. While the wealthy, developed nations of the North have been pitched into one crisis after another, the countries of the global South (many of whom are well accustomed to crises) have been part of a powerful new economic phenomenon: the rapid growth of South-South trade, investment and exchange. Its effects include stronger ties between Asia and South America and between China and Africa.

South-South trade is the great economic success story of the past decade. World Trade Organization (WTO) ( figures show South-South trade grew to 16.4 percent of the US $14 trillion in total world exports in 2007, from 11.5 percent in 2000. While the global economic crisis has slowed trade down, the overall trend for South-South trade and connections seems firmly established.

South-South trade made up 20 percent of global exports by 2010, and foreign direct investment to developing economies rose by 10 percent in 2010 due to a rapid economic recovery and increasing South-South flows.

Trade between China and Africa has surged during the decade since China joined the WTO in 2001, from around US $10 billion in 2000 to US $73.3 billion in 2007, a year-on-year increase of 32.2 percent. By 2008, it had soared by 44.1 percent to reach a record high of US $106.84 billion, according to Zhang Yongpeng of the Institute for West Asian and African Studies (IWAAS).

The surge is remarkable and recent. For example, according to accountants KPMG, between 2001 and 2009 China invested just US $215 million in Brazil. But in 2010, China invested US $20 billion in energy and chemical companies in Argentina and Brazil. And Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, told the Financial Times that “seven percent of Colombian gasoline has been replaced by domestic ethanol, produced with green Indian technology – while Indian companies, including Infosys and Tata, now have 17,000 employees in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

This jump in investment has also had its downside: coming fast and furious as investment cash chases better investment profits in the global South, it has pushed up inflation and commodity prices and spawned property speculation bubbles. This, as can be seen across North Africa and the Middle East, can lead to political and social instability.

A review of the big trends bubbling under the surface in 2011 shows how important South-South exchange will be in alleviating poverty and improving lives in the run-up to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals ( It also shows up the dangers inherent in this new environment – rising inflation without economic growth can crush the poor. A focus on innovation and new thinking will be necessary to get through this year and beyond.

Some of the top trends that will have a big impact in 2011 are:

– Inflation: In 2011 it looks like we will hear a lot about inflation. As the global economy tries to stabilize and return to growth, there will be inflation surges for a wide variety of reasons. People will need strategies and new techniques to make sure they can afford the necessities of life. This will be critical if development gains from the past decade are not to be lost.

– Super cycle: Some are putting forward the theory we are entering a ‘super cycle’ ( created by better connectivity, global travel and mobility and the ease of moving around investment to create businesses and jobs. The super cycle theory claims that this will spark the greatest period of human development in history – raising all national economies – as more and more people benefit from rising living standards and opportunities.

– Switch to South-South trade: With the trend of increasing South-South trade now firmly established, there is a greater awareness now of the power of sharing ideas across the South. One example of this idea-sharing is the annual Global South-South Development Expo ( run by UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation Unit (

– New technologies: The spread of new technologies around the world will continue and bring many changes. Africa is seeing increasing access to high-speed Internet as new undersea cables are laid around the continent. Mobile phones will continue to be a critical tool for many to stay in touch and boost incomes.

– MDGs on horizon in 2015: The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of 2015 is just four years away. This will face the headwinds of the global economic crisis and urgent attention will be needed to make sure gains are not lost as 2015 approaches. The role played by South-South trade will be a critical partner in aiding goal achievements.

– Cities: A surge to the urban was pronounced by 2007 and we are now living in a majority urban world. Innovation and sharing experiences and knowledge will play a key role in ensuring this is not a disaster. A recent book, Arrival City by Canadian journalist Doug Saunders, detailed this urban surge occurring across the global South, the largest movement of people to cities and urban and semi-urban areas in human history. It follows the pattern that was seen in Europe in the 19th century, as economies change and people seek the new opportunities promised by cities, or find rural economies unsustainable.

– The China model of development: The big talking point will be China’s economic model for eradicating poverty on a mass scale. A new book by Dambisa Moyo, How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly – And the Stark Choices Ahead, investigates the mistakes made in developed, Western nations and what can be learned from the experiences in the global South.

– Food crisis: At the beginning of February, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) issued a warning about the risk of a new global food crisis after its food price index reached a record high in January 2011. The FAO also issued an alert about severe drought in China, the world’s largest wheat producer. Flooding in Brazil and Australia have also devastated crops, much of which are exported to countries across the South. There is also risk to crops from flooding in southern Africa. Wheat, corn and soybean prices are rising, and prices reached a peak just as they did in 2008 (FAO).

Even developed countries normally used to food surpluses are at risk. In the US, corn reserves are at a 15 year low (US Department of Agriculture), and the price of corn has doubled in past six months.

A billion people go to bed hungry every night; someone starves to death every 3.6 seconds – 75 percent are children under five, according to the World Food Programme (

Published: 2011

1) Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture: A data mix tracking global food prices and situation reports. Website:
2) World Bank Food Crisis blog: Website:
3) Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa: “Building capacity to help Africa trade better”: tralac’s mission is to build trade law capacity in southern Africa so that these countries can participate effectively in the global economy; to negotiate trade agreements that will support their development objectives, and so that they can implement the agreements to ensure that they realise the potential benefits of international trade. Website:
4) Future Forum world videos: Compelling animated videos exploring the hard choices of an urbanizing world and the need to promote sustainable development and environmental harmony. Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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© David South Consulting 2022


Global South Eco-cities Show How the Future Can Be

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


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 ( project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( and it is also possible to view online what has been built so far (


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:

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:

3) Eco-city Administrative Committee: Website:

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

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

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:

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Press Release 1 | Southern Innovator

Press Release for General Distribution

New Magazine Targets Innovators in Global South

United Nations, New York, 20 September 2011

  • Global magazine Southern Innovator profiles innovation culture ending poverty
  • 60-page color magazine gives snapshot of fast-changing world

Southern Innovator (SI) is a new magazine for a fast-changing world. It profiles and celebrates the innovators across the global South finding new ways to tackle poverty, create wealth and improve human development and achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs). In its first issue, Southern Innovator features the people who are re-shaping new technologies – from mobile phone ‘apps’ to Internet technologies – to overcome poverty and to improve the quality of life in some of the poorest places on earth.

SI is based on intensive research and is produced by UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation ( The Unit is the leading organisation in the world tasked with the goal of sharing knowledge across the global South. It organises events including the yearly South-South Expo (, a roaming celebration and gathering of Southern innovators previously held in New York and Geneva, Switzerland. This year’s Expo will be held in Rome, Italy (5 to 9 December 2011).

SI is being distributed around the world through the United Nations network and partners and reaches some of the poorest and remotest places as well as the vibrant but stressed growing global megacities. It is hoped the magazine will inspire budding innovators with its mix of stories, essential information, facts and figures, images and graphics. The magazine will evolve based on reader responses and this first issue is very much the beginning of a journey. As became clear while researching this first issue, many things can change in a short space of time. Few could have imagined the rapid take-up of mobile phones in Africa and how these phones have become integral to development goals across the continent.

SI magazine is a quarterly publication and the next issues will launch in September and December of this year.

A summary for publication is here:

“Southern Innovator (ISSN 2222-9280) is a quarterly magazine published by the United Nations Development Programme’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation. Launched in May 2011, SI is a new magazine celebrating creativity and innovation emerging from the global South. It explores entrepreneurial solutions to development challenges and uncovers the trends and events shaping the rise of the South in order to spur action on ending extreme poverty and toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”

We hope you enjoy the magazine and find its content interesting and illuminating: a snapshot of a fast-changing world awash, as we found out, with innovators, creators and do-ers making their world a better place.

For more information on Southern Innovator contact Cosmas Gitta at or editor David South at

United Nations General Assembly: Sixty-ninth session, Item 24 (b) of the provisional agenda, Operational activities for development: South-South cooperation for development, 17 July 2014.
The research informing Southern Innovator Magazine played a part in the formulation of the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


© David South Consulting 2022