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Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world crossed the threshold from being a majority rural world to a majority urban one at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The reason for this is the fast-growing urban areas of the global South. And this is having a profound affect on how the world’s people live.

Across the global South, there are many examples of unchecked growth leading to squalor and poor housing conditions, and in turn to poor health and high rates of crime and disorder. Yet, the urbanization happening today across the global South is unprecedented for both its speed and its scale.

And, unlike previous surges in urbanization, it is this quality that is far more challenging for governments and policymakers.

Many countries and regions are experiencing highly stressed environmental conditions, with poor access to water and rising air pollution damaging human health, for example. But on the other side, there is also unprecedented change in technology and communications taking place. Every year, more and more of the world’s population gain access to 21st century communications such as smart phones and the Internet or ‘apps’ (applications), allowing the exchange of solutions and ideas at a rapid pace.

Many are weighing up the benefits and downsides of such an urban, dense world. Denser cities make it easier and more efficient to deliver services, and proponents see a rapid rise in living standards in these megacities. Others see wide-scale poverty and vicious fights over resources in crime-ridden, unhealthy packed megacities. These pessimists point to current conditions in many megacities across the global South.

No matter what perspective, many agree there has to be a cultural change in how people live and behave to make the megacities work.

The contrasting approaches taken by two giants of the global South – India and China – provides lessons and ideas.

The first big push from rural to urban took place in Europe in the 19th century. In 1800, just three per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. All the cities now seen as cosmopolitan hubs of economic and creative energy were just shadows of themselves prior to the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Lessons were learned from hard experience and one of the most important lessons was this: if a city is to grow – and grow quickly – then it must plan for this growth and put the well-being of people at the centre of this plan. This is critical to ensure public health is improved and that the transition to more dense living conditions improves human well-being, rather than making it worse.

A megacity is a city with a population greater than 10 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacity). The number of such cities will double over the next 10 to 20 years and many of these cities are in south and east Asia. By 2025, seven of the world’s top 10 megacities will be in Asia. Whole new cities are rising up that most people across the world have never heard about – yet.

One of the most rapidly urbanizing countries in the world is China. At the beginning of 2012, Chinese authorities announced the country was now a majority urban place, with most citizens living in cities. This population of 690.79 million people outpaced the rural population of 656.56 million people.

China is exploring a variety of solutions to making high-density city living work. Some of these solutions include creating multiplexes containing modern shopping, leisure, recreational and housing in one location. One example of this is The New Century Global Centre (http://cd.qq.com/a/20101018/000099.htm) in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. It is being called the world’s largest standalone complex. Chengdu is now a city of 14 million people and projected to be heading to 20 million people.

It includes design by noted Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (zaha-hadid.com).

There are 1.5 million square metres of floor plans, two 1,000-room five-star hotels, an ice-skating rink, a 20,000 capacity marine park with 400 meters of artificial coastline and 5,000 square metres of artificial beach, including hot springs.

In contrast, the more chaotic and unplanned approach taken in India – also a country experiencing rapid growth in its cities – has come under intense criticism. Dr Rumi Aijaz of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (observerindia.com) told The Guardian that Indian infrastructure improvements will be difficult to achieve: “Our urban areas are in a raw form.

All the basics are at a very low level. And the Indian state has been trying for a very long time to address this but a lack of capacity and endemic corruption has meant not much success.”

In 2001, India had 290 million people living in cities. By 2008, this reached 340 million. It is predicted this will reach 590 million people – 40 per cent of the population – by 2030. McKinsey and Company (mckinsey.com) believe by 2030 India will have 68 cities of more than one million people, 13 will have four million people and six megacities will be greater than 10 million people.

India faces an urban infrastructure crisis of epic proportions, McKinsey believes. Many millions will not have access to clean drinking water, adequate sewage, and will have to cope with poor transport.

China, on the other hand, has invested seven times more in urban infrastructure than India. And one example of how this investment pays off is Chengdu.

The fast-growing city of Chengdu’s mayor is trying to manage growth directly through the city’s policies. This involves managing the push and pull incentives driving people to cities and lifting the standard of living in the surrounding countryside.

Chengdu’s mayor Ge Honglin told The Guardian: “The first thing I did was to improve the conditions – schools, shops, garbage collection, the sewage system. We had to cut the gap between rural and urban areas. If people could have a brighter future in the countryside, they’d stay there. So we’re not seeing people swarm into the city= Instead there are people in the city considering moving to the country.”

“Chengdu is the only super-large central city that has narrowed the urbanrural income gap alongside rapid economic growth in China,” Ge said.

Hundreds of schools have been built surrounding Chengdu and partnerships made between rural and urban schools to help raise standards.

Chengdu is also pioneering new ways to address urban squalor with new information technologies. Patrols use mobile phones and cameras to document broken infrastructure and health and safety problems, and to locate and assist the homeless.

“You can barely see a begger in Chengdu,” said Gu. “We have a special system for monitoring them, and it works. Beggars are taken to the assistance centre, where they are given food and shelter and money to take them back to their home. If I say there are no more than 10 beggars on the street you will think there’s some sort of tyranny, but there isn’t. We’re trying to solve their problems.”

Resources

1) Endless City and Living in the Endless City: LSE Cities is an international centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science that carries out research, education and outreach activities in London and abroad. Its mission is to study how people and cities interact in a rapidly urbanizing world, focussing on how the design of cities impacts on society, culture and the environment. Website: http://lsecities.net/publications/books/the-endless-city/

2) Planet of Slums by Mike Davis: According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. Website: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Planet_Of_Slums.html?id=FToaDLPB2jAC

3) An infographic from The Guardian newspaper showing the rise of the megacity in world history. Website: http://image.guardian.co.uk/sysimages/Observer/Pix/pictures/2012/01/21/urban2.jpg

4) Arrival City by Doug Saunders: A third of humanity is on the move. History’s largest migration is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — unseen districts of rapid transformation and febrile activity that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies.Website: http://arrivalcity.net/

5) 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/

6) The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age by Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit. Website: amazon.com

7) Rise of the Asian Megacity: Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldasia-pacific-13800944

8) Capitals of the Connected World: Mapping the New Global Power Structure. Website: http://www.theatlantic.com/special-report/capitalsconnected-world/

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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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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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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A New House Kit for Slum Dwellers that is Safe and Easy to Build

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

By 2030, some 5 billion people around the world will live in cities. Next year, 2008, is predicted to be the tipping point, when urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) will outnumber rural residents for the first time. These are the conclusions of UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report. Even more strikingly, the cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week. And 72 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa live in slum conditions.

But as populations grow — and most will be poor, unemployed and under 25 — it becomes critical that effective solutions are found to ensure people can live with dignity and comfort. And design is being used more and more to overcome this challenge.

George Martine, author of the UNFPA report, is blunt: “We’re at a crossroads and can still make decisions which will make cities sustainable. If we don’t make the right decisions the result will be chaos,” he told the UK newspaper The Independent.

Guatemala-born architect Teddy Cruz of Estudio Teddy Cruz in San Diego, California, joins a small but growing number of socially responsible architects. He applies a concept more associated with middle class shoppers at the furniture design emporium Ikea to the world’s estimated one billion urban slum dwellers (UN-Habitat). Without legal title to the land they live on, packed tightly into densely overcrowded shantytowns, most squatters and slum dwellers live in makeshift homes made from whatever they can get their hands on. This is estimated to include half the urban population of Africa, a third of Asia and a fourth of Latin America and the Caribbean (Click here for more information).

The ad-hoc shelters and houses they build can be dangerously unstable, and vulnerable to natural disaster from flash floods to earthquakes. Cruz had noticed that while building supplies and materials were plentiful, nobody was selling safe and affordable housing frames for slum dwellers. According to the International Labor Organization, formal housing markets in developing countries rarely supply more than 20 percent of housing stock.

Cruz’s solution was to design a simple kit for building the frames for a house or a business that he now sells in Mexico. Each customer receives a manual, a snap-in water tank, and 36 frames that can be assembled in many configurations, or serve as a frame for poured concrete. These sturdy frames can also be added to with locally found materials. Cruz said he was inspired by “the resourcefulness of poverty” and by the cheap and affordable pre-fabricated homes that once were sold by catalogue by the American retailer Sears.

Cruz has been testing the structures in Tijuana, Mexico – a rapidly growing city on the border with the United States and a destination for Mexico’s poor. His work as an architect has centred on exploring how informal settlements grow faster than the cities they surround. These settlements, he says, break the rules and blur the boundaries between what is urban, suburban and rural. Cruz’s frame kits can be used to build a home, or combination of home and business, acknowledging the fact many people need to use their home as a business for a livelihood.

“These start-up communities gradually evolve,” said Cruz., ”or violently explode out of conditions of social emergency, and are defined by the negotiation of territorial boundaries, the ingenious recycling of materials, and human resourcefulness.”

Resources

There are many ways to play around with your dwelling and architecture ideas. Here are some products available online:

  1. Arckit: Arckit is a tangible and hands-on design tool for spontaneously bringing your architectural ideas to life right before your eyes. Website: https://www.arckit.com
  2. SmartLab Archi-TECH Electronic Smart House: Build your house and power it up! This creative STEAM toy allows aspiring architects and engineers to design and build modular structures – and then power them up with lights, sounds, sensors, and motorized parts! Website: https://www.mastermindtoys.com/products/smart-lab-archi-tech-electronic-smart-house

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: July 2007

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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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021