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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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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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© David South Consulting 2021

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Will The Megacity Mean Mega-Privatization?

Annex Gleaner (Toronto, Canada), March 1997

As the provincial government tries to shoehorn six municipalities into one megacity, opponents of the plan worry that one of the results of amalgamation will be widespread privatization of public services.

References to contracting out and tendering municipal services in order to achieve savings run through the provincial government’s much-maligned report supporting a megacity, produced by consultants KPMG.

Many observers feel the new city will have no choice, while others argue privatization won’t be nearly as extensive as some fear. Still others think it is far from a foregone conclusion that a future amalgamated council will push privatization.

“Who knows if the council will have an interest in privatization?” says a senior bureaucrat at the City of Toronto, who did not want to go on record. “People are running around saying they will privatize everything, but who knows what the political make-up will be of the new council? They are assuming there will always be savings to be had from privatization – that doesn’t automatically follow. The financial pressures on the megacity can’t be avoided by privatization.”

Among the six current Metro municipalities, it is Etobicoke that has most fully embraced contracting out. The City of Etobicoke’s experiments with contracting out – 60 per cent of public works contracts are performed by private-sector companies – calls into question the estimates of substantial savings being bandied about by the provincial government.

According to the senior bureaucrat in charge of running that city, acting city manager and commissioner of public works Tom Denes, contracting out isn’t the tax-saving nirvana some believe.

“I think we are finding in contracting out,” says Denes, “that the higher the skills of the workforce, the less sense it makes to contract out. For example, it would be very expensive to contract out water treatment.”

Denes says the city’s pride and joy is its privatized garbage collection handled by Waste Management Inc. and BFI. The WMI contract is worth $6 million a year, down from the $7.5 million a year it was costing to publicly run garbage collection. The price is fixed for five years, when it must be negotiated again. While the city made $1.9 million selling its old trucks, councillors set up a $4 million fund so Etobicoke could go back to collecting garbage itself if private companies tried to gouge the city.

Denes, who has been meeting with counterparts at other cities and the provincial government, believes the new Toronto will be divided up into several districts which private garbage collectors will have to compete for.

“Based on what I know, if you were to divide the city up into waste contracts, it would be at least four areas,” claims Denes. “No company can handle the whole city. You just can’t find a company that could handle a megacity. It would become a monopoly.”

Denes thinks the likely suspects for contracting out would be any manual labour work and the TTC. He thinks a megacity would be mistaken to contract out skilled work like surveying, arguing that skilled workers would use their desirability to their advantage and charge high consulting fees.

“The US cities have all gone through these exercises. They are in fact contracting services back in,” says Denes.

While the Tories have been slipperier than a scoop of ice cream about their specific privatization plans, one thing is clear: An essential element of the Tory economic vision is a greater role for the private sector in delivering public services. The $100,000 KPMG report plays to this, making it clear contracting out is a key means to saving money in the new megacity. The report claims between $28 million and $43 million per year could be saved from contracting out computer operations and some management; between $38.5 million and $68 million by contracting out fraud investigations; between $29.6 million and $54.5 million by contracting out road and electrical maintenance, snow removal and data collection; between $21 million and $39.4 million by contracting out garbage pick-up and processing.

The report also offers this proviso: “There is no such thing as automatic, cost-free savings from organizational change. The implementation process must be tightly managed to produce the savings suggested here.”

Ron Moreau is the administrator for Local 43 of the Metro Toronto Civic Employees Union, which represents over 3,000 public works workers and ambulance drivers at Metro.

“How will the megacity and municipalities cope with pressure from the public to hold the line on taxes? Where will councils find the difference between spending and revenues?” asks Moreau. “The level of service will suffer. When you contract out, public policy is held hostage by private enterpise.”

Moreau threatens that labour will play hardball with the new city. Most of the contracts for Moreau’s members run out on Dec. 31 of this year.

“Assuming the government doesn’t tamper with the labour legislation on our books, the unions can be organized into two large locals, one clerical/technical, the other outside workers. They would have effective bargaining clout.”

One major player looking for government contracts in a megacity will be Laidlaw Inc. While the company recently sold its garbage collection operations to an American firm, USA Waste, it still has interests in operating school buses and ambulances. Laidlaw is a heavy contributor to the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, according to records kept by the Commission on Election Financing. Laidlaw has also made an influential new friend: in January, it hired former Metro chief administrative officer Bob Richards as its vice-president.

Ward 13 city councillor John Adams is definitely in the privatization-if-necessary-but-not-necessarily-privatization camp. “I don’t see everything being contracted out, but more stuff being put out for competitive bids.”

Adams thinks contracting out could be a good tactic to help modernize garbage collection, for example. He points to the City of Toronto’s deal with WMI to collect garbage at apartment buildings. In that deal, costs were reduced by $2.5 million over a five-year contract, and the crews on trucks were reduced from two to one. Instead of an extra crew member, closed-circuit television cameras were installed on trucks to speed up pick-up. Adams points out the crews are still unionized, but instead of CUPE it is the Teamsters.

“The way we pick up garbage from households is back-breakingly stupid. I think we need to rethink how we do it, to use machines more than people’s backs.”

But Adams doesn’t believe a megacity is a money-saver. “There will be a leveling up of wages. How long will two firefighters work side-by-side for different salaries? You can bet the union will negotiate an increase at the first opportunity.”

Adams thinks a megacity will be more prone to the slick lobbying efforts of companies like Laidlaw because councillors will be dependent on political parties to get elected. “The provincial government will contract out municipal government to Laidlaw,” he says sarcastically.

More on megacities:

African Megacity Makeovers Tackle Rising Populations

Artists Fear Indifference From Megacity

Cities For All Shows How The World’s Poor Are Building Ties Across The Global South

Global South’s Rising Megacities Challenge Idea of Urban Living

Safety At Stake

Southern Innovator Issue 4

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