Museologia Social e Urbanismo XL

Interventions for response

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the core challenges of post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation process and what are the critical attributes to include in practices of recovery?
  2. Discuss examples from around the world where post-disaster reconstruction has lead to further challenges for the communities and how could they have been done better.

I am Kamal Kishore, I work on disaster risk reduction and recovery issues. Today I will talk about what happens in a post disaster, post crisis situation, the external response to a big disaster and the support to communities. We can divide it in three interrelated areas: Immediate rescue and relief efforts; Long-term reconstruction and recovery; and Early recovery.

The immediate rescue and relief effort in the international arena is coordinated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or OCHA. In case of major earthquakes, one key element which is quite unique to earthquakes is the search-and-rescue. For search-and-rescue, most countries specially countries which are earthquake prone have search-and-rescue teams which specialize in urban collapse structure search-and-rescue and they’re certified by something called INSARAG-International Search-And-Rescue Advisory Group, they are coordinated, they’re I-Want site with specialized equipment, know how, sniffer dogs and under the coordination of OCHA, they carry out search-and-rescue operations.

Just to give you an example in case of Nepal earthquake in 2015 there were 76 teams from across the word responding in terms of search and rescue after the earthquake. Typically the initial response and relief last from where it is a very complex event, there are issues of accessibility, the losses are widespread, there are underlying vulnerabilities it can be longer but typically there is three to six months.

At the international level there is a mechanism called CERF-Central Emergency Response Fund which is response to a flash appeal or a response plan prepared by the government with the support of the UN, money is immediately released from efforts for the first three to six months. The whole area of relief and rescue is extremely challenging- the first thing is of course the timeliness of the response, for example in earthquakes, if the response for certain rescue arrives three days later it’s almost of no use, at the same time it has to be very relevant support.

There are numerous examples where people from across the world out of a sense of compassion or you know there’s great outpouring of support but they sent irrelevant or not suitable relief to the affected people for example medicines are sent into an area with all the labelling in languages that are not understand locally or food items sent which are not consumed in that particular culture. So it is important to keep the assistance both very timely, swift at the same time relevant. A very quick and dynamic assessment of what are the life-saving needs of the affected people and these needs are changing very rapidly.

How do we quickly assess that and dynamically respond to that? That’s a big challenge as well. There is so much support from both the national sources from within the country sources there is a huge outpouring of support, coordinating it, keeping track of who is doing what, where is extremely important and in that respect there are a number of international organisations that just provide coordination, support, there are agencies that just quickly set up a facility on site to produce maps, maps of where the affected people are and also mapping who is doing what, where in terms of humanitarian agencies, what are the gaps that are being reported from the field which then helps direct humanitarian agencies in directing the response appropriately.

A corollary of that challenge is ensuring that you reach everyone, there are numerous examples where the people who are easily accessible or more visible on TV for example, get disproportionate amount of attention at the expense of people who are difficult to access or who are not very vocal in expressing their tend to get left out. How do we make sure that while making a timely, relevant rapid response we also reach everyone- the most vulnerable and marginalised as well and finally the big challenge of relief is not to create dependency. It is very easy to set up a system and do things which will compromise the local initiative, the local way of doing things for, by people for themselves and create long-term dependency on relief and then that perpetuates the need for relief for months sometimes years. In urban areas, the search-and-rescue and relief and response bit is even more challenging- just to highlight one or two of those challenges. One is that shelter, temporary shelter after disaster.

A lot of the time the building stocks may not be safe, after a disaster how do we ensure that people are located temporarily in safe locations? Where are those pre-identified locations? Is there enough space to accommodate temporary settlements for a long period of time? At the same time there is also issues of people wanting to go back to live in houses that are partially damaged. In the absence of other options how do we ensure that people do not take actions which actually So there are some challenges which’re  very specific to urban areas.

Let’s turn our attention to the long term re-construction. Long-term  reconstruction essentially focuses on restoring what has been lost and hopefully also building it better to  more resilient standards, to more sustainable standards and also to standards that represent better quality of life for the affected people compared to the situation before the disaster.

Typically long-term reconstruction is preceded by a detailed Post-Disaster Needs Assessment which is also referred to as PDNA. For PDNA, we have a methodology, internationally accepted methodology which has been developed, applied and defined over the last 25 years or so We applied it very recently in Nepal and came up with a very thorough assessment of what the damages and needs are in that affected area.

It focuses on all sectors, it focuses on productive sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, it focuses on social sectors such as health, education, housing as well as on infrastructure sectors which is transportation, communication, power supply and so on.

It systematically assesses the damages and needs and comes up with an assessment of how much money will be required across these sectors for reconstruction to better standards. Quite often housing represents a very large chunk of reconstruction needs, to give you an example, in Nepal 59% of the cost of damages enhance needs was in housing sector alone and housing is also one of the most challenging sectors of recovery, simply because there are many stakeholders and there is also a sense of urgency about restoring housing for many people. Housing is at the centre of, it is perceived to be at the centre of people’s recovery and establishing supply chains for building materials making building workers who are qualified available in a short period of time on in a large, in large numbers is is a challenging task. How to we train hundreds sometimes thousands of building masons to build differently, to build to disaster resilience standards- that’s a big challenge. Over the last 20-30 years that has been a lot of literature developed based on practice, on different approaches to housing and there’s a whole range from contractor driven housing where basically the reconstruction of housing is contracted out to contractors to a situation where building materials are provided to house owners and along with some cash and they can do whatever they want to totally owner driven, community driven housing to a combination of these 3 approaches and all of these three in different situations have their advantages and disadvantages.

However we can say that according to our current understanding the owner driven housing where owners not just reconstruct themselves but also determine what is the kind of house they need within of course the parameters of you know what is there, the package of assistance they’re given and the safety standards they should adhere to. So an owner driven approach where they determine what the housing should be like and they actually drive the housing process is the most favoured one right now but this is not to say that this is without variations, there are lots of innovations within the owner driven approach and it has to be very very context specific.

The whole reconstruction process is an extremely challenging process. One can highlight many challenges but there are 2 that need to be highlighted prominently. One is how does one strike a balance between swiftness with which reconstruction is delivered and quality, so there’s this temptation to build very quickly but sometimes building very quickly means rebuilding the risks that existed before.

The second thing is how do we apply the notion of building back better. ‘Building back better’ is a phrase which became very popular after the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004 but how do we build back better not just in the physical sense but in many other sort of non-physical dimensions?

How do we make sure that the reconstruction leads to better quality of life, more resilient livelihoods, better social cohesion. There are examples where countries have done that successfully, there is the examples of Aceh, Indonesia where they not only build back better but they also resolved conflicts that existed before the earthquake and tsunami of 2004.

Now let’s turn our attention to the third aspect of post-disaster response which is early recovery and the term early recovery has become popular in the last 15 years ago although we have been doing early recovery for a long time. In the last 20 years there has been a growing realisation that the artificial phasing that this is is relief and rescue phase and then this is reconstruction phase is not helpful and it often leads to gaps between when relief and rescue operations begin to wine down and when reconstruction begins. There is a growing realisation that these phases don’t have to linear, all of these 3 things need to almost happen simultaneously. So there is the realisation that we need to focus on recovery as early as possible in the humanitarian setting, in fact one would argue that the recovery begins on day one as early as possible and the sooner we start the sooner we will be able to help the affected people get back on their feet and recover quickly.

With that realisation the early recovery interventions typically last for 18 months from the disaster but they could be a bit longer or shorter and one can say that there’re four main objectives of early recovery interventions.

The first is to really augment humanitarian relief and reduce dependency. This can be illustrated with examples from say shelter sector, after the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 if you look at the temporary housing needs of the affected people and all the temporary housing were to be provided through say establishment of camps or tents – winterproof tents. The need for tents far exceeded the global capacity to produce tents but we can address that if while provisioning for tents we also work with communities in devising solutions of setting up transitional shelters using salvaged materials. This will not give us a permanent shelter but it is a good way where we’re involving communities rather than just handing things to them in a recovery process and augmenting humanitarian relief. In Myannmar, after cyclone Nargis, a lot of farmers in the face of planting season lost their agricultural implements. If you do not provide agricultural implements and agricultural inputs in time they lose a whole planting season which means that further down the road the need for food assistance will be extended by at least six months if not more. So every single day’s delay in providing support for this kind of recovery would be detrimental to their sort of back on the feet for recovery.

The second is ensuring that risk is not rebuilt and we assist peoples’ spontaneous efforts to recover. After the Burma earthquake in 2003, I noticed that three days after the earthquake an affected 10 family where half the family members had died, they were actually clearing rubble and setting up you know a temporary shelter.

So we underestimate the resilience and resolve of the affected people and they need to be supported in their recovery efforts from day one. So support provided early on can go a long way. The third is really setting up arrangements by which we can lay the foundations for long-term recovery, begin to build institutional arrangement which will manage the large-scale of recovery and fourth objective is really putting in place measures by which we can make sure that disaster risk is reduced when reconstruction begins.

So we can do the training of masons, the training of engineers, do risk assessments and so on. You know after one of the earthquakes, the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005, the affected people interviewed two months after the earthquake- they were not looking for cash grants, they were saying that get the banks that have collapsed restarted so that we can access our own savings.

So restoring financial services, restoring critical infrastructure you know small market places you know which are essential for the functioning of local economy, giving small grants to micro and small enterprises, you know another example from Myanmar- giving some cash assistance to rice mills which had shut down after the cyclone in 2008 meant that hundreds of people could go back to work; so these kinds of activities which do not compare to long-term reconstruction, but they’re very timely and they play a catalytic role in putting people on the path of recovery early on. So these are the three components that we talked about today: the post-disaster immediate relief and rescue, then long-term reconstruction and finally early recovery which basically provides a smooth transition from relief and recovery to long-term reconstruction.


Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXIX

Climatic impacts, adaptation and mitigation

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the various implications of climate change on our current as well as future generations?
  2. What are the various strategies put in place by many cities across the world to fight these climatic impacts?

Climate change has gone from a relatively unknown phenomena to become one of the most important urban challenges that we have to respond to. Why? Only 600 cities are estimated to produce 60% of global output yet, many of these concentrate climate risk lie in climate hot spots including in low elevation coastal zones. Climate Change also has a disproportionate impact on the poor and vulnerable and can become a serious impediment to poverty reduction. How is Climate Climat change related to urban areas?

Since the industrial revolution of the 19th century a range of new energy and production technologies especially those that use fossil fuels like coal, oil and more recently gas have helped propel some developed countries to their high income status.

They’ve used this by using the atmosphere as a huge global sink. While no single factor explains their variation in per capita emissions across cities, key urban drivers of energy and greenhouse gas emissions are population density, consumption trends, the land-use mix, connectivity and accessibility. Greenhouse gas emissions and their concentrations in the atmosphere have led to a mean elevation of global temperatures of about 0.72 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average.

Incidentally these mean global temperatures are not the same all over the world, they translate into a much higher temperature in the higher latitudes leading to the melting of the Arctic ice, permafrost and potentially the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

This could lead to massive sea level rise, impacting cities that are on or near the seacoast. Human-induced greenhouse gas emissions have grown steadily from the 1970s but have accelerated since 2000. The bulk of this addition is from carbon dioxide, from fossil fuel burning and industrial processes like power generation or from cars followed by CO2, from changes in land use and methane emissions due to deforestation, agriculture and urban expansion. How has this happened? With changes in the world economy the most significant increases in GHG emissions are from upper middle income countries and come from the expansion of the energy and industrial sectors and changes in land use in them. The gross emissions of low-income countries have changed only marginally over the last 40 years. In lower middle-income countries emissions have more than doubled coming from land use changes, the energy and industrial sectors. The growth in global urban population over the early 21st century will require a massive buildup of buildings and urban infrastructure which in turn are key drivers of GHG emissions. The very factors that help some of the most economically dynamic cities thrive like strategic positions along trade routes, access to sea ports or river waterways, now make the most vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change.

Even well-endowed cities will struggle with dangerous Climate Change as their best adaptation measures and technologies reach their limits towards the latter part of the century. In short, if dramatic mitigation is not put into place early in the century, even the most developed cities will only be able to put off irreversible impact by a decade or two. There is already clear evidence of human-induced Climate Change impact on unique and threatened systems including marine systems. What are the expected impacts of Climate Change on cities?

Increased frequency and intensity of current hazards, drought, flooding, cyclones and hurricanes, storm surge, rainfall variations and increased temperatures. Urban environmental degradation leading to deteriorating ecosystem services like air quality and water storage and of course developmental deficits, increased rates of morbidity and mortality due to water washed diseases and water scarcity, exposure to a wider spectrum of diseases caused by altering environments, vector-borne diseases, heat disorders and respiratory disorders due to a high concentration of air pollutants.

New emergent vulnerabilities with different spatial and socio-economic impacts that are expected to further degrade the resilience of poor and vulnerable communities. Who are the most vulnerable in cities? The most vulnerable people are usually those who are poor and who live in informal settlements like slum-dwellers, with limited access to tenure security, safe housing and public services. Women, children and the aged are also particularly vulnerable.

Lifetime infrastructure and informal economic enterprises also need special care. What is Climate mitigation? Climate mitigation is a set of interventions to limit the magnitude and reach of long-term Climate Change, typically over the 21st century by reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions for example, by shifting to renewable energy, implementing energy efficiency, reducing energy intensity and consumption and increasing the capacity of carbon sinks for example via reforestation or more radical ideas like Carbon Capture and Storage.

Cities can enable deep decarbonisation and mitigation by doing the following things: focusing on urban economic sectors with considerable mitigation potential like buildings, energy, transport and industry, making the transition to low-carbon cities through urban regeneration, through compact mixed-use development, promoting transit, walking and cycling, adaptive reuse of buildings, the use of energy efficient building designs; through better land use planning and management, creating more compact cities with accessible public transport and containing automobile driven sprawl; by fuel switching in public transport, cutting private vehicle use and encouraging fuel-efficient vehicles and active mobility; using a range of policy instruments effectively by promoting the collocation of high-density residential and employment areas, achieving mixed land use and public transit; shifting power generation to renewables and lower emission fuels, integrating photo-voltaic and renewable productions from local small grids like in Northern Europe.

What is Climate adaptation? Adaptation is a set of responses that seeks to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of economic, social and ecological systems to Climate Change. This is caused by the inability to mitigate their impacts fast enough. Their limits to adaptation that if breached could cause irreversible impacts on particular systems or regions. Cities can become sites of transmitive adaptation by addressing increased exposure and vulnerability through ecosystem-based adaptation, enhanced urban food security, good quality affordable and well located housing, a reduction in basic service deficits and building resilient infrastructure.

What are Co-benefits, and how can one realize them? Co-benefits are adaptation and mitigation interventions that mutually reinforce each other, they’re often related to good development practices. Co-benefits can be realised by integrating Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, poverty reduction and disaster risk reduction to reduce risk to households, enterprises and critical infrastructure. Working within the SDG frame can certainly help this. It is important to take into account the contextual urban landscape and risk drivers focusing on both mitigation and adaptation. For example, the overall climate risk to Indian cities are associated more with vulnerability than hazard exposure, hence, improving universal access to basic services and housing is a more effective strategy in Indian cities than let’s say, exposure modification by raising dykes in Dutch cities. How can cities help to address Climate change?

Cities are not only local Climate hotspots, they also provide the opportunity for fast track Climate action that can be propelled by the momentum of urban investment, growth in institutional capacities and the potential for social, economic and technological innovation. Most of the urban infrastructure expected to be in place by 2050, has yet to be built. This means that there is significant space to map out appropriate urban solutions today that prevent or reduce carbon lock-in.

With integrated long-term planning these windows of opportunity can be kept open as new buildings and infrastructure is built and new energy consumption patterns are established. At the same time, urban and regional infrastructure in mature and established cities in North America and Europe are ageing and there will be new opportunities to rebuild and redevelop these taking advantage of the latest scientific and technological advances. Much of the opportunities to foster sustainable low-carbon urbanisation will be concentrated in low and middle income countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

This provides us an opportunity to dramatically reduce carbon intensity and climate risk if we make appropriate technological and institutional choices in the ongoing urbanisation processes in these regions.

Cities and regions as diverse as Seoul, Durban, Stockholm and Manizales and the state of California in the United States have led ambitious mitigation and adaptation interventions that are hard to legislate and implement at national level. This has been done successfully by engaging with local, regional and national governments, key city networks and urban climate research institutions to craft a deeper scientific understanding of viable, mitigation and adaptation pathways. The SDGs include an explicit standalone urban SDG11- make cities and human settlement inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. When read with SDG13- take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts and SDG7- ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, we have a policy frame of goals, targets and evidence-based progress monitoring towards climate action at all scales. In conclusion, cities and regions are not only sites that produce two-thirds of current greenhouse gas emissions but they host half the world’s population and three-fourths of the global economy which is at varying levels of risk to Climate Change. As we approach an era of dangerous Climate Change, urban areas are expected to be impacted by extreme climate events and associated health risk, well before sea level rise and other irreversible changes take place.

There are clear limits to adaptation in most regions of the world. This implies that deep decarbonisation of urban systems from energy and infrastructure to buildings, transport and production is necessary, if irreversible impacts are not to be felt from mid-century onwards.

The role of local and regional governments and local action is crucial to effective implementation of the climate agenda in cities. Strengthening this will require concerted action and devolution of power, finances and resources. Joining up the development, poverty reduction, disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation and mitigation agendas is an effective way to accelerate the response to Climate Change, use less resources and build synergies within the SDG frame.

If you look at population trends and growth right – what we call here two-tier cities right – so maybe the small cities and the medium-sized cities.

Those are the rapidly growing cities. Most of the world’s largest cities, there are some other still but they’re peaking right they are capping and it’s a second tier of cities that are growing really fast that don’t have enough resources, they don’t have that much tax revenues because they’re not that big yet and these are the cities where they’re going to balloon in their population and that’s right where some really some scary issues the change especially the rate of urbanisation in Africa, things that are occurring or have (been) occurring in China, and India are just staggering in terms of the speed again and the lack of planning, lack of passive, lack of funding, lack of technology and that those issues no small cities actually as you model them out over time will dwarf the C40’s emissions. So C40 for a long time,  had had kind of a gap in our footprint and engagement in two parts of the world – India and China. India has been difficult and continues to be difficult because of the governance structure there, and the model that we have in terms of the mayor and and how kind of central government, it’s not the way India is set up, so it’s tricky there amongst other issues. And then of course in China it is very kind of closed off and it’s top-down control and they don’t let a lot out. We’ve been very fortunate in last year and a half to really make a breakthrough in China and once you’re in China you’re in, they make a decision and you’re out.

We had some good signals and meetings with NRDC, they started a few cities for us to work with – that’s gone well – and now we’ve got six cities in China, by the next year we’ll have 12 – so we have a huge footprint there. We’re also doing something with the Peaking Cities Alliance which is a great thing and we’re also been helping them usher in and host a US-China City Summit, which was the beginning of this kind of collaboration which has been really remarkable and moved the world, frankly between the US and China national leaderships in Paris and basically came together in the failures that we had in Copenhagen was the opposite. They basically said we’ll get together and single-handedly move the markets because we’ll agree to this and it’ll happen. Now we’ve just seen this huge movement and I think what’s really interesting is that again for practitioners who’s been there means that you can hear this stuff and you can read this stuff, when you go to China and you actually see the scale – the immense scale of these, of the issues that they’re facing, the size of their cities, the dirtiness of their air, the congestion of the traffic, I mean it is really, you HAVE to see it to believe it and this is what they’re dealing with everyday. So China is completely bodying on this, it’s not an angle, it’s not an issue, this is life, quality, all out on it and in fact depending on what we’re searching to look at, it very well may be the case the Chinese cities have already peaked in terms of their emissions.

That’s how rapidly they are going after this. So I think what was for the last decade a huge cause of concern and still is, is actually maybe one of the best stories on this topic in the world. On how quickly, how swiftly a country of that size can move on one agenda and one topic very aggressively going after this and I think part of what we’re trying to to do is by collaborating with that and take some of those good case studies and the stories out and radiate it out and show the rest of the world what is possible, how you can so radically go from one really intense curve to another and that’s occurring in China to an extent maybe nowhere else in the world.

It’s both coupled technology and policy, because of the size and the breadth of the economic prowess of China- I mean they’re one of the large manufacturers in the world PV, of batteries – they got it all there – and they recognise that they cannot only be a producer but a consumer and self-generate their economy. So initially and this is a big thing that they were grappling, they turn into the largest automaker in the world, they are tanking out cars like crazy.

So how on earth are we going to have some kind of you know policy, a really draconian policy on limiting vehicle use when that’s how we just lifted up everybody out of poverty into middle class in China.

And we have you know, literally a national Right on our hands we do that. Well, we’ll just make electric vehicles. So as an example one of the things that they have done – Shenzhen and I can’t remember the number, some staggering number of electric- they just electrified the entire busfleet, something like 10,000 buses, it’s staggering what they can do when they make the decision to do it and how quickly they can implement it based on the governance structure which is a big thing that we’re working on now, maybe we’ll come onto it a little bit but just to flag it for the people on the big issues – vertical and horizontal policy integration between local, regional and national government and then even within horizontally, within the city. And what happens is you’ve got a very very vertically aligned system of governance in China, for right or for wrong, but what we’re seeing is you know, how you move that supertanker – when it’s that aligned you can do things very quickly, if the decision is the right one that you want to take – well whether it’s right or not, you can move quickly, if you get my point. So anything also have that the economic prowess in the manufacturing capability to do this; so they’re building their own buses, they’re building their own PV, high-speed trains, bridges one of the really interesting things happening in China too, is that China is the largest consumer of concrete cement in the world. And I love that… many people know that, the concrete production is hugely energy-intensive and huge amounts of off-gasing, in terms of concrete cement, so the impact they can have even alone on that as the largest consumer of what they do and how they do it is that really can keep changing the game of the materials they use and the process with which they manufacture it. And they are really really thinking about this and that some of the research coming out of their organisations over there is really kind of astounding and the last point

I would say on China is that I think it’s quite exciting and hopeful is that we’re actually beginning on working with them on data collection as well. So actually working with them on the GPC- Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions; doing citywide inventories that matchup to the cities around the world, you can have like comparison finally what’s happening in Chinese cities and getting some of the data out of there which hass been kind of slow and reluctant but now we’re seeing it happen. I think a couple of interesting things that the Chinese contacts have, one is the the cultural systems and norms that they have, and there’s a lot of acceptance of decisions and policy where it’s not like that in context for example for the US, not at all. So you can set a policy in the US and people don’t care, don’t engage, don’t know it’s there or outright don’t like it and won’t follow it and which they have the right to do, unless that’s law but there’s difference between policy and law.

It’s not the context in China, in most cases. And in policy context, it’s socially understood that you will accept it different than what you ask though that’s more like in the individual level but they’re also strong engagement and mandate between politics and private sector in China. Which again, in the case of US is not the case. They’re totally kind of getting that horizontal, so when in some of those cases they don’t have those issues to the same extent in China. But because it is so structured and rigid you do still have a.. it comes together but it doesn’t blend interestingly enough so that’s where you see I think this proliferation in China of eco-cities and it really aggressively going after this like have what does that look like, how do we build it, how do we build it, at the rate in you know they’re kind of models these concentric ring roads and their designs- is that the right one, is it not the right one?

They have these concept called superblocks, because of the size and speed and you get a block that big it makes it not usable at the human scale, you can’t walk it or yeah you can kind of bike it but the access as the roadways aren’t enough. So they’re doing some really interesting stuff to try to tear down the superblocks, make it more manageable.

Is concentric ring roads the right one? Do we cap the size of the city and make smaller cities so we shouldn’t have 15 million person city, maybe we should cap it at 10? I laugh you know? How many 10 million-person cities in the U.S.?

Not that many, China- they’re you know they’re abundant but so they are grappling at figuring out how to blend that together and what it looks like, but again at a ferocious pace, you can’t take the governance structure of China, pick it up and put it down on another country – doesn’t work. What you can do however, is you can link together and use kind of tangible examples of what worked, at what cost, at what scale and you can transfer that at other places or you can learn from that. So that’s something we’ve spent a lot of time at C40.

You know, initially one of the reasons, and even still to this day while many private sector businesses and national governments have bypassed and overlooked cities was because of their complexity. They’re messy, they move quickly, they’re hard to keep accountable, they are hard to track and not transparent in some instances and the biggest issue is that you can’t replicate it. So we can get smarter about what happened in one city and not just like a broad-brush spectrum kind of share that with everybody but share with cities that may find it useful, you get a much more higher rate of uptake, so how do we do that?

The good news in terms of building energy efficiency is we know that we know what you need to do right, the technology, the insulation, the passive house standards, the ability to do and design buildings that operate, you know practically a fraction of what the current buildings do – that’s the good news.

We know what that is. The difficulty and the trick is having to implement that, and largely that comes through a kind of incentive programs, comes through policy, it also comes through standards and codes and a lot of cities don’t have building codes of any kind let alone ones that are more stringent and that’s a situation where we need strong kind of vision and leadership that a city can provide and then there’s different roles the city can play in developing that. So for example, city can set a citywide vision and policy and standard at one level and they can do it to another level even higher level for the building’s they’re going to operate – the municipal buildings, they can lead by example, show proof of concept but you also have to engage the stakeholders because you’ve got a lot of buildings that are private and you’ve got the private sector who has commercial builders, developers who have to buy into this understand this. So you have to bring that along it and it does take time and the issue here is time right; so that’s the other thing that’s really interesting about buildings is they stay around for a long time, you need deep and swift retrofits and part of the problem there is even though we know that we have the technology and we know kind of the process and procedural things that we need to do, we have to change the market in terms of the ROI or Return On Investment because it’s easy to get some quick paybacks and even that the low-hanging fruit you know isn’t kind of completely taken yet and then we need to kind of spur more of that but you’ve got to be very careful because when you strip out that low-hanging retrofit fruit, that also strips out the payback on the things that take a longer time. So if you don’t bundle efficiency measures and buildings together the short-term returns and the long-term returns to kind of, get it an average that’s more appealing to everybody but what you end up doing is you strip out that kind of saved money out of the building from the beginning because it’s very hard to do the deeper retro fits that ultimately will have to happen. So that’s the kind of the context of more in the Global North and then we’ve got a lot of building stock and I think Global South- it’s very different because there our issue is that we’ve got a lot of informal settlements, you don’t even have formal buildings right and within that you don’t have building codes and in some cases you know there aren’t even addresses, so how are you going to have a system that tracks energy use in a building that isn’t even a formal building, that doesn’t even have an address? So you have those everything I just described previously now is and what we’re talking about here in Global South is how do you build buildings that are cheap, that are safe, that are efficient? How do you build them in advance because the urbanisation’s happening so rapidly that in many cases that’s why the informal settlements are getting set up because the city isn’t aware of, doesn’t know, can’t predict where they’re going to that population growth is going to occur in the city,  in the inner city  or outskirts of the city, how will they have the funds, and the capacity to build the buildings – so informal settlements get(instead). So they you’ve to convert those without displacing communities that grow up around them and then how do you get energy into those buildings that you can track and use, even though there’s a lot of informal use for tapping in of that electricity. But there’s some really amazing examples that are happening around the world.

Since you don’t see that energy demand, you don’t see that those GHG emissions that’s not to say it won’t be there very very soon and go up really quickly, so wehave to be very aware of that context of making sure we avoid the emissions and in Global South there’s a very low emissions per capita right now. Global North is very high GHG emission per capita and Global South you’ve got to have new systems and new processes in place that allow uplift of economic opportunity and prosperity, but do not follow Western civilisation in the consumption and development pathways, but actually have a keep there where they’re at now flat so you don’t have a curb in terms of the emissions profile. That’s gets a little bit complicated and tricky because you have to deal with the same thing from two totally opposite ends of the spectrum. Especially if you look at kind of cities and urban agglomerations kind of sinks and sources, not of emissions but rather of energy and of resources purely. Water as an example of different services and it becomes a really big one and I think there’s also we’re talking about kind of institutional governmental, governance shifts, you got to do that now and you gotta be really careful about accelerating around the rate of action to reduce emissions that are future proofed. Because then we’re following bad behaviours, more bad behaviour, you’re gonna have to rip out infrastructure even if it was for a good purpose for mitigation because it wasn’t future proofed that might be underwater and very thoughtful in the beginningm so it’s kind of a really exciting time at C40, we’re kind of looking at the things that we’re touching on and how we’re impacting transportation system to reduce emissions but reducing black carbon and increasing air quality and using the impact of health associated with air quality like in China, like in Dar es implementation of bus rapid transit and the motivation wasn’t to reduce emissions, the motivation was to  create better air quality, reduce the pollution in air. So it’s really interesting in terms of the premise and the mechanism in which you would do this, but ultimately you find out these things are all interconnected, aren’t they? they’re all linked and trying to tie that together weave a narrative that brings the people along in this decision.


Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXVIII

Vulnerability and impacts for the rich and poor

Discussion prompts:

  1. How is the risk manifested in cities particular and distinct from other risks?
  2. What are the various actions that could abate the creation of risk as well as have beneficial developmental outcomes for cities and their citizens?

I am Allan Lavell, I’m British by birth but have lived in Latin American for the last 40 years, at present working in Costa Rica for the last 36 years, I’m an urban development specialist by trade who got into the urban intimate disaster risk field some 25 years ago and I’ll be talking today about what we could call it urban risk and particularly the way in which urban risk is socially discriminatory i.e. that it affects different social groups in different ways. Maybe from that perspective the best way to start is at least to give a very short explanation of what we understand by risk and and particularly disaster risk.

Disaster risk we see as deriving from a very complex and dynamic interaction between what we call Hazards which are normally associated with physical events like earthquakes or floods.

The figure of Exposure which means colloquially to be ‘in the line of fire’ of some damaging, potentially damaging physical event and Vulnerability which is a key aspect which we’ve been dealing with over the last 30 years in particular increasingly so, which when derives in to aspects like Resilience and other concepts of this nature, which basically looks at the way in which individuals, collectivities, families and social groups, communities, cities, if you like, or even countries are predisposed because of certain social factors or social conditioning factors to suffer harm when these physical events occur.

If we talk about urban risk this is interesting; because we could probably distinguish between what is risk in urban areas and urban risk. The difference here is from my perspective that risk in urban areas could be very much the same in terms of causal factors to risk in rural areas and so if a hospital is badly built and will fall down with an earthquake in a rural  area it’s probably the same explicatory factors as a hospital being badly built in an urban area and falling down because of corruption or and so, urban risk from my perspective derives from what we call urban processes, not from rural processes and urban processes involve such things as concentration, centralisation of economic activity of power, it derives from land use planning principles which are particular to urban areas and very much different to rural areas, it relates to environmental degradation processes in urban areas which are very much different to rural areas and it relates also to the way in which urban government structures are set up. In cities it is more highly likely that we will get hazards that are socially constructed as opposed to naturally constructed. An earthquake is naturally constructed, but land sliding or land slipping or subsidence in urban areas is more likely to be related to deforestation or to mining of slopes or to water seepage into the subsoil which leads to different processes and those are things which don’t occur in rural areas with such significance.

Another major factor in understanding the way risk is felt differently and therefore disaster is felt differently by different social groups according to income or whatever, is the fact that when we define ‘disaster risk’ which basically is the probability of certain groups or people, individuals or collectivities suffering with levels of loss and damage will seriously interrupt their normal routine functioning and this loss is related obviously to be occurred to these physical events. So another factor that helps us to understand why it is socially discriminatory risk is the fact that disaster risk is only one specific type of risk that exists and which people suffer and it’s this risk related to the probability of loss and damage but there are other risks which exist in society and one of these, the major ones is what we call Quotidian risk or Everyday risk, this is something that Amartya Sen brought up alot in his work and relates to everyday living conditions whereby many sectors of society, the poorer sectors of society suffer a dearth of opportunity related to health, to social violence, to environmental degradation, environmental contamination and to unemployment,to lack of income opportunities. And these are things which typify poverty but are not only suffered by poor people at times and consequently when we try to look at disaster risk, there’s no way of separating disaster risk in urban areas or urban disaster risk from what we call quotidian or everyday risk but also, there’s no way really of separating it from things like financial risk or health risk or other determinations or specific types of what we call risk. So really to understand things we have to be holistic that is to look at things in integral fashion, we cannot believe that people in cities for instance suffer disaster risk and after disaster because the physical events discriminate in terms of who they will affect or not affect, it is socially discriminated according to who you are, what you are, why you are, what you do, who, your access to power, your access to resources etc. If we look at the types of disaster risk drivers when I mentioned earlier, in understanding urban risk, so things like centralisation and concentration of power and economic activity, environmental degradation, land use principles and land-use patterns are all socially determined and in the playout of these things the poorer groups inevitably suffer certain processes or rather suffer some processes or conditions which will lead to an increase in the disaster risk they suffer as compared to others.

Consequently if you are poor, it is very simple to understand that you don’t have access to adequate land and people living on slopes in cities or by the sides of rivers or in ravines or on top of seismic faults etc. is not a result of their choice to do so, it is a result of the fact that they have no choice to enter the formal land market and purchase land which is secure. So insecure location is merely reflecting a lack of opportunity, a lack of ability to gain access to the formal land market and choose safer sites. If you live on a slope and you do not have access to materials for cooking or for construction and you actually deforest the slope you’re living on in a city, then you open yourself up and your subject to lands liding, land slipping in a much greater fashion than people with more resources who have a greater ability to deal with this type of problem and if you’re poor, you do not have access generally to the mechanisms pressure for adequate land, adequate environmental planning or location of people in areas which make it easy to get to work but at the same time aren’t highly disadvantageous. And what we see many times is the people living in urban areas, live in disadvantageous positions because precisely they are proximate to work opportunities and consequently we cannot divorce one thing from the other. So from my perspective the figure is – you have to summarise what we’re saying is yes, risk is socially constructed, it is socially constructed because there are a whole series of factors and processes which workout in the generation of risk which are socially discriminatory because of access to power in many senses, political power, economic power, etc.

But in cities you have; this works to the disfavour obviously the poor because there is a direct relationship between urban risk and quotidian or everyday risk. So if you’re poor automatically, it isn’t the same thing as saying poverty is vulnerability but poverty does generate conditions whereby vulnerability is a major factor explaining risk, tends to work out in disfavour of poorer groups.

How’d you get on top of urban risk, especially urban risk that affects poorer populations ?

Yeah, it’s a very complex problem because we’re not dealing with something that has its own autonomous, segregated, sectoralised policy strategy and instrumental framework. There is no special instruments for reducing urban risk which are urban risk only related, they are related to development planning, to territorial planning, to environmental planning etc. Consequently, we have to get into those things in order to be able to reduce disaster risk in cities or urban risk for poor populations and not look for mechanisms that are a solely related to disaster risk. And there’s a basic premise in this around the social construction of risk but the risk is derived, it is not given, it is derived from these ongoing social processes related to development. So if we don’t get on top of development planning to reduce poverty for instance, we’re not going to get on top of it through disaster risk management. Disaster risk management has limits to what you can do. Now this means also that there are two or three very different contexts that have intervention mechanisms, have to get on top of or are planning mechanisms. One is what we increasingly in Latin America, at least calling and I think it’s getting spread around because of the global assessment report, is the idea of Corrective Disaster Risk Management. What are we talking about?

That cities today, places like in India – Mumbai and Calcutta and in Latin America- Sao Paulo and Mexico City,large metropolitan areas or large cities have so much risk accumulated – there are so many people living in absolutely high levels of risk that intervening this is almost impossible financially, politically etc. and anything we do is what we could call Corrective Risk Management – that means you’ve got communities located in the wrong place – on slopes, or on river, flood plains etc but if you want to reduce the risk you are basically obliged to either on-site upgrading or moving them  out of there.

Both are extremely expensive and nobody is putting up that type of money to do this. So it is an accumulated risk for urban populations which it is extremely difficult to get rid of. The other one is what we are calling, Reactive or Compensatory Risk Management, which is ok, this risk exists in some ways you accept it cannot be intervened either because it is considered to be acceptable risk, accepted risk or simply there’s no financial or technical ability to get on top of it. And so we’re in the world of increasing, what increasingly is called the ‘Resilience of the urban populations’ i.e. they will be affected by disaster, and what opportunities do they have to in fact recover from that bounce back and bounce forward in some way.

But that also is accompanied by plans for response, for preparedness, for early warning etc., so this all comes within this umbrella of risks whether accepted, acceptable, not accepted but is there and that we have to deal with it, is within the whole field what is now being called ‘resilience’ accepting the whole definition resilience and what it is understand differently by many people and then there’s the third one, which is what we can call Prospective Risk Management that is  cities which don’t exist yet, areas of cities that don’t exist, population of the cities that don’t exist, the new populations, the new infrastructure, the new housing, the new everything of the future, now in what conditions of risk is that going to be?

And how can we control the growth of risk in these new urban populations and the infrastructure that actually supports them?

And this is a perspective and this is clearly a development planning thing, it is not a thing about disaster risk management, it is about how you build, where you build, for whom you build and what under conditions and what access to resources do you have. Now that now brings us down to the whole thing of where are these cities going to grow, in which cities it is going to grow. In Latin America which I know best, then the cities which are growing fastest today are small and intermediate-sized cities, not the large metropolitan areas, where there is so much risk now accumulated but adding more risk to it would become almost like a time bomb for the future. And so if we look at small and intermediate cities which are the ones that are growing, can we assume that it is easier to control the growth of risk in those cities as to control the consolidation of risk in large metropolitan areas?

One would suggest that that was the case and hopefully that is the case because if not then the time bomb is growing more and more in terms of risk related to urban poverty etc. And with urban poverty and poverty in general though the data has that poverty has been reduced in absolute terms or relative terms etc. etc, yeah the whole idea from 2 dollars a day to 2.5 dollars a day being a measure of the reduction of poverty is not working in terms of risk that is, it makes very little difference to risk in cities.

Consequently, the big question is what mechanisms for reducing or controlling the growth of urban risk can exist in small and intermediate sized cities, as opposed to large metropolitan areas?

Where the whole governance factors, the whole thing of relationship between population and government may in fact be very much different to in larger cities. And from the intervention perspective and we are faced with a very tragic situation in many ways – that there is so much risk in cities that many cities are just waiting for flooding or landsliding or an earthquake to generate and trigger off that risk which exists and to materialise that risk into disaster conditions, loss and damage and this affecting obviously far more the poor than the rich. Amongst other reasons as well, because we don’t have insurance policies etc. etc and there is where the big question comes up about the role of insurance in reducing disaster risk where is a great deal to be said.

That maybe it is not reducing risk as we wish to reduce risk although it may be increasing resilience for those that are able to  afford it.


Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXVII

How do cities accumulate risk exposure?

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the various components that constitute urban risk?
  2. How do these components get accumulated in urban areas?
  3. How can risk be reduced, considering the various components of urban risk?

Economic losses from disasters such asearthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes or cyclones and flooding are now reaching an average of between 250 to 300 billion dollars each year. The global average annual loss to just urban infrastructure is estimated to increase to over 400 billion by 2030 with a massive expansion of urbanisation over the SDG implementation period. Cities not only concentrate economic opportunity, wealth, jobs, infrastructure, institutions and culture but they also concentrate risk and vulnerability that further exacerbates poverty, inequality and conflict. To understand how cities concentrate and accumulate risk over time, we first need to unpack what risk is composed of and how it is constructed.

Then we’ll talk more about how each of these risk components manifest in urban areas, we will then explore how cities offer the opportunity of reducing both everyday risk and the impacts of extreme events. For centuries disasters were understood as natural phenomenon or an act of god. Over the last few decades the global community has come to understand that most charismatic disasters also called intensive risks, from climate-induced storm surge like during Hurricane Sandy in New York to the earthquake and tsunami induced nuclear accident in Fukushima in Japan – all have anthropogenic causes. Everyday disasters or extensive risk from fires and household accidents are even more closely tied to vulnerability and human related causes that can be addressed by effective risk reduction processes.

Disaster risk can be understood in terms of its four primary components. First, hazard risks: Hazards are external forces from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclonic wind, typhoons and hurricanes and associated storm surges, avalanches and landslides, drought and extreme rainfall leading to flooding that arise from a variety of different sources acting in combination.

This could be ranging from geological, metrological, hydrological, biological and even technological sources. Many hydro- metrological events are becoming more frequent and intense owing to climate change. A recent analysis of over 600 major metropolitan areas with about a population of 1.7 billion people, that’s about a quarter of the world’s total population and approximately half of the global GDP, found that flood risk threatens more people than any other hazard. River flooding for example, poses a threat to over 375 million urban residents, while earthquake and strong winds could potentially affect over 275 million or 150 million respectively. Yet we must stop to reflect that the occurrence of an external hazard does not always lead to a disaster. The April 2015 Gurkha earthquake in Nepal of magnitude 7.8 killed over 9000 people and left the poor nation with economic losses of over 10 billion dollars, which is about half of its GDP. A much higher magnitude – 8.3 magnitude earthquake in Chile in September 2015 left only 14 dead with minimal losses.

Most losses in Kathmandu and Nepal are linked to poor-preparedness and lack of planning; high vulnerability with dense concentrations of people living in poorly constructed buildings. Systemic disaster loss, mitigation processes and investments in preparedness institutionalised in Chile over the last few decades, led to rigorous building codes and safer building and well-prepared evacuation systems which then limited vulnerability and loss.

Exposure to single or more usually multiple hazards is the other critical component of risk. People, property, infrastructure and economic activity are physically present in hazard prone areas and are therefore, subject to potential losses. If they were not in those locations they would not be exposed to those losses. With increasing urbanisation, cities concentrate both people and economic assets accumulating increasing hazard exposure over time.

Historically people have inhabited locations such as riverbanks like that of the Mississippi and New Orleans, highland cities (such as Shimla) and port cities (such as Istanbul) since they offered resource access, economic and socio-political advantages. Many of these locations were inhabited without enough long-range information about the hazards that they were exposed to. While it is difficult and hugely expensive to shift the location of an entire city because of hazard exposure, the more practical approach is to reduce exposure within the city by controlling land use that restricts building for example along exposed shore lines, flood plains or locations that are earthquake or landslide-prone. Cities particularly in low and middle-income countries often accentuate risk, especially for poor and vulnerable people who’ve limited choices of safe sites to live on. As the global population living in informal settlements continues to grow, risk exposure increases as low-income households are forced to occupy hazard exposed area with lower land values, deficient or non-existent infrastructure and absence of social protection and poor environmental quality. Large-scale urban infrastructure and economic investment decisions rarely consider the level of hazards in these locations or if they do; tend to discount the economic impact of their risk excessively so that short-term profits can be made.

This has led to large flows of capital into hazard prone areas and a vast increase in the exposure of the economic assets to earthquakes, storm surges, floods and other hazards. The concentration of investment in urban centres drives intensive risk while high levels of urban income inequality, shapes patterns of extensive risk. The third and potentially, the most significant, component of risk that can be managed and reduced through systematic policy action is vulnerability. Vulnerability is the inherent characteristic and circumstances of a community, asset or system that makes them susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard.

There’re many aspects of vulnerability rising from physical, social, economic and environmental factors. Composite risk to all of these elements at risk can be reduced through a range of interventions-first, by reducing vulnerability: economic, social and environmental which is what much of the SDGs are targeted at, especially via the commitment to leave no one behind. Second, by reducing exposure by ensuring that people, buildings, infrastructure and economic activity are in safe locations, for example, by implementing planning regulations, discouraging habitation and economic activity in low-lying flood-prone areas. Third, by modifying hazard risk by moving settlements to less risk-prone locations for example outside a landslide or avalanche-prone zone or by constructing dams or enabling water recycling and conservation to reduce drought risk. A core challenge is not only to address all key risks as most locations are exposed to multiple risk but also think through trade-offs between them.

Another challenge is to systemically address every day or extensive risks that make up much of the losses experienced across the world especially by the poor and vulnerable.

These are often hidden, not reported by most official systems and the media, and are difficult to address through top-down means. Extensive risk manifests as large numbers of recurrent, small-scale, low severity disasters, community and local government led SDG processes are usually more effective at dealing with these small and localised events but they often add up to higher losses than the big earthquakes and storms that tend to grab the headlines. Growing global inequality, increasing hazard exposure, rapid urbanisation and the over consumption of energy and natural capital threatened to drive risk to dangerous and unpredictable levels with systemic global impacts. This presents a challenge to the achievement of the SDGs in areas that already experience social inequality and exclusion. This also makes extensive risk an important poverty attribute. The application of land-use and building standards that exclude low-income household is a common method of encoding social segregation into apparently technical planning criteria, for example, until its revision in the mid-1990’s the main building code system in Kenya continued the application of top-down colonial standards and paid too little attention to the affordability of these regulatory provisions. Prior to the enactment of Code 95 the cost of conventional building materials was beyond the reach of low-income and vulnerable groups, many of whom did not have access to housing finance and credit. No wonder that they were at risk!

More recently voluntary segregation has become a growing force with the proliferation of gated communities and the concentration of commerce in new shopping and business centres providing increased security against crime but also minimising the residents interaction with other social groups in the city. In urban centres risk is amplified by the interaction between multiple hazards, interdependence between economic activities, utilities and lifeline infrastructure, particularly in those cities that act as key nodes in the global economy and national markets.

For example, in cities with little built-in redundancy, failures in the power grid quickly spill over into telecommunications and transportation which in turn impact production, banking and even the informal sector. Urban areas however offer the opportunity for significant and systemic risk reduction and building resilience, particularly small urban centres and areas that are yet to be fully built up. Planning for integrated risk reduction, improved building and infrastructure standards, improved basic service delivery and lower poverty and vulnerability and significant improvements in institutional and community capacities can help mitigate future losses in a cost-effective and a viable manner. Many internationally accepted frameworks are also available to help local governments mitigate risk effectively. Through the Framework For Action – HFA contributed to a growing awareness of disaster risk. More than 2,000 cities had signed up for this by 2015. Under priority for Action 4, the HFA provided detailed guidance on the role of urban planning as well as building standards and the regulation of disaster risk reduction including the design of infrastructure and critical facilities such as hospitals and schools. Tools such as UN-Habitat City Resilience Profiling Program or the UNISDR Local HFA monitor and 10 Essentials offer municipal governments the means to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current approaches of managing disaster risks.

So what we’ve learned in the session?

Cities accumulate hazard exposure and vulnerabilities due to growing populations, increasing concentration, poor land use management, poor building and infrastructure specification and the lack of capacities to cope with the growing inequality and risk that we find in them.

The combination of speculative urban development and weak regulatory capacity leads to an increasingly social and spatial segregation of risk in cities especially in low and middle income countries. Apart from high-intensity, low-frequency intensive risks such as earthquakes and cyclones, extensive risk manifest as large numbers of recurrent, small-scale, low severity disasters which are mainly associated with local events like flash floods, landslides, urban flooding, storms, fires.

Unlike intensive risk, extensive risk is more closely associated with inequality and poverty than with earthquake fault lines and cyclone tracks. Risk is both constructed and amplified in urban areas due to the interaction between multiple hazards, interdependencies between economic activity, utilities and lifeline infrastructure, concentration and physical proximity. Urban areas offer the opportunity for significant and systemic risk reduction and building resilience particularly in small urban centres which are yet to be fully built out.

Planning for integrated risk reduction, improved building and infrastructure standards, improved basic service delivery and lower poverty and vulnerability along with significant improvements in institutional and community capacities can help mitigate future losses in a cost effective and a viable manner.


Museologia Social e Urbanismo

How can we achieve urban resilience?

As climate risk increases, so does the manifestation of vulnerabilities and exposure that exacerbate the outcomes of a natural event. This module deals with the components of such risk and how could we try and achieve more resilient cities and communities. Aromar Revi starts us out with the various components of risk, and why is it that cites are constantly accumulating disaster risk. Allan Lavell then describes the distinction between ‘urban risks’ and ‘risks in the urban’ and how these vulnerabilities are manifested due to inequities existing cities. Aromar Revi and Seth Schultz talk about the uncertainties in the future vis-a-vis climate and what are the ways in which climate mitigation and adaptation are being achieved in various parts of the world, particularly cities in the South. Kamal Kishore delves from his experience of post-disaster recovery and response and leads us to think about rebuilding in a way that we ‘do no harm’ and ‘build back better’. Aromar Revi closes the module with details on how to think about resilient systems and cities and what are the various characteristics of such resilient societies.


Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXV

Case Study of Durban

Discussion prompts:

  1. What can be learnt about regional governance from the case of Durban?
  2. How can local governments participate in implementing and achieving the climate change adaptation and mitigation agenda?

We have Debra Roberts with us today, Debra is one of the world’s extreme sustainability practitioners; having led a remarkable period of change in Durban, which has been a pioneer in trying to test and implement a whole range of innovations around sustainable development, specifically around climate change and biodiversity.

So we’re going to be talking to her about the operational challenges of the transition that Durban is trying to lead in South Africa and its implications for other parts of the world.

AR – So, Debra – I mean it’s wonderful to have you here and you know, what we’re trying to get a sense of is since the political transition now in South Africa almost 20 years ago in 1994, how has Durban fared, what were the kind of challenges you faced as a city and what are the responses that we’ve seen over the last 20 years or so?

DR – Thanks Aromar, it’s great to be here with you. I think what we’ve seen is an unusually complex mix of challenges in the sense that when we emerged into the new democracy obviously society had to develop a new set of priorities, we had lost the sort of normative framework of the past apartheid- driven system and the question as a society is what were we shooting for.

Now given the kind of problems we came from, the priorities of the society at that stage were very much development-oriented and was very much development in a narrow sense – it was about dealing with the infrastructure, deficit, building houses, getting everyone to have access to clean water, and there wasn’t a lot of debate in that context around broader issues of sustainability.

And in fact I think, there was an inherent fear that sustainability might mean that the bigger development project for the country might be compromised, and I think that laid the sort of framework for action for the next couple of decades is – how did we bring in the longer-term view into a society that was very much, and correctly so, driven by immediate and short-term needs?

AR – And when did this transition happen – roughly 10 years after 1994 or something like that?

DR- Quite frankly I wish we could say the transition happened, we’re still in the process of it, and I think for me that’s been one of the most surprising things, is that beginning to institutionally change the groundwork for operation is a long-term project in and of itself, and I would say we’re still transitioning, it’s still difficult in the development discourse to really find a place for quite esoteric issues in the South African environment of biodiversity and climate change adaptation and so, because it’s been a complex base and a difficult transition, there hasn’t been one solution.

In fact, we’ve deployed a range of 10% solutions across the board to see where we can prod the system into incremental change in the hope that all of those incremental changes, in fact, add up to that one big transition to society, which is focused not only on human well-being but understands that human well-being in a broader sustainability, a broader resilience context.

So I mean, Durban is an interesting city because its large, at least within the South African context. It has a large rural population. It has concentrated challenges in urban areas, it has development issues that are there.

AR – How have you tried to keep the balance between the rural and the urban in Durban?

DR – Well, we’re quite a schizophrenic city, and I think there are very few cities like us in the sense that within our formal boundaries, the majority of the land use and the majority of the tenure is traditional, so it’s rural; so effectively we have two forms of governance – we have traditional city hall, but we also have effective tribal leadership, and that’s really required us to have two entirely different toolsets.

So if you look at the city hall environment, there we work within planning regulations, planning legislation, zoning, the traditional tools that I think are known and understood.

The moment we cross into traditional governance, there it’s much more about stewardship, it’s about winning the hearts and minds of people because you no longer have the plan, you no longer have the law on your side, and that’s required us literally to develop these two toolsets to have different teams who work in the different spaces.

What we are finding, however, is that is not an absolute boundary, there are learnings from both sides, which we are beginning to pull across, so, for example, the concept of stewardship – getting community to buy into the fact that they have a responsibility over and above that of government to assist with adapting themselves to climate change, to assist with biodiversity.

We’re bringing that into the formal environment with large private landowners. By the same token we’re having to get traditional leadership ready for the idea that there will be town-planning schemes. Yes, there will be more formal systems. Absolutely, and so we begin to see a blurring of those traditional boundaries, but it is causing us as an institution to have to be nimble and smarter in the way we engage with local governance and that’s not really what local government was set up for, you know, its strength is it never changes and its weakness is that it never changes. Exactly – that’s why Durban is such an interesting case because it makes this transition, which is so important for many parts of Africa and other parts of the world, because this is how the real world is structured around traditional communities, informality in some senses, which is also you know quite active in the former part of Durban and of course the government.

AR – So being able to transition between them, what are the things that you sort of learned over the last many years in working from government and trying to address these questions?

DR – And it really has been a game of which pieces on the chessboard do you move; and when you look at it in in that sense of transition you realise this is not a journey you can take by yourself. One of our early lessons is we’ve realised that you’ve got to have a lot of people testing out a variety of different approaches.

So one of our key lessons has been to build  a whole cadre of leaders, champions in various sectors around various issues, in order to enable us to affect this transition.

If you hold in your head the idea that the transition is driven by a range of 10% solutions rather than a silver bullet, you need a lot of experiments running through actual city in a variety of contexts.

AR – So we’ve turned away from perhaps the traditional look at the developmental transition – you know how many roads, how many pipes, how much green space, to how many champions can we have in the right places, and its really begun to focus on the associate institutional elements of change – the people – because all of these barriers, goals that we set ourselves, they’re societally driven, and I don’t think we understand that.

DR -Absolutely; for Global South this is absolutely central, using people and institutions as the way forward to deal with sustainability.

AR – And so that’s an extraordinary tension now in the governance space – is what is local government’s priority?

DR – Putting your head down and getting the local work done, helping people at home, or realising you can do a great deal of that and without this bigger regional, national, international framework, you will at some point be limited. So the question is where do you put your resources and now that’s an interesting space, now obviously we’ve formed a lot of partnerships internationally to help us with that, but it is a big choice, and the question is, I think, as the role of the city-region and city-state becomes more prominent in dealing with global questions – it’s a big question we’re going to have to look at is – how do you take this forward dealing with both of the needs?

AR – How does this play out in the politics of the city and the city hall, because at one end you have you know, tremendous international profile and a lot of impact, but there are always day-to-day battles  to be fought for, in terms of service delivery, development etc. – how does that play out, you know, as a sustainability practitioner. How does it work?

DR – It’s schizophrenic – I mean I don’t think there’s any other word for it, because you’re constantly juggling a million balls in the air, because obviously from a political profile, there’s a strong desire to have Durban seen as a leader, but many of those long-term ideas and how we come full circle to where we started still contradict, in the minds potentially of some leadership, the short-term objectives of what we’re trying to achieve, and it’s constantly looking at, you know, trying to balance an argument where this investment of time and resources at international is seem to have enough value to the city to warrant it, but also demonstrating how that longer-term value might have shorter-term benefits in the way we address our current development needs, and this is really where these outreach issues into stewardship showing us how if we get communities involved, you can manage the city more cost-effectively, if individuals take up some of these sustainability challenges.

How there are new views around what an economy might look like, and you know Durban is quite hard-wired in. We’re the petrochemical centre of South Africa, we’ve got all the big logistics, infrastructure with the port; we are the life blood in many cases  of SADC (Southern African Development Community), transport and logistics.

Beginning to open the doors into some debates around there may be another economy; we can’t escape the fact that we literally are a small city stuck on the tail end of Africa.

In a new world where fossil fuel is hugely expensive, where we’re not transporting a great deal of goods around the world, we’ve got to develop a new way of thinking.

AR- Yes – you need to look for a more services-oriented and also primary sector you know, sustainable.

DR – Absolutely. So we’re using that ability to push the door, and I must admit the door is only open about this wide, but to show that there is another vision, and I think that the fact that there’s a continuity of purpose, and I think that’s another good thing that we’ve done is we’ve held institutional continuity over decades, and that’s created enough of institutional memory that that small progress has not been lost, in fact, what has been done has been very carefully collected and treasured and ordered so that we begin to develop a bigger narrative, and I think that’s been part of our success: staying power, being able to coordinate the lessons and constantly articulate that back into City Hall and being brave about that articulation in the face of often quite severe challenge.

AR – So this new economy that you’re talking about which is less dependent on fossil fuel and logistics and moving things around, what is the role of sort of biodiversity and ecosystems in that? Because I think, you know, you’ve been experimenting with that for a long time, and that’s a new base that’s going away from the sort of traditional model, while you try to move more and more people off the land, and, you know, you use a tremendous amount of fossil fuel subsidization of that process, how would you see that playing out?

DR – And for us it was a big message,it’s a simple message, and it’s something that I think should be at the back of every African urbanist’s mind is, you know, what is the powerhouse of the African city? It’s people, it’s particularly our youth dividend, and it’s our huge ecosystems that are still largely intact, and the question is how do you use those in new spaces?

And we think that begins to set up a different model for land tenure, for urban financing, particularly in cities like ours where the skills base is very low.

There’s a huge opportunity to begin to take those ecosystems, re-imagine them as ecological infrastructure which is cost-effective and within certain limits probably your most adaptable infrastructure in the many of them youthful, to begin to manage that infrastructure just as we’ve got engineers managing pipes and other power lines, train people to begin to manage that.

And that management can take a variety of different forms – your simple entry-level removing the alien invasives so that we get more water flowing into our catchments into town apartments, you know the city is already facing a water crisis.

AR – All the way through to the other end of the opportunity spectrum, we’re a huge domestic tourist centre.  How do you capture that? And South Africans are a very outdoor society using these open areas to create recreational tourism opportunities and creating the business base in our local communities to use that, but then we begin to look at the financial flows, how do we use our downstream industries – very water-dependent – to create the financial flows that support the traditional leader in the upper catchment who is responsible for managing?

DR – And we’re beginning to have that in play now. We’ve got a very large project, which is across municipal boundaries, involves a number of municipalities in our largest water supplying catchment, the Umgeni River, to say we need to look at this.

AR – We’ve got the full range of society all the way from rural, traditional, poor through to wealthy, urban, and beginning to tie all these bits together in a management program with all the various complex government and governance institutions around the table so forming a partnership, getting buy-in and leadership from everyone, to say how do we begin to look at this over the long- term? How do we tackle the land management issue and begin to look at these financial flows?

DR – And this is the way the international partnerships have become useful looking, for example, at some of the water partnerships that have been developed in South America and how they’ve worked.

And so begin to tie the international resources with our local resources, getting the stakeholders together, tying it to an immediate problem- water is an immediate problem for development in Durban-and getting those leaders that we’ve brought now to step  forward and to take control and lead. So it’s a very complex, socio-institutional system that you’re constantly maneuvering. Within there, taking biodiversity out of the green-elitist rhino and sunset type imagery into hard-working, everyday, cost-effective ecological infrastructure, that’s really been ——And livelihoods because lots of people get jobs out of this and help people move out of poverty, so it’s a remarkable way of actually lifting the floor.

AR – The question is what is the value chain? And so once you’ve entered people into the green economy, where do they then go? And that’s where we haven’t quite got the answer yet, and that’s a space where and the social mobility question which comes with that.

DR – Yes, absolutely.

AR – So I mean if you were talking to a development practitioner who wanted to look at sustainability, what are the four or five things you could tell them from this experience of yours and Durban that might sort of interest them and can sort of invigorate them to keep going? Because this is obviously a difficult landscape and you have you know a legacy that comes from Mandela and that transition there, and we’re trying to take you into a very different world, both inside and outside, so what are the four or five things that you might find interesting for them?

DR – I suppose top of my list is be brave and never lose your integrity because in this sea of you’ve got to have a core course  that you stick to, so I think there’s a very, and that surprised me about it, is that change very often starts with individual change.

So believe in yourself as a practitioner and know what ideals that you’re changing. A very powerful tool

I think is science, and we’ve not brought enough of the available science, global science, into our local work, we’ve never known more than we have at this particular moment in human evolution, and yet we deploy it so poorly.

By science I don’t necessarily mean the big and complex dataset, but I mean some of the core messages that are guiding lights on what that new roadmap looks like and what direction it might be going, and I think we owe it to ourselves as urban practitioners to be aware of that science and to engage the scientific community who are increasingly more and more looking to form bridges with us, and I think we’ve got to be active and and reach out to them. I think the ability to stay the institutional course, so while you as an individual might move through a variety of iterations in your career, how does the work that you do set up an institutional course that will maintain its continuity and purpose through time, and what are the mechanisms there?

It generally means building this team of other champions so that as champions move in and out of play, there’s someone who always holds the long-term meaning––

AR – Yes, irrespective of what political parties are in control or you know what institute is running it.

DR -Exactly, and an important part of that is “Document, Document, Document!” You know it is something–– It’s a hard part of life––David Satterthwaite has been remarkable like that, you know I would attribute so as the documentation doing was largely due to David’s nagging in the sense that unless you write it down, it’s of no use to either you locally or to international learning, …exactly, there’s a need to circulate, …and then I think that probably the most recent lesson for us is you know having determined your course, having held it firm, having built a team that is deploying science, having documented all of that, reflect.

Because you can become so blinkered in chasing that new goal that you forget to adjudicate whether the path that you’re on, and that’s quite a complex space, it’s a new space, this whole idea of monitoring and evaluation particularly because all the values you’re monitoring and evaluating are largely societally-driven and change through time and dynamics of societies like ours.

AR – How do you constantly ensure that you’re on the right path?

DR – So, be innovative, don’t be scared to develop the tools you might need, don’t be scared to fail because failure often brings most important learnings, and just feed that into the system, …Exactly… that’s part of the process of innovation. And keep feeding into the system. And so I mean to move from the level of practitioner to the city, what are the big things that you know that Durban has learned over the years that are actually useful for not only you know Southern African cities but cities in the Global South and even in the North for some senses because this is a very interesting landscape, it has many of the elements of what the latter part of the twentieth century is going to be like the mix of different institutions, politics, and you know set of incremental changes,

AR – What are the things that you think other people would be happy to learn from you and you could contribute to, let’s say the global and the regional debate?

DR – I think for us the big learning has, and this is something that I think besets a whole range of Global South cities, is the need to transition from the concept of “government” as the deliverer of change to “governance” as the deliverer of change, because if you make that ideological leap, number one, it talks to the fact that as government you must be prepared to govern, which means you must be prepared to put in place the tools that are necessary, you must have town planning schemes, you must be prepared to enforce them no matter how difficult that is, so the rule of law becomes important, but understanding the the rule of law doesn’t work in a society that’s battling with issues of social cohesion.

So the question of forming partnerships out into the various elements of society and you know particularly in the Global South as elements of society can be as diverse as large industrialists to traditional leadership and recognising that you need to develop new tools, that it’s not going to be a question of you taking your plans to people but you’re going to have to develop tools that allow them to come to you with their priorities, with their views to play a very active role in your space and that is very uncomfortable for government.

And  for us that idea of a mutual stewardship, a global responsibility and finding and creating the platforms to have that debate and to sustain that debate has become very important, which means we’ve had to retool ourselves and we’ve had to reskill ourselves to have that debate, to work in areas where land tenure doesn’t operate in the systems that we understand, to understand that worldview and to be able to bring that worldview ironically back into the democratic system, because we found that the democratic system can itself become quite autocratic if it believes in itself too entirely without constantly adjudicating itself against society’s voices.

And you know, we’ve had a huge amount of challenge in trying to create those open mechanisms for society to talk to us. We’ve also, I think, been firm as a local government around the role of science. Science is not perfect, doesn’t bring an ultimate truth, but it does bring a new toolsets, and I think if there is another important message to cities in the Global South, looking at the way you reconceptualise urban practitioner, practitioner was the person that handed out the dog licenses. Urban practitioners are now people who are part of large teams, running the biggest organisations in the world, so these control the world.

We are part of big corporates. Every large corporate needs a R&D facility, so local government should not be scared of hiring highly-skilled science practitioners, and when I use the term science, I, as a person who’s trained in the natural sciences, have learned that that embraces the social sciences, …absolutely, and economics, …and we’ve got to conceptualise that local government needs people with PhDs who can think big things

And theyneed to partner Exactly, we need all those partnerships and again that’s something we’ve had to do, is we’ve had to reach out to the tertiary institutions saying we need this link, you’re part of our day-to-day business, it’s not a “nice-to-have” but you’re an absolutely essential part and that in itself is creating new relationships that are often difficult to broker in the first instance but are so productive once you get them up and running.

AR – Ok, wonderful. We’ve been talking to Debra Roberts this morning about sustainability and cities, especially in Durban, and the role of urban practitioners in making this possible.


Allen, Adriana. “Environmental planning and management of the peri-urban interface: perspectives on an emerging field.” Environment and urbanization 15.1 (2003): 135-148.

World Bank. 2013. Urban Agriculture : Findings from Four City Case Studies. Urban Development Series Knowledge Papers;No. 18. Washington, DC. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

Additional Optional Resources: 

UNEP’s Global Environmental Outlook

Ted talk by Carolyn Steel on How food shapes our cities

Our Planet – Urban solutions: Making cities strong, smart, sustainable – A report by UNEP


Museologia social e Urbanismo XXXIV

Environmental planning, management and the politics of change

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the processes that entail environmental management?
  2. What are the political challenges of attaining environmental sustainability in cities?

Today’s session will cover environmental planning, management and the politics of change.

We’re going to first explain some key concepts, figures and facts and then focus on the issue of urban sprawl which is a very central element to environmental planning. And then we’re going to explain how cities can move to become more compact, more integrated and more connected, through city region planning and through planned city extensions.

First, environmental planning is a very key element and has been over the past decades, especially in 1992 with the Rio Agenda 21, the concept of Local Agenda 21 was enshrined in that document in Chapter 28 and it calls upon all municipalities to engage in local process of bringing environment closer to development. Local Agenda 21 – so that gave an enormous boost to environmental planning and management and now again with the New Urban Agenda in 2016 – it is one essentially one of the tree pillars that justify the need for a new urban agenda because the urban development over the past decades has been at the expense of the environment and that needs to be corrected.

So, first some concepts, figures and facts: one of the concepts I would like to use is – a Resource Efficient City and the issue of resource efficiency can be linked to the issue of decoupling; decoupling resource exploitations and ecological impacts from urban development.

So resource efficiency using less resources, causing less pollution in urban development. The other concept that’s important is: Ecological Footprints, it goes beyond the physical footprint of a city but also it includes all the different resources that a city is using in terms of food, water, energy and then has a way of calculating the ecological footprint as the basis of that riches and implications which shows the impact that the city has on its surroundings.

And then coming to Urban Sprawl which will be a central topic of this session, is the “physical expansion of the city’s built environment usually in surrounding rural areas and it’s generally characterised by low density settlements that are car – dependent and often lack public infrastructure and transport.

So,for instance, in developing countries, six out of seven cities are experiencing a decline in density, Density is going down whereas if we want to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, we should have increased density and this decline in density is costing for instance, the United States an estimated 400 billion per year mostly resulting from the higher infrastructure costs, transport costs and public services.

The figures are quite shocking. At present rates of density declines, the world population is expected to double in 43 years and urban land cover will double in only 19 years. So you’ll have a much faster occupation of urban land as opposed to the urban population growth.

This has been recognised in the Sustainable Development Goals. The target 11.3 is talking about the capacities for planning and is measured by the ratio of land consumption to population growth. In fact, it’s a measure of efficient Land-Use and we’re very pleased with this, with difficult indicator, it’s a new indicator, it has never been measured before at the global level but thanks to the geospatial technology and data it can be measured fairly easily without having to go to records that are only updated regularly.

So it is a very powerful measure and it will allow us to see whether any efforts that are made by governments, by private sector and others to reduce the sprawl are really giving results. Cities are some of the culprits for high Greenhouse Gas emissions.

They’re also the site of the solutions because of their agglomeration, they can speed up innovation and they can create much faster technological solutions. Because of the density and the proximity between work and living, cities can drastically reduce current patterns if there is a political will and will of the population to do so.

So, what type of city do we aim for? Our Governing Council has in 2014  developed a strategic plan that calls for ‘Compact Integrated and Connected‘ cities that are resilient to Climate Change. Is the city developing more compact spatial patterns? Are the functions and the population groups more integrated? Is there more connection between different parts of the city and between the city and the hinterland? And are cities taking measures for more resilience and for more climate protection?

Generally we believe there are two levels of intervention that are needed and are possible to curb the phenomenon of sprawl: one is at the City Region Level and one is at the City Extension Level.

The city region level: City Region Planning can help cities to find a new greener future, and this is both in terms of spatial sense but also in terms of economic sense.

Working with Nature is best planned at the city region level where you look at different parts of green and blue infrastructure that can help to nurture ecosystem services.

This is also the scale where density can be leveraged because you’re looking at different combination of transport and land use and you can focus density where it is more economically viable and more desirable, you can optimise infrastructure networks at the city region level using existing infrastructure and being very cautious and developing new infrastructure systems and you can also look at how different parts of the city and different small towns around the city can cluster and work together for greater competitiveness and more resilience in the end.

So this is at the City Region Level but also very importantly is the level of cities, we see that cities are still growing that the cities will grow very much in Africa and South and Southeast Asia. So how does this growth translate in spatial planning?

And we are advocating for planned city extensions. And this is, as opposed to the informal organic sprawl that happens on a piecemeal basis where plots are subdivided without much public space, without much rationality in terms of foresight, in terms of infrastructure and land use.

So planning in advance for the population that is going to come, planning at the scale of the expected growth, planning in phases because the ultimate infrastructure solution can in most cases not be financed in the beginning, also planning for contiguity that means planning for a continuous urban framework and not encouraging settlements that are disconnected because it’s extremely difficult to create a vibrant city or a vibrant town that is disconnected from a larger metropolis and of course applying sustainable and efficient use of resources in this whole territory as part of the design. Planned city extensions is perhaps the best investment in urban development that you can make and it’s an investment initially, it’s an investment in planning, an investment in legislation, an investment in setting up municipal finance systems that are going to finance the infrastructure.

Now I would like to turn to a case study of Kampala, it’s the capital of Uganda and a city that is inland and maybe not so well known in terms of its impact or Climate Change impact, when discussing cities and Climate Change the more spectacular cases are the coastal cities or the cities that are flooded, that are seeing sea level rise but Kampala is an inland city and there is a lot of flooding going on in the rainy season and we were able to support together with some academic institutions to support an integrated flood management system for Kampala. And this looks at specifically in informal settlements because that’s where the flooding took place and how can different decisions be made in terms of planning, in terms of infrastructure, both hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure using the  green and blue infrastructure of the city to prevent floods.

Let me end with recalling some of the lessons that we have learned in conducting environmental planning and exercises across the world.

The first is that – greater authority and finances should be given to the management and enforcing of land use and environmental services by local and metropolitan authorities.

Second is that the involvement of stakeholders is critical. Private sector communities need to be consulted especially in very important decisions like densification and curbing sprawl because you’re going against the prevailing consumption and production patterns which is a very fundamental change, that is not just a technocratic exercise.

When investing in infrastructure and environmental services, we need to understand which communities are most at risk, there needs to be a very focused investment and that those ones most at risk need to the attended first.

We need to think also about integrating renewable energy generation in these plants. I think there’s a bigger role than previously assumed for local authorities in the generation of renewables.

A final lesson learned through this environmental planning and management exercise is the fact that we need to allow for variability in different infrastructure types to accommodate local ecosystems.

We don’t need to think about one solution for the entire city, different neighbourhoods have different environmental characteristics, different ecosystems and can find different solutions and different solutions are different costs and different levels of sustainability. And now a new impetus is, has been given by the 2030 agenda where there’s a very specific target- Target 11.b that focuses on increasing the number of cities and human settlement, adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to Climate Change and resilience to disaster.

So this is an explicit agreement, an explicit target that has been agreed upon by Member-States in the 2030 agenda. So much progress has been made, still much more needs to be done. This is not an easy topic, there are no easy solutions. This is really a long-haul investment in long-term Sustainable Development. Thank you.


Museologia Social e urbanismo XXXIII

Urban agriculture for sustainable cities

Chapter theme: Urban agriculture for sustainable cities

Discussion prompts:

  1. What is the regional perspective on production and consumption of food for cities?
  2. Discuss case examples where local food production has been promoted in cities, and the challenges faced in the process

How does one end hunger, and feed all residents of an urban area sustainably? As we move forward towards an urban planet, this is a question critical for our survival. The relationship between food and cities is a long and complex one.

The earliest human settlements of the Fertile Crescent- Indus valley, China and Mesoamerica developed in or close to the first cultivated sites. The ability to cultivate and develop a reliable supply of food enabled early cultures to diversify and focus on non-agricultural activities leading to the development of towns and urban centres. The ability of hydraulic empires to increase food productivity and extract surplus, led to the creation of the first regional economies and a circuit of world cities linked through trade, conflict and culture. In this lecture we will explore the relationship between food and cities. How does cities produce and consume food?

What are the factors that constrain production and consumption of food in and around urban areas? How can food and nutrition security be enabled in cities? Can urban agriculture help a sustainable supply of food to our cities?

In the early 19th century roughly 3% of the global population lived in towns, in the 1950s a third, in 2006 more than a half and by the middle of the 21st century two-thirds of the world population will live in urban areas. Cities already and energy resources.

As the footprints of cities grow with increasing population and consumption this will only increase. Consumption changing with increased urbanisation and rising incomes. In much of Europe before the Second World War, meat was rarely consumed in ordinary urban households. This changed dramatically as incomes rose starting in the 1950s. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation the FAO – consumption of animal products like meat and milk is on the rise globally.

By 2030 about two-thirds of global meat and dairy supplies will be consumed by developing countries like India, where diets have historically been predominantly vegetarian. This will have a dramatic impact on the sustainability of agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions and of course, an impact on food security.

A sustainable future for our cities depends on us being able to address questions of food supply, distribution and nutrition security as outlined in SDG2 on Ending Hunger. We must start thinking of cities not just as drivers of economic growth, but also as spaces that are tied to and dependent on natural processes; as organic entities that are bound by their appetites to the natural world. Else, the expansion of the use of water and fertiliser-intensive food crops like rice, wheat and sugarcane rather than traditional crops like millets have not only caused an unprecedented agrarian and environmental crisis in many parts of the world but also an expanding ‘diabetes epidemic’.

Ending poverty and hunger in urban areas and making sure that no child or vulnerable resident is left behind is a significant challenge. The urban poor typically, produce limited food unlike their rural counterparts. Livelihood, insecurity and inflation, food scarcity and price fluctuation apart from poor regulation of food distribution means that the poor and vulnerable go hungry in cities across the world as food often makes up the bulk of their consumption basket.

According to data from UNICEF, the WHO and the World Bank, 1 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition related causes in India alone, 34% of children in Indian cities are underweight, in South Asia, over 63 million children experience stunting. Pre-industrial cities had close links to the rural hinterlands and the location, size and stability of the cities dependent on their access to food, farming in and around cities continued well into the 20th century. As our cities grow in size, complexity and with the use of advanced technology, the simple agrarian relationship between food producing areas and market-towns has changed.

Technological innovations like the railways, transcontinental shipping, refrigeration and food processing made it possible to store and transport food over long distances and long times without it perishing. As innovations from as far back as the 1930s like the Milk Train revolutionised London’s dairy supply, cities across the world appeared in the mid-twentieth century to be able to grow without any constraint of food supply, it appeared to be possible for us to build settlements in even apparently inhospitable places like the desert; in the case of Dubai or Antarctica.

By the mid 20th century, cities were focusing not on solving the problem of how to feed themselves but on how much it would cost to feed them. Farming had become about producing food as cheaply and reliably as possible. Food production had become increasingly industrialised in high-income countries with widespread mechanisation and the use of fossil fuels, fossil water, fertilisers and energy. But soon the growing urban demand for food caused unprecedented environmental destruction, almost  0.7 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest were lost to farmland annually and about 20 million hectares of arable year.

Although we are producing more food than ever before, as global food production increased by about a 140% in the second half of the 20th century, almost 850 million people go hungry every day and about a third of what we grow is wasted.

We forget, that we remain as dependent on nature and natural processes now as we were before, as our cities expand the pressure on natural resources especially land and water increases. According to the Ministry of Agriculture in India about 16,000 square kilometres of agricultural land has been lost Increasingly farming and agriculture is no longer the main activity on the peri-urban fringe as urban expansion pushes out – what is seen as less economically productive activity.

There also seems to be little coordination between government agencies that plan for urban development and those in charge of agriculture and food production. City masterplans rarely make room for agriculture. In India, one of the criteria that the census uses to notify a settlement is urban is that the majority of the labour force must be engaged in non-agricultural occupations.

How do we plan to sustain our cities and those that live in them?

Policymakers, planners and food activists across the world have begun to explore the possibility of urban and peri-urban agriculture as a potential solution to feeding the city. In most countries, urban agriculture is dominated by small producers who farm for a variety of reasons – to supplement a meagre food supply, as a source of income, for food security, to name a few.

However, several urban regions across the world have embraced urban agriculture and are beginning to make space for farming as part of their master plans, for example, the allotments in London and Berlin, the community gardens in New York City and Atlanta and the rooftop gardens of Chicago apart from traditional agriculture that is practiced around Bangalore and Shenzhen.

There are multiple explanations of what really counts as urban agriculture – the broad consensus is that it is a practice of producing food, i.e. animal and plant food in and around cities such that it is integrated into the urban ecosystem, uses urban residents as labour using organic urban wastes as compost, urban waste water for irrigation and competing with other urban land uses. It could also include a range of agro-based activities from the production of food to processing and packaging.

Urban agriculture is emerging as a solution not only to the challenge of feeding our cities, but also to revitalise the economies of urban regions, as in the case of Detroit or Cleveland in the United States. However, as with any sustainable development intervention, there are both benefits and challenges that come with urban agriculture. It has the potential to provide a solution not only to a growing food crisis, to increased food security and better nutrition, but also help address questions of employment, waste disposal and the greening of the city.

The biggest challenge in the case of urban agriculture is that of finance – a recent study conducted in 17 cities across the world found that while there’s increasing political support for urban agriculture, financial support remains limited. Access to credit, and subsidies for urban farmers is an issue as is the use of land as a productive resource competing with other urban land uses. International donors and financial institutions do rarely consider urban agriculture as a substantive issue and have few programs or schemes to directly address the sector. National and regional governments also rarely have policies that focus specifically on urban agriculture but subsume it within rural agricultural programs. The availability of land and water are also critical bottlenecks.

As cities expand and grow denser the amount of land available for farming is drastically reduced. As the cost of urban land rises, agriculture is unable to compete with other land uses that have greater financial returns.

Similarly, access to and availability of a regular supply of water is a critical urban challenge and urban agriculture competes with a range of other uses including water for industrial development. This can become worse, of course with Climate Change. That said, there have been instances of successful urban agricultural practices at scale, especially in Latin America. Cuba is one such case – with the collapse of the Soviet Union and US embargoes on trade, Cuban agriculture was severely impacted.

Cuba lost access not only to food imports but also to animal feed, fertilisers and fuel that were critical to its agricultural sector. The Cuban government undertook a complete overhaul of the country’s agricultural policy, prioritised organic agriculture and began to support urban gardening initiatives through state-sponsored urban farming programs. By the end of  2000, food availability in Cuba reached daily levels of 2600 calories and more than 68 grams of protein. By 2002, 35,000 hectares of urban gardens produced 3.4 million tons of food a year. In Havana, 90% of the city’s fresh produce came from local urban farms and gardens – all organic. In 2003, more than 200,000 Cubans worked in the expanding urban agricultural sector. Urban agriculture with and around Havana accounts for 60 to 90% of the produce consumed in the city. Urban agriculture has increased food production, employment, environmental recovery and protection and community-building. Perhaps the most impressive strides are in the area of food security. In the early 1990s Cubans calorific intake had fallen to approximately 1,800 calories a day. As a result of these efforts around urban agriculture, the calorific intake for the Cuban population averaged 3350 calories a day in 2005. Havana emerged as THE model of how to enable urban agriculture in a dense urban setting with a population of about 2 million.

It provides a systemic example of how to integrate farming practices into an urban landscape from backyard gardens to large urban green belts to produce food revitalising the country’s local and affordable woodshed. These urban growing efforts were supported by the Cuban government through a range of programs providing access to training and support, subsidised agricultural supply, compost production sites, artisanal pesticide labs and urban veterinary clinics.

According to 2014 estimates, over 35,000 hectares are being used for urban agriculture in Havana demonstrating that urban agriculture is not only viable, but can enable significant food and nutrition security outcomes in line with the SDGs.

What have we learned in this lecture? The contemporary form and rapid pace of urbanisation is dependent on a steady and reliable supply of food. Our cities were able to grow and diversify only after the problem of food supply was addressed.

Our current methods of producing food using largely industrial production methods is unsustainable; not only is it costing the planet untoned environmental damage through deforestation and an indiscriminate use of resources, it is also not addressing key issues of food supply, security and nutrition. Urban agriculture offers one possible solution to help address the question of food supply and nutrition security for our cities. However, as the case of Cuba shows, it needs commitment both from the state as well as urban residents to make it successful.


Museologia Social e Urtbanismo XXXII

Air, water, food and natural resources

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the planetary boundaries and the constraints of natural resources that we live within?
  2. What are the challenges facing cities in this context of limited resources, and how can cities use them better for inter-generational equity?

In October 2015, one of the biggest cities of the Western Hemisphere, Sao Paulo in Brazil faced its worst drought in 80 years. Climate Change was only part of the problem. Other factors included the damage caused by pollution to the existing reservoirs and changing rainfall patterns due to the deforestation of the Amazon forests. Cities shape and in turn are shaped by their natural environment.

They are systems of systems that are located within wider ecological systems within the biosphere. They are dense networks of interwoven social, spatial processes that are simultaneously local and global, human and physical, cultural and organic. The close relationship between urban settlements and Nature or natural resources is as old as settlements themselves. Early cities were located close to rivers and lakes as well as cultivated lands to ensure a regular supply of food and water.

Not only do we continue to depend and draw on natural resources for our sustenance but urban economies and cultures are also inherently tied to the natural environment. As our cities and economies have grown more complex there’s been an increasing tendency to externalise nature and diminish the value and status of indigenous populations that have learned over many generations to read, understand and live within the limits of local and regional ecosystems.

This lecture will focus on the relationship between natural resources and cities; looking specifically at air, water and biodiversity. It will raise questions about the sustainability of what our urban regions need and consume, the challenges that this creates and how to begin tackling them. Cities need nature, indeed depend on it, for their survival and are now facing the dual challenge of balancing rapid urbanisation with the over use of natural resources, environmental degradation and Climate Change. Cities like all other human systems need to follow basic ecological principles in the medium to long-run to be sustainable, to give you some examples- to limit the rate of use of renewable resources like forest-based biomass or timber to below their rate of regeneration or assimilation, to limit the rate of use of non-renewable resources like fossil fuels to their rate of substitution by renewable sources like wind and solar energy. Cities occupy about 2% of the Earth’s surface but consume about 75% of the world’s natural resources, about three-fourths of the global energy supply and produce about 75% of the world’s carbon emissions. Although this raises serious questions about the future sustainability of cities, it also offers us a unique opportunity to enable urban regions to transition to sustainable development pathways.

Infrastructure choices that are made today ranging from building design, transportation and waste management to food, urban ecosystem management, energy and water system design have critical implications for the sustainability of urban regions. As metropolitan regions have grown, they’ve placed increasing demands on their rural hinterlands. The relationship between cities and the natural environment is a circular one.

Natural resources have shaped cities as much as cities have been impacted by the environment. Cities have created a conjoint; built and natural environment that has developed its own local microclimate in many locations that is different from the surrounding non-urban areas in terms of temperature, rain and even wind patterns. Ecosystem conservation within cities and urban regions is not only important for the natural environment, but also to protect critical ecosystem services that provide urban areas with clean air and water, help reduce the impact of urban heat island effects, drainage and flood control, provide rich and diverse sources of food and recreational locations like forest, lakes, rivers and beaches. A critical question within urban areas is the proportion of land and waterscapes that should be conserved for ecological uses, ‘How much of this should be wild or untouched?’ and to cater to the needs of other species and maintain ecosystem health and also deliver essential ecosystem services to urban areas.

Moreover as urban regions expand into their peripheries, they often encroach on and disrupt diverse ecosystems. Several cities around the world have incorporated a range of growth control measures to help curb this and restrict impact on surrounding areas, the example of the city of Portland in the United States and Vancouver are very interesting in this context. As the symbiotic relationship between biodiverse natural systems and human habitation is increasingly realised, cities across the world have started to pay serious attention not only to urban forests, wetlands and agriculture but to fauna and conservation areas. Some of the most liveable cities in the world including Vancouver, Sydney and London have carefully protected and managed their relationship with Nature.

There are also growing instances of human settlements coming into conflict with biodiverse natural systems both within and on the peripheries of urban regions. The wolves of Los Angeles and the leopards of Mumbai are a couple of interesting examples of this. City populations require food, water, fuel and raw materials for industry and other economic uses and must reach well-beyond their natural boundaries to fulfil these needs. These resource-sheds assume transcontinental proportions for large metropolitan regions.

Moreover, the rate at which these are being consumed is rapidly increasing as we are consuming resources faster than ecosystems are able to replenish them. Over-consumption impacts not only the sustainability of cities but also of the regions from where these resources are drawn. Water is perhaps the most critical of these natural resources. Early cities were located close to water sources or devised technology that would enable them to store or access  reliable water supply throughout the year, whether this is the elaborate irrigation projects in the mines or the baolis or step-wells of Rajasthan, in India.

As the freshwater needs of urban regions grew and better technology became available, a growing amount of water was extracted through dams, wells and other waterworks. Water sources like rivers, lakes, tanks and even the seas also emerged as sinks for wastes from cities.

Effluents were dumped into rivers and pumped into groundwater. This sharply changed the dynamics of water systems, destroyed fish populations, polluted groundwater aquifers and deprived downstream users of adequate and unpolluted supplies. The process of regeneration and replenishing of water supply has been disrupted by urban development as an increasing amount of surface area in a city becomes impervious and generates run-off. These changes have meant changes in water supply and availability.

According to the World Resources Institute- WRI, more than 50% of India faces severe water-stress and this is only likely to increase as cities and populations grow. Air and land have also emerged as sinks for waste disposal in cities.

According to the World Health Organization WHO, over 80% of residents are exposed to unhealthy air quality that exceeds WHO limits. Air pollution seems to come from a range of sources: ranging from emissions from fossil fuels to large-scale construction activity and biomass burning. The critical thing about air pollution however is that its effects are not localised or limited within urban boundaries. Air pollution not only causes severe health conditions including respiratory diseases, but also affects crop patterns and rainfall.

According to the latest WHO ambient  urban air-quality update, outdoor air pollution has grown in the amazing 8% in the last 5 years with fast growing cities in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific among the most impacted. They show levels that are 5 to 10 times above WHO recommended levels. The top 5 polluted cities in Asia according to WHO estimates are Delhi, Beijing, Islamabad, Kathmandu and Dhaka. Outdoor air pollution causes more than 3 million deaths annually, more than Malaria and HIV/AIDS combined and is now the biggest single killer in the world.

These numbers are expected to double as urban populations increase and car numbers are supposed to approach 2 billion by the 2050s. The impact of this and other environmental issues is disproportionately borne by low-income and marginalised urban populations. During the 2008 Summer Olympics, China faced an air pollution emergency. Air pollution in and around Beijing was at least 2 to 3 times higher than levels deemed safe by the WHO. In response, the Chinese government introduced strict emergency pollution controls including suspending production at factories and coal-fired power plants, lowering the number of cars on the road and introducing other driving restrictions.

Although this provided temporary relief, there were no longer term measures that were successfully implemented. In January 2016 Beijing issued a pollution Red Alert closing schools, factories and construction sites and ordering half of all private vehicles off the road.

This also represents an opportunity for change. In 1992, Mexico City had one of the highest rates of air pollution in the world because of increasing population, industry and transport.

Recognising this the Mexican government implemented a series of programs that would help reduce air pollution in the city: these include encouraging the use of public transport, greeting the public transport feat by switching to electric buses, implementing a city bike scheme and encouraging the adoption of technology that would enable the reduction of emissions.

These measures were effective for some time but by 2016 pollution levels had slowly began to rise again indicating that continuous innovation is necessary to address the challenges of sustainable management of our cities.

On the other side of the globe, Delhi also went through a significant improvement in air quality in the 2000s after a fuel switch to gas for all public transport, but by 2015 it would become one of the most polluted cities in the world despite a massive investment of over 4 billion dollars in a 200 plus kilometre long Metro System.

The growth of personal vehicles in Delhi, almost 8 million vehicles for a population of about 19 million, driven by sprawl, poor public transport, population and income growth and an unsustainable urban trajectory had negated almost all the gains of a focused sectoral air pollution reduction strategy.

In short, we have to completely rethink the relationship between people, cities and the biosphere, to plan, develop and manage human settlements within local and global resource and ecological boundary. This implies putting ecosystem-health first and integrating cities, the urban metabolism and economies symbiotically into the interstitial spaces- an inversion of what people have done for over 5,000 years.

What have we learned in this chapter? Cities and natural resources have a circular relationship, urban regions shape and are shaped by the natural environment. Natural resources are critical to the survival of cities, they provide essential ecosystem services such as clean air and water, flood control, rich and diverse sources of food and recreational locations. As cities grow they are increasingly consuming greater proportions of global resources at faster rates.

This has implications for the future sustainability of cities as well as a relationship that cities have with their hinterlands. While urban regions have begun to think about ways in which to address these challenges, we need to completely rethink the relationship between people, cities and the natural environment.


Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXXI

Case study:  Bangkok

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the lessons to be learnt from Bangkok’s land-use and transportation planning?

Today I’m going to be talking about Transit Oriented Development in Bangkok and its evidence and the challenges.

The objective of my talk today is basically I’m going to use the case of Bangkok to illustrate some of the key transportation challenges that are facing cities of today.

I’m going to use this case to illustrate how the transition towards transit-oriented development is taking place in a middle-income mega city such as Bangkok.

So let me first give you some overview of our Bangkok- it’s the capital of Thailand and is the centre of everything in Thailand but the city itself, actually goes beyond the boundary of Bangkok city. Bangkok city is surrounded by five other surrounding provinces, so the mega-city itself has more than 12 million people living in it, the city itself is about 1,500 square kilometres and it’s very flat and Bangkok is actually under the sea level.

In this map you can see that Bangkok is very well-built towards the suburbs and suburbanisation is continuing until today, and this has a lot of impact not only on the land use of the agricultural areas in the city and in the surrounding provinces but at the same time it creates a lot of problems in terms of the loss of agricultural land.

People have a long commute and they have to come from afar to go to job locations in the city and certainly traffic congestion that comes with it, the pollution problems as well as other issues related to sustainability such as energy consumption as well as issues of social cohesion.

Bangkok is actually a city with a lot of transportation modes unlike in North America where you know people have to rely on limited choices of transportation. In Bangkok there are a lot of modes – ranging from buses, passenger vans, Mass Transit Systems, the light rail and as well as Bus Rapid Transits.

We also have other kinds of informal transportation like what we call modes such as canal and river boats, but with modernisation of the city as well as the import of the idea of road-based development since the 1950s and 60s, the city transform from the water-based development to automobile oriented and now it’s automobile dominant but lately in the past 15 years the city is gradually shifting to rail-based city.

Transit development is now the core component of urban transport and land-use policy in Bangkok and it’s reflected in the capital investment in the city, a lot more money now is devoted to building transit systems. We already have about 86 kilometres and about 61 stations of Mass Rail Transit systems, so hopefully according to the master plan we will have a lot more Mass Rail Transit systems in the city.

Another interesting case for Bangkok is that there is a skywalk that’s happening. A skywalk is a structure that allows people to walk between stations and from stations to some buildings that are close by.

Originally it was not in the plan of the BTS, it was first developed by a department store that is located between two stations and this department store was the largest department store in Bangkok and in Thailand for that matter; but its main competitor was building another big mall right next to the transit station. This department store thought they would have to create some ways to attract the shoppers to their department store, so they actually financed construction of a skywalk that basically feed the passengers from the BTS to their department store but now it’s become the thing for any stations to the stations. So new buildings actually now have to pay a large sum of money to get connected to the sky train system and it became a source of revenue for the operator itself.

There are planning measures to support our transit oriented development, like more density allowed close to transit stations versus other parts of the city. We also propose to to have some legal changes in terms of minimum parking requirement for the city because it used to be that according to our building code each building has to provide enough parking space for the users or condominium residence but if you want to promote transit-oriented development you can almost get away with not having parking requirement and always force people to use to transit system. We’re thinking of some sort of, you know transfer of development rights for transit stations as well.

One issue is basically about institutional setup of the system. We have the BTS which sometimes we call it the skytrain, the BTS is actually elevated light rail, basically it’s operated by private concessionaire but its owned by Bangkok city government. We also have the Subway system- the MRT which is a state enterprise, but at the same time we also have a system that it’s run by the State Railway of Thailand which is sort of the existing system and a little bit of a transit system that links the airport to city also the Bus Rapid Transit which is owned by the city itself.

So you can see that there’s a variety of rail systems and organisations which create quite a bit of issues in terms of system integration and this is one of the key challenges because when we have a lot of different systems in place, the integration becomes a critical component and that’s one of the key challenges that we’re facing at the moment.

Certainly, inclusivity and affordability as much as we want to call these are rail systems, transit systems, mass rail transit systems, they’re not really “mass transit” at the moment.

We actually call it “class transit” because they’re actually quite expensive, so people who get onto these systems are primarily the middle class, young professionals who can afford a little more than what they would have to pay when they use the buses. So it’s still primarily class little bit, class transit a little bit in that sense. So the the issue of inclusivity is a matter that we really need to consider and gentrification is really happening. As  shown in this picture, there’s clear trend now that there are more condominium units being built each year than suburban detached houses and people are buying condominium units more and more as well. I have a student who’s a developer – his company actually has a policy that they will not build anything that is farther than 200 meters from a transit station.

So it clearly demonstrates the paradigm shift for sustainable transportation that is taking shape, not just the transportation itself but the land use, patterns that are happening at the same time. Policymakers don’t talk much about building expressways or highways, they talk more about transit systems – so that support is in place.

One urban component of Bangkok is shop houses. A lot of people live, used to live in shophouses although you know the houses are quite substandard in terms of housing quality but the poor can actually live in those places and close to their job locations in the city. But with transit-oriented development a lot of these shop houses are being torn down by the landlords and the landowners so that they can build high-rise buildings there, in place of the old buildings. So now you see some displacement going on that has been you know in a way caused by transit-oriented development. We try to find ways to deal with this kind of issue, low-income housing projects are being conceived close to transit stations in the suburbs because the National Housing Authority cannot find land in the city but at least they’re trying to accommodate this demand for the use of transit systems of the poor, allow them to at least live close to transit system in the suburbs so that they can enjoy these benefits of having transit systems there.

You cannot just promote transit-oriented development without thinking of other existing systems and one existing system that is really important is the bus system. You cannot ignore bus systems when you think about sustainable transportation and there’s fallacy I guess that you believe that if you build transit systems, everything will fall into place.

That’s not really the case. You really have to think about the feeder systems and also the existing bus systems. So if the devil lies in the feeder systems, the big elephant in the room is actually the land market.

Because in order to create transit-oriented development you have to do something with the land. The issue with Bangkok and a big challenge is land consolidation because in the inner parts of the city – land ownership tends to be fragmented but with fragmented landownership you cannot really build high, you cannot promote densification of that area. So the land market is critical.

The challenge is that how can you build some institutional setup or some legal framework that will allow a land consolidation to happen in the place where they should take place. So land market is really the key to transit oriented development and that’s a very big challenge that we’re facing at the moment in Bangkok.

So what is more to be done – certainly although I mentioned earlier that politicians are supporting this, policymakers are supporting our transit oriented development, we still have to keep changing the mindset of a lot more people. So we have to keep promoting transit systems and transit-oriented development, have to keep doing because it takes a long while especially among the younger generations of people, certainly the issues of integration among the informal transport and other systems as I mentioned earlier. All these cannot be successful without some sort of institutional realignment. Right now the institutional setup is so fragmented, you know, each organisation is dealing with different issues. So this kind of institutional arrangement has to take place.

Certainly you know you need some political support for that, I think we can go ahead with that; rationalisation of bus routes as I mentioned earlier but not as a competitor, direct competitor of the transit systems but as possibly the feeder system into the real system.

And also we lack this regional plan I think it’s the same everywhere in other cities in the world, especially in developing countries. As we know urban problems are not limited to administrative or political boundaries, they all go beyond that so some sort of regional plan and some agency, either informal organisation or some sort of formal council organisations that deal with regional issues have to be in place.

You cannot promote a sustainable transport without the equity issues. I would even argue that unless you take the equity issues seriously, you’re not going to be able to have sustainable transportation in the future because you end up having the poor using unsustainable modes of transportation.

So equity issues have to be at the heart of sustainable transportation, certainly that’s related to the issues of transport governance, corruption issues everywhere, especially when you deal with informal transportation because the mafia controlling you know most of this informal transport. So that issues, those issues have to be dealt with properly and we have opportunities that as well the ICTs, information technologies are changing everything – the Big Data, the IT portals and the smartphones and everything – those are the opportunities that I think we can utilise smartly so that we can create sustainable and equitable transportation not just in Bangkok, but in other cities in the world.

Museologia social e Urbanismo XXX

Sustainable energy

Discussion prompts:

  1. What are the various sustainable sources of energy that cities are using across the world?
  2. What are the limitations to the use of sustainable sources of energy?
  3. What are the various co-benefits of using sustainable sources of energy in cities?

How can we enable universal access to energy as defined in SDG7? The transition to sustainable urban energy systems along with their deep decarbonisation as agreed in the Paris Climate Accord.

This is one of the greatest innovation and implementation challenges of the 21st century that will be won or lost in our cities, especially those of Asia and Africa where there are rapidly growing energy demand, that is rising in response to ending energy poverty and driven by population and economic growth.

The development of the modern city can be characterised by a series of energy transitions from the wood and biomass burning pre-industrial city that still persists in some parts of the world to the coal-burning city of the early Industrial Revolution that one can see reminiscence of in China and India, to the coal-based electricity, oil and gas-powered city of the late industrial era which characterises most contemporary cities to the renewable and maybe safe nuclear low-carbon city of the mid – 21st century. Universal access to reliable and affordable modern, clean and renewable energy has finally been seen via SDG7 as crucial to human wellbeing, vital for national economic development, essential for the provision of clean water, sanitation and other environmental services, lowered air pollution and lower climate risk.

In this lecture we will explore the relationship between sustainable cities and energy systems. How do we ensure universal access of affordable, reliable and modern urban energy services? What constraints and impact could this have on urban form, economy and well-being?

How can we substantially increase the share of renewable energy across key urban end-uses, like manufacturing, lighting and mobility? How can we rapidly increase energy efficiency and enable deep decarbonisation of energy use in building construction and maintenance, commercial activity, transport systems and urban services. What kind of technology and institutional innovations can enable this? The fundamental challenge across much of low and middle-income countries and cities in Asia, Africa and some parts of Latin America is that of energy poverty or the lack of universal access to affordable, reliable and modern, urban energy services.

This means that cooking, heating and lighting is often dependent on smoky, pollution creating burning of wood, agriculture residue or in some cases low- grade coal.

The transition to universal household and enterprise access to electric power and gas, solar PV wind and other renewable based energy has been slow and patchy at best.

This is partially because of the poverty of end-users and the ability to aggregate demand effectively. It is also linked to a range of infrastructural challenges for example, lack of reliable generation and distribution systems, technological challenges like high cost of renewables vs. coal-based power, OECD monopolies on advanced technologies, institutional challenges, for example, inadequate regulation, pricing and internalisation of externalities like pollution and carbon emissions, financial challenges for example, the lack of access to affordable finance and high-risk premiere for energy projects and governance challenges – large-scale theft, monopolies and lack of policy stability.

Addressing these kinds of questions need systemic sectoral reform and innovation, the recognition of cities as central actors and the willingness to commit politically to medium-range change.

This diagram shows the overall flow of energy from primary sources to end uses for India in 2011. Traditional biomass continues to be a significant primary source of energy in India even though it shares declined over time, especially in urban areas. The bulk of the energy supply comes from coal via electric power and burning to generate process heat. Both renewable energy: wind and solar PV that have been growing very fast and nuclear power make up under approximately 5% of the total primary energy flux. This means that even if they grow very fast and energy transition in which they have a significant share could take many decades to execute.

On the end-use side, a huge opportunity lies in reducing massive energy losses more than 30%, which currently are almost as big as a sum of the demand from the industry and the fast-growing transport sectors. It is only when we look systemically at energy systems like this that we can start understanding what changes need to be enabled.

Yet a dual strategy of addressing city-level initiatives and regional and national innovation and implementation is required. Urbanisation typically involves an intensification of Urban Energy use partially due to the concentration of commercial and industrial activity but also because of urban demographic and income growth.

Given that three-fourths of global energy consumption is in urban areas, how cities decide to acquire, transmit and use energy will help define global energy trends. This in turn is closely related to carbon emissions, hence, the Nationally Determined Contributions – NDC’s to address climate change under the Paris Climate Accord will be critically linked to urban leadership and implementation of deep decarbonisation of energy systems, through mechanisms such as the Compact of Mayors.

The challenge for urban energy systems in countries with large, centralised power and energy supply ability to transform their primary power sources, for example, the amount of coal based power generation in the grid without a change in regional or national energy mix. At best they could influence citywide energy efficiency and fuel substitution initiatives like shifting to LED street and home lighting as has been done in Madrid, Houston and Sydney, shifting transportation fuel mixes like Delhi shift of all public vehicles from diesel and petrol to CNG in the early 2000s and mandating building by-laws that reduce embodied energy and construction as has been done in Singapore.

Appropriate energy pricing at national, regional and city level and quality, utility, regulation that uses marginal, cost principles are difficult to implement but can pay strong dividends as in the case of California.

It was reasonably established through the California electricity crisis in the early 2000s that effective regulation is the key to ensure that market power is not exercised by just a few sellers. The California crisis has helped us to understand the importance of regulatory and institutional design in ensuring that market principles are efficiently followed and respected.

What cities and regions can certainly do is plan their land use, transportation, energy and information infrastructure much better to contain sprawl and promote liveable, mixed-use development, reduce the need for transit, enable the shift to public and active mobility like cycling and walking that would also improve citizens health and rapidly move to gas and electric vehicles. The hope is that these vehicles can in time draw energy from a grid that is based on renewable energy.

Gas is a possible transition fuel that produces less pollution and carbon emissions during the shift. This is not only possible in high-income cities like Copenhagen, Melbourne, Seoul and Vancouver but is increasingly catching on in a wide range of middle-income cities, countries and regions like Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Brazil and the Asia-pacific.

There are a series of positive feedback loops hidden here: universal internet & communication coverage at low-cost, enables productivity and innovation that tends to reduce the need for travel to work, or enable financial and information transactions, micro grids that enable building neighbourhood and citywide decentralised energy production and storage using rooftop solar PV reduces distribution losses, increases grid efficiency and power quality and resilience, all serious challenges in rapidly growing urban environments.

This enables the more rapid deployment of energy efficient and intelligent devices that respond to demand by switching off street lights and domestic devices that are not needed, the deployment of new cost-effective storage technologies could enable these processes to cross a tipping point in many urban environments. Less transport and more human-centric mobility not only reduces traffic accidents but improves health, liveability and social cohesion reclaiming the city for its citizens reducing energy intensity and carbon emissions at the same time. The other major area for urban innovation is dramatically reducing embodied energy use in building an infrastructure and later in the use of energy services like lighting, cooling and heating in these buildings.

When taken together a range of good practices could mean a multi-factor reduction in energy and carbon emission intensity in these cities. A range of low life cycle energy construction technologies are available for each region. The challenge in their deployment is less from the formal building and construction sector that’s often responsive to price and regularly signals like building bylaws and codes but the challenge lies in the informal and the self-building sector that makes up a large share of the current and future building stock. In building energy use, a key innovation is in using passive building and urban design techniques like building orientation, shading and sun exposure, appropriate insulation and ventilation to reduce the use of air conditioning and heating as much as possible as both increase energy intensity by factors of 2 to 4.

The use of high energy efficiency lighting, cooking and production systems that recover and reuse waste heat are also becoming more viable. A big shift that is starting to be tested in some cities across the world is combining large-scale centralised power production systems using power plants and transmission systems with distributed and renewable power production using rooftop solar, onshore and offshore wind and biomass energy. This when combined with co-generation of power, heat and cooling and flexible storage for example using stationary electric vehicle batteries could save hundreds of billions of dollars in capital investment, reduce power costs by up to 50%, reduce vulnerabilities, safeguard the integrity of fragile ecosystems and improve energy access. Cities are starting to lead this wave of innovation from widespread electric vehicle charging infrastructure like developments that we see in China to smart grids in Germany, Japan, China and Brazil.

So what had we learned in this lecture: the fundamental challenge across much of low and middle-income countries and cities in Asia, Africa and some parts of Latin America is that of energy poverty or the lack of universal access to affordable, reliable and modern urban energy services.

Addressing these kinds of questions needs systemic sectoral reform and innovation, the recognition of cities as central actors and a willingness to commit politically to medium-range change. The bulk of the energy supply in low and middle income countries and cities comes from coal via electric power and burning. Both renewable energy and nuclear power make up a small proportion of the total primary energy flux.

This means that even if they grow very fast, an energy transition in which they have a significant share could take many decades to execute. On the end-use side, however, a huge opportunity lies in reducing massive energy losses which can be sufficient to offset incremental demand. It is only when we look systemically at energy systems that we can start understanding what changes need to be enabled yet a dual strategy of addressing city-level initiatives and regional and national innovation and implementation is necessary.

Urbanisation typically involves an intensification of energy use, partially due to the concentration of commercial and industrial activity but also because of demographic and income growth.

Given that three-fourths of global energy consumption comes from urban areas, how cities decide to acquire, transmit and use energy will help define global energy trends. What cities and regions can certainly do is plan their land use, transportation, energy and information infrastructure better to contain sprawl, promote liveable, mixed-use development, reduce the need for transit, enable the shift to public and active mobility and rapidly move to gas and electric vehicles. There are numerous successful innovations in implementation from cities across the world.

However, the need of the hour is to scale those innovations, setup an enabling framework that helps us learn from them and appropriately redesign national, regional and city level energy systems and frameworks.

Museologia Social e Urbanismo XXIX

Information, Communication, and Technology

Discussion prompts:

  1. What role could information, communication and technology play in making cities sustainable?
  2. Discuss case studies where ICT has made significant difference to how the city is governed

Hello I’m Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and I’m delighted to join this course on Sustainable Cities to talk about my views about the ways that the new technologies interact with our age-old purposes of cities, to give us the opportunity and the urgent need to build a new kind of 21st century sustainable city. I think it we probably could not make it without the benefit of some of the massive improvements of technology that are how at hand, especially information and communications technologies which I’ll suggest in my presentation are really key tools, pivotal tools for achieving sustainable cities in the 21st century. In order to accomplish this seeming near miracle of incorporating more than 2 billion additional urban denizens by 2050, and doing so in a way that offers jobs, clean environments, social fairness – it’s daunting under any circumstances but it would be I think essentially impossible we didn’t have some of the wonderful tools that we have and the most important breakthrough of our age of course is the Information and Communications Technology revolution, the ICT revolution.

There have been great waves of technology for more than 200 years, the steam engine and what it made possible the Age of Rail for example. The invention of the telegraph, the invention of the automobile which gave us automobile- based cities and automobile-based economies. Our revolution that we are benefiting from in our time of course is the Information Communications Technology revolution – The digital age which really started already back in  the 1930’s and 1940’s with incredible scientific breakthroughs but has come into its own is the Age of Mobile connectivity and Broadband Internet. And the ICT platform will be pivotal for sustainable cities in the 21st century.

First I would say e-governance, because when government itself is transparent, online participative, this will not only provide government services far more effectively, but it will enable democratic participation far more effectively as well. Second aspect of the ICT revolution is the so-called Internet of Things. Not only do we talk to each other on our mobile phones and more than 7 billion subscribers around the world, but now machines increasingly are talking to each other. Sensors and monitors, to make sure that energy use is more efficient, that the power grid is properly managed, that the quality of the water and the air is being continuously monitored so that actions can be taken if something goes wrong, that the congestion of traffic can be monitored so that traffic flows can be optimally rooted. That Internet of Things, the sensors in the cars, in the traffic flow and so forth will mean we’ll be able to design our urban based systems, our urban based infrastructure, transport, water, waste management, recycling with vastly more efficiency and vastly more environmental sustainability that in the past, and one major part of the internet of things will be energy efficiency. I’ll come back to that in just a moment because that’s crucial for fighting the Climate Change challenge – SDG13. Climate change is one of the pre-eminent threats facing humanity.

That’s why the world got together in Paris at the end of 2015 to adopt a Paris Climate Agreement as the basis for implementing SDG13 to stop the human-induced Climate Change and also to live effectively with Climate Change that’s already been built in the system because of the history of Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Well, we know that approximately three-fourths of all greenhouse emissions are carbon-based mainly from energy use, from the way we are now burning coal oil and gas for our residential and commercial structures, for transport in internal combustion engine, cars and trucks and also of course in industrial processes and for power generation. The fundamental message from the climate scientists is we need to stop these emissions, we need to get to a zero greenhouse net emission world economy during the second half of the 21st century if we are to achieve the Paris goal of staying “well below 2 degrees Celsius warming” and aiming to achieve no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, compared to the pre-industrial temperature.

Well we’re already 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial and we are going to overshoot safety by several degrees centigrade if we continue as we’re doing. What does that mean for cities? Cities are the place where the predominant amount of the emissions are made especially of course in the building sector, and in the use of power and in many, many industrial-based cities as well. So, what does it mean to go to a low-carbon economy? One is that city’s basically need to go all electric and that means that in the future, our vehicles rather than being internal combustion engines that directly burn petroleum, are going to have to be essentially electricity-based vehicles whether charged to the power grid, or using perhaps hydrogen produced by clean electricity. But we’re going to have to have zero emission vehicles. Our buildings rather than being heated in the cold parts of the world during winters through furnaces and boilers that are directly burning heating oil, for example, are going to have to be heated by electricity and heat pumps. Second, zero-carbon electricity because if that electricity that’s going to be in an all-electric city power system comes from coal, we’re not going to gain anything. In fact we’re going to have a disaster. So the way that we produce that electricity for an all-electric city is vital and we need to go to the zero carbon energy sources whether that means wind and solar power, hydro-electric power, nuclear power or advanced biofuels which may have a niche in some places or another technology called Carbon Capture and Sequestration which also may have a niche, not the predominant one. These zero carbon energy sources will be vital.

Third part is Smart – smart-using monitors and meters and information technology to ensure high level of energy efficiency. Appliances that now draw power even when they’re not being used, can with smart systems be shut down to be much more energy-efficient, our grid can be much better managed, our transport networks which will be electric with electric vehicles and other forms of public transportation can be a lot more efficient through the Internet of Things. And the last point I would make about the low-carbon city is that it needs to be connected often to distant power generation that may be coming hundreds of kilometres away from windy places or from desert areas where massive solar arrays can collect solar energy and transported through long-distance transmission lines to cities. So, cities are not self-contained, they are part of a larger energy grid. Now, the Information and Communications Technology is creating a new kind of business model, the so-called Share Economy. So, as people know all over the world, ride on-demand services like Uber – the advent of these services will be much more efficiency and lower costs, because by getting in that vehicle, that shared vehicle which will be used by a different person, a different person all through the day – this is going to be much more cost-effective for us than owning our own vehicle, and already we’re seeing in many places car ownership going down.

But car usage still being very high because personal mobility is very important. But the usage is through a much more intensive use of a vehicle where instead of us owning a car, drive it someplace, parking it for many hours of the day, using it again for perhaps another half hour on a commute back home – now the vehicle is used all day. Massive saving, by the way, in the huge urban areas used for parking right now. And therefore lots of gains of reduced resource use. The reduced resources to produce the automobiles, the reduced land area that’s needed to manage the overall urban fleet of vehicles and so on. What we know that this share economy is coming not only for vehicles it’s coming for buildings, it’s both residential and commercial buildings. In a way it’s coming for jobs also, because we’re going to enter an era I believe, where job flexibility is also going to be increased. A kind of job sharing in essence, because with Information Communications Technology – coordination costs are lower, the ability to share our physical infrastructure, our common space, our capital goods will be much higher; and the essence of this is that we’ll be able to reduce resource use, we’ll be able to reduce congestion, we’ll be able to save on the scarce physical capital and natural capital in order to achieve sustainability. And one of the things that the age of the automobile brought us was sedentary life – you sit, you get in the car, you drive which is sitting some more, you get out of the car, you sit some more and sedentary life combined with the highly processed carbohydrates and fast foods and saturated fats led to an epidemic of obesity in the United States, more than a third of the population, and an obesity and diabetes epidemic and cardiovascular disease epidemic in many places of the world. These are also part of the challenge of resilience of our cities. We need cities that are healthy places to live – clean air, clean water, but also a lot of walking, green spaces, places that give us quality of life – and what I have tried to emphasise is that we need to think ahead, plan ahead, have goal-based development, be trained, well-educated, smart innovative, using our new technologies in order to achieve sustainable cities in the 21st century. Thank you very much.