City growth not just about being eco-friendly

Philosophical and social issues just as important in city urbanization, say delegates at World Cities Summit in Singapore, who point to "blueprint" method of urban planning.
Written by Clement Teo, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Urbanization and the growth of cities are caused by forces such as demography, rural-urban and urban-urban migration, economic, environmental and social stability, technological advancements, and the ability to attract investments and models to finance urban development.

Giving the keynote plenary World Cities Summit here Tuesday, Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires City, Argentina, posed a fundamental philosophical question concerning sustainable cities: "We need to define what we mean by 'happiness'.

"'Poor' is not the person who has few things, but the person who is always looking for more,"

In the coming decades, if the projected world population of 6 billion to 7 billion people continue to consume at the same rate they do today, Macri wondered if governments could still maintain standards of "happiness".

"We are facing not just an environmental problem, but also those of philosophical and social," he argued. "We need to find a balance between growing and consuming; we need to discuss values that make sense to growth and sustainability."

In Buenos Aires, the mayor defied popular convention by implementing "car-free, pedestrian-only" streets. This was done in a 4 by 4 block of streets, and people have reacted positively, he said.

The reclamation of public space from cars helped people recover a different lifestyle where people walk or cycle from place to place, and who actually know their neighbors better.

"Property values on those streets have gone up by 30 percent," Macri said. "The streets have also become safer, in terms of traffic and crime."

Going forward, future models of urbanization will be increasingly influenced by the developmental experiences and contextual differences in developing cities, as well as the complex inter-relationships among these forces.

Isher Judge Ahluwalia, chair of the Indian Council for Research for International Economic Relations, argued financing for urbanization need not follow a traditional model.

Alandur, a city outside Chennai, India, did just that when the city's mayor rejected a World Bank loan--offered at 16 percent interest rate)--and instead mobilized his city's residents to help fund an underground sewerage project. He managed to obtain 90 percent of the funds from residents, and state government contributed the rest.

"Within four years, Alandur had its underground sewerage," said Ahluwalia.

Jeremy Bentham, vice president of global business environment at Shell, said creating compact cities with smart mobility was one solution to urbanization problems.

In what he called the "paradox of prosperity", Bentham said people in cities are living the good life but struggling with pressures which undermine the benefits of prosperity. However, following a "blueprint" method of urban planning--with all interested parties sharing a common interest--will help reduce carbon footprint, and help cities grow sustainably, he said.

Blueprint planning describes dynamics behind new coalitions of interests, according to Shell. These do not necessarily reflect uniform objectives, but build on a combination of supply concerns, environmental interests, and associated entrepreneurial opportunities.

Clement Teo is a freelance IT writer based in Singapore.

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