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Top 7 disruptive technologies for cities

Abhas Jha's picture
Top 7 disruptive technologies for cities (Photos via Shutterstock)

Imagine you were working in development and poverty reduction in the early 1990s (I was!). Only one website existed in all the world in August 1991 (today there are over 1.5 billion). Mobile phones were expensive, rare, and clunky. Very few would anticipate a situation in which India would have more mobile phones than toilets.

To paraphrase Bill Gates: we tend to overestimate the changes that will happen in the short term and underestimate those in the long term. Technology is quietly but radically disrupting and transforming how cities deliver services to their citizens. It does that in a way that fundamentally alters not just the mode of delivery but its underlying economics and financing.

Here are the top 7 disruptive technologies revolutionizing service delivery in cities (in no particular order):

Understanding the informal economy in African cities: Recent evidence from Greater Kampala

Angus Morgan Kathage's picture
Informal metal worker in Katwe, Kampala. Photo: Angus Morgan Kathage/World Bank

The informal sector is a large part of employment in African cities. The International Labour Organization estimates that more than 66% of total employment in Sub-Saharan African is in the informal sector. With a pervasive informal sector, city governments have been struggling with how best to respond. On the one hand, a large informal sector often adds to city congestion, through informal vending and transport services, and does not contribute to city revenue. Furthermore, informal enterprises are typically characterized by low productivity, low wages and non-exportable goods and services. On the other hand, the informal sector provides crucial livelihoods to the most vulnerable of the urban poor. 

How do city leaders get things done? Learning from mayors in Japan

Sameh Wahba's picture
Also available in: Español | 日本語 
Picture of the Competitive Cities Technical Deep Dive participants enjoying a walk through the Minato Mirai 21 area (with the Cosmo Clock in the background), which aims to concentrate high-value added activities and a high quality of life in an integrated urban core in downtown Yokohama. Photo Credit: TDLC
The task of mayors and city leaders is no longer limited to providing efficient urban services to their citizens. Job creation is at the forefront of the economic development challenge globally.

Cities need jobs and opportunities for their citizens and the means to generate tax revenues to fund projects that meet their populations’ growing demand for basic services. The WBG flagship report on Competitive Cities outlines how creating jobs in urban areas – urgently but also at scale– is essential.
 
In November, 2017, we spent a week with approximately 30 city and national government officials and policymakers from several countries, including Argentina, Chile, Croatia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Philippines, Romania, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda. These leaders represented diverse cities across the world, all with a common objective – how to make their cities and regions more competitive?

Many were dealing with a fragmented institutional landscape, often with overlapping jurisdictions – necessitating clarity of institutional circuits and processes. Some struggled to coordinate economic development strategies with private sector. Lack of adequate sub-national socio-economic data to drive evidence-based policy making compounded issues. City leaders are not looking for a lesson in theory – but evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and practical, implementable examples of how to get things done.
 
We spent the week as part of a Technical Deep Dive, studying and living the experience of two exceptional Japanese cities - Yokohama and Kobe. These cities have dealt with:
  • population influx,
  • industrialized at a rapid pace,
  • responded to environmental challenges,
  • reached the technological frontier,
  • undergone a housing bubble,
  • and even went through a major disaster (the Kobe earthquake) and recovered from it.

“But what about Singapore?” Lessons from the best public housing program in the world

Abhas Jha's picture
Also available in: Mongolian | Chinese
 
Photo of Singapore by Lois Goh / World Bank

 
As we approach the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur next week, one of the essential challenges in implementing the New Urban Agenda that governments are struggling with is the provision at scale of high quality affordable housing, a key part of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 of building sustainable cities and communities.
 
When I worked on affordable housing in Latin America, one consistent piece of advice we would give our clients was that it is not a good idea for governments to build and provide housing themselves. Instead, in the words of the famous (and sadly late) World Bank economist Steve Mayo, we should enable housing markets to work. Our clients would always respond by saying, “But what about Singapore?” And we would say the Singapore case is too sui generis and non-replicable.

[Learn more about the World Bank's participation in the World Urban Forum]
 
Now, having lived in the beautiful red-dot city state for two and half years, and seeing up close the experience of public housing in Singapore, one is struck by elements of the Singapore housing experience that are striking for its foresight and, yes, its replicability!
 
Singapore’s governing philosophy has famously been described as “think ahead, think again and think across.” Nowhere is this more apparent than how the founding fathers designed the national housing program, and how it has adapted and evolved over the years, responding to changed circumstances and needs.

It is hard to believe today but in 1947 the British Housing Committee reported that 72% of a total population of 938,000 of Singapore was living within the 80 square kilometers that made up the central city area. When Singapore attained self-government in 1959, only 9% of Singaporeans resided in public housing. Today, 80% of Singaporeans live a government built apartment. There are about one million Housing and Development Board (HDB) apartments, largely clustered in 23 self-contained new towns that extend around the city’s coastal core.
 
How has Singapore succeeded where so many other countries have failed dismally? At the risk of over-simplification, there seem to be four essential ingredients to this astonishing success story:

World Bank at the World Urban Forum: Three key ways to implement the New Urban Agenda

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Over a year ago, national and city leaders from around the world gathered at the Habitat III conference in Quito to endorse the New Urban Agenda, which sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development and guides global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the era of climate change.
 
In just three weeks, early February 2018, representatives of the world’s countries and cities will convene again to discuss “Cities 2030, Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda” at the world’s premier conference on cities – the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, co-hosted by UN-Habitat and the government of Malaysia. 
 
 

 
In the video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Director Sameh Wahba (@SamehNWahba) share the World Bank's three priorities at the World Urban Forum.

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World Urban Forum:

As the world’s largest financier on urban development, the World Bank will focus on three issues at the World Urban Forum that are essential for implementing the New Urban Agenda toward the Sustainable Development Goals:

Twelve big moments of building sustainable cities and communities

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
Lancinet Keita. Photo: Mamadou Bah

On my first project visit since joining the World Bank, I had a chance to accompany the Productive Social Safety Nets project team across the country to the Fouta Djallon region, in the northern part of Guinea, for the launch of their Labor Intensive Public Works (THIMO) activities. This trip allowed me to see firsthand what extreme poverty is. You hear and read about it, but I had the opportunity to meet people who experience it every day. I say opportunity, because going through this further humbled me, gave me more determination, and added purpose to the need to tell their stories—stories of their struggles and their achievements.

Poverty affected about 55% of Guinea’s population in 2012, but this percentage is likely to have increased as a result of the Ebola crisis and economic stagnation in 2014 and 2015. Poverty in Guinea is highly concentrated in the rural areas, where the poverty headcount rate remains far higher (65% in 2012) than in urban centers (35%). The lack of infrastructure, and limited economic opportunities and access to education all create a major development issue for these areas.

How to manage urban expansion in mega-metropolitan areas?

Philip E. Karp's picture
 


As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, the number of megacities is growing rapidly.

Today there are 37 cities worldwide with populations of greater than 10 million, and 84 with populations greater than five million. More than three quarters of these cities are in developing countries. Together with their surrounding metropolitan areas, these cities produce a sizable portion of the world’s wealth and attract a large share of global talent.

These megacities face a series of common challenges associated with managing urban expansion, density, and livability—in a manner that takes advantage of the benefits of productive agglomerations, while mitigating the disadvantages of such high degrees of congestion and urban density.

Moreover, like other metropolitan areas, megacities face challenges of effectively coordinated planning, infrastructure development, and service delivery across multiple jurisdictions. Indeed, the New Urban Agenda issued at the Habitat III conference in 2016 identified metropolitan planning and management as one of the most critical needs to ensure sustainable urbanization.

Cities of Refuge: Bringing an urban lens to the forced displacement challenge

Axel Baeumler's picture
Also available in: العربية | Español | Français
Cities of Refuge
 Photo credit: Mohamed Azakir / World Bank

The Syrian conflict has reached the grim milestone of becoming the largest displacement crisis since World War II, with over half of the country’s pre-war population having left their homes since 2011—a particularly sobering statistic as we observe International Migrants Day on December 18, 2017 today.

For many of us, the Syrian crisis brings to mind images of refugee families blocked at European borders and sprawling humanitarian camps. Yet the majority of those fleeing the violence have remained in cities inside Syria and in neighboring countries, in the hopes of reaching safety, and accessing better services and jobs.

This shift from camps to cities and towns has critical implications for how to effectively deal with the forced displacement challenge—and it is not confined to Syria, but a reality across many countries affected by conflict in the Middle East and beyond.

What is so unique about the growth (or decline) of cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture



L’impact du changement climatique sur l’hydrologie, les ressources naturelles et les différents secteurs de l’économie -  allant de l’agriculture au transport, en passant par l’énergie – est depuis longtemps un sujet de recherche et de débat. Mais ses effets sur la pêche, un des principaux secteurs d’activité en Afrique et qui fait vivre de nombreux Africains, sont souvent moins bien compris.

Que sait-on des conséquences du changement climatique sur la pêche ?

L’augmentation de la température de l’océan causée par le changement climatique, oblige les poissons à migrer des zones équatoriales vers des zones plus froides, et entraîne aussi une diminution de leur taille. Ce phénomène de réchauffement agit également sur la quantité des réserves halieutiques, leur flux migratoire et leur taux de mortalité.

Challenges and opportunities of urbanization in India

Divya Gupta's picture

India’s leading urban thinkers and practitioners gathered earlier this month, on November 1, 2017, in New Delhi to discuss “Challenges and Opportunities of Urbanization in India,” at a Roundtable Discussion organized by the World Bank Group. The event was chaired by Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director, Global Practice for Urban, Social, Rural and Resilience, World Bank.


 
“India's urban trajectory will be globally important,” said Vasquez in opening remarks, underscoring the strong link between the country’s economic trajectory and how it urbanizes, particularly over the next two decades. “It’s progress on poverty elimination, efficiency and growth of the economy, health of urban residents, climate emissions will all have a very important bearing, not just for India, but globally.”


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