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2022 – The year to redefine cities as first tiers of urban governance

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2022—The year to redefine cities as the first tiers of urban governance is by SAYLI UDAS⎯MANKIKAR, published in Observer Research Foundation might hold some inspiring words for the MENA region’s own particular and diverse built environment. Seriously would 2022 be the year to redefine cities as first tiers of urban governance anywhere else than India? Does it really; let us find out.

A holistic restructuring of federal, systemic, and financial governance is required to empower our city governments

Nations debate over issues of climate change and pandemic response amongst others, but it is finally the cities that have the unenviable task of executing the ambitious agendas set up by the national elites. Cities find themselves burdened and crippled to deliver on these promises due to the following factors. First, the lack of adequate authority, federally, to run a city. Second, the funds allocated to cities do not quite match the duties they have to perform. And third, is the lack of capacities to plan, monitor, and execute tasks adequately.

It is time that the first responders to crisis, our cities, are no longer treated as mere urban local bodies that ensure water flows through our taps, garbage is picked up, and roads are tarred, but are actually treated as the custodians of urban governance in India.

In 2022, we must make serious federal and systemic amends to enable and strengthen cities to play out this role, and not only criticise these pale urban structures when they fail to respond to our large requirements. With the Glasgow Pact endorsing ‘the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action’ at the local level, it was for the first time that the role of cities was officially appreciated and recognised in a COP summit. The new pact has also highlighted the need for climate adaptation through planning at the local government level. This is a cue that, globally, the way cities are being perceived is changing.  Decentralisation and devolution of power should be the axis around which federal reforms should be implemented and reimagined in cities. While we constantly invoke the 74th Amendment  of the Indian Constitution, which brought in the concept of devolution, the three tiers of government which placed urban local bodies at the lowest level, must be redefined 25 years after its conception. We have to assess the reasons why most cities were not able to implement many of these reforms.

With the Glasgow Pact endorsing ‘the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action’ at the local level, it was for the first time that the role of cities was officially appreciated and recognised in a COP summit.

During the pandemic, even within the cities, a strong and successful model that emerged in high density population areas was ward-level management. Formation of ward committees, and the involvement of citizen voices and a local say at the hyper local level was a part of the 74th Amendment, which haven’t found resonance with many city authorities. There is reluctance, even within city governments, in passing over power to the lowest level and empowering citizens and their direct representatives.

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, 2008 recommended that cities adopt a bottom-up approach of functioning on the principle of subsidiarity, which puts wards as the first level of governance that has people closest to it. The tasks are then pushed upwards to higher authorities when the local units are not enabled to perform them. The delegation of work is bottom-up. Such citizen involvement has been tried in Mumbai through its Advanced Locality Management (ALM) groups, and in Delhi through the Bhagidari scheme, where Resident Welfare Groups are set up to work on local civic issues. However, these were never empowered in their participation, through funds or functions. Recently, cities like Vishakapatnam have made requests to the government that the devolution should not be restricted to power but to development, where authorities of the region are able to administer all development work of that region and not be dependent on centrally-allocated funds for an infrastructure push.

The delegation of work is bottom-up. Such citizen involvement has been tried in Mumbai through its Advanced Locality Management (ALM) groups, and in Delhi through the Bhagidari scheme, where Resident Welfare Groups are set up to work on local civic issues.

The 15th Finance Commission report tabled in the Budget Session in 2021 was a ray of hope for urban governance. The issue of devolution of taxes to cities after local taxes like Octroi and VAT were subsumed into Goods and Services Taxes (GST) had attracted a lot of clamour and there was demand that a separate City GST must be constituted. But while the consideration of this demand still seems a long time away, the 15th Finance Commission has made an absolute allocation of 4.15 percent of the divisible pool—approximately INR 3,464 billion from the divisible pool of taxes—to local governments. After it is distributed, this will constitute almost 25 percent of the total municipal budgets of most cities. The Commission has also given a fiscal thrust to metropolitan governance by introducing outcome funding to 50 million metropolitan regions with population of over 150 million. Here, an outlay of INR 380 billion has been laid out for 100-percent funding for indicators related to water and sanitation, air quality, and other services.

But this is again a double whammy, considering it is still going to flow top-down from the centre to state governments, which then devolve the money to cities. There has always been a question mark on whether the amounts allocated to a city get used completely, since this will depend on the absorption capacities of cities and their ability to spend municipal funds.

The Commission has also suggested that other avenues such as city incubation grants should be used to develop smaller towns and regions in the country. This has gained significance in areas with strong political leadership or cities supported by the Smart Cities Mission, which encourages, handholds, and sets up guarantee mechanisms for private investment into the urban sector.

City governments must make their own efforts to ensure that the taxes which are within their ambit—like property tax—are paid by citizens, for which unique mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring collections are made.

Along with devolution of financial or other powers comes transparency and accountability in its systems, the onus for which lies on the city governments. The first step to transparency will be to ensure that city budgets are put in the public domain and follow a simple format that is both easy to understand and comprehensible. City governments must make their own efforts to ensure that the taxes which are within their ambit—like property tax—are paid by citizens, for which unique mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring collections are made. As issues like climate change gain ground, city governments must introduce tax rebates for green infrastructure to achieve their targets.

In conclusion, a three-pronged holistic approach of reimagining federal governance, reworking financial governance, and restructuring systemic governance in urban agglomerations might be the magic pill for creating strong cities. If we want our first responders and drivers of our quality of life to succeed, our political leaders and administrators will need to lend their muscle to put cities first.

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Cities need to be reimagined

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By Michala Lander, technical director and author of this New Civil Engineer article proposes Cities are in need to be reimagined to reflect Covid impact and need for resilience. Here it is:

Cities need to be reimagined to reflect Covid impact and need for resilience

Engineers must consider how we make the next decade count to underpin resilient, adaptable communities.


Post-Covid, we will have a window of time to capitalise on changing settlement patterns and behaviours to plan smarter central business districts, satellite centres, peri-urban areas and suburban neighbourhoods that are both population-responsive and climate-adaptive.

Carbon considerations are shifting in our communities. Covid-19 has normalised remote working, with many workers choosing to relocate to low-density areas. In contrast to the long-term trend of suburbanisation, this decade a new focus on making our suburbs “smaller and smarter” will emerge.

Early signs suggest that peri-urban areas are growing in popularity, as some turn their back on living in densely populated city centres in favour of “living local”. Less sprawl means a reduced carbon footprint, but we’ll have to work hard to preserve key considerations, such as housing choice and equity, if we are to deliver low-carbon communities this decade.

Future resilience for our cities lies in managing balanced change on multiple fronts simultaneously. New planning approaches to more climate-adaptive land uses will need to recalibrate car-centred living environments to be more pedestrian-friendly. There must also be a greater focus on providing public amenity at our doorstep, to reduce the need to travel by car. Housing design will change and respond to offer more energy-efficient, lower-carbon floorplans. Even providing access to reasonably priced, healthy and culturally relevant food will require a revisit of system design, to curb food insecurity in communities experiencing “food deserts”. All are examples of building community resilience by tailoring solutions at the district or neighbourhood level.

The car has dominated city planning for decades, perpetuating the demand for passenger vehicles – it’s time to flip that paradigm and incentivise change. The pendulum is swinging back to returning streets to people, car parking to green spaces and to substitute motorised transport for walking or cycling. Reimaging how our streets are used will be a positive move for city workers and residents alike. Quality public open space in close proximity to homes will be highly prized post-Covid.

In cities too, the conversion or refurbishment of existing buildings will be preferred over building new; with a growing realisation that the greenest possible building is the one that isn’t built. We’re already seeing the clever adaptive reuse of less-relevant assets, such as multi-storey carparks into recreation facilities, or suburban shopping malls into community centres and business incubators. It will take creative thinking, applied through the lens of climate adaptation, to keep pushing the envelope of what’s possible as we reimagine our urban places.

Creating adaptation plans to reprioritise how people live and move will have far-reaching effects on carbon footprints. For communities to flourish, our populations need access to infrastructure including transport, energy and waste systems, water and communications. Sophisticated, collaborative digital systems that enable real-time monitoring and optimisation will help reduce fragmentation and speed up design choices, delivering better operational efficiency to reduce climate risk.

One of the primary challenges for urban design decisionmakers this decade is reframing unsustainable behaviours to raise awareness and accountability for every decision – individual and collective. Local government resource management, neighbourhood-level health and safety, through to our personal environmental consciousness; all are interrelated and important in creating climate-resilient communities.

Making people aware of the impact of their choices and embedded carbon in our communities matters. Rethinking our commute, doing more outdoor recreation activities and supporting local are the sorts of Covid-induced habits that will need to continue, to help us adopt low-carbon lifestyles. Collective action and political consensus, now, will help reduce the need for drastic measures later. Our cities and suburbs can be the engine rooms of change. Corporates, governments, architects, engineers and planners all need to play their part in building a climate adaptive future.

Michala Lande

Michala Lander is technical director for New Zealand planning with GHD

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Dubai, Doha and Riyadh among top 5 in MENA ranking

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In the MENA region through the years, wealth has always been absent and this for millennia especially in the Gulf area. Nowadays, images of gold buildings, fantastic motorways, and all the most expensive things in life have become commonly known and used.
In the Gulf, however, one thing comes to most people’s minds first. It is oil. Dubai, Doha and Riyadh are among the top 5 in MENA ranking would not be a surprise since this region rich with its rich oil reserves and supply of that oil is one reason and a good one for those cities in this area have earned a spot on the list of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Now turning that wealth into smart cities could be considered to be some achievement.

The above image is for illustration and is of Doha, Qatar.

Dubai, Doha and Riyadh among top 5 in MENA ranking

Rudolph Lohmeyer and Antoine Nasr

Dubai continues to lead the region in Kearney’s Global Cities report climbing four places in the global ranking, while Doha experienced the most dramatic jump globally, placing it third regionally, while Riyadh ranks fifth in Mena.

Riyadh also leads in Human Capital dimension in the GCC, highlighting its ongoing efforts in attracting international talent and large foreign-born population, according to the 11th edition of the report, which offers key insights into how Covid-19 and the resulting pandemic containment measures have impacted the level of global engagement of 156 cities around the world.

Comprising of Global Cities Index (GCI) and Global Cities Outlook (GCO), the report measures how globally engaged cities are across five dimensions: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement as part of the GCI. GCO, which is a forward-looking evaluation based on 13 indicators, assesses how the same cities are creating conditions for their future status as global hubs.

Global Cities Index

Dubai retains its top spot in the Index for the region, and is also ranked fourth globally in Cultural Experience, reflecting the city’s relatively early reopening to international travellers, bolstered by strict testing requirements, a rapid rollout of vaccines and Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing.

Doha saw the largest jump of any city on this year’s Global Cities Index, rising 15 places following the restoration of diplomatic relations between Qatar and its neighbouring countries, highlighting the importance of fostering regional relationships in addition to global ones.

Cairo ranked fourth in the Mena region, followed by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s capital city leads in Human Capital in the GCC, where its strengths in attracting international talent and large foreign-born population contribute to the strong showing. This is in line with the country’s increased emphasis on strengthening citizens’ capabilities to compete globally, in support of the realization of several strategic objectives set out in the Saudi Vision 2030.

Overall, 21 cities in the Mena region rose six or more positions in the GCI ranking compared to last year. Istanbul climbed seven spots, with the city’s efforts to become a global travel hub proving their worth. Addis Ababa moved up eight places, propelled by Ethiopia’s development investments that have supported rapid economic growth.

Global Cities Outlook

In terms of outlook, Abu Dhabi ranks fourth globally, a testament to the city’s continued focus on providing accessible, high-quality healthcare and a commitment to reducing its environmental impact, which is core to the personal well-being dimension. Dubai and Abu Dhabi co-lead in the outlook for infrastructure, an illustration of the UAE’s commitment to a future of sustainable and resilient economic growth.

Antoine Nasr, Partner, Government Practice Leader, Kearney Middle East, said: “In Mena, GCC economies, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are poised to lead regional recovery supported by accelerated efforts of their governments across the five main dimensions of the report. What’s also noteworthy is Doha has recorded the biggest gain globally for any city, a result of the compounded benefits of their strengthened economy and the newly restored regional ties. This reflects the importance of a balance between self-sufficiency and global connectivity.”

Five strategic imperatives for city leaders

The report highlights five strategic imperatives for city leaders along with a range of ways in which cities around the world can address the challenges they share:

•    Win in the competition for global talent: with human capital as the driving force behind economic activity, cities that adapt to the new priorities of prospective residents, with a renewed emphasis on urban livability and economic opportunity, will be those that emerge on top
•    Embrace the rapidly growing digital economy: while it threatens to contribute to an emptying of cities and relocation of business headquarters, cities that harness the benefits of the global digital economy to drive differentiated competitive advantage will accelerate economic growth
•    Ensure economic resilience by balancing global and local resources: with the fragility of the global trade system exposed during the early months of the pandemic, cities that recalibrate and balance relationships at global, regional, and local levels will be most resilient to future disruptions
•    Adapt in the face of climate change: as climate change accelerates, and in the absence of unified global leadership on the topic, cities must lead the way in driving toward sustainability around the world
•    Invest in individual and community well-being: in recovering from the collective scars of the pandemic, cities that focus their investments on advancing the well-being of their populations will be those that create an environment in which innovation can thrive

“Though they were initially hit hardest by Covid-19, our 2021 report shows that the leading global cities have once again proven their resilience and adaptive capacity. Their broad diversity of strengths positioned them for a quicker rebound that, with leadership focus and clarity of direction, can transition into leadership of a long-term, global recovery,” concluded Rudolph Lohmeyer, Partner, National Transformations Institute, Kearney Middle East.

– TradeArabia News Service

Smart Cities: How Technology Is Helping To Rebuild War-Torn Regions

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FIOR Reports post By Becca Roberts on Smart Cities as to How Technology Is Helping To Rebuild War-Torn Regions could be made good use of in several of the MENA region’s broken and/or stagnating countries.

Smart Cities: How Technology Is Helping To Rebuild War-Torn Regions

The above image is of Part of the new Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, which was built as part of extensive redevelopment efforts on the former Soviet territory. Image: Bojan Stojkovski / ZDNet


For more than three decades, the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has been at the center of much disagreement between the neighboring Caucasian states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The city of Agdam once had a population of 30,000 but was hit hard by the conflict. Now it’s a ghost town.

Since it began in 1988, the conflict over the region has also produced more than a million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Now as Azerbaijan seeks to gradually rebuild the country hit by the struggle, authorities hope technology can play a central role in encouraging citizens to return to the region by creating smart cities and villages that offer better ways of life encourage.

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According to Anar Valiyev, urban planning expert and associate professor at ADA University in Baku, building new communities supported by digital amenities will make the region more attractive not only to returnees but also to those who have stayed in the region Conflict.

The first planning phase is followed by a pilot project in which a number of “smart villages” – referred to as Aghaly-1, Aghaly-2 and Aghaly-3 – are being built in the Zangilan region of Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 200 houses are being built here from innovative building materials such as recycled steel and precast concrete and connected to intelligent electricity, gas and waste disposal companies.

“Alternative energy sources are used for all residential buildings, social facilities, office buildings, restaurants, processing and production of agricultural products.”

Bridging a digital divide

Building new, digitally supported communities will also serve to bridge the gap between the Azerbaijani capital Baku and other urban and rural areas.

Such projects could also entice young Azerbaijanis to move to the Nagorno-Karabakh region in search of new opportunities. Eldar Hamza, 26, is one of them.

During the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Hamza’s family was evicted from the town of Fizouli, which had a population of around 17,000 before the war but became a ghost town after they escaped.

“I also believe that most of them will return to live here if there are opportunities for large companies to lay off workers in the area.”

Eldar Hamza, 26, now works as a tour operator in Baku after his family was displaced by the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The nearby city of Agdam is also being rebuilt. Before the conflict, the city had almost 30,000 residents. Now, like Fizouli, it is practically deserted.

“We are in the planning phase and are now designing various locations,” said Emin Huseynov, Azerbaijani economist and special representative in the Agdam district, opposite ZDNet. “But the most important [part] is the basic infrastructure that is being made now. When it’s done, we’ll start building the city. “

The development of smart cities should be a boon to Azerbaijan’s ICT industry, which is still in its infancy, and its oil-oriented economy.

In 2016, ICT was one of eleven economic sectors identified by the Azerbaijani authorities as being of strategic importance to the country. The country has now adopted a strategic roadmap for its development; However, according to a report by IPHR and Azerbaijan Internet Watch, the ICT sector represented only 1.6% of Azerbaijan’s total GDP in 2020.

“I think that the ICT sector will develop faster because the development of smart cities also requires faster development of information technology,” Valiyev told ZDNet Informatik und Systemtechnik.

There is also great interest in IT and agriculture. Dmitry Andrianov, founder of Baku-based tech magazine InfoCity, says the development of smart cities and smart villages in the liberated areas of Karabakh should prove to be an incentive for the advancement of the Azerbaijani technology sector and points to the growth of the young IoT startup Sumaks and agritech startup Kibrit.

“All of this helps to create sustainable demand for young IT specialists,” says Andrianov.

Urban Growth underpinned by Livability and Sustainable Growth

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The World Bank in an introduction to its recently published paper on the world urban development as it presently stands and where it could potentially be going. It covers 10,000 cities by showing how the shape of urban growth is underpinned by livability and sustainable growth. Here are some excerpts that best resume the report titled Pancakes to Pyramids : City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth.

Here is:

Urban Growth underpinned by Livability and Sustainable Growth

What drives the shape of cities, and what actions can policymakers take to guide their growth? The authors of Pancakes to Pyramids set out to find out. I am pleased to say that they have succeeded in increasing our understanding of the economic variables that drive urban expansion while challenging conventional wisdom about sprawl. Most importantly, they have opened up a field of inquiry that will be central to the World Bank’s mission of poverty reduction and sustainable and inclusive development in the years ahead as leaders strive to create green, resilient, and inclusive cities that attract people and businesses. As low- and middle-income countries urbanize in the decades ahead, this report provides new evidence for city leaders interested in managing spatial growth. It also provides a theoretical model to test assumptions about compactness and public transport that will be crucial to rein in commuting time, fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions.


What city leaders need to know Pyramids are generally better than pancakes at meeting three key urban planning objectives: driving prosperity, ensuring livability, and respecting planetary boundaries.

Compared with a pancake city, a pyramid city will drive more growth in urban productivity and incomes because it is more economically dense and efficient—its inward and vertical expansion reduce the distances between firms, jobs, and workers.

A pyramid is also better at achieving livable urban population densities, accompanied not by crawling traffic and crowded slums but by efficient transport connections and decent formal housing.

And while a sprawling pancake is likely to impose steep burdens on the climate through unmanaged vehicle emissions, a pyramid allows leaders to plan for the city’s future population growth and spatial expansion in ways that will limit or reduce its carbon footprint. But not every pancake can become a pyramid.

When a city with low productivity and low incomes adds to its population, it cannot accommodate this growth through a costly vertical layering of built-up area. Instead, such an inadequate and economically inefficient city can absorb newcomers only by crowding them into low-built quarters and by spreading outward where land is cheapest.

Such a city will remain a pancake—and it will continue to expand in two dimensions, rather than three, as long as its economy remains sluggish and its average resident household remains poor.

As chapters 1, 2, and 3 have shown, pyramidal expansion flows from economic transformation. Based on specialization and tradables production, only agglomeration economies can be counted on to set a city’s productivity and incomes on an upward path.

And only a city that is economically on the rise will generate increasing economic demand for floor space— the prerequisite for land developers to invest in multistory construction around business districts and elevate the urban skyline. How can city leaders and decision-makers act to shift urban expansion to a pyramidal trajectory?

Read more in the full report, download it here.