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Urban Development

Can the rubble of history help shape today’s resilient cities?

David Sislen's picture
Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that, in 1755, Portugal suffered a catastrophic disaster so severe that it cast a long shadow over politics, religion, philosophy, and science?

During an All Saints’ Day mass in Lisbon in that fateful year, an 8.5-magnitude earthquake collapsed cathedrals, triggered a 20-foot tsunami, and sparked devastating fires that destroyed nearly 70% of the city’s 23,000 buildings.

The death toll was estimated between 10,000-50,000, leaving the center of a global empire in ruins, with losses equivalent to 32%-48% of Portugal's GDP at the time.

Never in the European history had a natural disaster received such international attention.

The “Great Lisbon Earthquake” had a resounding impact across Europe: Depictions of the earthquake in art and literature – the equivalent of today’s mass media – were reproduced for centuries and across several countries. Rousseau, influenced by the devastation, argued against large and dense cities in the wake of the disaster, while Immanuel Kant published three separate texts on the disaster, becoming one of the first thinkers to attempt to explain earthquakes by natural, rather than supernatural, causes.

In the years to follow, careful studies of the event would give rise to modern seismology.

Promoting nationally aligned climate action in Latin American cities

Min Jung Kwon's picture
Urban populations are booming, and the choices that local governments make today about managing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions directly impact the long-term health and economic well-being of their cities. Climate action at the local level is critical; however, most cities in low and middle-income countries have yet to integrate low carbon strategies into their planning process.

Reversing the geospatial digital divide – one step, or leap, at a time

Anna Wellenstein's picture
Earth from space. Photo by NASA.

Global positioning systems (GPS), real time traffic maps, accurate weather forecasts, Uber, self-driving cars… Geospatial data is on full display 24/7 throughout the world these days.  It’s like nothing we have seen before. But none of this would be possible without the underpinning role of the government.

“Geospatial,” or location-based data has existed for hundreds of years – for example, in street and topographical maps. What’s different is how quickly new information is being gathered and the more sophisticated analytics that is being applied to it, thanks to technological advances.

What was once information only found in the domain of government, military, and select private sector, even up to the 1980s and 90s, has come into broad use over the last 20 years. With the increase of mobile technology and communications, handheld smart phones have democratized mapping, moving geospatial technology into the hands of every individual.

This summer, some tens of millions of people in the U.S. traveled to see the total solar eclipse, including a co-author of this blog. Not only was the eclipse amazing – but the drive back from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. showed the integration and impact of geospatial information in our daily lives.
 

Waste not, want not: PPPs lead to better waste management in Greece

Nikos Mantzoufas's picture


Photo: European Commission 

Greece has had a very poor track record in reducing the amount of waste going into landfills. One of the main reasons for this, other than the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) opposition to creating waste management facilities, was that for decades choosing the right technology was the apple of discord, causing disagreement and delaying advancement towards integrated waste management. In the last few years, however, three Public-Private Partnership (PPP) waste management projects have been initiated in Greece.

This past July, within two years of signing the PPP contract in 2015, the first project was inaugurated in Western Macedonia—without a day’s delay, any contract change, or cost overrun. The system will cut the amount of waste going to landfill, reuse material for commercially-viable products, boost the region’s growth prospects through job creation, and raise public awareness to prevent waste.

Making Sand into Gold

Wael Zakout's picture
Haider Y. Abdulla | Shutterstock.com - Property Landscape in Dubai

Those of you who have visited Dubai in recent years may relate to what I am going to say: Dubai is in the middle of the desert, and its land, not that long ago, was really worth nothing. Now it is one of the most vibrant international cities in the world. All this happened in a relatively short time span.

How should we design disability-inclusive cities?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
 

Urbanization has been one of the most significant driving forces of recent global development, with more than half the world’s population now living in cities. And this proportion will continue to rise. Add to this, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 that calls for “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” cities.

In this edition of the Sustainable Communities Blog, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG), Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, sat down with Dr. Shazia Siddiqi, Executive Director of Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN), for a conversation on the disability dimension of inclusion and how we should conceive and design cities that are truly inclusive of all, including persons with disabilities.

DAWN is a non-profit organization servicing the Washington, D.C., area with a mission to promote healthy relationships and end abuse in the Deaf community through providing survivors of abuse the help they need to heal and progress with lives, and through community education on how to foster positive relationships.

This wide-ranging discussion touches on several key issues that are crucial for sustainable and inclusive development and important for breaking down barriers of exclusion. Particularly given the prevalence of persons with disabilities moving to cities, the topics include how to incorporate disability inclusive technology into smart city planning, disaster risk management (DRM), and attitudes that enhance the dignity of persons with disabilities.

Let’s make a deal for resilient cities

Carina Lakovits's picture
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
JIANGXI CHINA-July 1, 2017: In Eastern China, Jiujiang was hit by heavy rain, and many urban areas were flooded. The vehicles were flooded, and the citizens risked their passage on flooded roads.
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.

Much of this has to do with the lack of adequate infrastructure that can defend against the impacts of floods, sea level rise, landslides or earthquakes. Most cities need better flood defenses, better constructed houses, and better land use planning. But even when cities know what it takes to become more resilient, most often they do not have access to the necessary funding to realize this vision.

It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient.  It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.

Natural disasters are in 3D – and the rights that protect against them should be as well

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo credit: studiovin/Shutterstock


The recent series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean has reminded the world, once again, that natural disasters are not equal-opportunity destroyers. The economically marginalized and those lacking secure land and property rights are often disproportionately affected for at least three reasons:

The Roadmap for Safer Schools—a conversation on making school infrastructure more resilient to natural disasters

Fernando Ramírez's picture
Global Program for Safer Schools

Imagine that you are an advisor to your country's Minister of Education. A recent earthquake damaged hundreds of schools in several cities. The minister has called for a meeting with you and asked: What are the main factors that contribute to the vulnerability of our school infrastructure? What can be done to prevent similar damages in the future?

So… What would you advise?

In search of answers, we spoke with the leaders of the World Bank’s Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS), who have recently launched an innovative tool, the Roadmap for Safer Schools. This roadmap is a guide to design and implement systematic actions to improve the safety and resilience of school infrastructure at risk from natural hazards. 

 

A road by any other name: street naming and property addressing system in Accra, Ghana

Linus Pott's picture
Street names in Accra, Ghana
Street names in Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: Ben Welle/ Flickr CC
When I used to work in Rwanda, I lived on a small street in Kigali. Every time I invited friends over, I would tell them to “walk past the Embassy, look out for the Church, and then continue to the house with the black gate.” The day a street sign was erected on my street was a game changer.
 
So how do more than two million citizens of Accra navigate the busy city without the help of street names? While some street names are commonly known, most streets do not have any official name, street sign or house number. Instead, people usually refer to palm trees, speed bumps, street vendors, etc.

But, what happens when the palm tree is cut or when the street vendor changes the location?

The absence of street names poses not only challenges for orientation, but also for property tax collection, postal services, emergency services, and the private sector. Especially, new economy companies, such as Amazon or Uber, depend on street addressing systems and are eager to cater to market demands of a growing middle class.

To address these challenges, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), financed by the World Bank’s second Land Administration Project , is implementing a street addressing and property numbering system in Accra. Other Metropolitan areas received funding from other World Bank-funded projects for similar purposes.
 

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