When it comes to technology and strategy, government is often behind the times, and far behind the most innovative businesses. It's slow-moving, risk-averse, and subject to many electoral and legal constraints.
Cities, on the other hand, move much faster. That was the subject of a recent panel hosted by SAP and the Brookings Institute, what Sean O'Brien, the Global Vice President Of Urban Matters and Public Security at SAP called the "secret sauce" of the best-run cities.
10 trends discussed:
Engaging people through their smartphones
Facebook games and interactive community meetings
Saving taxpayer money by consulting for other cities
Getting the best out of city employees
Less bureaucracy and more leadership
Crowdsourcing ideas and apps from citizens
Using a city's unique attributes to compete globally
A characteristic feature of Asian urbanization is the prevalence of “megacities” that are home to more than 10 million people. In 2011, there were 23 such cities worldwide, 13 of which were Asian. By 2025, the total number of megacities is expected to reach 37—with 21 in Asia alone. Specifically, Southeast Asia is home to the most densely populated cities: approximately 16,500 people per square kilometerare squeezed into the region’s urban areas.
Cities, especially in the developing world, must find a way to provide essential services to their ever-increasing populations. When cities fail to meet these essential needs on a large scale, they create areas known as slums, where households typically lack safe drinking water, safe sanitation, a durable living space, or security of a lease. According to UN HABITAT, 828 million people in developing-world cities are considered slum dwellers—one in every three residents. Slum populations are expected to grow significantly in the future, and UN HABITAT projects that 6 million more people live in slums every year.
The World Health Organization identifies the rapid increase of urban populations, especially slum populations, as the most important issue affecting health in the 21st century. The agency cites overcrowding, lack of safe water, and improper sanitation systems as the primary factors contributing to poor health among the urban poor. Slums often become breeding grounds for diseases like tuberculosis, dengue, pneumonia, and cholera, and slum dwellers contract water-borne or respiratory illnesses at much higher rates than people in rural areas do.
"Many freeway systems were overbuilt in an auto-obsessed era, only to realize later that cities are actually healthier, greener, and safer without them. Like freeway cap parks, which hope to bridge the chasms through severed neighborhoods—Boston's Big Dig is a great example—freeway removal projects try to eradicate and undo the damage wrought from highways, while creating new, multifunctional shared streets that can be utilized by transit, bikes, walkers and yes, even cars.
"Okay, you're thinking, but where do all the cars go? It turns out that when you take out a high-occupancy freeway it doesn't turn the surface streets into the equivalent of the Autobahn. A theory called "induced demand" proves that if you make streets bigger, more people will use them. When you make them smaller, drivers discover and use other routes, and traffic turns out to be about the same. Don't believe it? Check out these freeway removals in cities all over the world and see for yourself."
There is no turning back and the number of people that share the world’s limited resources continues to rise.
Dr. Steffen Lehmann, UNESCO chair in sustainable urban development for Asia and the Pacific
He explains, “We can’t go on when 20 percent of population uses up 80 percent of the resources. As planners we have to remember that consumption is a consequence of demand, and demand is a consequence of design.” He continues, “Much of green urbanism is common sense urbanism. It is easy to reduce the demand with good design and green urbanism has to become the norm for all urban developments.”
Lehmann’s model for green urbanism is based on three pillars: energy and materials; water and biodiversity; urban planning and transport. The premise is that an efficient interaction between the three will translate to a successful model. “Green urbanism is interdisciplinary,” Dr. Lehmann believes. “It requires the collaboration of landscape architects, engineers, urban planners, ecologists, transport planners, physicists, psychologists, economists and other specialists, in addition to architects and urban planners. Green urbanism makes every effort to minimize the use of energy, water and materials at each stage of the city’s life cycle.
Cities may be prideful of their autonomy, but they are fundamentally interconnected. More and more, they even look the same. They fly signage and advertising rather than flags; they are defined by connectivity and hence motion, never by stasis; and they are driven by aspiration, rather than history. They trade in risk and cultivate danger. Mayors don’t talk like presidents and prime ministers about autonomy and sovereignty and self-determination. They are compelled to persuade rather than enact and order, to debate rather than proclaim and pontificate. When they do talk, it is about crime, transportation and jobs; about plowing the snow and picking up the garbage. They focus on common problems rather than distinctive identities. The absence of sovereignty becomes a virtue: Local politicians don’t build walls, they build ports and bridges. They define success by how well they integrate, communicate and network with one another. No wonder New York and Shanghai are willing to share best practices and learn from one another while China and the United States bicker.
Cities may already constitute networks of collaboration that influence the global economy and bypass the rules and regulations of states, but they lie within the jurisdiction and sovereignty of superior political bodies. Mayor Bloomberg may have his own army, but let him try to deploy it in Cuba or Washington, D.C., or Albany—or even across the river in Hoboken or up in Yonkers, a few miles north of New York. He can route bikes through Manhattan, but try doing it on the state thruway or elsewhere along the interstate highway system. Unlike corporations, countries are territorial by definition, and cities always sit on land that is part of some nation’s territory. New York may not be looking to Washington, but Washington is paying attention to New York.
A common thread found in Resilience theory is that of community strength. A community’s ability to survive and even thrive during tough times is largely decided both in the way that community builds itself around its physical places and also in the way people work and band together to create those spaces.
The art of place-making is arguably the best demonstration of community resilience at work. By definition placemaking involves the residents of a community – it’s not the product of an architect’s pen but rather the result of a community-designer-builder collaboration over time.
"Placemaking co-evolves with imagination, inspiration, interaction, individual agency, inference, information, insights, interdependence, infrastructure and intangible assets." @JohnKellden - http://goo.gl/rzodgK
The world’s first open source piece of hardware was the bicycle, according to the Open Source Hardware Association. To be more precise, it was the draisine, introduced as a two-wheeled human-propelled walking machine in 1817.
Technologists of the day added things like pedals, chains and rubber tires, as the bicycle became one of the world’s most widely used and loved machines. Nearly two centuries and a couple billion bicycles later, entrepreneurs are applying computer controls, GPS and wireless connectivity to bikes to help save the world’s cities from automobile gridlock...
Denizens of Milan, Italy will have a brand new 2.5 acre forest smack in the middle of their city by the end of 2013. You might think that’s a city with its priorities straight. But this particular forest didn’t require the sacrifice of precious commercial real estate—because it’s of the vertical variety.
Brainchild of Italian architecture firm, Stefano Boeri Architetti, the Bosco Verticale (literally, “vertical forest” in English) is two residential apartment buildings peppered with cantilevered terraces. Each terrace is specially designed and engineered to support a small community of trees, shrubs, and other greenery.
When complete, Bosco Verticale will house 730 trees from three to six meters (10 to 20 feet) in height and irrigated primarily by the buildings’ grey water—runoff from baths, sinks, washing machines, and dishwashers. 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 plants will keep the trees company. A true forest.
Urban agriculture is a promising solution to a variety of ills afflicting our increasingly urbanizing planet. Milton Keynes, Britain's largest New Town of the 20th Century, is forging a path towards food sovereignty by growing its urban farms.
The concept of food sovereignty was publicly conceptualized by Via Campesina at the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. But it wasn’t until five years later, when a group of NGOs delved into the topic, that people sat up and took notice. The group described food sovereignty as the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labor, fishing, food, and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically, and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. 
While formally designated a new town in 1967, Milton Keynes has a long history that dates back to the 2nd millennium BC. The Middle Ages saw the creation of eighteen villages, most of which still exist and form the district cores. The establishment of the town was birthed as a method of solving housing problems in London, but the town has grown substantially since, now boasting a population of approximately 230,000. From 2001 to 2011 alone, the population experienced a surge of 40,000 new residents.The vision for the town has grown too.
Poor people living in slums are at particularly high risk from the impacts of climate change and natural hazards. They live on the most vulnerable lands within cities, typically areas that are deemed undesirable by others and are thus affordable. Residents are exposed to the impacts of landslides, sea-level rise, flooding, and other hazards. Exposure to risk is exacerbated by overcrowded living conditions, lack of adequate infrastructure and services, unsafe housing, inadequate nutrition, and poor health. These conditions can turn a natural hazard or change in climate into a disaster, and result in the loss of basic services, damage or destruction to homes, loss of livelihoods, malnutrition, disease, disability, and loss of life. This study analyzes the key challenges facing the urban poor given the risks associated with climate change and disasters, particularly with regard to the delivery of basic services, and identifies strategies and financing opportunities for addressing these risks. Several key findings emerge from the study and provide guidance for addressing risk:
1) The urban poor are on the front line. The poor are particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards due to where they live within cities, and the lack of reliable basic services.
2) City governments are the drivers for addressing risks. Local governments play a vital role in providing basic services which are critical to improving the resilience of the urban poor.
3) City officials build resilience by mainstreaming risk reduction into urban management. Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction can be best addressed and sustained over time through integration with existing urban planning and management practices.
4) Significant financial support is needed. Local governments need to leverage existing and new resources to meet the shortfalls in service delivery and basic infrastructure adaptation.
Y Worlds formally offers the City of Detroit, the State of Michigan and the United States Government a plan to make Detroit the first collaboratively developed sustainable and NETS driven modern city in North America.
Turkey made headlines last month with a plan to heat a new "eco-city" by burning pistachio shells. The proposed project would be located in the southeastern Gaziantep region, which exported 8.8 million pounds of pistachios last year. Burning the shell waste is expected to produce enough energy to heat 60 percent of the buildings in the new 8,000-acre development.
“Populations in general are growing very rapidly in Africa, and on top of that we’re seeing increased urbanisation,” says Mellissa Wood, director of the AIFSRC.
A new project by the World Vegetable Centre (AVRDC) is trying to address this by pulling together the issues of urban growth, migration, livelihoods and undernutrition, and drawing specific attention to the role of peri-urban 'corridors' of production outside cities.
“young people in cities are not necessarily finding employment opportunities, and that is potentially increasing future food security issues in these regions. This project is quite holistic, so it’s getting young people into vegetable production as a source of livelihoods, helping existing farmers too, and optimising the whole system by finding improved varieties that will work well in particular regions, and strengthening value chains.”
The main vehicle for the project is the establishment of best practice hubs in peri-urban areas – which it defines as areas within 2-3 hours of cities – around the four target cities. These hubs will serve as centres for crop trials and experimentation, and will give the young producers who are new to farming full training in vegetable crop growing and management. They will also be open to existing farmers looking to improve their skills, so the idea is that they will serve best practice sites for the farming communities around them.
In our 'flat' digital world, in which we can connect virtually with anybody we want, one could argue that the notion of an innovation hub is outdated. However, in today's lesson, innovation guru John Hagel explores the paradox that, despite the fact that technology infrastructure has made location unimportant, we're becoming more urbanized at a more rapid rate than ever before.
Why is this? According to Hagel, learning faster is becoming more and more important, and we simply learn faster in cities than we could on our own.
Los Angeles, larger than any other American city except New York, is a gargantuan urban complex living ‘on the edge’ and the city most urgently in need of a massive urban planning overhaul.
Los Angeles is considered by many planners as the city with the most to gain from an extensive overhauling. Starting at the top of the transit priorities, the city should find a way to fast-track its rail-based transit by creating lines using driverless, five-minute frequency trains (like Copenhagen), where density warrants, and building an extensive BRT-only lane network on 2nd priority routes. In Downtown and other special zones, Copenhagen-style bike infrastructure can contribute to traffic-thinning, as well as selective freeway removal, congestion pricing, and infill development. Finally, extensive urban farming, which can be partly accommodated by repurposing the medians of the many wide and light-traffic streets throughout the city, would reduce the emission footprint of the city by reducing the transportation of goods from hundreds of miles away.
"In this book, I suggest that to understand cities we must view them not simply as places in space but as systems of networks and flows. To understand space, we must understand flows, and to understand flows, we must understand networks—the relations between objects that comprise the system of the city. Drawing on the complexity sciences, social physics, urban economics, transportation theory, regional science, and urban geography, , I introduce theories and methods that reveal the deep structure of how cities function. (...)" Michael Batty
Detroit isn't a decaying city anymore — it's a city in transition. Though its population dropped by 50 percent in the past half-century, and roughly a third of its buildings are abandoned, the place is coming to life again. Farmers are taking over the industrial wastes.
Local businessman John Hantz just bought 600,000 square meters of land from the city of Detroit with an option to buy an additional 700,000, promising to demolish all the existing (abandoned) buildings, clean up the land, and plant hardwood trees. The Bank of America announced plans to demolish 100 homes and donate the land to urban agriculture. They’re not alone, as other small-scale urban farmers are adapting what’s left of the city to meet their needs.
Attention city-dwellers: Grow your own herbs vegetables and flowers with this novel aquaponic gardening system.
The Aqualibrium Garden is a series of stackable chambers that functions as both garden and aquarium. Once the crates snap together, they create an aquaponic system for growing edibles at home. Aquaponics is a symbiotic system where water circulates from the fish tank below and up into the soil of the garden. The fish, snails, or crawfish supply nutrients (read: poop) that fertilize the soil and aid in plant growth. The plants, which are warmed by a built-in LED grow light, subsequently filter the water, returning fresh H2O back to the fish tank. (And if the idea of keeping both fish and plants alive seems daunting, there is a hydroponic option allowing gardeners to simply add nutrients to the water.)
“People in urban environments typically don’t have the necessary environment for growing their own food,” says Joshua Rittenberg, CEO of Aqualibrium. “Right now, there is no product on the market that allows for substantial food production using either aquaponics or hydroponics that is designed for urban living and is cost-effective.”
In 2008, the world became mostly urban, when for the first time, more people lived in cities than rural areas. That year, we also crossed an important technological threshold – for the first time there were more mobile broadband Internet subscribers than fixed. A new book by Anthony Townsend, SMART CITIES: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, explores the intersection of these historic shifts. With the UN projecting that 90 percent of population growth in coming decades will occur in cities throughout the developing world, new solutions are needed to address the rapid expansion of informal settlements. In this excerpt, Townsend explains how a new volunteer effort Map Kibera is combining consumer technologies and open source GIS to chart one of Africa’s largest and most notorious slums.
Back in November 2012, the New York Department of Transportation released a report called Measuring the Street: New Metrics for the 21st Century, which had some compelling figures on the way that local business benefits from bike-lanes, for the fairly obvious reason that cyclists find it easy to stop and shop, as compared to drivers, who are more likely to continue on to a mall with a big parking lot, or shop online.
Detroit was the birthplace of so many hopes and dreams during that era of prosperity — a period of time now revealing faults inherent to the system. It was here, at Ford, that Taylorism and division of labor was born. Here, again, in the General Motors factory across the street, that consumer credit (and by extension, excessive household debt?) was first conceived. Even the first mall was built here. The whole city was a motorist utopia, with automobiles encoded in its DNA.
Of course, the recent desertion of Detroit — in the last 40 years, the population has shrunk from 1.8 million inhabitants to fewer than 800,000 — can be explained by a number of key historical events. The race riots during the 1960s triggered the flight of the white middle class to the suburbs, and the financial crisis in the 1980s forced the black middle class to up and leave.