Insights and Analysis

Asian Solutions to Asia’s Urban Challenges

June 14, 2017

By Anthea Mulakala and Minjae Lee

According to UN Habitat’s most recent World Cities Report, cities today make up more than half of the world’s population, emit 70 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and account for 80 percent of global GDP. These figures underscore the fact that rapid urbanization is one the most critical trends shaping the world today. And nowhere will the impact of our collective successes and failures managing our cities be greater than in Asia.

Delhi street scene

The World Bank estimates that since 2000, over 200 million people have migrated into cities across Asia. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

The World Bank estimates that since 2000, over 200 million people have migrated into cities across Asia, but despite this rapid migration, approximately half of the continent’s population still live in rural areas. This means that Asia’s cities can expect an even more rapid influx of migrants in the decades to come, which will drive much of the economic growth, but also put greater strain on the region’s resources.

In May, urban development experts, city government officials, and scholars from across Asia gathered in Manila for the 16th meeting of the Asian Approaches to Development Cooperation (AADC) dialogue. (Read more about this ongoing series here). The conference explored planned urbanization and the New Urban Agenda (NUA), and how Asian countries are helping each other through South-South cooperation and innovative partnerships to tackle urbanization challenges and achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11: making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

Over the course of the conference, participants from 10 countries shared best practices in how their cities and countries are partnering to tackle urbanization. Here are a few highlights:

Singapore shares livable city lessons with Amaravati, India

The world’s most famous city-state, Singapore, and its Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) is collaborating with the Andhra Pradesh government to build a new capital city, Amaravati, from scratch. A key feature of the partnership is the focus on sustainable and green infrastructure, including the development of natural waterways, providing green public spaces and efficient public transport. Amaravati will be 10 times the size of Singapore but hopes to emulate Singapore’s reputation as a sustainable and livable city.

Safer cities for women, from Delhi to Jakarta and Quezon City

Both the SDGs and the NUA recognize universal access to safe and inclusive public space as an essential element of a city. Safetipin, a social enterprise based in India, created a map-based online and mobile phone application that collects and disseminates safety-related information through various methods, including crowd-sourcing. Local residents contribute directly to the data collection, which is not only shared to the public, but also reported to local governments. Safetipin started in Delhi, expanded across India and is now operating in Jakarta, Nairobi, Bogota, and Quezon City. Data is also being collected in eight additional cities including Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur, and Johannesburg. The app is available in English, Hindi, Spanish, Mandarin, and Indonesian.

Thailand supports urban infrastructure in the Greater Mekong sub-region

Access to sustainable physical infrastructure, such as roads, power, and telecommunications, is another essential element in urban development and planning—but one that requires much financial and technical assistance. Thailand’s Neighboring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA) has been assisting with trade and investment facilitation, transportation within the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), and more recently, urban development. In Laos, NEDA provided financial assistance for a drainage system and road improvement project in Vientiane Capital City. It was noted that significant changes in the area could be observed after improvements were made. The commercial and residential area expanded and economic activities heightened as a result of the alleviated traffic and flood conditions. Technical assistance was given to Yangon, Myanmar, to conduct a feasibility study and design a power system that can keep up with the rapid economic growth in Yangon. Additionally, projects to improve GMS interconnectivity have been successful in developing subregional roads, power, and telecommunication linkages.

NGO partnership tackles Ulaanbaatar’s urban sprawl

The growth of unplanned, peri-urban settlements, or ger areas which account for more than half of the residents of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, has presented a growing urbanization challenge for the country, as many residents lack access to water, sanitation, or central heating. In 2013, The Asia Foundation forged a partnership between Solo city in Indonesia, and local NGO Solo Kota Kita (SKK), to conduct a community mapping initiative to provide planning tools for Ulaanbaatar officials to better understand and meet the needs of its 700,000 ger residents.

The growth of unplanned, peri-urban settlements, or ger areas which account for more than half of the residents of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, has presented a growing urbanization challenge for the country.

With training and support from Solo Kota Kita, the Ulaanbaatar government and local leaders have improved their community planning capacity, mapping the availability and accessibility of basic services in 87 neighborhoods based on 11 indicators and developing a community mapping website where the maps can be accessed by citizens and city officials as an advocacy and planning tool. The City Municipality has subsequently expanded the community mapping to the cover the entire city.

China-Bangladesh one-stop shop partnership

Developing local solutions for the efficient delivery of basic services within urban communities in Asia is a rising challenge. Since 2014, UNDP has facilitated a partnership between China and Bangladesh to improve urban service delivery in Bangladesh. Mayors from several cities in Bangladesh visited Beijing to observe its “one-stop shop” community service centers, which streamline the provision of essential services including birth and death certificates, trade licenses, inheritance, and succession certificates. Following the visit, the mayors returned to Bangladesh and designed a one-stop service center prototype for Bangladesh, building on the Beijing model. The initiative is currently being piloted in Gazipur.

These examples demonstrate how Asian development cooperation is driving sustainable urbanization in Asia. Through technical assistance, public-private partnerships, innovative sharing, and problem solving, Asia’s urban challenges are being met by Asian solutions. South-South cooperation will remain instrumental in Asia’s future as it continues to meet urban challenges in the region’s dynamic cities.

Anthea Mulakala is The Asia Foundation’s director for international development cooperation. Minjae Lee is a KOICA Young Professional based in the Foundation’s Korea office. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.


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