Aerial view of Yulin, National Forest City — DESERTIFICATION

via Aerial view of Yulin, National Forest City — DESERTIFICATION

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Infrastructure: Key Drivers for Action

 A truly holistic approach to infrastructure requires stepping away from a silo/sector-based approach and understanding that infrastructure is made up of not just physical things or assets, but consists of three major parts: assets, knowledge, and institutions.

Embracing this concept provides the clarity required to further understand how infrastructure governs the function of society and acts as the enabling vehicle for desired societal changes and development outcomes.

The continuing and increasing pressure of population growth specially in cities makes the efficient consumption of natural resources by infrastructure systems absolutely essential if conflict rooted in the issues surrounding equitable access to and use of natural resources is to be understood and managed. There are also further benefits that can be gained through approaches such as that proposed by McKinsey and Company, by understanding and implementing improvements in efficiency and rationalization of existing infrastructure systems.

• Understanding the linkage between availability, accessibility, affordability and adequacy of basic services for the realization of human rights and well being. Basic services are central to the realization of a wide range of human rights, including water, sanitation, housing, health and education. It is, therefore, crucial to ensure that these services:

  • are available and physically accessible to all;
  • are affordable to all;
  •  are culturally adapted (Local Culture add to sustainability of city) to various groups of the populations;
  •  do not discriminate in their access or delivery;
  • are safe to use for all, including for women and children.

Policy Reforms

In the face of the challenges posed of rising demand for services, the current inequitable distribution of services and infrastructure, the existing spatial and socio-economic segregation and failure to implement future demand based planning, there is a need for a comprehensive reform of urban infrastructure policies to:

  •  improve the enabling environment for investment;
  •  create more effective incentives for greater efficiencies in supply and consumption, as well as the payment of services;
  • impose more effective methods for infrastructure planning and service delivery ;
  • create stronger regulatory frameworks;
  • remove institutional rigidities and create space to attract and enable the private sector, NGOs, community groups and households to play a greater role in financing and service provision.

• Building viable and well-managed institutions aligned with infrastructure systems knowledge. The quality of services provided by urban infrastructure is directly related to the capacity of the institutional frameworks and knowledge.

While some progress has been achieved in the past two decades, much is  to be done in ensuring  effective management of the institutions responsible for the regulation, planning and management of urban infrastructure. Its time for change.

Some sectors have made little progress in addressing the need for institutional reform and financial sustainability, these include urban sanitation, solid waste management in low and middle-income countries, and urban drainage.

• Legal and regulatory frameworks within which development takes place. Understanding that the provision of services and infrastructure does not solve all issues created by poor urban planning or a lack of, for example development in unstable or high-risk areas. Thus, the where and how the assets are created and who decides which assets to create, is as important as the network of assets themselves.Effective Urban Planning is the key attribute here.

• Developing effective and integrated infrastructure planning. Urban infrastructure is capital intensive and facilities need to be continuously improved and expanded through balanced programs of demand-based planning for the extension of services to meet increasing urban populations and needs. Effective infrastructure planning requires a complete mindset change, all forms of infrastructure need to be considered and planned beyond the current limitations of a sector-based approach, to provide an ‘enabling vehicle’ for societal change and development. New planning approaches and technologies will support progress in the need to reduce the unit costs of infrastructure provision, improving efficiency and quality, ensuring that services are aligned with urban plans, and to plan for optimal expansion of infrastructure to support the urbanization process. Infrastructure and services interventions have a strong impact on city form and city development and thus need to be tied to an  overall urban planning and city development strategies, shaping a sustainable and equitable future that addresses a wider communities’ rights.

• Enhancing coordinated implementation of urban infrastructure. Beyond the planning process, there is a need to ensure that the infrastructure is developed and implemented through the understanding of the assets, knowledge, and institutions of infrastructure. In addition, the recognition and understanding of the critical interdependence amongst all spheres of government are needed. This is particularly relevant for metropolitan areas where fragmentation creates missed opportunities for service provision efficiencies; spillovers across jurisdictional boundaries; and regional income and service level inequalities. Coordination mechanisms are emerging: inter-municipal cooperation, legal incentives for cooperation, planning and development agencies, cost-sharing arrangements for metro-wide service delivery, metropolitan development funds, coordinated tax agreements, pool financing, improved linkages between national and local governments’ programs and policies to ensure efficiency and reduce the imbalance.

• Developing new business models and strategic partnerships. Rapid urbanization has increased the scope and complexity of service provision. New business models are now needed to integrate the strengths and capacities of the public sector, private companies, NGOs, and Community-Based Organizations. New approaches are particularly needed in sectors such as urban drainage, sanitation, solid waste, mobility, clean energy provision, and in delivering services to the informal settlements. Although governments in developing countries generally provide, own, and operate all infrastructure, there are alternative approaches that are effective in the provision of services and infrastructure. These alternatives address the need for new business models, such as financial returns on land value increase provided by new infrastructure, green infrastructure, and investment guarantee schemes. Green infrastructure is low-cost, and often high-return, investment approach that has been used to great effect in many cities worldwide. Particularly with regard to the private sector, the development and provision of investment guarantee schemes to attract private investment and to enhance the capacity of governments to make the necessary legal and contractual arrangements aligned with a capacity to regulate and manage private sector entities that provide the physical services provides achievable benefits and opportunities. These approaches have the added advantage of freeing up government capacity to undertake fully integrated networks and systems of infrastructure planning that further ensures that the vital bottom-up validation of such planning is implemented.

• Fostering and applying technological innovation. Technological innovation has become a critical driver for action in the light of emerging challenges, such as water shortages, the unsustainability of energy systems based on fossil fuels, the need to increase the reuse and recycling of waste, and the increasing frequency and intensity of climate change effects. However, while much is being done to develop new technologies to address these problems, there is a growing need to create platforms to bring together the researchers, the policymakers, the decision-makers, the infrastructure managers and regulators and the knowledge management agencies to more effectively target research to the problems being encountered and to create platforms for pilot testing, application and dissemination of the innovative technologies. The increasing demand for energy in urban areas, estimated at 8% annually in African cities, could be addressed in part by making use of renewable energy potentials that exist in cities.

In fact transforming municipal waste into energy, dual repurposing such as rain and grey water recycling, replacing linear water supply systems with closed-circuit systems, exploiting the water-waste-energy nexus are key potentials. Green infrastructure, seen as networks of multifunctional green spaces, has been shown to offer a range of ecological, social, and economic benefits that enhance ‘grey’ urban infrastructure, if strategically planned and managed . Green roofs, permeable vegetated surfaces, street trees, public parks, community gardens and urban wetlands can offer ‘ecosystem service benefits’ as diverse as improving residents’ health and wellbeing, providing food, lowering wind speeds, reducing storm-water run-off, modulating ambient temperatures, reducing energy use and sequestering carbon. Green infrastructure thus holds the potential to cushion cities against many expected climate change impacts.

• Adopt inclusive participatory processes, and increased access to information for all residents: In addition to improving transparency as well as the access and diffusion of information, public participation has contributed to improved planning outcomes in the formulation and implementation of plans by addressing the distinct needs of various groups, especially marginalized populations.


Habitat Papers

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Defining Urban Space

It is not  easy to develop a definition of urban space because such a definition must consider the social parameters of its constituent parts: urban and space. The difficulty of defining urban space is enhanced if one considers that urban space is an artifact of urbanization – a social process that describes the manner in which cities grow and societies become more complex. For example, a synergistic perspective of space situates the location of ‘‘urban’’ as an outcome of social and institutional forces associated with urbanization. In contrast, a structural perspective of space identifies ‘‘urban’’ as the product of social structures and relationships that typify urbanization. Combining the synergistic and structural perspectives results in the identification of social features associated with urban space:

(1) diversity of social roles and relationships, and

(2) institutional arrangements and social networks necessary for efficient social order. No matter which perspective one adopts, one thing is clear: urban space is a dynamic aspect of urbanization.

Urbanization is certainly aided by population growth and institutional expansion. For Urban Systems to grow people must come together in large enough numbers that they are situated in a space that makes them noticeably different from less populated human groupings. In addition, the social diversity of the people situated in the same space promotes a form of social interaction characterized by formal role relationships rather than intimate or informal (e.g., familial) role relationships.  A distinction emerges between highly populated space (urban) and less populated space (rural).

The aggregation of people inhabiting the same space serves as a social force that brings together persons with diverse lifestyles and work ethics. In most cases people migrate to the same space because of shared interests or shared expectations regarding lifestyles and work ethics. There are many reasons of migrating or not migrating.Interestingly, social contact between persons in the population sharing the same space enhances the social diversity of the population by increasing familiarity with different lifestyles and work ethics. In turn, the diversity of lifestyles and work ethics necessitates the development of institutional structures for their expression; for example, churches for religious expression and a labor market for demonstrating a work ethic.

At the institutional level, cohabiting of  a large number of persons with a diversity of lifestyles and work practices in the same space required the centralization of social life. The dynamic aspect of increased social contact between persons required the development of formal relationships between persons and institutions.

For example, in order to promote the efficient expression of social life, economic organizations such as banks and labor markets developed in order to provide a network of services that utilized labor, raw materials, and capital. The network of services, in turn, centralized the production of services that meet the needs of a growing population. As such, a large and growing population, coupled with an institutional structure designed to promote centralization and social efficiency, created a context for defining urban space: the situating of a large number of persons with diverse lifestyles and work ethics in space nested within an institutional structure that promotes centralization and social efficiency.

In in early nineteenth century Parisian society the aristocracy and growing bourgeoisie moved to the margins of the city to escape the increasing numbers of the ‘‘popular classes’’ in Paris. The access to capital and valued resources enjoyed by the upper and middle classes allowed them to situate themselves on the margin of urban space. In  effect, access to capital or valued resources served as a social force to extend the boundaries of urban space into rural space. As a result, what is often referred to as a suburb – space adjacent to or on the periphery of urban space – took rudimentary expression as the ability of persons with capital to differentiate themselves by class from persons subject to the homogenizing effects of the ‘‘popular class’’ on persons sharing the same urban space.

One finds in American society a similar phenomenon in the twenty first century. The increasing perception that urban space is pregnant with social problems such as crime, homelessness, and poverty has resulted in persons and families fleeing to space located on the periphery or within traveling distance of urban space. During the 1970s and early 1980s in the US, moving from urban space to the suburb was often characterized as ‘‘white flight’’ because it was a movement that was mostly driven by white persons and families. These were white persons and families that had accumulated equity in their homes located in urban space that permitted them to sell their homes and buy new larger homes in the suburbs. (Unfortunately, most of those left behind in urban space were racial and ethnic minorities who did not own their homes, thus resulting in the racialization of the suburbs.) Ironically, in some cases the number of persons and families moving from urban space to the suburbs was so drastic that suburbs became mirror images of the urban space persons and families were fleeing. The suburbs have become so much like urban space that persons and families are moving into rural areas, resulting in ‘‘suburbs of the suburbs,’’ or what population experts refer to as exurbs.

Interestingly, as persons and families moved from urban to suburban space, the uses of public space have come into question. Who is entitled to occupy public space? In urban centers, the poor and homeless have been identified as targets for city redevelopment projects. For example, redevelopment policies have been used by cities to implement ‘‘eminent domain’’ practices to remove older homes, often occupied by the elderly on fixed incomes, to make room for upscale townhouses or condominiums that appeal to young people and families, especially those with white collar or professional occupations. Redevelopment policies have been designed by cities that establish vagrancy zones in downtown areas that make loitering on public walkways a misdemeanor – a strategic tool for criminalizing the homeless in downtown areas. As a result, city redevelopment practices seek to remove the poor and homeless from public space not so much to ‘‘clean up’’ the city, but so as to create an attractive locale for bringing back the capital that left the city when persons and families moved to the suburbs.

In the suburbs the fight is over how to allocate public space to parks and recreation areas versus businesses and commercial interests. For example, many of the suburbs’ residents commute to work in urban centers. In order to develop a system of services that meet the needs of growing suburbs, city councils in the suburbs have courted businesses, especially manufacturers, to relocate to the suburbs in order to generate sales tax revenue and jobs, thus keeping residents in the suburbs and improving their quality of life by providing jobs that do not require commuting. The push for attracting businesses, however, comes at a cost to residents. Public space that has been designated for recreational use is used as a carrot by city councils to attract businesses. As a result, public space in the suburb is a contest between resource used by people versus economic benefits for businesses.

In summary, if one considers the social construction of population centers, one might say that urban space is typified by what is called a ‘‘city.’’ A city is a collection of people and institutional structures that promote the efficient interaction between persons and place. Urban space has often increased in population to the point that it serves as a synergistic force for the social construction of the suburb. Ironically, suburbs have decided that the only means for their survival is to mirror urban areas – formal social relationships and complex institutional arrangements. In turn, the suburb has served as a synergistic force to create its own alter ego, the exurb. As a result, the rapid growth of suburban populations makes it difficult to exclude the suburb from consideration as urban space because it is a product and catalyst for the social construction of urban space. It is possible to consider the rise of the suburb as an extension of urban space that seeks to accommodate the expression of increasing diversity in lifestyles and work ethics. It is not clear, however, how increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the US population will shape the synergistic link between urban and suburban space. Ironically, what urban and suburban spaces have in common is the transformation of public space into contested terrain.



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Don’t Limit Others

Orlando Espinosa

Don’t tell others who they are, who they are supposed to be or what they are capable of accomplishing! You do a disservice to others when you limit what they can do.

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