First Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation: Summery of 45 Deserving and Outstanding Initiatives

Compiled and edited by Nicholas You


The following 45 deserving city initiatives were selected by an independent Technical Committee that met in Guangzhou, China, October 15-17, 2012. The selection was made after reviewing 255 initiatives from 155 cities from 56 countries. Of these 45, 15 were deemed of outstanding merit, making up the short list that was subsequently submitted to an independent jury to decide on five-award winning initiatives. These 15 initiatives are presented in Part I, and the remaining 30 in Part II.

The 15 outstanding initiatives

1. Aguascalientes, Mexico

The Green Line comprehensive social development plan

In 2010, the Mexican city of Aguascalientes established its new program, “La Linea Verde” (The Green Line). Its purpose is at one level to provide quality public spaces to enhance the quality of community life for more than 300,000 of its poorest citizens, or more than a third of its population of 800,000. Although at the project’s core lies a major physical urban initiative, it has a much wider social aim and impact — no less than to integrate the poorest communities into the social urban fabric and to improve quality of life. It focuses on residents who have been, and felt themselves, marginalized. It provides new open spaces along a 12-kilometer “line,” and for the first time in Mexico, the national oil company PEMEX has allowed the city to build on their restricted spaces. In an area with water problems, the initiative uses water in an effective way by using a single pipeline to provide the same level of water service to each space and help economize on use and maintenance.

The initiative’s social dimension is strong, with each city department making its contribution to what the city calls its “social and urban acupuncture.” Thus, the Institute for Women holds meetings on domestic violence, the Public Service Agency analyzes local needs street by street, and the Citizens Observatory acts as a communication and participation channel. The parks use photovoltaic panels which have reduced local electricity costs.

The Green Line initiative is a first for Mexico, although it borrows some aspects from other Latin American cities, and it provides a powerful combination of physical and social development in a well-integrated way. As a result, poorer communities are already more visible and active in the city’s life, and a range of social benefits are identified, including a decline in delinquency. The underlying concept is a good one for replication by other cities.

2. Chiang Rai, Thailand

Urban ecosystem and biodiversity conservation toward sustainable city and climate change resilience

This initiative, started in 2008, represents a major shift in the way the City of Chiang Rai, population 200,000, is meeting the challenges of rapid urbanization and climate change. On the policy front, the initiative is a departure from past policy that focused primarily on making the city an economic gateway for the Mekong. This led to rapid urban growth and environmental deterioration. The new vision of the mayor is for a “liveable city focusing on good environment, in conformity with the Buddhist way, and well-being of the people … ”

Seven development strategies have been formulated to attain this vision. They include a highly original and integrated approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation; the linking of biodiversity preservation with local economic development and with disaster preparedness. An equally significant change is changing the role of the city from “doer” to “facilitator,” involving the active engagement of citizens and local stakeholders to forge a strong sense of ownership and sustainability in implementation.

The initiative has resulted in the demarcation of forests, lakes and rivers as conservation zones; in the gaining of new knowledge about local biodiversity; in improved and expanded green spaces and the overall improvement of quality of life. These actions and improvements have boosted tourism and tourism revenue, spawned new educational programs for school children and youth, and strengthened community relationships that have significantly reduced conflicts and social tensions. Many cities have already visited Chiang Rai to learn from its experience.

3. Curitiba, Brazil

Linking environmental preservation with urban development — the green areas of Curitiba

Curitiba, home to some 1.76 million inhabitants, is already well known internationally as an Ecological Capital, a title conferred by the United Nations in recognition of its environmental policies in the 1990s. This new initiative reinforces the city’s reputation for conceiving and implementing simple but innovative solutions. While the initiative dates to the 1970s, it is very much ongoing — a commendable aspect of continuity across different administrations. The concept is simple: It links preserving biodiversity with creating green space in the city, especially along river banks and their natural floodplains in the city. Those areas are important for migratory birds and indigenous flora and fauna. The innovative part of the initiative lies in a system of incentives for property owners to play an active role in creating conservation zones in accordance with standards that are stricter than those of national legislation, in exchange for tax breaks and/or the possibility to build higher than would normally be allowed.

In a pioneering attitude, a partnership was entered in 2008 with the Society for Wildlife Research and Environmental Education (SPVS) to quantify the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by indigenous plant biomass within urban areas. This is the first instrument of its kind in Brazil.

The initiative demonstrates that preserving biodiversity, improving and expanding green areas, and planning for rapid urban growth can be carried out simultaneously and in a mutually reinforcing way while creating value opportunities for property owners and developers and improving quality of life for all citizens.

4. Dakar, Senegal

Paving Dakar City using labor-intensive public works
This initiative revives an approach popular some 20 years ago that was gradually abandoned due to the trend for municipalities to favor modern contractors in public works contracts. Dakar has taken a bold step by adopting an integrated problem-solving solution that addresses several local economic and environmental issues. The initiative began in 2011 and uses paving stones and small-scale contractors to pave roads, squares and other public spaces. The approach represents a 10 to 30 percent cost reduction compared to conventional paving methods. It also creates two to four times more jobs with the same investment. It combines employing and training underprivileged locals with supporting local manufacturing of paving stones, to improve local economic development and employment opportunities.

This initiative also improved paved surfaces with a semi-pervious material that reduces storm water runoff, facilitates replacement of surface water, and replenishes the aquifer to help prevent salt water intrusion, which is critical to maintaining and improving water quality in places like Dakar. This social-ecological innovation is a bold step toward improving road surfaces, squares and public spaces and public health and sanitation for the metropolis’ 2.5 million inhabitants. It has vastly improved traffic safety, but most important, it has created jobs for the poor and new skills that can be used to sustain income-generating activities and opportunities. Many cities in Africa and other developing countries stand to benefit from Dakar’s combined approach to local economic development and infrastructure improvement.

5. Kaohsiung City, Taiwan

1999 Anytime, anything, anywhere

Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second largest city, with some 2.8 million people. It has several ongoing initiatives that clearly demonstrate its commitment to a caring and client-oriented approach to its day-to-day administration. These initiatives are diversified, ranging from a meals-on-wheels type service for the elderly; using ICT to enhance learning at the primary school level; a bike rental service that uses ICT for real time fleet management and allocation to improve timely access and availability; and a one-window citizen response system that provides seamless response and dispatch services across 52 categories of possible areas of inquiry or assistance. These range from health and transport, to utilities and environmental services, and from fixing a street light to repairing a pothole.

The system, called “1999,” initiated in 2007, while inspired by many other one-number call-in services, goes a step further in ensuring user satisfaction and a high degree of quality of life. Comprehensive daily monitoring and evaluation of the quality of the service and the timeliness of response is undertaken. For example, the benchmark for answering a call or query is 15 seconds, while the benchmark for acting on a complaint about a broken street of traffic light or a pothole is four hours. In addition, for this service, Kaohsiung trained and hired people who were physically challenged. This and other initiatives have already attracted attention and study tours from cities in mainland China and other countries.

6. Kocaeli, Turkey

Prepare before it’s too late!

In the recent past Kocaeli suffered a severe earthquake, which destroyed great parts of the city and region, killing some 18,000 people and wounding many others out of a total population of some 1.6 million. As a result, the city decided it must plan, research and educate far better for the future. It established a new program, “Prepare before it’s too late,” which started in early 2012. It combines two distinct but complementary strands in a single center. The first is a comprehensive seismological monitoring facility through which data are collected and risks are analyzed. The second is broad-based citizen education.

One specific innovation is the way the program coordinates the emergency management agencies, including NGOs, universities, research centers and local government agencies. The education component focuses particularly on children, with the use of theater in primary schools as an imaginative way to raise youngsters’ awareness. Since January 2012 the initiative has reached more than 20,000 students, including 500 disabled children, and more than 3,500 people have visited the center. The innovative approach aims also to be a source of learning for, and replication by, other municipalities and their partners.

7. Lilongwe, Malawi

The Lilongwe-Johannesburg cities mentorship program

This initiative exemplifies the purpose of the Guangzhou Award — how cities can help each other improve their governance and their sustainability. The initiative represents an innovative, three-way partnership among the City of Johannesburg, the Lilongwe City Council (LCC) and the Cities Alliance, as well as other donors and national and international organizations.

The City of Johannesburg provides assistance to the LCC in developing a City Development Strategy focusing on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals for its 781,000 inhabitants. Started in 2008, the initiative has improved the LCC’s capacity to formulate strategies in economic management, shelter, land and infrastructure. This has resulted in the mobilization of follow-up assistance for implementation in a short period of time. Concerning management, the LCC computerized much of its accounting and billing system, resulting in improved transparency, accountability and efficiency, and set up of a performance management system.

The new accounting and billing system led to increased revenues by 2010 which has allowed the LCC to improve staff salaries based on the performance management system. Regarding the shelter and land component, external public and private funding has been mobilized to help: (i) create about 2,000 residential and commercial plots allocated to the urban poor; (ii) improve water and sanitation in low-income settlements; (iii) strengthen the Community Savings and Loans Association, enabling women to start income generating activities; and improve dilapidated roads and put in place street lighting.

8. Medellin, Colombia

Medellin Digital

Medellin has been recognized for the broad-based and rapid transformation the city has undergone in the last decade in confronting and overcoming serious security and social inclusion challenges. The Medellin Digital project is based on the current mayor’s vision to transform Medellin into the city with the highest level of education in Colombia and for all of its 2.7 million inhabitants. It was initiated in 2007 in a partnership created to bring the new tools of communication and information to all the neighborhoods in the city, including on the outskirts and in low-income settlements.

Medellin Digital is a partnership between the City of Medellin and UNE-EPN Telecom (local service provider) that makes ICT a tool for development and social change. Close to half of Medellin’s residents are now regular Internet users, 15 percent higher than the national average. Some 1.5 million people have benefitted from Medellin Digital through 247 public schools, 8 local business development centers, 5 libraries, 45 government offices and 21 public places. By 2020 it is expected that more than 75 percent of the city’s population will become regular Internet users, greatly facilitating networking and access to information and knowledge. During its first five years (2007-2011) Medellin Digital focused on four areas: education, culture, entrepreneurship and governance. Beginning in the second half of 2012, Medellin Digital incorporated new areas in sustainability, health and social innovation.

The National Ministry for ICT has taken the Medellin Digital strategy as a model to build the technology policy for the rest of the country. Many other municipalities have come to Medellin to learn first-hand about this bold approach to bridging the digital divide and building a knowledge society.

9. Perm, Russia

Transforming the City

This initiative involves a strategic master plan for the City of Perm to help it overcome and reverse many of the negative consequences that affect “shrinking cities.” It includes a long-term vision to reinvent itself from its heavy industry legacy into a modern regional cultural and knowledge capital with a high quality of life and a competitive economic base for its population of 1.2 million. During its formulation stage (2008-2011), the initiative involved a wide range of public, private and civil society partners from Russia and other countries. Its originality lies in a master plan and a series of instruments that define action areas and projects to be harmonised with the city budget in four three-year stages. While many aspects of the plan are common to other plans — such as realising a compact, transit-oriented city, providing alternative mobility, etc. — the plan is comprehensive and seeks to mesh social, economic, environmental, physical and cultural actions with participatory decision making and the means for measuring progress and effectiveness.

On the institutional front, the plan has resulted in the establishment of City Projects Bureau, a new Urban Planning Department and the Perm Polytechnic to help mobilise and retain the expertise needed for going forward. On the physical front, the plan has resulted in an agreement to stop future greenfield development and urban sprawl. On the governance front, the plan is engaging all stakeholders of the city through dedicated forums, the news media and social media, town hall meetings and conferences to forge a better understanding and strong ownership of transformative change and innovation.

10. Sakhnin, Israel

TAEQ’s Green Building of Sakhnin: Center for environmental research and education
The originality of TAEQ, or center for environmental research and education, is to be found in its two-pronged approach to green building design and energy efficiency in buildings. One the one hand, the Center has been a leader in green building, as it initiated its program some 10 years before the adoption if Israel’s green-building rating system in 2010. The center itself is a “near zero energy facility” using energy-saving techniques as well as renewable energy sources. On the other hand, the Center itself is a blend of traditional Arab architecture with modern architecture using both new energy technologies and age-old passive methods for cooling air and using natural daylight, features and techniques missing from modern architecture in the region and worldwide.

The Center itself serves as a “proof of concept” that shows people, home owners, decision makers and developers how energy can be conserved in any modern or traditional building. All urban planners working in Sakhnin’s six municipalities come to the Center for professional development and training. Similarly, all K-12 schools in the six municipalities are implementing energy-saving actions and are becoming “green schools.” Some 60,000 people from all walks of life visit the Center annually in a city of 25,000. Last but not least, the Center has resulted in Jewish and Arab municipalities collaborating, for the first time in Israel’s history, on a regional project.

11. Salerno, Italy

SustAinabLe enErgy NOw!

The City of Salerno with a population of close to 140,000, mobilized a multidisciplinary team including universities and private entities to develop a City Energy Plan to reach or surpass the goals fixed by the European Union for reducing CO2 emissions, reducing energy consumption and producing energy from renewable sources. The plan includes an energy audit and an advanced and comprehensive energy-monitoring system; a list of specific actions for implementation as well as the formulation of new laws, incentives and regulatory frameworks.

Initiated in 2009, actions have already begun under the overall framework of an urban plan in improving energy efficiency in: street lighting; buildings; water savings, water catchment and management; mobility through smart traffic lights and incentives for car pooling, use of bicycles, park and ride; and improved waste recycling and re-use. Currently Salerno recycles 70 percent of its solid waste, the highest rate in Italy for a city of its class. Perhaps the most iconic achievement has been the completion of a 24 MW photovoltaic plant “Monti di Eboli,” the third largest plant of its kind in Italy. A highly original aspect lies with the Solidarity Purchasing Plan, which makes it more affordable for homeowners to install energy-saving measures and PV panels by pooling their orders.

12. Seoul, Korea

Dealing with challenges facing youth

Seoul, one of Asia’s biggest metropolises, with 10.5 million inhabitants, has developed a great capacity for innovation in urban planning and management and has recently implemented a transparent procurement system. But it is in the social field, particularly in helping young people experiencing severe problems, that two original initiatives merit being highlighted and widely disseminated. The first is a Youth Prostitution Prevention Project. The second tackles the growing problem — of great significance in Korea and many other countries — of Internet addiction.

The issue of teenage prostitution has grown steadily over the last 15 years. Around 200,000 young people run away from home each year. Many young girl runaways are at grave risk of falling into prostitution, even if they do not define themselves as such. When they are found, it is often ineffective to send them back to homes that are dysfunctional and prone to domestic violence, or to temporary shelters. A new philosophy of social intervention has led to the establishment of the “Self-Empowerment School for teen prostitutes,” run by a multidisciplinary team. The first school opened in 2009, followed swiftly by a second. Their success has led to co-funding by central government.

A restaurant/café was opened to provide job training and experience for the girls. A crucial element in the schools’ success is the focus on self-empowerment — engaging the girls themselves in building a brighter future. The initiative also uses the Web in a proactive way, and finding practical vocational/job training and placement is central. The school initially met with opposition from local residents, and the city has worked hard to change these perceptions and win support.

The second issue — Internet addiction — is important given that more than 12 percent of Korean citizens between the ages of 9 and 39 are estimated to have some symptoms of Internet addiction. It affects young people in particular. Since 2009 the city government has set up “I Will Centers” — with five such centers expected to have been established by the end of 2012. The aim is to help young people commit to changing their lives, using a wide range of counselling and therapy techniques and also through preventative work in schools and with parents. The centers have already led to significant international interest.

13. Sylhet, Bangladesh

Disaster Resilient Future: Mobilizing Communities and Institutions for Effective Risk Reduction.

Despite having escaped any major disasters in a disaster-prone area and country for more than 110 years, Sylhet decided to use a multilevel approach to earthquake risk awareness and preparedness for its 463,000 inhabitants. The strategy which has been put in place and is being implemented since March 2011 is unique in Bangladesh and represents many innovative features. They include: raising general public awareness; improving household preparations through education and providing equipment; coordination of several stakeholders and different levels of government; using volunteers; engaging local schools, the fire service, civil defense, the university, the medical college and the news media.

The coordination of all these actors has been delegated to a local NGO. Local response capacity is being strengthened by stockpiling and providing first aid supplies and emergency equipment in a decentralized manner. This was an evolutionary approach, in that Sylhet learned from other communities in strengthening their respective resilience and local capacity through risk preparedness. The initiative has resulted in a coordinated approach among public, private and community groups through regular meetings, risk assessments and with self-led initiatives and project interventions.

14. Vancouver, Canada

Visionary Vancouver: creating a welcoming and sustainable place for all!

The “Greenest City 2020” initiative provides an inspirational vision and ambition with a practical focus, and strong commitment to citizen and business engagement for its population of 603,000. It builds on the city’s long track record in sustainability, but orients its policies and practical solutions to serve future generations. It has three framework themes — Zero Carbon, Zero Waste and Healthy Eco-systems.

The new Village built for the 2010 Winter Olympics integrated a range of state-of-the-art green technologies such as solar heat, passive energy design, electric vehicle infrastructure etc. From this experience, the city is developing higher standards in new areas. The Village was the first complete community certified to LEED Platinum standard. It works with the university and other partners. For the city’s own operations, four key priorities now are waste reduction and re-use, local food procurement, and achievement of carbon-neutral operations.

The Greenest City 2020 initiative has 10 broad but integrated goals which underpin all municipal policy work within the framework of a clear and coherent vision and backed by a deep commitment and capacity to implement innovative sustainability policies and measures. It compliments other impressive initiatives on social inclusion and economic development.

15. Vienna, Austria

Social inclusion, energy optimization and green procurement

Vienna is a capital city of some 1.73 million people, and it is growing. Its initiatives in environmental, energy and social issues demonstrate a clear capacity to innovate, on a continuing basis, in many policy directions.

On the environmental front, Vienna adheres to a set of clear and coherent green standards for public procurement (Okokauf) and has become a leader in producing and using renewable energy for, for example, operating Vienna’s wastewater treatment plant.

But given the large scale of migration from other counties to Vienna — an experience shared by many other cities — the “Start Wien” program for new migrants stands out for its innovativeness, relevance and potential for replication. The program offers all new migrants a “One-Stop Shop” service involving different departments and social services, individually tailored orientation meetings, language services and more advanced information and coaching services. It reaches the target group immediately after arrival, looks at the needs of each individual, provides clear information and provides a single entry point to access an array of social services.

Many cities could do well to learn from Vienna’s approach, which helps migrants at the critical stage of establishing a new life and a new home while overcoming the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness associated with the lack of coordinated and coherent response by different departments and services that make life miserable for those seeking help from public services.

Another 30 deserving initiatives

1. Ahmedabad, India

Janmarg — bus rapid transit

Ahmedabad is the first Indian city to have implemented a fully-fledged BRT system which is operating successfully. While Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), with a population of 6.5 million, has been known as a pioneer in many aspects of urban management and finance, its public transport system was plagued by inefficiencies and saw a significant decline in patronage by 2005. Commuters resorted to other forms of mobility, which resulted in more congestion and more air pollution. Having examined various alternatives, the AMC decided in 2006 to undertake a project proposal for BRT, which was subsequently approved for implementation starting in 2007. The first line opened in 2009. The system’s objective was to: (i) shift passenger movement from vehicles to BRT; (ii) provide affordable transport on a continuing and long-term basis; (iii) develop a market and a culture for public transport; and (iv) reduce air pollution and traffic congestion.

One of the remarkable innovations of Janmarg lies in its cross-subsidy mechanism using a land value capture system to ensure affordability of the BRT. Results to date are encouraging: Ridership exceeds 140,000 passengers per day, with 52 percent of the riders having shifted from private vehicles or from three-wheelers. Owing to careful planning and design, the system averages 25 km/h during peak hours and 27 km/h off-peak, which compares favorably with metro performance.

2. Albay, Philippines

Building resilient and safe communities through shared responsibility

The Province of Albay encompasses three cities and 15 smaller municipalities with a population of a little more than 1.2 million. It is in the western portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire and thus prone to earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunami, heavy rain fall, typhoons and, more recently, storm surges caused by climate change. In order to better protect its people and economic base, the Province of Albay decided to integrate its disaster risk reduction (DDR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) cutting across all sectors and institutional actors. While DDR and CCA are two distinct endeavors, their differences are not readily understood or perceived by the public. This led Albay to adopt a unique institutional approach to streamlining and synchronizing the actions of all relevant government departments and authorities in DRR and CCA, as well as in its working relations with the donor community. The overarching strategy is guided by the goal of “Zero Casualty,” which brings together all aspects of risk reduction and adaptation under a comprehensive developmental planning approach.

This approach to DRR and CCA has continually brought innovations and changes to rules, procedures and established systems becoming more demand driven, client oriented and looking forward to longer term solutions. It has led to establishing and strengthening institutional frameworks. Albay’s knowledge, expertise and experience in building resilient communities has been repeatedly recognized nationally and internationally, and the province participates regularly in technical cooperation and transfer initiatives to other provinces, cities and municipalities throughout the Philippines.

3. Ashkelon, Israel

Smart decision support system for improving service performance, accountability and citizen satisfaction

Ashkelon, a city of 131,000 inhabitants, is the first city in Israel to use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to register and interpret citizens’ complaints to improve service performance, accountability and citizen satisfaction. Like many other e-city systems the objectives are to reduce the levels of public service complaints by translating those complaints into effective operational responses and to reduce gaps and overlaps in response systems so as to improve cost-effectiveness and efficiency. A unique feature of Ashkelon’s system is to map public service complaints with other social determinants so as to be able to develop long-term solutions to problem areas. The spatial analysis of complaints can help delineate urban stress zones, as defined by high complaint densities, or by areas of “sensitive populations.” Started in 2008, the system has already resulted in positive feedback from citizens based on a carefully designed satisfaction survey. This instrument is designed not only to improve public service performance and behavior but also to engage the citizen in decision making.

4. Avilés, Spain

Doing away with red tape from within

Avilés, population 83,000, has a history rooted in industry and fishing. Its transition to a service economy is inevitable, so it decided to take the lead by becoming a “mesh city” — to help pioneer and distribute the methods and technologies that will shape the design of tomorrow’s responsive, sustainable cities. The first step, begun in 2007, was to make access to Internet a free public service on a 24-hour basis, to help citizens access public services and thus bridge the digital divide. In parallel, the city administration, starting in 2010, engaged its entire staff in an unprecedented re-organization centered on efficiency, effectiveness and timeliness in delivering services. This included a radical change in all administrative procedures to ensure maximum transparency, ease of payment transactions, effective communications and access to information.

To make these reforms and improvements even more tangible and meaningful in the city’s transition to an e-economy, the entire city has been equipped with a centralized wireless platform, serving companies and citizens alike. At the same time the city is promoting the development of new mobile wireless services in different sectors and encourages the setting up of local companies in the wireless technologies sector. Today, Avilés boasts the biggest network of its type in Spain, with “the Avilés Model” now a term used for public wireless network deployment.

5. Birmingham, U.K.

Public Service Academy

Birmingham, population 1 million, is — like many of its European counterparts — seeing profound social and economic challenges around issues such as competitiveness, unemployment and disparities in education and health. These challenges are exacerbated by unprecedented budget reductions caused by the prolonged economic and financial crisis. The Public Service Academy is an entirely home-grown initiative aimed at forging an institutionalized partnership between one of the world’s leading universities with one of Europe’s largest cities. The partnership’s purpose is to create a platform for research and development, training and education and applied sciences centered on public policy and public service. Its key objectives include: (i) helping define the 21st-century public servant in a rapidly changing regional and global environment and to shape the learning and knowledge required of future civil servants; (ii) helping empower residents to engage effectively in decision-making; (iii) improving quality of life regardless of income or other considerations; and (iv) ensuring that public servants fully comprehend and assume their role in helping the most vulnerable in society.

This initiative, started in January 2012, is driven by an ambitious and laudable vision — to help shape better outcomes and decisions that will improve quality of life of Birmingham residents and making Birmingham a leader in developing new public policy and as a national and internationally relevant center for new and innovative thinking around public policy.

6. Bristol, U.K.

Digital inclusion and computer reuse scheme

Bristol is a tale of two cities, with areas of significant wealth and areas of deprivation. For example, in the Ashley ward of the city, 93 percent of children live in poor households and half the population is income deprived. Yet in wealthier wards, less than 1 percent to 2 percent of the population falls into the category of income deprivation or poverty. One result of this disparity is the digital divide, with the likelihood that people in deprived neighborhoods will have less access to opportunities and information that directly affect their livelihoods and quality of life. This includes, for example, the risk of becoming digitally illiterate, the lack of access to job and training opportunities, the inability to network and construct social capital and many other areas, including time and cost savings estimated at more than £500 per family per year for paying bills and procuring products and services on line. At the same time, Bristol’s better-off communities and businesses discard thousands of computers a year.

This apparent paradox led the City Council of Bristol to take the lead in recycling some 1,200 computers that it replaces annually. The City Council donates the hardware, which is refurbished and made available resident who are most at risk of being digitally excluded. Qualifying residents can acquire a refurbished computer and telephone support for £35 a year. Despite having not started until June 2012, 2,091 applications have been received and 1,500 work stations have been distributed. The aim is that the scheme will spread to the local business community, so that no family in Bristol will suffer from the digital divide.

7. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Comprehensive approach to improving liveability through better planning and governance

Buenos Aires boasts a number of initiatives designed to improve liveability, social equity and good governance for its almost 3 million inhabitants. These include: (i) public participation in Commune 8, a participatory and empowering approach to reviving a deprived neighborhood neglected by former administrations; (ii) transforming the city’s public spaces by linking them through a series of green corridors; (iii) the pedestrian-priority program designed to bring value to public spaces by making the city more walkable; (iv) and a long-term forward looking Territorial Plan that provides a shared vision for Buenos Aires and a set of indicators for attaining that vision.

A novel initiative for Argentina, and no doubt for many other cities in the region, is the Intelligent Digital Parcelling (IDP) system that integrates territorial, multimedia and alphanumeric data across many different administrative services and jurisdictions dealing with land, land registration, the cadastre, urban planning, public spaces and protection of cultural heritage. Started in 2011, the initiative will eventually represent a unified system for all data and information pertinent to urban planning. One particularly interesting sub-initiative of the IDP is subsoil mapping of the city. While IDP unified data mostly in the public domain, the subsoil mapping system unifies data from public and private entities, including utilities. It addresses an increasingly important but often neglected area of urban planning and management –what lies and happens underground.

8. Belo Horizonte, Brazil

ACS — Solidarity-based Communication Office

The metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte has a population of almost 5.5 million people living in 34 municipalities, with 2.5 million living in the city proper. Both the city and state (Minas Gerais) governments are demonstrating the effectiveness of novel approaches to urban management. At the city level, the Agência de Communicação Solidária (ACS) represents a unique networking facility for more than 30 community-based organizations that provides opportunities for exchanging knowledge, expertise and lessons learned from experience. The network combines the functions of an incubator, a training facility, a strategic planning advisory service and a communications hub. It involves, inter alia, the Prefecture of Belo Horizonte, the Federal University of Minas Gerais, the TV network of Minas and TV Brasil and a private-sector partner and sponsor, C&A.

The main impact of ACS is empowering low-income and disadvantaged segments of society through networking, sharing, access to information and knowledge and means of expression. The media partners have enabled these communities to portray their own lives and living conditions to the general public. Starting in 2011, ACS and its constituent community groups have embarked on a campaign against youth violence and through the establishment of Belo Horizonte Youth Forum. Besides mobilizing and sensitizing youth to issues pertaining to violence, the Forum also promotes policy dialogue between youth and community groups and local government.

9. Bremen, Germany

Towards a new mobility culture

Car-sharing is not a new concept, and there are a wide variety of initiatives by private companies around the world. The Bremen car-sharing initiative offers an innovative approach: It is led by the city government and adopts a more holistic approach to mobility. First, Bremen recognizes car-sharing is only part of the sustainable urban mobility equation. It relies on a comprehensive set of measures to make cycling, walking and public transport more feasible and attractive. In doing so, it also recognizes there will always be a portion of mobility requirements that will prompt users to resort to a car. Analyzing these requirements led the City of Bremen to several innovative solutions. First, it meshes car-sharing with public transport. This led to the offer of a joint public transport and car-sharing season ticket known as the “Bremen Karte plus AutoCard,” implemented in 1998. Other measures include providing street space for car-sharing parking spaces and stations; integrating car-sharing into new urban developments; and intelligent fleet management, including different categories of vehicles to respond to different usages and demand.

Results to date are impressive. Ownership of the cars among users of the car-sharing system has been reduced by 30 percent, or 1,500 fewer cars on the road in a city of 550,000 inhabitants. This augurs well for the target of reducing car ownership by 6,000 vehicles by 2020 and bringing about a change in car-ownership culture.

10. Cape Town, South Africa

Electricity Savings Campaign

Many utility companies in emerging markets have operated for decades along the business model “sell more power to grow the business.” But increasingly these companies realize the energy consumption patterns of middle- to high-income groups in urban areas have become part of the problem. Inefficient energy use at home or in the workplace puts unnecessary pressures on supply, pricing and social equity, as well as contributing to green house gas emissions. So the City of Cape Town, population 3.5 million, embarked on an electricity-saving campaign with the slogan: “Electricity is expensive — saving is simple.” The campaign spearheads a comprehensive approach including technology and behavioral change to energy efficiency. This approach includes: (i) a simple checklist of energy-saving habits and devices for home and the office; (ii) an information and outreach program; (iii) an Energy Efficiency Forum for commercial building owners and managers; (iv) establishing green building guidelines; (v) an initiative to facilitate the installation of 300,000 solar water heaters; (vi) and a City’s Youth Environmental School program (YES) that reaches out to 1,600 schools a year. This balanced approach reflects the energy use of the city where 43 percent of total electricity consumption is residential and 40 percent is commercial.

The campaign which began in 2010 has a goal of achieving 25 to 40 percent reduction in electricity consumption from middle- to high-income households. Preliminary results show significant reductions ranging from 11 percent to 14 percent, of which 7-8 percent is attributable to the campaign.

11. Cincinnati, Ohio

Plan Cincinnati

In 1925 Cincinnati was the first U.S. city to have a Comprehensive Plan approved by a city council. The plan has been updated twice — in 1948 and 1980. In 2009 the city began developing Plan Cincinnati in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Six liveability principles were adopted to guide all future work: (i) provide transportation choices; (ii) promote equitable and affordable housing; (iii) enhance economic competitiveness; (iv) support existing communities; (v) coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment; and (vi) value communities and neighborhoods.

These principles led to the adoption of five initiative areas predicated on a series of goals to be achieved and strategies to achieve them. The key categories are: Compete, Connect, Live, Sustain and Collaborate.

The innovative aspect of Plan Cincinnati is how the city approached public participation with its almost 300,000 residents. It started with one of the most difficult areas –how to get children and young adults to participate in the planning process. Planning the Future was designed by the city planning staff based on the art therapy concept, in providing a voice for youth in expressing their hopes, dreams, fears and concerns. The initiative led to surprising results: Children who participated in the program portrayed their dreams of a clean, safe city with jobs and transportation alternatives. The success of the youth initiative led the city to replicate the process with the elderly, and with 18- to 30-year-olds. The process has resulted in a strong degree of community ownership of Plan Cincinnati and its strategies and action plans.

12. Cornellà de Llobregat, Spain

Citilab Cornellà — the first European citizen laboratory

Citilab is a public-private foundation established by the City of Cornellà de Llobregat, private companies and universities. Its purpose is to provide a space and the tools for citizens to engage in social innovation and to create new models of entrepreneurship befitting current times and trends. It operates on the principle of universal access to the new possibilities that new technologies offer and to make their application useful to society. Citilab has, since its launch in 2007, involved 5,800 citizens and more than 50,000 visitors and participants in training, education, knowledge dissemination, leisure activities, conferences and exhibitions. Citilab’s innovative character can perhaps be best illustrated by activities at two ends of the social spectrum: (i) the involvement of senior citizens who have become active social innovators in reviving cultural and historic heritage; and (ii) the hosting of conferences organized in collaboration with leading edge companies and organizations. Citilab demonstrates how a city of just 88,000 people can inspire its own citizens, community groups, companies and educational institutions to take full advantage of the digital age and innovate on a continuous basis.

13. Dubai, UAE

Dubai 2020 Urban Masterplan

The Dubai 2020 Urban Masterplan was born of the realization that past urban development practices and trends were not sustainable. Although the population of Dubai has grown a hundredfold since 1950, to more than 2 million today, its physical expansion has increased 400-hundredfold during the same period, generating dysfunctional urban spaces and one of the highest carbon footprints in the world. The 2008 economic downturn, which required a financial bailout, was partly caused by over-investment in a few mega-projects, some of which have been put on hold.

The innovative aspect of Dubai’s master plan lies in its almost 180-degree about-face, vis-à-vis previous urban development practices. The plan calls for, among other things: (i) a compact city to optimise infrastructure investment and favor mixed use; (ii) urbanization growth limits; (iii) minimizing the consumption of land and resources for urban growth within a coherent low-carbon urban form; (iv) directing new growth along transit corridors and nodes that support efficient transportation, housing and services; (v) limiting offshore development to allow for a comprehensive approach to marine and coastal management; and (vi) establishing an emirate-wide integrated public and natural open space network to promote liveability and protect natural space. The master plan is not just a plan — it represents a major effort to strengthen institutional capacity and competence for implementation and continuous monitoring.

14. Düsseldorf, Germany

Integrating suburbs – joint action for strengthening local community (EKISO)

Düsseldorf’s southeastern suburbs suffer from tangible deficiencies in function and design compared to neighboring inner suburbs in a metro area of close to 600,000 inhabitants. The most visible sign of urban decay was around the train station, with the proliferation of low value retail activity, sex shops, panhandling and drug pushing. This led to declining property values and considerable citizen dissatisfaction. Initial approaches to property owners and citizens encountered a high level of scepticism, with many property owners sharing the opinion that the so-called “undesirables” should simply be removed from the area before talking about investing in any improvements. Perseverance by the local authority eventually prevailed with the forging of consensus that “displacement” was not a sustainable solution and that the upgrading of the district could only be achieved together.

Starting in 2010, a series of consultative meetings were held with all major stakeholders. A three point plan emerged: (i) upgrade the public realm by making it more appealing, more secure, with less traffic noise and pollution; (ii) improve the typology of activities by replacing, for example, amusement arcades with higher quality retail, service and catering outlets; and, as a result of the above, upgrading residential and commercial property through follow-up private investment.

15. Gwangju, Korea

Gwangju Carbon Bank GHG Emission Reduction Program

Households and businesses in Gwangju contribute up to 51 percent of emissions. For this reason, a household-centered greenhouse gas reduction scheme was initiated. The unique feature of Gwangju’s scheme is its carbon bank system, geared to changing residents’ perception of climate change and to help them become actively involved in carbon reduction. Initiated in 2008, some 270,000 of Gwangju city’s 540,000 households are participating in the scheme, a participation rate of 50 percent. The scheme involves all three utility companies and a local bank that provides points through its “Carbon Green Card.” Participating households each year get points in accordance with reductions in consumption of electricity, water and gas, compared to their average consumption over the last two years. The points are translated into tariff reductions for gas, water and electricity. The amount of greenhouse gas reduction is continuously analyzed to fine-tune the system. After the pilot project from 2008 to 2012, all households are expected to join the scheme by 2015, with the goal of creating a low-carbon green city through citizens’ efforts to conserve energy in their daily lives. The next steps envisioned include points for using public transport, for planting trees, for reducing food miles, etc. The system has become a national model and is spreading to other cities around the world.

16. Guangzhou, China

New approach to affordable housing

Guangzhou, with a population of more than 12 million, is known as the southern gateway to China. Like all major metropolises, a part of Guangzhou’s population needs subsidized housing. To better target its affordable housing policy, the city between December 2007 and March 2008 conducted a city-wide survey on housing conditions among low-income families. It survey identified 77,177 households eligible for public assistance. By the end of 2011, or a year ahead of schedule, all these households benefited from affordable and decent housing.

Guangzhou’s approach to affordable housing is without precedent in China and consists of the following innovations: (i) most cities auction development rights to developers with the proviso to supply a given number of affordable housing units, but this does not always work and is difficult to enforce. Guangzhou sets aside land each year for affordable housing so as to render real estate operations more transparent for developers and beneficiaries of subsidized housing alike; (ii) instead of asking developers to cross-subsidize affordable housing units, Guangzhou decided to allocate 13 percent of revenues derived from land-leases and development rights to subsidising affordable housing. This, again, makes the entire process more transparent and accountable; (iii) instead of providing low-cost housing, which often cuts corners on norms and standards, Guangzhou decided to apply green building design principles for subsidized housing construction. This reduces maintenance and running costs for the beneficiaries; and (iv) total transparency, with allocation processes, procedures, rules and regulations open to public scrutiny. This achieves two objectives: it reinforces accountability, and it removes the stigma associated with “public assistance,” as both the public and the beneficiaries can recognize the objective reasons and rationale for awarding subsidies.

17. Harbin, China

Building the Bai-li ecological corridor to realize new progress in urban development

Harbin is a city of more than 10 million in northeast China. It is known as the “Ice City” for its ice sculpture festival that attracts visitors and sculptors from around the world. Harbin, like many Chinese cities, has seen rapid urban growth. The growth poses a serious threat to the Songhua River, the city’s lifeline. Starting in 2009, the City of Harbin is implementing the Bai-li or Hundred Li (One Li = 500 meters) ecological corridor. This 5-kilometer corridor is designed to reverse the damage caused by “modern urbanism,” restore the riparian wetland system and its bio-diversity, improve water quality in the river and provide the basis for a new and more ecological approach to urban development. Inspired by experiences in other cities, the Bai-li ecological corridor initiative seeks to inspire a new approach to city planning and management; it combines public-private partnerships, participatory planning and the application of the latest scientific knowledge for bio-engineering and water management technology.

Besides improving the liveability and value of real estate on both banks of the river, the initiative will also enable Harbin to add a new dimension to its already famous winter “ice” tourism to all seasons with user-friendly eco-parks, botanical gardens and wetlands.

18. Mashhad, Iran

The role of women in urban transport of Mashad and other social initiatives

Mashhad is Iran’s second largest city, with some 3.7 million inhabitants. Over the tears, rapid urban growth has led deteriorated public services, and the municipality has engaged citizens on several fronts to improve quality of life, social equity and social inclusion. These include establishing local councils designed to give citizens a voice in planning and decision-making, and making education more relevant and engaging for youth. A particularly interesting initiative and certainly highly innovative and relevant to many countries and cities is enhancing the role of women in all aspects of Mashhad’s extensive public transport system. Women make up 37 percent of the commuters using public transport, and over the years there have been many complaints from women about the safety and security of the public transport system and, not least, the problem of harassment.

Mashhad Municipality decided to adopt a comprehensive approach to this issue. It includes short-term measures and longer-term strategies to change social behavior and perception patterns. In the first category, separate sections were made available to women on buses, and on busy routes there are special bus lines and night services for women only. For the longer-term objective, the city is recruiting female police officers, female traffic controllers and wardens, female taxi drivers and school transport drivers, and female driving instructors. Surveys have indicated a high degree of satisfaction with these new policies, and it is slowly changing behavior and perceptions of gender equality.

19. Kadikoy, Turkey

Revitalizing Yeldegirmeni neighborhood by local initiative

Kadikoy is a municipality at the center of the Asian part of Istanbul. Due to rapid growth of the city, this district of 553,000 inhabitants is surrounded by large-scale urban development that has destroyed the social fabric of many parts of Istanbul. At the district’s heart lies the Yeldegirmeni neighborhood, which represents a remarkable historical identity and a unique heritage. The neighborhood, which houses 16,000 residents, underwent a decline in the 1980s and is at risk of being revitalized from the outside, which almost always brings gentrification with the original residents displaced. For this reason the Kadikoy Municipality and the Cekul Foundation decided to revitalize the neighborhood from within by facilitating and encouraging residents to undertake their own improvements and helping them mobilize domestic and international resources. The project focuses on creating public spaces that enable social interaction. This approach has been applied in a comprehensive manner. At the physical level, the approach includes reclaiming streets through traffic taming, enlarging pavements, cleaning and repairing building facades and transforming residual space into public green space. Socially, the project brings the community together around common interests such as continuing education, special events, hobby clubs and social services.

The Yeldegirmeni revitalizing project provides a compelling example of how neighborhoods of social and cultural significance can be revitalized without being gentrified, thus giving its inhabitants the right to the center of the city.

20. Melbourne, Australia

Darling Street Stormwater Harvesting

While this initiative uses a range of existing technologies, its innovation lies in combining them to ensure efficiency and cost effectiveness. The initiative proved to be 75 percent less costly than traditional Water Sensitive Urban Design approaches. Similarly, the way the technologies are combined and used has led to a 90 percent reduction in maintenance costs over conventional design. This impressive reduction in capital and operational costs was achieved primarily through carefully designed, monitored and automated pumping, filtration and storage systems. The design has taken maximum advantage of slope and location to reduce pumping costs and distances. These systems adjust the amount of storm water being collected and reused at any given time. The infrastructure is below ground, thus reducing its footprint and use of space. Finally, the system uses pre-grown plant cells in the filtering system, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the cleansing system, resulting in higher water quality.

The systems put in place are capable of providing up to 89 percent of the irrigation demand in this city of 4.1 million people and covering an area of more than 8,800 square kilometers. This has significantly reduced the amount of potable water consumed and the amount of energy required to provide potable water. The approach is being scaled up in Melbourne and has already attracted interest domestically and abroad.

21. Mexico City, Mexico

Comprehensive approach to air and noise pollution reduction

The City of Mexico, population almost 9 million, is implementing several new initiatives in a wide range of areas. They include: the PROIM project that seeks to improve administrative efficiency and transparency in government affairs; the PROAIRE initiative that regroups diverse air quality control and monitoring systems under one umbrella to link policy with practice and monitoring with implementation; the ECOBICI campaign which promotes bicycle use; a coordinated school bus system that reduces unnecessary trips and improves occupancy to reduce energy consumption and air pollution; and a host of participatory initiatives focusing on conservation of the natural ecosystem.

One particularly noteworthy initiative is the Environmental Noise Monitoring Network. This network represents a comprehensive approach to the continuous monitoring of noise pollution and produces regularly updated noise pollution maps that better inform decision and policy making across the board. These initiatives demonstrate a high degree of commitment to overcome administrative and jurisdictional silos and resistance to change.

22. São Paolo, Brazil

Monitoring urban occupation, vegetation and population

São Paolo is one of the world’s mega-cities, with more than 10 million people living in 31 sub-prefectures and 96 districts. Known as the financial capital of Brazil, it suffers from, among other ills, congestion. To decongest urban roadways, the São Paolo Metro Region (RMSP) decided to construct the Rodoanel Mario Covas beltway, designed to reduce heavy freight traffic from the urban core by 30 percent. The condition for approving the beltway construction was implementation of an environmental impact monitoring system for 20 years. The main challenges that faced implementation of such a system was institutional coordination and cooperation among different tiers of government: federal, state and local, and the development of a unified monitoring methodology to avoid gaps and overlaps and facilitate the sharing of policy-sensitive data and information among government agencies and access to the information by different stakeholders and representatives of civil society.

The system put in place is the first of its kind in Brazil and probably in the world. It involves the collection and correlation of data regarding the impact of the beltway on land use patterns, vegetation and demographics. The system not only provides ex-post facto impact assessments, it also serves as an early warning system of potential risks. One of the main effects of the system is the optimization and rationalization of social, economic and environmental data and information and cross-jurisdictional cooperation.

23. Sabadell, Spain

Sabadell Smart City

With a population of a little more than 200,000, Sabadell considers itself the ideal size for implementing innovation, as it can do things more easily than larger city administrations with more complex structures and jurisdictions. Sabadell Smart City represents a comprehensive and all-encompassing approach to maximizing the benefits of ICT along three axes: effectiveness in public management, energy efficiency and economic efficiency. With regard to public management, the city is focusing on more transparent and accountable structures, facilitating public access to information and finding new ways to engage the public in local governance. It is also using ICT and smart phone applications to improve traffic management and the use of a vacuum system for waste collection. On energy efficiency, the city is using ICT to monitor all sources of energy consumption in real time and providing that information to those concerned. It is also using ICT to reduce the operating costs of public use of water, including the use of re-generated water for cleaning and gardening. On the economic front, the city is developing “incubators” at the local level to facilitate the meeting of minds between investors, entrepreneurs and academics to create new projects. It is also actively promoting e-learning and telecommuting.

Most of the initiatives were started in 2008 with different sources of funding and support and in response to different national, regional and international agendas. By 2012, it was evident all these initiatives needed to be connected and brought under the umbrella of a single master plan. Preliminary results are impressive, with significant lowering of Sabadell’s ecological footprint through savings in water, energy consumption and waste collection.

24. Singapore

Urban river integration for the 21st century

Singapore, despite being in the tropics, lacks enough drinking water. It has no natural aquifers, and 60 percent of its water supply is imported from Malaysia. But Singapore does have abundant rainfall, and, like many other cities, in the 1960s it built extensive storm drains, including draining the Kallang River into a concrete channel along Bishan Park, to alleviate and prevent widespread flooding. At the same time, Bishan Park is surrounded by buildings designed and built in the 1960s, and despite numerous visitors to the park, the whole area was in need of a serious facelift. Last but not least, the urbanism and landscaping of the 1960s was poor in terms of biodiversity, consisting mainly of lawns and a few dispersed trees.

Those conditions led to Southeast Asia’s first integrated approach to restoring natural water cycles, biodiversity and human interaction in an urban context. Numerous innovations were brought into play, including the first-time application of bioengineering technology in the tropics to stabilize river and canal banks and slopes with living plants; decentralized storm water management systems; careful landscaping and water-scaping to restore biodiversity and provide accessible green space; and linking the above with participatory planning. The Bishan Park experience has resulted in a new policy adopted by the government of Singapore which makes such integrated approaches to storm water and river management mandatory for all new developments and urban rehabilitation projects.

25. Surakarta, Indonesia

Humane relocation and empowerment of street vendors

Surakarta, with a population of almost 540,000, has been suffering from a problem pervasive in many rapidly urbanising cities — informal “hawkers” or street vendors. Cities all over Africa, Asia and Latin America have been trying to find a lasting solution to street vendors who tend to occupy the busier streets and places in the city, thus exacerbating congestion and filth. Yet they provide an essential and affordable service to low-income wage earners and deal seekers.

Starting in 2006, the mayor of Surakarta undertook an initiative being closely studied today by other cities in the region. It seeks to relocate the street vendors to more appropriate spaces in exchange for a wide range of benefits. These include: (i) upgrading the status of street vendors from informal sector workers to legitimate kiosk owners; (ii) improving the vendors’ income through a better organized market, accompanied by an aggressive marketing and public awareness strategy; (iii) and, transforming the spaces the vendors previously occupied into clean and green public spaces. The initiative is entirely voluntary, with many joint planning meetings and consultations between officials representing several municipal departments and services, and the vendors themselves. By 2012, more than two-thirds of the vendors have relocated, and those who have are experiencing a fivefold increase in income, changing their status as well making them into rate-payers and true stakeholders of society.

26. Tallinn, Finland

Free public transport — a step toward a green capital city

Free public transport has been implemented in several smaller European cities with populations up to 70,000. Tallinn is the first medium-sized city, with a population of 417,000, to do so and is the biggest city in the world to provide free public transport. The decision was made through a public referendum in March 2012, harnessing a 75 percent approval rate, which provided a strong mandate for the local authority to implement the initiative. The referendum was prompted by the several factors including: (i) the city center’s ability to accommodate more cars has been exhausted — air and noise pollution threaten public health and the preservation of the Old Town, which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List; (ii) the prevailing economic and financial crisis which has lowered purchasing power and real wages, thus reducing mobility options of many city residents.

Free public transport is expected to improve several aspects of quality of life including: (i) enhancing social cohesion and inclusion by providing mobility and access to lower income groups; (ii) lowering congestion and traffic, and thus reducing air and noise pollution and traffic accidents; and (iii) providing an incentive for nonregistered inhabitants of the city to register and benefit from free public transport.

27. Tehran, Iran

Green space and “Urban Heart”

Since 2008 the city of Tehran has initiated several projects of social and environmental significance. One set of projects comes under the general rubric of urban greening, and two of them stand out by their boldness. The first is renovating and transforming the Abbas Abad area into green space and cultural facilities. The area lies at the center of Tehran and represents some of highest real estate values in the metro area. Despite this, authorities have decided to keep the area as a “green lung” and to build a series of theme parks that will bring together nature and leisure activity in an otherwise densely populated city of more than 8.5 million. A second project is the transformation of the Ghale Morghi Garrison into a regional park. The Velayet Park covers 300 hectares and will transform the southern part of the city. Besides removing an unfriendly land use (a military garrison), the park will provide cultural and recreational facilities to a deprived zone of the city.

Another initiative maps out gaps in the health status of the urban population as a basis for creating an Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool. The tool is designed to provide objective and scientific evidence of growing disparities in the health status of the urban population to better inform health policies and practices. The tool is an enhanced version of WHO’s Urban Heart model and incorporates the social determinants of health into six domains that encompass infrastructure, social and human development, economic circumstances, governance and nutrition. “Urban Heart” overcomes one of the major challenges in promoting urban equity in that it obliges policymakers to look at health and well-being issues comprehensively. By cross-correlating such variables as housing, location, employment, education, access to health care and nutrition, policymakers can no longer hide behind the excuse that health lies in the realm of the health care sector.

28. Vinh City, Vietnam

City-wide community-driven house upgrading for the urban poor

Like many other cities in Vietnam, Vinh City has an old housing stock built in the 1970s that used to house employees of state-owned enterprises. These collective dwellings are now dilapidated and threaten the health and lives of the more than 30,000 people who live in them. Starting in 2009, Vinh City, with technical assistance and seed capital from the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, started on a new approach to housing, and for the first time in Vietnam, public authorities are helping the urban poor rebuild or upgrade their housing. This is a radical departure from the usual practice, with government changing its role from “provider” and “doer” to facilitator, and the community changes from being a passive recipient to actor and owner.

The initiative was kick-started by a workshop in February 2009 where slum-upgrading experiences from Thailand were shared with community representatives from all the public housing estates. Just under 20 months later, in October 2010, the first new housing designed and built by the community was inaugurated. The project has since been considerably scaled up and has resulted in the creation of a savings and loans program, changes in local government housing standards to more flexible norms to allow for progressive housing, on-the-job skills training, and recycling and reuse of construction materials. The success of this initiative has spread to other cities and urban poor communities in Vietnam, and a nationwide network has been formed for mutual assistance and to exchange experiences.

29. Warsaw, Poland

A new sustainable district

This capital city of 1.7 million residents has seen rapid growth since the fall of the Berlin Wall. With freedom of movement, the population has grown by 150,000 in 12 years, with an estimated 500,000 people commuting to Warsaw every day. As a result of inconsistent policies and market forces, the city has been experiencing sprawl, fragmentation and more pronounced social segregation. Starting in 2000, the city decided to create a new sustainable and socially integrated district known as Miasteczko Wilanów (MW), involving the private sector in a new business model. The backbone of the model is twofold: (i) a clear plan for the 169-hectare site, accompanied by specific urban design specifications, norms and standards; and (ii) streamlined administrative procedures for developers. This allowed both domestic and foreign investors to know exactly what was required for each portion or parcel of the district and how their development would fit into a coherent whole. The design parameters are revolutionary for Poland. Besides addressing the usual environmental issues (such as compact, high density, mixed-use development; permeable surfaces and water harvesting; energy efficiency and human building scales) the design norms also forbid fencing or gating communities. To the contrary, the design philosophy promotes mixing income groups around shared public spaces and encouraging all residents to take part in communal and intergenerational activities.

MW today is a model community, created by design. It boasts one of Warsaw’s lowest crime rates and the highest voter turnout and levels of civic engagement. It is by far the greenest district, owing to its high density and energy efficiency. Perhaps most significant, its children are singularly indifferent to the social status.

30. Zouk Mikaël, Lebanon

Building better communities: Inspire, Empower, Engage!

Zouk Mikaël is 20 kilometers from Beirut along the sea. After the end of the civil war, its attractiveness became apparent, and its population grew from 5,000 to 35,000 in less than 15 years. While this growth has made the town a thriving and lively place, it also placed considerable burden on its infrastructure and social fabric. Challenges facing youth were rapidly apparent and exacerbated by the absence of government policies or strategies to provide facilities for youth. The municipality took it upon itself to find the resources to build a Youth and Culture Center (YCC). With the help of its twin city in France, an expert was recruited who could help the municipality mobilize in-kind and in-cash contributions; help establish a strategy for youth engagement and development; and help the YCC network with more than 60 different international institutions and organizations to create new avenues of collaboration and knowledge sharing. Established in 2009, the YCC today boasts many activities ranging from internships to ICT training and from handicrafts to language classes. The YCC’s success has provided a model for many other municipalities in Lebanon, and the YCC does what it can to share the lessons learned from its experience.