Amsterdam has created dozens of new digital platforms encouraging citizens to participate in the sharing economy – and use it for social good.
An app called ParkFlyRent leases out cars parked by holidaymakers at Schiphol airport. Instead of the cars sitting idle for weeks, they are rented out and a portion of the income is handed to the owners. An app called Djeepo finds private storage spaces (basements, attic and spare rooms) for those needing extra room for their belongings.
Konnektid allows users to share skills like guitar playing or foreign languages. We Helpen gives details of voluntary work available in the city’s neighbourhoods. An app called Camptoo allows people to rent privately owned motorhomes, which are usually only used 4-5 times a year. Abel connects drivers with passengers who are going in the same direction.
“We want to truly make living in the city a shared experience”
‘We wanted to truly make living in the city a shared experience,’ explained Harmen van Sprang, one of the organisers of Amsterdam’s sharing economy initiative. ‘We want people to feel like they have a connection not just with the city, but to each other as well.’
The apps lift citizens into the sharing economy and remind them that sustainability is an in-built motive. As part of a concerted effort to reduce waste and remove one percent of all cars from roads in Europe, an app called SnappCar allows users to rent out their vehicles, monetising transport which sits unused 90% of the time. Another app called MyWheels allows users to rent a car from somewhere immediately in their neighbourhood.
The sharing extends to other services like food and drink. Over a lunch of carrot soup, bread and cheese at her home in the neighbourhood of Jordaan, an amateur cook called Caro van der Meulen describes a platform called AirDnD (Drink and Dine) which offers food in private homes prepared by around 2,000 amateur chefs. Diners can pop into a private kitchen to eat home-cooked food.
‘I enjoy cooking and I enjoy meeting people” said Meulen. ‘I think for people for whom cooking is a hobby, or who don’t want to take the risk of running a restaurant, this is a unique solution. The people who come to eat are regulars and curious people who have heard about AirDnD. I think it helps with the community experience.’
“We are trying to increase social capital”
Amsterdam’s sharing economy initiative is a move away from traditional monetised platforms like Airbnb and Uber. An app called Home Exchange, for instance, asks users to upload pictures and descriptions of their homes. Users can then swap homes for short breaks or longer holidays. The direct swap encourages a level of trust which doesn’t exist on platforms like Airbnb.
From the public sector’s point of view, sharing and collaboration are valuable tools in the drive towards achieving a sustainable and friendly city. ‘We are trying to increase social capital, and sharing is a good thing,’ says Nanette Schippers, program manager, sharing economy for innovation office, at the government of Amsterdam.
She continued: ‘Everything indicates that people continue sharing because of a whole bunch of other reasons such as a sustainable society. Now, we know who is willing to share – those between the ages of 20 and 45 are more likely to share. But our role is to expand this group to include low income groups and the elderly. We want a pro-active, open attitude which understands the sharing initiative and helps everyone.’
In 1980, the Chinese city of Shenzhen was a railroad stop with a population of 30,000. Flash forward 40 years, and it was home to 12 million.
Why such massive growth? The Chinese government declared Shenzhen a “special economic zone” with more-liberal tax and business rules than the rest of the country. Coupled with its proximity to the financial hub of Hong Kong, the special status turned Shenzhen into a global economic powerhouse.
Now, an attorney who has developed special economic zones in over a dozen countries thinks that the model can be applied to the world’s refugee crisis. Calling his proposal Refugee Cities, former World Bank consultant Michael R. Castle Miller imagines a political solution with an economic rationale to solve the desperate plight of refugees, from Syrians crowding boats in the Mediterranean to Central Americans braving a harsh desert border crossing.
The crux of Castle Miller’s proposal — and so far, that’s all it remains — is that more often than not, refugees can work, whether high skilled or low skilled, but their uncertain status in host countries means that they can’t get an appropriate job. Whether the lack of a work permit shunts someone into the informal sector or incompatible education systems lead a PhD holder to drive a taxi, the refugee crisis has created a labour imbalance.
But if a national government were to delineate a refugee city using the legal tools of special economic zones, those migrants could work legally for companies with both an economic and corporate social responsibility incentive to hire them. Then, when the famine, civil war or other unrest subsides, most of the migrants could return home, alleviating the host country of permanent resettlement while generating economic activity.
Citiscope’s Gregory Scruggs spoke with Castle Miller about this idea earlier this year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Gregory Scruggs: Why should leaders apply the “special economic zone” model to the world’s migrant crisis?
Michael R. Castle Miller: It’s the second-best solution. The ideal scenario in my mind is for more nations to welcome more refugees into the formal economies nationwide. But the sad reality is that’s just not going to happen for the vast majority of refugees. Less than 1 percent of refugees are resettled to third countries, and those that flee to neighbouring countries to a conflict are normally confined to camps, where they aren’t given access to formal labour markets, are not legally allowed to work and are not legally allowed to start their own businesses, except in rare circumstances.
So what are we going to do for those people? The U. N. and other refugee advocacy organizations are pursuing things on one front, trying to urge nations to include more refugees into their nationwide economies, and that’s great — we need to keep doing that. But we’re not going to make it, especially with the current political climate. What are we going to do for people now?
So a work programme is a middle-ground solution. Something that is more politically acceptable for countries than either Western countries resettling people or countries of first asylum — like Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, other places — letting refugees work anywhere in the country. And most economists will tell you that it’s in the countries’ best interest to allow refugees to work.
It also is a politically desirable solution, especially if the refugee city is built in an area where there’s no economic activity happening, or very little. In that case, it counteracts the argument of refugees “stealing” jobs from nationals in the country. You take an area that’s currently unoccupied, where there’s no businesses, and you build a refugee city, and a bunch of investment comes in and starts creating jobs — then you can point to that and say the refugees didn’t steal jobs, they brought those jobs. And they brought them not just for the refugees but for host-country nationals. And of course, the refugees will start their own businesses and employ other refugees and host-country nationals, as well.
Q: What does this actually look like as a practical matter? Will a refugee city resemble the massive encampment in Dadaab, Kenya?
A: You could call places like Dadaab or Mae Sot, on the border of Myanmar and Thailand, refugee cities, but I would prefer not to for my purposes, because these places are a mess. Part of the reason is that the countries that they’re in are not including them in the formal economy. So most of the businesses that operate in places like that are illegal. They’re not licensed there, and therefore those businesses can’t have access to formal sources of financing. They’ve got to go to loan sharks, or reselling aid.
These are all things that people do to respond to their circumstances. Anytime people come up with solutions to address their own problems, it’s a creative activity. And that’s often very good. So what we want to do is create a platform that facilitates good, constructive, creative activity. In other words, it doesn’t relegate it to the black market as the informal economy but allows it to flourish as formal economic activity — so that the businesses are legal, and people are able to access input to production processes legally and employ people legally.
Q: Do you imagine building a new town, like a planned community, but populated by refugees?
A: One model is to have a “quick start” refugee city that would begin with a some basic master planning for the area. We’re thinking of it as a refugee camp but a little bit more city-like. And that would [include] hiring an architecture planning firm to draw up a master plan for an area where they parcel out pieces of the property. They build some basic infrastructure, have a basic road layout. They have some basic utilities, like water, sanitation — which is actually way more than most refugee camps. And then supplying modular homes that are quick and cheap to assemble, and laying them out according to the spatial plan that they’ve developed. Also, setting aside some facilities for businesses to operate in.
That’s a quick option, because that allows you to bring in a whole bunch of refugees really quickly. Then you’d also set up basic institutional structure, where there’d be some type of governing authority over the area and a major service provider. So we’d have the developer, a service provider, as well as security.
Q: In that case you wouldn’t charter your own municipal waste company. Rather, you would try to have all this done by third-party contractors?
A: What I’ve described is the “quick start” project. But then there’s the “best practices” version, which is a bit more like what you have in special economic areas today, especially in big special economic areas in city-like areas. There we do a lot more planning, first to study where the greatest opportunities for a refugee city lie, in terms of delivering the most positive economic impact for the host country, in terms where is going to attract the most investments for businesses to employ people.
And then we would have a concession agreement with the government, which would basically be the government either selling or leasing the land to a development company — maybe under a long-term lease, maybe 40 years. And that would give the developer the right to lease that property and the land to businesses and to residents and begin to make back all its initial development costs.
Q: But you’ve got refugees arriving with just the clothes on their backs. How do you anticipate that they would even be able to afford a nominal rent on these prefab homes?
A: There is still a role for aid, for governments and for donor organizations like the U. N. to be channeling aid money, but it’s under a very different model. It’s under a model that provides a pathway for refugees to become self-sufficient. So you’d have initial cash assistance for refugees that can’t afford to pay rents or can’t afford to pay their water bill or electricity bill. You could still even deliver food to people, and clothing. You could still provide free dental care, just like they do in refugee camps now. Except the alternative is, first of all we have the infrastructure to deliver all the same much more efficiently — for instance, water and sanitation infrastructure. The temporary measures that they use now are much more expensive.
Also, it’s on a model where there are opportunities for refugees to become self-sufficient, so they can gradually earn more and more money for themselves and they can begin paying rent themselves. That way, the developer, rather than basically receiving indirect subsidies from the aid that is being provided by humanitarian organizations, will end up collecting revenue from residents.
But initially the developers’ revenue isn’t just going to come from either the residents or from the aid that channels through them, but it will also be collecting revenue from the businesses that rent properties. In fact, that might be the largest source of its revenue — marketing the area in order to attract, especially early on, major anchor tenants. Major anchor tenants are businesses with a really strong corporate-social-responsibility reputation that can come and employ large numbers of people.
Q: What kind of businesses do you think would benefit from employing presumably low-wage unskilled labour?
A: First of all, that’s one of the things that’s different about refugees from most migrants: A lot of refugees have very significant skills. When a conflict happens, it drives out a huge cross-section of the country, from high-skilled people to low-skilled people. So there probably will be a lot of high-skilled people that are there available to be employed.
But even if not, or we can’t attract the type of employers that would employ them, there’s still huge markets out there for low-skilled labour, too. In places like northern Africa and the Middle East, they’re importing construction materials, for instance, from places like Europe and other places. Garment manufacturing has become the classic example of an industry that is able to employ large numbers of low-skilled workers.
That’s really where the feasibility studies come into play, because the ultimate answer to your question is going to depend heavily on the particular context. What is the labour market like of the refugees and the-host country nationals living in the area? What are their skills levels, or what have they done in the past? Are you located near a port, or how far is it from a major consumption market like Europe?
Q: Do you anticipate building refugee cities along the lines of a Shenzhen that is just over the border with a financial capital like a Hong Kong?
A: When we’re looking at the best opportunities for a refugee city, it’s the same thing with special economics zones: It’s always best to have it located near existing economic activity. The more economic activity, the better. Another factor is near existing infrastructure access, especially when you think about major ports, seaports, major airports and other transportation connections. It’s not necessarily crucial for the success of a refugee city, but it certainly helps.
Q: Are you concerned that planning for a refugee city’s permanence could undercut the quality of the city to begin with?
A: For a lot of the Middle East and North Africa, there’s a need for new cities in these areas, for new urban space. So worst-case scenario is the refugee city gets built, there’s a lot of money invested in the infrastructure and buildings, and a lot of the refugees end up going back home when the conflict ends. In that case, the city is getting a whole bunch of great, high-quality infrastructure and buildings for free, or whatever they negotiated with the developer. Worst-case scenario, they’ve got a new city.
Pittsburgh is the perfect urban laboratory,” says Bill Peduto, the city’s new mayor. “We’re small enough to be able to do things and large enough for people to take notice.” More than its size, however, it’s Pittsburgh’s new government—Peduto and the five like-minded progressives who now constitute a majority on its city council—that is turning the city into a laboratory of democracy. In his first hundred days as mayor, Peduto has sought funding to establish universal pre-K education and partnered with a Swedish sustainable-technology fund to build four major developments with low carbon footprints and abundant affordable housing. Even before he became mayor, while still a council member, he steered to passage ordinances that mandated prevailing wages for employees on any project that received city funding and required local hiring for the jobs in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new arena. He authored the city’s responsible-banking law, which directed government funds to those banks that lent in poor neighborhoods and away from those that didn’t.
Pittsburgh is a much cleaner city today than it was when it housed some of the world’s largest steel mills. But, like postindustrial America generally, it is also a much more economically divided city. When steel dominated the economy, the companies’ profits and the union’s contracts made Pittsburgh—like Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago—a city with a thriving working class. Today, with the mills long gone, Pittsburgh has what Gabe Morgan, who heads the local union of janitorial and building maintenance workers, calls an “eds and meds” economy. Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and its medical center are among the region’s largest employers, generating thousands of well-paid professional positions and a far greater number of low-wage service-sector jobs.
Peduto, who is 49 years old, sees improving the lot of Pittsburgh’s new working class as his primary charge. In his city hall office, surrounded by such artifacts as a radio cabinet from the years when the city became home to the world’s first radio station, the new mayor outlined the task before him. “My grandfather, Sam Zarroli, came over in 1921 from Abruzzo,” he said. “He only had a second-grade education, but he was active in the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in its early years, and he made a good life for himself and his family. My challenge in today’s economy is how to get good jobs for people with no PhDs but with a good work ethic and GEDs. How do I get them the same kind of opportunities my grandfather had? All the mayors elected last year are asking this question.”
Qazvin, Iran, 26 April 2017—At the latest World Assembly of Islamic Cities UN-Habitat had the opportunity to brief the delegates present on some of the work it is engaged in globally.
The World Assembly of Islamic Cities (WAIC) summit was convened late April in the Iranian city of Qazvin to discuss sustainable urbanization according to the ideals of Islam. The fifth in a series of conferences, the WAIC seeks to provide a forum for exchange of approaches to sustainable Islamic Cities from technological, scientific, managerial, cultural and spiritual perspectives.
The event was presided over by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani, and Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar.
In his address, President Rouhani said, “”Houses must be a place for people to relax in, not a tool for making profit,” adding: “Cities must find legitimate and healthy source of income and the government is ready to cooperate and draft the required bills in this regard”.
On its part, UN-Habitat highlighted three key areas of its work- City Prosperity Initiative, Municipal Finance, and Youth and Livelihoods.
Marco Kamiya, the acting Coordinator of the Urban Economy Branch presented on the work UN-Habitat is doing describing that good urbanization is achieved with efficient municipal finance as a base for public policies. Douglas Ragan, Youth Unit leader presented on the Sustainable Development Goals related with cities and Youth while Reza Porvaziry, Global Advocate for UN-Habitat presented on the New Urban Agenda and opportunities and challenges for cities.
Over 800 Iranian and international guests took part in the summit with attendance from representatives from UN-Habitat, ambassadors, governors and a number of Mayors from Iraq, Turkey, India, Bangladesh, Palestine, Indonesia, China, Morocco, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Prior to the meeting, the UN-Habitat delegation paid a visit to Minister of Sports and Youth, Masour Soltanifar to discuss activities on youth and livelihoods and the role of municipalities.
A new poll from the Pew Research Center estimates 70 percent of Americans believe cities should have the right to create their own broadband networks if services are too slow or too expensive.
The poll, that surveyed 4,151 respondents in March, comes on the heels of a policy endorsement this month by 166 mayors and city leaders who called for city authority to develop networks that give residents more internet options. In their list of policy goals, leaders argued that state lobbying from big broadband had tied their hands by giving state agencies too much power.
“These barriers range from procedural hurdles and referendum requirements to legal and or de facto prohibitions that benefit politically powerful incumbent providers at the expense of local businesses and residents,” the report states.
Poll findings reflect a disconnect between public opinion and the lobbying efforts of large internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable. Many have tried to limit competition by creating regulatory requirements that hinder smaller companies from entering the marketplace, according to the broadband advocacy group Next Century Cities.
Such obstacles notwithstanding, the faith in city leadership may be well-placed considering analyst expectations that the federal government will do little to ensure broadband competition under President Trump’s leadership. In January, Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, said the group expected the administration to allow large telecoms to set the national agenda, leaving the job of improving local broadband to local governments.
“Cable and telephone companies have scale that makes them strong in the market, but stronger still in lobbying,” Mitchell said in a StateScoop op-ed. “They will push for new rules and limits on local internet choice. They will seek mergers to make competition even more unlikely.”
He highlighted places like Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the city has cultivated diverse and affordable access to high-speed internet services by working with providers, and Lincoln, Nebraska, that has invested in a smart conduit network that allows the city to partner with more ISPs that can use the conduits — underground tubes meant to house wires and cables — to lay fiber and connect residents.
The survey also found that 90 percent of Americans think home broadband is important or essential. The issue of broadband funding is one of the more contentious issues, as 54 percent of survey respondents said they opposed government subsidies that provide broadband internet specifically to low-income residents.
‘It has to be total revolution or nothing: that was our stance’ … the 17 independent councillors who now make up Frome’s town council. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt
At this year’s Glastonbury, while some people get excited about the Foo Fighters and others loll around the Healing Field, one of the events in Billy Bragg’s politics-and-music Left Field tent will be devoted to a discussion of “Radical Movements”. The organisers have booked speakers from Greece’s governing party, Syriza, insurgent Spanish rebels Podemos and Scottish leftwing collective Radical Independence, all of whom will presumably give it some about the horrors of neoliberalism and the nitty-gritty of popular revolt. And then there will be the representative from Frome.
Somewhat incongruously, the speaker from the Somerset market town will be there to explain an idea known as “flatpack democracy”, and a small-scale revolution that has turned local politics there, and elsewhere, on its head.
The basic aim seems both simple and benign: “Taking political power at a local level, then using it to enable people to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.” But the results have been explosive: the routing of Lib Dems and Conservatives (and, of late, a solitary Ukipper) from Frome’s town council, and the arrival in power of a coalition of self-styled independents, united by the belief that democracy needs a drastic revival.
On 7 May, after four years in power, the Independents for Frome (or IfF) group took all 17 seats on Frome’s town council, with vote-shares as high as 70%, and support from people who cast their other votes for the main political parties. Moreover, the IfF idea seems to be spreading, as people add their voices to a quiet rebellion that is materialising in some very unlikely places – from small commuter towns in Bedfordshire to the political home of George Osborne. There are two key elements to this very English revolt: a quest to revive the often moribund town and parish authorities long squashed by county, borough and district councils, and give them a new energy and purpose; and in the places where party politics has dominated even this lowly tier of government, the shoving aside of the big parties in pursuit of new ways of doing things.
In May 2015, the citizen platform Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in Common) catapulted Ada Colau into power as the city’s first female mayor. Ten months earlier, the group didn’t even exist.
With no money and little experience, just how did they wrest the city from the entrenched political caste that had been running it for the past 40 years? Not surprisingly, Barcelona en Comú has since been inundated with requests for an answer from mayors, political parties, urban conferences and community groups all over the world.
In response, the group produced a step-by-step explanation – How to Win Back the City en Comú (pdf). A new documentary, Alcaldessa (“Mayoress”), by the Catalan director Pau Faus, promises further insights into how this revolution in urban governance came about.
‘Involve as many people as possible’
According to Marina López and Juan Linares, members of Barcelona en Comú’s communications team, the first step was to build a platform that could bring together individuals and the multitude of Barcelona’s citizens’ movements in a coherent and coordinated way, so their voice could more easily be heard.
“We have always set out to involve as many people from as many social groups as possible,” says Lopez. “We’ve tried to rethink the public space so the debate can happen in the street.”
The platform didn’t spring up from nothing. On the one hand, Barcelona has a long history of communitarian politics, often organised at a neighbourhood level. And the widespread discontent caused by Spain’s prolonged economic crisis and corrupt political class had already found expression in the 15-M movement. It appeared spontaneously in 2011 as a reaction to the crisis and saw thousands of people meeting in squares around the country to argue and debate a better future. Barcelona en Comú, like the national political party Podemos and other left-wing groups, emerged in part from 15-M.
Linares emphasises that Barcelona en Comú is a platform, not a political party. “We’re a porous organisation. By being open we can combine people with lots of experience with people with none – from university professors to bricklayers, but all with the same goal.”
This month, a group of urban thinkers from the United Nations, the European Commission and other organizations are meeting in Brussels to continue a curiously complex attempt: developing a universal definition of the “city”.
The meeting is a pivotal step toward ironing out a globally applicable city definition that can be used to measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those that pertain to cities, along with the New Urban Agenda, a global agreement that will guide urbanization over the next 20 years.
In the eyes of many working on the issue, a universal definition of the city that can be used by policymakers and the global development community is a piece of the SDGs puzzle that is still missing. The issue underpins the 169 targets and their related indicators included in the SDGs framework.
“When you go down to targets and indicators, you will clearly see that there are quite a number of indicators for which the unit of measurement is the city,” says Robert Ndugwa, head of UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory Unit.
“The challenge here is if we don’t agree globally on what the city definition is, we’re going to have a situation where when you measure such indicators, you might … measure them in an area which is perhaps a municipality or the core part of the city, but not necessarily the whole city extent,” he said.
That’s a problem. Many of the indicators for SDG 11 — the “urban goal” — are highly sensitive to where city boundaries are drawn. These include things such as access to public transport and air quality.
“It is impossible to compare data for cities if the boundary is not drawn in exactly the same way,” said Lewis Dijkstra, with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy.
In the absence of a universally agreed definition of the city, policymakers typically rely on guidelines that vary by country. City boundaries generally are set along administrative or legal lines.
“Usually when people use the word ‘city’, they refer to a particular administrative area but not necessarily one that’s defined in a harmonized way,” said Dijkstra.
“One city, like the city of Paris, captures only the downtown. Other cities may capture the downtown, the suburbs and maybe even some rural areas,” he said. “So even something simple like the population size of a city couldn’t be derived from the administrative area.”
For mayors, it is particularly important to have a clear definition of what constitutes their city. Think of a mayor who uses a city definition that doesn’t include the suburbs and encompasses only the central city, Dijkstra said. When people are moving out to the suburbs, it will look like the city is declining in population — when in fact the total city is growing. That has massive potential implications for planning and budgeting.
There’s also a competitiveness angle. “We’ve noticed that mayors are incredibly keen to compare their cities to others – especially between countries,” he said.
And without a universally applicable definition of a city, independent of administrative boundaries, it will be impossible to compare progress across cities on the SDGs in a reliable manner. “Comparing cities internationally using a collection of national definitions will generate many distortions,” notes a 2016 report from the European Commission.
While the problems of having no universal definition of a city are well understood, how to fix these concerns has been vexing.
“Within two to three years, the groups hope to come out with final guidance to U. N. member states on which methodology to apply globally.”
This month’s meeting, slated to take place in the last week of April, will bring together thinkers who have been working on emerging city definitions as well as representation from the U. N.’s Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management, and its Food and Agriculture Organization.
Multiple teams will bring with them proposed definitions that are already well along in development, but two will receive particular attention. The European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for instance, will bring its “harmonized” city definition. This considers a “functional urban area” as the city combined with its commuting zone.
What this means in practice is a city that consists of one or more municipalities with the majority of the population living in an urban centre. The researchers look at an area with at least 50,000 inhabitants, made up of adjacent grid cells, each with at least 1,500 inhabitants per square kilometre. (The commuting zone, meanwhile, is comprised of neighbouring municipalities with at least 15 percent of their working population commuting to the city.)
The E. U.-OECD team has fully applied this definition to all major cities in the European Union and in OECD countries. The approach has been endorsed by over 30 national statistical institutes, according to Dijkstra.
Now they’re seeking to expand this approach to other countries. At last year’s Habitat III summit on sustainable cities, the European Union committed to further developing a common city definition for international comparisons, based on its model. To be created in collaboration with the OECD and World Bank, it aims to present the idea to the U. N. Statistical Commission in 2019.
A second model is being developed through a collaborative effort between researchers at New York University, UN-Habitat and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. This definition is used to track the urban expansion of a sample of 200 cities, reported on in the 2016 Atlas of Urban Expansion. It also is applied to the roughly 400 cities taking part in a UN-Habitat project called the City Prosperity Initiative, said the agency’s Ndugwa.
This definition of the city considers urban areas as those that are above a built-up density of 50 percent. Suburban areas are classified as those that are 25 to 50 percent built-up, and a combination of urban and suburban areas plus open space makes up what researchers refer to as clusters. The “urban extent” is then calculated by identifying the main urban cluster and adding adjacent clusters that meet a particular rule for inclusion.
The meeting also will consider a global comparison of various methodologies that look at city extents, from a team of academics from Sweden, said Ndugwa. But these two approaches are the two main definitions being looked at, in part because they have been around the longest and have been explicitly looked at for their potential global application
“With those teams in-house, we expect that we should really come up with a harmonized definition of cities, and that might be a combination of what the European Union is proposing as well as what UN-Habitat and NYU have been applying,” said Ndugwa.
Three-year time frame
Because these two city definitions offer different methodologies, the researchers want to see how much variation there is in city boundaries when applied to different cities.
The plan is for the group to pilot both definitions on a selection of 20 cities after the Brussels meeting to see how city boundaries compare under both methodologies. Cities in the pilot include Belo Horizonte, Cairo and Cleveland.
“[We] want to dig down into the nitty-gritties of what are the real differences, and why do we get different estimates in terms of the city area,” said Ndugwa. The plan would be to figure out “what is conceptually a better methodology, and most especially what is most simple and universally applicable both in the Global North and the Global South.”
Within two to three years, Ndugwa said, the groups hope to come out with final guidance to U. N. member states on which methodology to apply globally.
It’s still early in the testing process. But the researchers admit that while the lines of work are compatible, there are challenges in bringing the definitions together.
While the E. U.-OECD definition could undergo small tweaks, such as integrating the share of built-up area into its grid cells, it could not be radically changed, largely due to the fact that it already is being used at national levels, according to Dijkstra.
“Yes, it is a challenge,” said Ndugwa. “But in our view, we need to work with a global methodology that will be feasible, universal and sustainable to apply and collect this data by member states.”
Whatever happens, concrete attempts to create and refine a globally applicable city definition constitute an important milestone for the global urban development agenda. If all goes to plan, soon policymakers and others in the development community could be able to properly compare the performance and progress of cities across countries — something that to date has not been possible.
Portland’s City Council voted Wednesday to stop all new investment of city cash in corporate debt, Oregon Public Radio reports. The split 3-2 vote followed hours of testimony from members of the public who urged the council to bar investments in companies like Nestle, Wells Fargo and Caterpillar.
The city had already created a “do-not-buy” list featuring companies that conflict with the city’s environmental priorities and ethics, including Wal-Mart, Chevron and Exxon. But when a volunteer board tasked with flagging new companies for the list pressed council late last year to add nine more companies, commissioners balked, according to the Portland Mercury.
Instead, the council made the temporary decision not to invest in corporations at all. In doing so, the council rejected a different ordinance backed by Mayor Ted Wheeler and the city Treasurer Jennifer Cooperman which would have brought in a New York-based ratings firm to identify companies for the city in invest in that have comparatively better environmental and social track records.
The city stands to lose out on some cash with the move — as much as $3-5 million dollars each year ongoing, according to Cooperman. This was Wheeler’s main objection to the amendment. He noted that the lost funds could pay for 285 new units of housing, 850 wheelchair accessible curb ramps or more than 667 new beds for the homeless, and said at the hearing that he’s more interested in using the city’s purchasing power to push for corporate change.
“It’s not divestment that changes a company’s behavior. It’s the bottom line. Are we still buying the product?” he said.
City investments total more than $1.7 billion, about a third of which is currently invested in corporate securities. The city’s move to divest from corporate debt means shifting more of the city’s money into other types of investments with lower returns on investment, like U.S. Treasury bonds and U.S. agency debt.
While supporters of the amendment pushed it as a victory for those who do not want their tax dollars supporting corporations, as the Portland Mercury points out, this also means that Portland “won’t be taking a proactive stand against companies that do some objectionable things. Advocates for explicitly calling out certain corporations argue that those companies take a PR hit when a large city calls them out as toxic that’s greater than any risk to their bottom line.” One major example: Seattle cutting off Wells Fargo.
Since the city is required by state law to review its investment strategy on a yearly basis, this new amendment may be called into question again next year.
The evidence is overwhelming. Besides being the warmest year on record, 2016 saw an overwhelming number of “pollution peak” days in cities across the globe.
Paris, for instance, is regularly exposing more than 1.5 million inhabitants to pollution levels that do not respect European regulation. In Africa, imported fuel — low-cost but toxic — is poisoning those who live in Lagos, Dakar and elsewhere.
Multiple concerns are tied up in these situations, of course, including around public health and the environment. Yet the broadest policy changes will be brought about in the fight against climate change — and as is becoming increasingly recognized, cities lay at the forefront of those solutions.
Even as cities continue to commit to reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions, however, local officials face a major challenge in piloting a shift to a low-carbon future: financing. And this is only exacerbated by national-level funding constraints that have limited public investment in recent years.
Over the past 12 months, then, mayors and other local authorities have increasingly mobilized on this issue. In November, local governments agreed on a Roadmap for Action aimed at “localizing” climate finance in response to the urgent need to fund sustainable urban services and infrastructure, particularly in areas that are seen as fragile or especially vulnerable to climate change.
Today’s international climate-financing architecture is highly complex and suffers from division and chronic under-financing, in particular for adaptation. There is not nearly enough patient, long-term and innovative climate finance models and approaches that could pay for the massive infrastructure projects needed in coming years in developing countries.
That’s a particular problem in that these countries are where the needs for renewable energy and other sustainable infrastructure are greatest. Over the next 15 years, the world will have to invest around USD 90 trillion in sustainable infrastructure assets if it hopes for a breathable future, and much of that will be required in cities.
Much of the obstacle to greater financing is that risks abound, both real and perceived. Political, technological and other risks often are too high to attract investors and developers to finance low-carbon projects, especially in emerging markets.
Furthermore, the global “smart” revolution has prompted a shift away from traditional business models around public services in cities. But new financial models still need to be experimented with and assessed according to their local value on a spectrum of issues — social, environmental, political and economic.
But we are seeing new trends — and new innovations. A host of solutions today are being put into action in cities across the globe as investors, practitioners and policymakers at the national and local levels recognize the urgency and opportunity of this gap. Many of these remain in an experimental phase, but several are gaining on-the-ground experience by the day.
Matchmaking and readiness
The most concerted effort to bolster mechanisms to localize climate finance is taking place through an initiative called the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance (CCFLA). Launched under former U. N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in 2014, the alliance is made up of 48 NGOs, research centres, foundations, public and private banks, central governments, U. N. agencies, and networks of local and regional governments.
Core to its mandate is “matchmaking” — connecting demand and supply. But the group also supports overall readiness in order to empower local and regional governments to deliver low-carbon and resilient development plans and infrastructure. CCFLA plays a key role in identifying and helping to address gaps in knowledge, capacity, resources and working practices in cities and other subnational levels.
In 2015, the CCFLA released “The State of City Climate Finance” report, which highlighted this investment gap and emphasized the need for increasing capacities necessary to facilitate capital flows toward local low-emission, climate resilient infrastructure. Following that release, CCFLA members committed to support several key steps aimed at strengthening the international and domestic environments to allow for robust flows of climate finance to cities.
Among the solutions, alliance members and partners are experimenting with innovative financial instruments for city investments such as green bonds, climate insurance, sustainable and resilience standards and certifications, and project preparation facilities. Here are a few notable such initiatives:
The Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance was developed by the Climate Policy Initiative as an international partnership to identify and pilot cutting-edge climate finance instruments. An example is the Energy Efficiency Enabling Initiative, which aims to increase the supply of risk capital (equity) by attracting private-sector capital for a new energy-efficiency equity fund.
Global Infrastructure Basel’s Standard for Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure (SuRe) is a voluntary global standard that integrates key criteria of sustainability and resilience into infrastructure development. SuRe states that it seeks to “leverage both public and private investments in infrastructure in a cost-effective way while strengthening resilience, maximizing social benefits and limiting the environmental footprint”.
Each of these initiatives aims to catalyze and improve capital flows to cities in developing and emerging economies for mitigation and adaptation measures. The Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance alone already has attracted USD 600 million in seed funding and will drive billions more in investment.
In mapping members’ initiatives on climate finance for cities, the report confirms a key point: Global momentum is growing to address the financing gap for local investments.
Carbon pricing and more
Despite this growing momentum, major advances still need to be made in order to create incentives for investment in local resilience. First and foremost, national governments could dramatically help this cause by acting decisively around carbon pricing.
But others must play a role, too. Multilateral and regional development banks, for instance, need to dedicate funds to climate action and ensure that every policy and project funded is “climate-proof”.
Local financial institutions are key actors, as well. In the long run, they will need to be empowered to develop domestic, tailored-made financial solutions for cities, while channelling international climate funding to the local level.
Taking such steps can support local and other subnational governments in building fiscal autonomy, integrating and further adopting standards, operational and regulatory frameworks, and measurement tools for cross-cutting “climate smart” investments and urban services.
In all of this, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that progress in this area ultimately will require fundamental changes in social relations and institutions to make them more inclusive and equitable. It will require leaving aside individual and organizational ego to collectively create a common culture of climate finance that can move toward transformative change. Indeed, this long-term strategic vision may well be the fundamental mission of an alliance such as CCFLA.