Innovating at the intersections of cities

Dr. Janice Perlman, Founder, The Mega-Cities Project

It is widely accepted today that cities are a positive force in global development and that the future of the planet depends on the future of its cities. But experience shows that there is often a 20-25 year time lag between new ideas and their incorporation into public policy. For example, in many countries it has taken decades for policy makers to stop looking at slum neighborhoods as problems, and instead see them as solutions developed by families seeking a better life for themselves and contributing to economic growth through the cities' informal economy. Only then have appropriate policy responses followed, where policy makers focus on providing land-tenure instead of bulldozers. But not every city is at this same juncture, and many individuals and institutions throughout these cities are hungry to learn how they can advance their own solutions. Read more.

Smartness in three flavors

Tim Campbell, PhD, Global Fellow, Urban Sustainability Laboratory, The Wilson Center

Several years ago, in Beyond Smart Cities, I wrote about cities on the prowl. By the thousands, cities from around the globe are flying every which way, searching like so many hunters and gatherers to learn and share information. By one estimate, the 1,000 cities on the planet that have more than half a million people are engaged in many thousands of exchanges every year. Why so much prowling? It’s much cheaper and less risky to pick up the secrets of success by examining innovations at close range in other cities, where new practices have been tried out, than to reinvent the wheel back home. Nothing has slowed that pace, but some of the consequences of so much international inter-city exchange is smartness that is now appearing in three flavors. Read more.

Exposing gated cities

Upon exploring how just and inclusive cities can emerge a key component of analysis is social life — how people act in cities, the complex character of sociability, and the factors designing urban life. Multiple concepts have been raised to define what a city is — and has become, and further, what kind of life materialises within urban spaces. Over time cities have been conceptualised as 'misanthropic', expressing disorganisation, violence, and a dense concentration of people whom adopt different mentalities and motives. Such urban personas are expressed through space. Read more.

How to make planning law work for Africa

As competition for land intensifies in Africa's rapidly growing towns and cities, planning laws assume a fundamental importance. They determine how urban growth is managed and directed. In most countries outdated, inappropriate, and unintegrated laws are exacerbating urban dysfunction.

The reform of planning law is frequently advocated as a necessary step for better management of urbanisation in Africa. But reform initiatives consistently founder. This is inevitable, given the approaches adopted. The promotion of "one-size-fits-all" and "model" planning laws from outside the continent has not served Africa well. Invariably, it has created further legal uncertainty and a series of unanticipated, often pernicious consequences. This Counterpoint argues that more progressive, realistic urban planning in Africa will require a radically different approach to planning law reform. This is essential for sustainable and equitable urban development in Africa. Read more.

Africa's urban planning

With urbanisation becoming a rising topic on the research agenda it is interesting to see how new models for urban planning, and laws, are being constructed. Recently, an event by the African Research Institute raised such ideas. The speakers introduced how the contextual diversity across Africa required exploration, and consultants need to focus on adapting a checklist of rule making, rather than make the rules, in planning Africa's emerging cities. Current African cities were presented as 'un-planned', or in need of a re-visioned approach to become inclusive and equitable. Urban planning was the solution — a means of enabling tax reform, effective management, and equal rights to the city. However, urban planning law needed to be re-written to work for 'African cities'. Read more.

Whatever happened to Africa's rapid urbanisation?

Deborah Potts, Kings College London / Africa Research Institute

It is widely believed that urbanisation is occurring faster in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world, as migrants move from rural to urban settlements. This is a fallacy. While the populations of numerous urban areas are growing rapidly, the urbanisation levels of many countries are increasing slowly – if at all. Natural increase, rather than net in-migration, is the predominant growth factor in most urban populations. African governments, policymakers and international donors need to acknowledge fundamental changes in urbanisation trends, and respond to the irrefutable messages these impart about urban employment, incomes and economic development. Read more.

Who will plan Africa's cities?

Vanessa Watson and Babatunde Agbola

Africa's cities are growing — and changing — rapidly. Without appropriate planning, they will become increasingly chaotic, inefficient and unsustainable. In many countries, planning legislation dates back to the colonial era. It is ill-equipped to deal with contemporary urban problems. A shortage of urban planning and management professionals trained to respond to urban complexity with progressive pro-poor approaches exacerbates urban dysfunction. Read more.

The hope for sustainable travel in developing nations

Graham Perkins, Marketing Partnerships Manager, Favela Experience

The trend towards experiential travel will be the major force shaping the future of the travel industry, and there is significant potential to create sustainable travel economies in developing nations with the rise in popularity of this form of travel. All one needs to do is look at the rise of sites such as Yelp and Lonely Planet to understand that people no longer necessarily want what is easy to access and convenient, but seek unique attractions that make travel more varied and interesting. Read more.

Backpack-equipped health care workers make a difference in Rio

Last week, the New Cities Foundation's Executive Director, Mathieu Lefevre, wrote an article for Ashoka’s Next Billion on the results of the Foundation's E-health project in Rio de Janeiro. The project was the first major study looking at the impact of integrating e-health technology in low-resource, densely populated, urban settings. The New Cities Foundation is currently looking to dramatically extend the project with the city of Rio to cover most of the city's favelas.

We were starkly reminded this summer, as Rio, São Paulo and Istanbul were shaken by some of the largest urban protests in decades, of the urgency of building more just and inclusive cities. One of the main demands voiced by the protesters in Brazil is access to health care. Here at the New Cities Foundation, we chose to focus on this very topic in our Task Force on E-health. Led by our research arm, the Urban (co)LAB, we applied our methodology of using technology and cross-sector partnerships to develop replicable, scalable solutions to deliver better urban health care. Read more.

10 finds: our top SXSW picks for a more inclusive world

Considering a trip to SXSW in 2014? Vote now for panels that promote greater equity and inclusion. Take a look at our top two picks for several important themes at SXSW: Poverty Alleviation, Education for All, Citizen Engagement, Inclusive Governments, Urban Innovation, and Reinventing Cities. Read more.