Connect4Climate and Urban Specialists from the World Bank Group were invited to present during the EcoCity World Summit held in Abu Dhabi in October last year. The conference brought together hundreds of practitioners focused on eco city development and low carbon planning from a variety of backgrounds including researchers, private sector, development organizations and students.
At the conference Salim Rouhana, Urban Specialist, World Bank Group, focused his presentation on the key drivers that should be considered in urban upgrading projects.
In addition Salim presented Connect4Climate’s collaboration with the Lego Group that took place during their Build the Change workshop at the EcoCity World Summit in 2013, and a World Bank Group project in Djibouti that emphasized the benefit of integrating Social, Economic, Environmental, and Artistic angles in urban upgrading efforts for amplified impact.
The article below is Salim Rouhana’s reflection on the EcoCity World Summit 2015 giving a snapshot image of what current and future considerations should be for cities within the Middle East and North Africa:
What will make Arab Cities Ecological…
Salim Rouhana speaks on a panel at EcoCities World Summit, Abu Dhabi, 2015.
The current structure and development of modern Arabian cities seems to go against the current trend of promoting sustainability. In contrast it appears that urban sprawl featuring car oriented growth and individual housing proliferation is the name of the game. This is extremely visible in the suburban development of cities such as Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Doha.
It is often argued that previously tribal or rural societies have to go through this transition prior to attaining a social and spatial optimum of urban living. This is partially true. Arab countries, especially in the Gulf, have been and still are urbanizing rapidly, principally driven by oil-based economic growth and transformation. This urbanization was accompanied by massive public investments in infrastructure and service delivery extremely useful, but could in certain contexts be inefficient due to sprawl. This sprawl also affects lower middle income and poor communities that can less afford the suburb-to-city center commutes.
Most Arab governments are continuously struggling and torn between the need for efficiency and compact urban development, and sprawl, presumably driven by social preferences and behaviors. Environmental arguments despite their importance do not suffice to curb this development trend. Financial incentives and behavioral shifts are needed, to encourage? new urban residents to live in more compact settings.
— Connect4Climate (@Connect4Climate) October 11, 2015
Governments should be looking at the demand and outcome factors and the impacts of density. On the first, fiscal (and other financial and non-financial) incentives are essential to curb developers but also consumers, into vertical living. On the outcome end, dense and compact cities, and the economies of scale they create, as proven in many researches, are directly correlated to innovation fostering, primarily due to the proximity and agglomeration effects.
This said, sustainable building dynamics take time to shift, working simultaneously on both policies and behavior shifts remain important to accelerate this transition. The notion of common urban good, space, environment, and culture, are more appealing to the younger generations, and so there is an opportunity not to be missed to have them part, but also drivers, of this transformation. This process is ongoing in other regions of the world such as Europe and Latin America, where smart and inclusive urban development was part of this transformation process.
Masdar City Render. Photo Credit: Foster & Patners
Changes, however, seem to be coming - none radical, but soft measures that could lead us on to better city environments. Governments are passing clear messages to citizens that subsidies will be reduced on services and housing, perhaps driven by the drastic drop in oil prices and the reduction of resources. In addition, Governments are starting to experience direct linkages between densification, sustainability, livability, and competitiveness.
What we are seeing in Abu Dhabi with the Masdar City Pilot goes in this direction. It tailors well to a fast growing young generation that will shape-up the future of today’s aging cities, and which is much more sensitive to a ‘collective’ future. This generation will live in the rapidly densifying and re-densifying cities, where individual space will be traded for proximity to jobs, fun, and services. This young generation will shape-up the face of Arabian Cities, if and only if, policies are in tune