Humphrey School News

Humphrey School Researchers Focus on Livable Cities at Southeast Asia Forum

September 7, 2017—Humphrey School Professor Anu Ramaswami and two research associates recently presented some of their work on developing livable cities at a workshop in the Philippines, which was held in conjunction with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Third Annual Mayors Forum.

The goal of the Mayors Forum was to promote more interaction and partnerships among local governments in Southeast Asia, to improve the quality of life and environmental sustainability in the region.

Ramaswami and research associates Sam Tabory and Ashly (Spevacek) McFarlane of the School’s Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy participated in a technical workshop in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

They presented strategies for resource-efficient urbanization and the development of compact, livable cities in Southeast Asia. The team also conducted interviews with mayors and urban development experts from Southeast Asian cities to better understand differences in local sustainability decision-making across the region.

Workshop participants engaged with critical regional urbanization dynamics, including the projected growth of small- and medium-size cities in Southeast Asia. While megacities like Jakarta and Manila (pictured above) often monopolize the attention of sustainable development observers, much of the projected urban population growth in Southeast Asia between now and 2050 will be in cities with fewer than 500,000 residents.

A key barrier to resource-efficient urbanization in Southeast Asia and elsewhere is a lack of coordinated planning across policy areas and different levels of government. Workshop participants identified the need to better link policymaking and planning processes across key sectors like economic development, housing, and transportation. Similarly, participants discussed the need for more collaboration and resource sharing both vertically and horizontally across government agencies at national, regional, and local levels.

ASEAN city officials at the Mayors Forum highlighted many examples of ongoing resource-efficient urbanization efforts across the transportation sector, building design, and renewable energy production. However, the workshop highlighted the challenges of best-practice sharing across government agencies and local ASEAN governments. While national and international resources for city officials, technical staff and other key personnel are available, the information is not always distributed effectively to the local level.

What’s more, key information is seldom collected in most ASEAN cities; data on energy, water use, demographics, lifestyles and other metrics could inform city officials about where they are succeeding and where they could improve with respect to resource-efficient urbanization. The benefits associated with collecting these metrics are not always apparent to  city officials and such efforts often require investments of money and staff time, which are constrained in many city governments. As a result, data collection is seldom prioritized by local administrations.

The technical workshop was co-hosted by UNEP, United Cities and Local Governments Asia-Pacific, and the League of Cities Philippines. Participants included elected officials, technical staff, and representatives of regional local government associations.

The workshop was part of a process to prepare a report in conjunction with UNEP on urban infrastructure transitions in Southeast Asia. Key findings from the workshop, including barriers to resource-efficient urban development and strategies to address these barriers, will be incorporated in the final report to be released in late 2017.

Ramaswami also addressed the larger Forum audience as part of a panel that discussed the future of cities through a deeper understanding of cultural intelligence, and how they can better consume and produce resources. 

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