How to make Asia’s cities ‘livable’

Published on Sunday, 03 May 2015

Published by ADB Blog Team on Sunday, 03 May 2015

The seminar was moderated by ADB Vice President Bindu Lohani.
The seminar was moderated by ADB Vice President Bindu Lohani.

By 2050, up to 65% of Asia’s population is expected to live in cities. With urbanization growing at such at a breakneck speed, many believe that how cities cope with it may well determine the region’s long-term productivity and overall stability.

In order to cope with this massive influx of new residents, investment in infrastructure is a high priority, and needs to be deployed in a coherent and accelerated way. The question is, then, how to identify the types of investments and policy instruments that have worked to alleviate congestion and environmental pollution, while improving living and working conditions as well as safety. Apart from housing, Asia’s future “livable cities” will need schools, hospitals, water and sanitation supplies, housing and power, decent transport systems, clean air… and job opportunities.

Yet another challenge is how to pay for all of this.

Financing competitive, inclusive, and green cities is a “global concern,” Global Environmental Facility Chair and CEO Naoko Ishii noted during a seminar entitled Challenges and Opportunities for Livable Asian Cities at ADB’s 48th Annual Meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Asia’s future cities, she explained, will have to be “compact, connected, and coordinated” to deliver sustainable development for the region, where urban areas receive 120,000 new residents every day and are increasingly threatened by traffic congestion, lack of housing and jobs, natural disasters, environmental degradation, and food insecurity.

The concentration of up to two-thirds of Indonesia’s population on the overcrowded island of Java is the top problem for government urban planners, said Andrinof Chaniago, the country’s Minister for National Development Planning, who described his efforts to encourage his countrymen to move to other parts of the world’s largest archipelago to decongest Jakarta and the rest of Java’s cities.

Singapore has long been considered a model for urban development, and its experience can surely help show other Asian countries how to brainstorm ideas, incorporate those into a master plan, and turn that into an agenda for action, according to Liu Thai-Ker, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Center for Livable Cities and member of the Advisory Board of the Cities Development Initiative.

But for other governments to follow Singapore’s example, he said they must be “clean about their intentions, committed about turning problems into solutions and not excuses, clear about what they want to do, and competent to get the job done.”

Human basic needs, Mr. Liu pointed out, have not changed much over time, but governments must understand the fundamentals of those needs, and how to include all of them following an “internal logic” in Asia’s future livable cities.

Other participants in the seminar, moderated by ADB Vice President Bindu Lohani, were Hans Joachim Fuchtel, Parliamentary State Secretary to Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development; Seoul Vice Mayor Lee Kun Ki; and Fuad Verdiyev, head of development at the Azerbaijan Development Company and responsible for the modernization of Baku.