Originally posted on EMBARQ.org.
Urban dwellers in China, India and Mexico may not think they have much in common, but cities in all three countries are experiencing similar rapid growth patterns and the subsequent challenges in managing that growth in a sustainable way. This was the common theme across presentations in “Sustainable Transport and Urban Development,” one of the afternoon sessions at Transforming Transportation 2011, an event organized by EMBARQ (the producer of this blog) and held at the The World Bank Group headquarters in Washington, D.C. Presentations focused on the benefits of integrating sustainable transportation policies into urban development models while also highlighting the myriad barriers to success.
The first presentation, from Shomik Mehndiratta and Andrew Salzberg of The World Bank, looked at the unprecedented rate of urbanization in China and the possibilities for transit-oriented growth. Mehndiratta described the limited fiscal space for cities, explaining that municipal governments in China are unable to borrow money to fund growth projects and are required by law to balance their budgets annually. Property rights and zoning regulations create a system of incentives that result in the re-zoning of land on the urban periphery for development. The typical effect of this rapid growth is a building model that offers few opportunities for public transport and pedestrians.
Salvador Herrera, the deputy director of EMBARQ’s Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico (CTS-México), gave the second presentation on his experiences working to integrate sustainable transport principles into large-scale housing projects in Mexico City. His case study on the Aguascalientes housing development demonstrates a new opportunity for transport advocates and practitioners. This project injected key transit-oriented development concepts like compact development, mixed uses and complete streets in the master planning stage. CTS-México estimated and quantified the benefits in emissions reductions and public and private costs in order to convince officials to introduce transport into the project.
The Indian urban perspective gave the session a macro-scale look at how mobility and transport affects and drives the physical structure of cities. Professor Shivanand Swamy from CEPT University showed pictures from Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Bangalore to visualize the differences in city form between managed growth and unmanaged growth. He emphasized the need for dense networked systems of roads and public transport. The institutional and administrative challenges are significant, including vast distortions in the land markets arising from inappropriate land use planning. But the benefits are large. Professor Swamy suggested that better growth management can cut public investments on roads and transport by half.
These global perspectives gave the session attendees a panoramic view of the current moment in urban development. Managing the pace and scale of urbanization is a mighty task, but it is a critical one for sustainable transport experts to understand and begin to exert their agenda.