An Economic Case for Compact, Connected and Coordinated Cities

Compact, connected and coordinated cities not only increase quality of life for residents, but also yield economic advantages. Photo by Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

On Tuesday December 2nd, World Resources Institute (WRI) hosted a session at the Cities & Regions Pavilion – TAP2015 at COP21.

Entitled “Better Cities in a New Climate Economy,” the session shared the results of the New Climate Economy (NCE) cities work, which underscores the important role that well-planned urbanization can have on economic, social, and environmental performance. WRI is a managing partner of the New Climate Economy, which produces regular reports exploring how countries at all levels of income can have better economic growth and a better climate.

Andrew Steer, President and CEO of WRI, opened the session, explaining that cities are growing in terms of both population and area, with the global urban area set to triple by 2030. Urbanization leads to an increase in air pollution and urban sprawl, generating public and private costs. Instead of this sprawl, we require compact, connected and coordinated cities. This model of city delivers significant benefits. For example, recent research by NCE showed that low carbon urban development would generate savings of 17 trillion from electricity alone. Research has also shown a positive correlation between strong public transport and city competitiveness.

In the subsequent panel discussion, participants explained how they related to the idea of compact, connected and coordinated cities.

Mayor Marcio Lacerda of Belo Horizonte, Brazil indicated that his city was preparing a master plan, setting out improvements by 2030. The plan contains 40 main actions, such as reducing dependence on private transportation to increase compactness. Clay Nesler, Vice President of Global Energy and Sustainability, Johnson Controls, explained that there were a number of key levers for creating the desired city, as Johnson Controls had discovered through its work on building efficiency. These levers include strong city leadership, benchmarks and transparency.

Naoko Ishii, CEO of Global Environment Facility (GEF) stated that the NCE report had convinced her of the importance of coordinated urban planning. She noted that previously, the GEF had tended to make sectoral investments, which were not always connected to longer-term planning. Now, the GEF is developing programs and methods that help cities to formulate integrated, long-term plans. Ishii also highlighted the importance of multi-stakeholder planning and global knowledge sharing, as recommended by the NCE study.

Yvo de Boer, Director General of GGGI noted that while, as Andrew Steer had stated, “cities are drivers of growth,” there is also a question as to how new or rapidly developing cities can drive green growth from the outset. The answer, de Boer said, lies in finding different investment models that focus on the future—rather than current—value of a city.

Panelists also explored the benefits of early investment in developing cities; as Clay Nesler pointed out, it is “far cheaper to save a watt than to generate a watt.” They also discussed how to turn cities away from profitable but unsustainable development, with Yvo de Boer voicing the need for continued innovation in funding partnerships between national and local governments.

Ani Dasgupta, Director of WRI Sustainable Cities concluded the session by encouraging everyone to share the NCE research, as it delivers a clear message: the economic case exists to allow long-term planning for compact, coordinated and connected cities.

This blog post was developed by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and was originally posted here.

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