Better jobs, higher salaries and improved access to basic services – the bright lights of cities seem to promise these and more.
In 2011, Thailand suffered the worst floods in half a century. The flood crisis impacted more than 13 million people. About 97,000 houses were damaged and entire villages and cities were under water for months.
House in Ayutthaya affected by the 2011 floods
Three years later, Thailand has been able to deal with the worst of the impacts but some of the poorest households are still struggling to recover. We visited 10 affected communities in Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan as part of the supervision of the Community-based Livelihood Support for Urban Poor Project (SUP). We could still see the water marks on their walls, damaged ceilings, and wobbly structures. The unrepaired houses stuck out but just as striking was the strong sense of community in the area. We were reminded that villagers came together to overcome the worst natural disaster most of them ever witnessed in their lives.
The flooding led to better disaster risk management in the neighborhoods that are most at risk. Local governments have taken the lead. But the disaster has also, just as importantly, mobilized ordinary citizens in some of the most deprived communities. Here are some of their stories:
On Monday, Sept. 17, a chorus of voices from around the world spoke out in support of “Green Buildings for Great Communities,” the theme of this year’s World Green Building Week, hosted by World Green Building Council. Green building councils from 90 nations organized hundreds of events to educate the public about the health, environmental and economic benefits of sustainable design and construction.
CHF International (Cooperative Housing Foundation), which serves millions of people in low- and moderate-income communities around the world, hosted a panel in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) called “Cities and Climate Change Adaptation: What We Can Learn About Resilience from Those Living on the Edge.” The panel featured Judy Baker, lead economist in the Urban Practice at the World Bank Institute; Brian English, director of program innovation for CHF International; Aram Khachadurian, an international development consultant; Helen Santiago Fink, urban climate change advisor for USAID; and Janice Perlman, an independent scholar, teacher and consultant, who discussed resiliency in the built environment and its role in addressing the plight of the urban poor.
Back in 2004, the electrical utility in Brazil’s biggest city had a major problem. AES Eletropaulo was losing a large proportion of its revenue due to almost half-a-million illegal connections, most of them in São Paolo’s slums. Not only that, but they were causing often multiple-house fires on a monthly basis, along with frequent electrocutions. But the utility’s efforts to fix the problem were stymied by its poor relations with slum-dwellers, which made it almost impossible to work in these communities.
At the World Water Forum in Marseille, I participated in a session on innovative ways to finance water for the poor. Most of the ideas proposed were good, including testing Output-Based Aid, improvements to the water tariff structure, and a sanitation fee on the water bill.Then the organizers asked for ideas and the discussion was opened for plenary...
I grimace when I see those ads to ‘Build a Smarter Planet’. It seems to me the planet was working pretty well before we started messing with it. But ‘Build a Smarter City’ – now that’s something I can get behind. Cities are humanity’s grandest creation. They reflect us, sometimes smart, sometimes not. Cities reflect our civilizations, and when working well cities are the most efficient way to help the poor, the fortunate and unfortunate, and the environment. And without a doubt every city in the world would benefit from smarter design and smarter management.
There’s a bit of smoke and mirrors on some of today’s smart city claims. Selling more IT and sophisticated algorithms might help a few of the very fortunate cities. Building a smart-city suburb next to a very unsustainable city can yield important lessons but can also be a useful distraction. Being really smart about cities is improving basic service delivery to the 1 billion urban-poor now going without clean water, or the 2 billion without sanitation. And we need big-time smarts as we build cities over the next twenty years for an additional 2 billion residents – this time locking in energy savings and a high quality of life for all.