Monday, 24 June 2013

"What’s quality of life for Singapore?"

"Our Government’s recent position on increasing the size of the population hinges on the premise that Singapore citizens should be able to continue to enjoy a “high quality living environment” in the future. A denser Singapore could still be “liveable” and with economic growth comes job growth, good prospects and a high quality of life, it said.
What makes for quality living? No two persons think alike on this matter. One may aspire for a bigger car, while another longs for cycling lanes on main roads for a low-cost, pollution-free and safe commute. Rather than assuming what constitutes a high quality of life, let’s discuss what Singaporeans want now and in the future.
International benchmarks exist to guide such discussion. Mercer’s annual Quality of Living ranks cities based on factors such as political, social and economic environment, socio-cultural environment (which includes censorship and limitations on personal freedom), public services and transportation, recreation, housing, natural environment, schools and education.
Last year, the top five cities worldwide ranked by Mercer were Vienna, Zurich, Auckland, Munich and Vancouver. Singapore was placed 25th globally but pronounced the best worldwide for its infrastructure. It is important to consider why Singapore was not ranked higher. Perhaps we can begin by asking: Are we better at the hardware than the software aspects of managing growth?
The OECD Better Life Index measures the well-being of society. It helps us consider, for instance, should wealth be the end-goal of life?
The index gives a framework for debates on policy formulation. Eleven topics are chosen to cover material living conditions (jobs, income, housing) and quality of life (environment, community, life satisfaction). Indicators define these 11 topics. Housing, for instance, has indicators of rooms per person, housing expenditure and dwelling with basic facilities.
Job indicators are employment rate, long-term unemployment rate, personal earnings and job security. Civic engagement has the indicators of voter turnout and consultation on rule making. This interactive tool allows anyone to vote indexes according to perceived importance and, thereafter, watch how cities perform accordingly.
Singapore could do well to study these indicators and indexes to arrive at an appropriate framework for quality living here. Our GDP per capita is among the highest in the world and most Singaporeans have a reasonable if not high standard of living. Further wealth acquisition does not necessarily lead to higher quality of life.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew recently highlighted these qualities in a liveable city: Safety, spaciousness, mobility, cleanliness, connectivity and equity. These are wise and relevant thoughts. In an urban population density survey by the Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore with 7,130 person/sq km was placed top in the “high-density and high liveability” quadrant of the Liveability Matrix, followed by Hong Kong at 6,400 persons/sq km and London at 5,100 persons/sq km.
Yet, gaps exist. As we gear towards becoming an even denser city, our policies should be revisited. Areas that boost liveability include: Flexibility of work hours and telecommuting; better capacity for public transport and more infrastructure for non-motorised transport (such as bike lanes); more inclusive and transparent public consultation on policies; greater civic-consciousness; and environmental transformation (waste recovery, options for renewable energy adoption).
Of high relevance to Singapore would be tuning society to be better prepared for economic restructuring — a theme of this year’s Budget — with relevant education and long-term employment as the means, and quality of life as a by-product.
This could be achieved first by restructuring our meritocratic system to enable free education/re-skilling for the jobless, the low-skilled, single parents, the disabled and older residents. Just as we have baby bonuses, education and training grants will give this lot a much-needed head start to take on new skills or part-time jobs in line with economic needs; and also tackle cyclical poverty in disadvantaged communities more effectively.
Another area for improvement: Better wage distribution for low-paid service workers. This does not just boost personal earnings (an indicator in the OECD Better Life Index), it also injects greater dignity into jobs that suffer from a poor image. For a start, employers can make use of the new Wage Credit Scheme to lift such wages.
Quality of life should not be the goal of GDP growth — it should be the outcome of a sustainable environment built on liveability factors that support the present and future needs of the different sectors of society. After all, it is the many faces of society that make us a distinctive nation with the reputation for being a highly dense, yet highly liveable city.
Mallika Naguran is an independent researcher with institutes and a sustainability consultant, and the founder of Gaia Discovery."

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Friday, 21 June 2013

"Learning cities: the new recipe in regional development"

The city is dead. Long live the city! Those who have rushed to pronounce the city's demise in today's globalised communications world may have to eat their words. For cities -- and their regions -- can offer just the right mix of resources, institutional structures, modern technology and cosmopolitan values that allow them to serve as incubators and drivers for the knowledge-based societies of the 21st century.

There is no single definition of a learning city or region, though the concept draws on theories about innovation and systems that promote innovation. What learning cities and regions have in common is an explicit commitment to placing innovation and learning at the core of development. All seek to sustain economic activity through various combinations of lifelong learning, innovation and creative uses of information and communication technologies.

The term "learning" in "learning cities" covers both individual and institutional learning. Individual learning refers to the acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding by individual people, whether formally or informally. It often refers to lifelong learning, not just initial schooling and training. By learning, individuals gain through improved wages and employment opportunities, while society benefits by having a more flexible and technologically up-to-date workforce.

Learning for competitiveness

However, lifelong learning is only part of what is needed to build a learning city or region. Being able to deal with a global and international economy is important too. That means other strategies are required to make regions competitive. The challenge is to link individual learning to a larger environment in which institutions also are aware of the need to innovate and learn, and are capable of doing so. Networking and partnerships are key ingredients, since collective learning and robustness depend on a continuous exchange and flow of information about products, processes and work organisation. The links happen usually between organisations, which have a long-standing relationship based on stability and trust, but also between towns, cities and regions themselves.

The changes occurring in the shift from an industrial economic base to one that is knowledge-based show a pattern and these are outlined in the box. Moreover, a study of those identifying themselves as learning cities or learning regions turns up several common elements.

Partnership is essential

The first is that they have a clear, sustained commitment on the part of all partners -- whether public authorities, private enterprises, education and research institutions, civic organisations or key individuals -- to placing learning and knowledge dissemination at the centre of development. In fact, their sense of common purpose, identity and trust between the various actors is a driving force in cultivating shared values and networks within the city. This can be described as social capital and it is vital to making learning cities work.

Learning by experience

Another common feature of learning cities is their determination to create globally competitive, knowledge-intensive industrial and service activities and to base their work on the local capacity for learning, innovation and change. Lifelong learning lies at the heart of their formal and informal training at all ages and levels, as do the objectives of social cohesiveness and sustainability, which are central parts of the development of any learning city or region. Despite certain common features, case studies show that each city or region has put together its own particular mix. Like any good recipe, both the quantities and ingredients have been adapted to suit what's available locally. Different socio-economic circumstances have been taken into account, reflecting the specificity of history, culture and circumstance. What are some of the different strategies and how is each city or region building its own model of development and change? Cutting edge information and communication technologies may be an important element, but the ability to internalise learning strategies that promote innovation, interaction and exchange across all sectors of society are even more so. But in each case, the goal is to be competitive in a global marketplace through learning and innovation and to tool up for the new century.

The German city of Jena offers the example of an economic and cultural transition. Before 1989 and German reunification, Jena's economy was dominated not only by its position as an East German city, but also by the Carl Zeiss optics and instrumentation complex. This technological basis was clearly useful as a catalyst for today's learning city. The Zeiss complex employed 23,000 local people out of a total of 68,000. Today the figure has dropped to 4,500. But now a new development strategy is promoting Jena as a high-tech region and some 200 companies have already set up shop there. The biotechnology sector employs 1,000 people and is growing. These sweeping economic and cultural changes have all occurred with remarkable speed. In just six years, Friedrich Schiller University has replaced 85% of its faculty, with most professors now coming from the former West Germany. Primary and secondary education has undergone upheaval. All teachers in Thuringia -- about 32,000 -- have been evaluated professionally and politically.

The French example of a learning region is around Poitiers. This predominantly rural area has set its sights on development through communication technology, multi-media and a highly skilled work force. A theme park called Futuroscope, combining research and development with education and leisure activities, is the focus of its strategy. Thus far, it has attracted 70 firms and created 1,500 jobs in the park and 12,000 jobs indirectly in the whole region. It is also a major tourist site, drawing visitors from around the world. Most of the development is funded by public money.

The Oresund region of Scandinavia straddles two countries and is poised to move from traditional to knowledge-based industries of the 21st century. This symbolic passage will become a reality in the year 2000 with completion of a 16-kilometre-long bridge and tunnel linking the city of Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmoe in Sweden. The cross-border region will offer the greatest concentration of research facilities, first-class educational institutions and technological know-how in Scandinavia: 175,000 firms employing 1.4 million people out of a regional population of 2.8 million. Regional innovation systems on each side of the Oresund differ somewhat and co-operation between the Swedish and Danish regions has not been as strong as it might be. The new bridge, by bringing the two regions together and effectively transforming them into one, probably makes a rapprochement inevitable, in research, education and indeed investment policy.

The Andalusia region of Spain offers another kind of development model. Facing Africa and benefiting from a mild climate, ancient seaports, extensive agriculture and a rich cultural heritage, this historical melting pot and tourist attraction is not one of Spain's wealthiest regions. It is now consciously working to diversify its activities. Recent investments in communications, technology and research, combined with the presence of well-established universities and cities like Seville, Malaga, Cadiz, Cordoba and Granada should provide a magnet for new companies and enterprises. Regional co-operation and networking among the cities are proving to be important tools in carving out this learning city region.

One of the largest redevelopment projects in Europe is located in the Kent Thames-side area east of London. Some £4 billion is being invested over thirty years to transform this former industrial site -- once home to a cement factory employing 15,000 people. Apart from laying the necessary infrastructure and commercial developments -- a rail centre will provide a high-speed link with continental Europe, while 30,000 new homes and various office complexes will put residents and 50,000 new employees within easy reach of London -- Kent County Council has laid considerable emphasis on its plan to create a veritable learning region. Some 20 primary schools and 10 secondary ones are to be built, for example, with the support of the private sector. The above examples clearly pour cold water on the popular notion of "place" being no longer important in globalisation, even if arguments in favour of a technology-driven decentralisation are strong. Geographical and territorial dimensions do seem to matter and should continue to. Place underpins the concept of learning cities and regions. Why? 

There are many advantages in sharing geographically defined labour markets, regional conventions, norms and values. Close interaction with suppliers, customers and even rivals also has benefits. Michael Storper, in his study on the region as a nexus (see bibliography), speaks of "untraded interdependencies" and describes the region as a key element in the "supply architecture" for learning and innovation. Given the social, and often tacit, nature of learning and innovation, it is not surprising that vitality is often best generated when partners are in sufficient proximity to allow frequent interaction and the easy, informal exchange of information.

As our examples above show, firms and knowledge institutions clustered in the same location have greater opportunities to share a culture and understanding that facilitate the process of social interaction and learning. This saves time and money. It can help promote trust between parties and discourage opportunistic behaviour by individual firms. The flow of propriety knowledge, which is fundamental for innovation, is also facilitated. 

Globalisation makes cities, regions and countries more vulnerable to external shocks and economic restructuring. Yet all cities and regions have resources which can be used to drive local economic development, provided they are part of a sustained regional development strategy that emphasises long-term goals over short-term gains. In a learning society, and in the microcosm of a learning city or region, no institution has a monopoly of knowledge. This has profound implications for education and training. It must itself be an agency for lifelong learning and provide the high levels of group orientation and teamwork required for knowledge-intensive economic organisation. It must actively seek new partnerships with other "regional knowledge institutions".

The learning city strategies only indirectly address the most immediate issues of high unemployment and social deprivation, but as liberating weapons they may help to overcome these problems too.

Monday, 17 June 2013

1 year, 79 countries

On our first year of activity, STREETICS was visited by people from 79 countries around the world.  From  United States to Argentina, from Algeria to South AFrica, from Portugal to Russia, from Saudi Arabia to Japan, from Phillipines to Australia, in every continent there was interest in our mission : Classify all the streets on every city around the world.

It proves the importance of Streetrank and our concept of quality of living, wherever you live. 

Our sincere thanks go to them for their contributions !

Carlos Sousa, Co-founder and CEO
Mauro Nunes, Co-founder and CTO

Sunday, 16 June 2013

"Smart cities attract smart people"

"Using intelligent technology to improve our environment is paramount, writes Brett O'Riley.

With the massive growth globally of urbanisation, cities are not only growing in size and shape, they have to become smarter.
Auckland is on the cusp of becoming a Super City. We must ensure it also becomes a smart city to attract and retain the best possible people, to become the best possible economic performing city that it can, and achieve this in a balanced and sustainable manner.
With cities like Shanghai, Singapore and New York in mind, it has fast become a fact that urban metropolises are the economic hubs of countries. The economic edge these cities have is that they act smarter and more innovatively than their competitors. After all, they are competing on a global scale.
From an economic point of view, cities have to rely on a smarter, more skilled workforce for competitive differentiation. They need to be able to manage their growth, ensuring they are able to provide effective services to their citizens in a healthy and efficient environment.

These points of difference will become more prominent as 70 per cent of the world population is set to be living in cities by 2050. Even in massive countries like China, this year marks the first time that more than 50 per cent of their population is urban-based.
Cities grew rapidly in the 20th century, but generally in an unplanned fashion - we are all familiar with the term urban sprawl. Globally this placed massive pressure on existing infrastructure, drove housing prices and local rates up, but generally lowered the standard of services the citizens received.
Information technology is the power engine of smarter cities. The advancement of IT is not just about automating cities, but about creating a developed, energy efficient and productive place. Governments and private industries that understand this are becoming global powerhouses because smarter cities attract and retain a smarter workforce.
The Chinese Government has already made moves to ensure Shanghai remains one of the world's fastest-growing economies. I recently attended the IBM Smarter Cities conference in Shanghai and heard first-hand how cities globally are developing smart infrastructure, with the host city being one of the best examples.
Shanghai's IT sector, worth around 800 billion RMB, (NZ$164 billion) is now growing at 20 per cent annually.
IT is a fundamental plank in the Chinese Government's vision to continue Shanghai's growth levels and make it a smarter and more attractive place for its citizens.
Congested commuting can have a negative impact on a city's liveability and productivity. Shanghai will have 2.5 million private cars by 2020 and daily motor vehicle trips will increase to seven million, compared to just over three million in 2000. So Shanghai has had to prepare and produce intricate transport management systems.
The Government introduced what it calls ShanghaiGrid hardware infrastructure as a way to ease congestion over transport infrastructure. Connected to different networks at a 100Mbps network ultra-fast broadband speed, Shanghai has a world-class transport management system in place using video, sensors and traffic lights, all integrated to manage the enormous flows of traffic and people.
China has also implemented smart e-government technology-based services. Citizens have the ability to access online administration services that have been used to consolidate applications, services and licenses. They also have social security cards which can be used for 20 different government services through smart kiosks and community centres.
China Mobile, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world, now has 550 million mobile subscribers. China also has 750 million animals tagged with radio based RFID chips, meaning it can track and monitor livestock from the farm to the plate. As a business application, this assists primary sectors exponentially. The same technology and others, like GPS, can be used to track assets, vehicles and products, all contributing to productivity.
With all this smarter technology in place, Shanghai ensures its people receive education and training. It has already trained 730,000 people from its 'One million family on-line' initiative.
Cities rely on the connectivity of core systems composed of different networks, infrastructures and environments, all related to citizens, services, business, transport, communications, water and energy.
They rely on these smart services to perform efficiently to provide better quality of life for the people.
Using smart technology to improve our environment is paramount. One example of this is in Stockholm, Sweden. Through smarter technology and logistics, Stockholm has used tolling to dissuade people from driving at peak times, which has reduced emissions by 35 per cent.
With New Zealand's 65-plus age group projected to make up more than one-quarter of our population from the late 2030s, compared to 12 per cent in 2005, our health system will also need unprecedented access to new technologies as it copes with an ageing population.
But this connectivity across systems is not necessarily enough.
With education spending at about 6 per cent of GDP in most cities, we need to ensure we increase spending on learning for smarter cities.
This is not just about continued learning for our young people, but education for those who have limited computer and IT skills. Initiatives like the Computer Clubhouse in Otara are demonstrating that all communities have an appetite for access to the internet and its smart services.
This is no longer an option, it needs to be a basic service available to all citizens if we are to scale smart services and ensure no-one is disadvantaged because of a lack of connectivity or speed.
The Tamaki Transformation Programme is one of New Zealand's largest urban renewal projects targeting another area where smart services are generally not available.
This is being driven by a unique partnership between central government agencies, local government, the Tamaki community and the private sector. All are striving to achieve ambitious housing, infrastructure, social services and economic performance goals for the area by working together in new ways. Broadband infrastructure will underpin this transformation, giving citizens in Glen Innes, Panmure and Point England access to smart services, in many cases for the first time.
In this context, the Government's Ultra Fast Broadband initiative focuses on providing the platform for Auckland to truly become a world class smart city.
Auckland has geographical challenges which have constrained growth using 20th century style infrastructure. We now have the opportunity to create infrastructure for the city to operate much more efficiently and for people to have more flexibility in their daily lives.
Brett O'Riley was recently a guest of IBM at the Smarter Cities conference in Shanghai."

Friday, 14 June 2013

"Living in the Big City"

"Are you a city dweller at heart? Looking to love the planet and have access to culture, jobs and affordable international plane fares at the same time? As I figure it out myself, I'm finding some killer resources and ideas on the subject. Yes, I'll share. Read on.


Stuff it.
Try to have at least one compact eco bag with you in your pocket or purse. This works whether you shop daily on foot, or are one of those people who routinely forgets the ones you've packed in your car. Both commercial and DIYoptions are available. The trick is to have one that fits easily into as compact a space as possible. City dwellers often have to carry a small arsenal around with them all day, so having things that are light and smoothly stored is critical. If you have room, consider a compact produce bag or two as well.
Roll 'em.
People tend to think of rolling storage containers as suitable for travel and service personnel only. When we lived in Italy, I spent a fair amount of my free time hanging out in Venice. One thing I noticed was how many people I saw using personal sized luggage carts and wheeled bags to roll groceries behind them as they dodged tourists and school children on the narrow streets. This folding rolling trolley looks very similar and folds up for small space storage. Another thing I haven't necessarily seen for urban dwellers is an efficient form for toting frozen goods while shopping on foot. Toting large plastic marine coolers just doesn't seem practical when you have curb after curb to tend to. I did notice some expandable smaller rolling fabric coolers at Sam's Club the other day that just might fit the bill. They didn't fold up as small as the rolling fabric trolley bags, but they do fold up somewhat and aren't huge. They're a small enough size to also pull off a decent picnic in the park. Here's another option from Amazon that looks similar.
Cloth diaper services.
Dreaming of life as an eco goddess in cloth diaper land is one thing. Making it happen while living life on the urban run is another, especially if limited washing and drying options are involved. Here's one woman's story, and another discussion on service versus just doing it on your own. Personally, I think I would end up going with a hybrid approach.
Free online resources.
I actually found several online radio shows and podcasts you can listen to on the fly. They include The Lazy Environmentalist, Green Talk Radio, Practical Green Living, The Little Green People Show and Eco Talk. The Little Green People Show deals specifically with green living issues for city dwellers. Regarding web site resources, I ran into a few of note including Fake Plastic Fish, the Ideal Bite and the green living section of the Huffington Post.
Purchasing sources.
Living the uber urban lifestyle is similar to extreme remote living in one very specific way. Mail order rocks. Not that you don't have access to other stores on a regular basis, but if you are living in Boston versus the greater Tampa area, hopping in the car to take advantage of a particular brick and mortar retail location is going to be more difficult. Four resources with green products available?Urban Green Living, Green Depot, Amazon and Eco Fabulous.


Urban Farming.
Sky farms, a Milwaukee power gardener, edible and decorative garden walls, green roofs, prison growing programs, small alley  or apartment gardens and growing food cooperatively in a city environment. All these things and more are possible with the urban gardeningmovement. One of my favorite ideas is rooftop gardening, which I think would work really well with shipping container homes. DIY soy products and sprouts are doable in even the smallest apartment, and vertical farming is certainly the way to go in cities with limited available land. Here are one or two additional resources to help you out.
Urban Homesteading.
This concept takes urban gardening and farming to the next level with even more efforts towards self sufficiency. Some cities embrace this concept more than others, but there are those that advocate promoting the homesteading concept in a modern way to promote the turning around of distressed cities such as Detroit. One of the most inspirational examples of urban homesteading and self sufficiency in the city is Path to Freedom. Check out their articles, You Tube videos and more. Also of note are the Home Grown Evolution folks, Reality Sandwich and the Institute of Urban Homesteading. Being Frugal even wrote an article on the subject a while back.
What I love about this movement is how the financial, career and green benefits of living in certain urban centers is combined with some of the coolest perks of living more rurally. I used to think that having a great farm property was only worth it if you had the privacy to go with it. Until I realized the power of combining passive income with a portfolio or potpourri of other business, employment or career options. Having the right location is just as critical to someone who wants to throw open the barn doors on a high traffic holiday weekend to sell some antiques, refinished pieces or vegetables as it is to someone living in a brownstone with a courtyard herb garden they are growing for extra income. A cool perk with the urban location is the increased availability of part time jobs and consulting opportunities if you just need to fill in smaller amounts of income and don't want to give up writing your novel to go back to a full time job. If you have a busy neighborhood, various cottage biz ideas such as soap making, lotion bars, mending and more could also supply you with extra mad money. Here is a link to a blog talk radio show on the subject, as well as a few other ideas and resources you may find interesting.

City Greening Efforts.
This isn't as easy for individuals to implement, as typical programs are municipal. That isn't to say that individuals and small groups can't start their own nonprofit groups andorganized efforts. Some ideas I've seen include planting grass along train track routes to reduce heat retention, nonprofit cleanup groups, and community park programs. Cool things are also happening in RwandaNepalSpain and cities here in the U.S. Looking to get involved? B.J. Cordova of Tucson Clean and Beautiful has some advice.  " There are many locally based nonprofit organizations and government programs designed for hands-on volunteer involvement on the ground. These programs contribute to improving quality of life and also help save people and government entities money! These types of efforts offer an immediate and visible benefit to the environment through efforts to recycle, clean up litter, plant trees for shade, paint over graffiti, harvest rainwater, prevent erosion, and make other contributions to improve public spaces. Volunteering is free, requiring only your time, travel, and perhaps minimal expenses for supplies and food. "


Free street shopping on trash day.
Fixing up free and found items is a great way to go green and decorate on a dime. Wise Bread's own Joann Hong shows us that in Berlin this isn't only popular, it's consideredurban chic.
Urban composting.
Yes, it can be done. Andrea's written a resource article on the subject. City governments and universities have also been known to join in the game, collecting waste from restaurants and coffee grounds from local bakeries to put to work in agricultural projects. I even saw a women's shelter program once that collected compostable materials from area restaurants for use in their organic garden. In turn, the participating restaurants received first pick of the organic produce the program offered up for sale.
Out and about feminine care.
The carrying case for dealing with transitional pads is key to succeeding here. And using the non-disposable menstrual cups can actually help with this. For those that want to try it out, there's a detailed article and discussion on the subject here. The hybrid approach could also work, and allow for the freedom of using Earth friendly disposable products when out and about if juggling it on the subway and train systems is a little more than you want to take on.
Make the farmer's market an outing.
Whether it's a date with your spouse, a frugal power shopping activity with your friends, or some solo strolling you feel will get you out of the house while streamlining your purchases, maintaining a list  and having it with you while you shop for fun and savings might be just the ticket. Yes, you'll still have your structured shopping days to get the overall stocking up accomplished. That's just plain necessary for running a household. But if you fit in the farmer's market for fun beforehand and incorporate your list into the experience, you can pick up some produce items and tweak your menu plans accordingly.
Precision transportation decisions.
In my humble opinion, it's far too difficult to choose one particular transport option to fit every situation, person and city. The variables are just too diverse. In the end, you'll need to make the best decision you can regarding secondary vehicles such as additional cars, scooters, motorcycles or solar powered golf carts. Decisions will also be required for such things as biking, public transportation, walking or owning a vehicle at all. Some resources right here on Wise Bread? This article from Philip, some tips from the Frugal Duchess, and a former article for frugality on the fly.
Stocking the pantry.
Philip's discussed this before, as have I in a previous bulk buying post. But I've always had the sense that many think this is only achievable in the burbs, or more rurally. Particularly in the more dense cities, it's difficult to drive and park even if there is room to keep a car. So hitting the warehouse store and other frugal shopping stops to stock up on number ten cans of tomato paste and bulk rice just isn't as practical. There are ways to work around it however, including mail order, urban grocery delivery and splitting large orders with a neighbor. One of the most successful stories I've seen on the subject is the Sustainable Pantry web site. This couple is making it happen in Queens, no less. Notice the industrial shelving, canning jars, re-purposed containers and integrated use of s-hooks to hang odd shaped items? Clearly, this is a couple I can relate too. I even noticed a few of the same brands of bulk grain packages we've previously ordered for our home through Amazon. Their web site describes their approach in more detail, but they definitely stock the pantry and make a once a week trip for produce and protein.
Low impact choices at all points on the spectrum.

The sustainable pantry folks aren't the only ones to have made low impact efforts in the big city. In fact, Andrea has an article or two regarding a couple who made fairly extreme choices to attempt a low impact lifestyle in downtown Manhattan."
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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Choose the right mix

Amit Kapoor, who led the study to rank India's most competitive cities, says the country's emerging cities have the potential to grow into thriving business centres in the future. Excerpts from an interview with BW:
What are the most significant findings of the study?Indian cities have a long way to go before their standards match Singapore or Chicago. Our cities face infrastructural constraints and mediocre management. But a positive trend has been the emergence of new cities. They can deliver in the long run if the right policies are followed. The report assesses the pros and cons of these cities, and, hence, provides a direction for policymakers.

What helped the top rankers make it to the top? Surprisingly, Mumbai has topped the rankings despite its poor liveability, but the city is most conducive to business. Its long history of commerce helps it create space for newer or advanced businesses. Delhi and Bangalore lag on certain specific scales — Delhi lacks a well-connected transport, while Bangalore faces mediocre business conditions though they are good enough to be recognised among the top in the list of competitive cities. These cities face infrastructure deficiencies that increase the cost of living and business, but it is the aggregation of many factors that define a city's competitiveness.

Have the business conditions of Indian cities improved since last year?Yes. A key indicator is how cities are improving performance on factors such as ease of doing business. But a worrying trend is the crumbling infrastructure, and transport woes that affect productivity.

Are smaller cities becoming more competitive? Or are they falling?An encouraging trend is the emergence of newer cities around the traditionally acclaimed ones, and the development of new urban agglomerations. A more optimistic indicator is the stable performance of some of the upcoming cities on competitiveness sub-indices. Ahmedabad, Baroda and Visakhapatnam perform consistently on all indices, showing a more comprehensive growth strategy. Their government bodies have adopted the route to develop on grounds of competitiveness as a whole rather than just administratively or economically.

How do satellite towns and tier-II cities fare on business competitiveness?In the initial phase of development, cities developing around existing metros will benefit from the existing infrastructure of a big city, but a tier-II city needs to begin from scratch. Each set of cities has its own obstacles. Without a proper communications relay and transport facility, a satellite city cannot exist. Similarly, policies need to be focused when developing a tier-II city to match the metros in their business and liveability potential.

What are the key factors that will determine competitiveness of cities? There is no key factor that a city would benefit from. The competitiveness of a city is defined by the demand conditions, factor conditions, related and supporting industries and the extent of competition in the market. Cities need to choose the right mix of all these factors.
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 05-10-2009)

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Tuesday, 11 June 2013

REWARD : "Streets to live by"

"How livable street design can bring economic, health and quality-of-life benefits 

Many critical issues faced by New York City, including public health, environmental sustainability and
long-term economic viability are best addressed at street level. Following the lead of cities across the
globe, the City is now employing livable streets as a central strategy to nurture a healthy population

and support local economies in all fi ve boroughs.

A livable street prioritizes people and all their activities – sitting, strolling, resting, shopping and
observing city life. Cities such as San Francisco and London have embarked on large-scale livable
streets initiatives to encourage people to walk, ride a bike or hop on the train rather than get behind
the wheel of a private automobile. In turn, livable street improvements are bringing striking economic
and quality-of-life benefi ts to those cities. For example, pedestrian-friendly retail zones are drawing
large numbers of new shoppers and quiet and traffi c-calmed streets are bringing higher property
values, less crime and greater social cohesion among neighbors.

Livable streets have demonstrated the following eff ects on local economies:

Pedestrian zones in city centers have boosted foot traffi c by 20-40% and retail sales by 10-25%.

Property values have increased by nearly one-third after traffi c calming measures were installed.

Property values on quiet streets are generally higher than those on noisy streets. In the extreme,
the value of a house on a quiet street would be 8-10% higher than the same house on a noisy

Public recreational and gathering space increases property values. Apartment prices near
community gardens in New York City are 7% higher than comparable apartments in the same

Many important quality-of-life benefi ts also arise with livable streets. Increased outdoor activity
and reduced air pollution translate into better public health. More people walking about and
enjoying sidewalk space creates a livelier city and is the fi rst step towards stronger neighborhoods.
Demonstrable progress toward these goals can be measured: lower obesity and diabetes rates, lower
noise and air pollution levels, and increases in the size of residents’ social networks.

But there is more to be done. To make the city’s streets more livable and achieve the economic,
health and quality-of-life benefi ts that other cities have experienced, leadership and coordination are
required. Unlike most policies that fall within the jurisdiction of only one City agency, livable streets
policies require agency staff to work together in completely new ways.

To this end, we off er the following recommendations:

1. Make livable streets the rule. The Mayor should mandate livable streets as the overarching goal
for all city streets. Improvements that support livable streets, whether through new construction,
street rebuilding or zoning amendments, should be the standard, not the exception.

2. Increase the amount of walking (...). A walking city is a healthy, livable city.

3. Promote livable streets on the basis of public health.

4. Promote livable streets in business districts.

5. Put livable streets on the agenda (..).

6. Create Parking Benefit Districts. The City should create Parking Benefit Districts like the ones
adopted by Washington. D.C. In a Parking Benefit District, meter prices in commercial corridors
are increased on the basis of demand (to achieve 85% occupancy) and a portion of the new
revenue generated by the higher meter rates is directed back to the districts in the form of
pedestrian, cycling and surface transit improvements.

7. Reduce congestion in neighborhoods.

8. Promote car sharing. Incentivize car-sharing in the city and track its effect on travel behavior."

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Friday, 7 June 2013

COOPERATION : Global challenges for international cooperation

"The start of the new millennium marks the dawning of the urban age. This will be the major challenge of the 21st century. Let us take a quick look at the three major trends that will shape urban evolution throughout the world.

For the first time in the history of humanity, a majority of the world population will be living in cities, and urban growth will be strongest in developing countries. In these regions, the urbanisation process is not what it was in the industrialised world. Strong demographic growth and a lack of human and financial resources
characterise it. This urban transition goes hand in hand with accelerating trends relative to poverty and homelessness, ethnic conflict, crime, violence and social exclusion.

The last decade was marked by widespread political, fiscal and administrative decentralisation affecting different countries to a varying degree. The aim of decentralisation is to render countries more efficient, and link public, private and community sectors in an effort to make them more accountable to citizens. Unfortunately, the decentralisation process is often implemented without the requisite institutional and financial accompanying measures. Alongside the State and the market, civil society has an increasingly important role to play in the partnership that promises to pave the way towards new forms of democratic

The development of communication and transport technologies has caused towns to join interdependent networks, facilitating their access to international markets. The birth of "global cities" (Sassen 1991)
leads to a concentration of industrial production sites and of services, innovation, decision-making and financing, and creates new hierarchies between large, medium-sized and small urban centres. In
parallel to this “globalisation impact”, local conditions influence or determine
the rise of local authorities and projects launched by civil society.

The fact that the world has become increasingly urban in terms of population density, spatial distribution, economic activity, social behaviour and cultural models, generates the following priority challenges:

- The autonomy of local authorities via decentralisation and greater democracy, should foster social equity and civic responsibility.

- Participatory urban governance should contribute to the promotion of the "open city", in which all individuals benefit from its opportunities regardless of income, sex, age, race or religion.

- The fight against urban poverty, based on an approach that makes the poor the focal point of development, should view them not as victims but as responsible and capable citizens endowed with knowledge, know-how, networks and rights.

- Actions for cities without slums should foster the transformation of shantytowns, and their integration within the larger urban environment through poverty alleviation strategies, improved infrastructures, and the provision of basic services and housing. This will require positive policies that refuse “bulldozer
strategies” and insist upon the right of the poor to a decent life.

- Adequate drinking water supply and sanitation, survival and dignity for the poor according to UN slogan, inadequate access to water represents an explosive challenge that threatens the life and living conditions of over two billion of the world’s inhabitants.

- The urban environment registers growing threats to its equilibrium: the day to day existence of hundreds of millions of city dwellers in the South is marked – and marred – by waste proliferation, uncontrolled waste discharge, polluted water, household and external air pollution, plus the risk of environmental disasters.

- Sustainable cities. The majority of cities in the South, with their growing poverty, environmental deterioration, inequalities, social problems, crime and other forms of insecurity, project an image of nonsustainability."

in Urban News, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, March 2004

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

COOPERATION : CITYNET - Together we can do more

"By 2015, 23 cities will exceed the population of 10 million inhabitants.
19 of those cities will be in developing countries.
11 of them in Asia. CITYNET can help.

For over 20 years, CITYNET (The Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements) has committed itself to helping local governments improve the sustainability of human settlements. Starting with 26 members in 1987, CITYNET has grown to become an international organisation of more than 100 members in more than 20 countries, most of which are cities and local governments in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • believes that together we can work toward people-friendly cities that are socially just, ecologically sustainable, politically participatory, economically productive, culturally vibrant, and globally connected.
  • is a unique network working with a wide range of urban stakeholders, including local governments, development authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), associations of local authorities, research and training institutes and private companies.
  • helps cities and local governments and partners provide better services to citizens with the commitment to capacity building at the local level.
  • works in close partnerships with the United Nations and other bi- and multilateral organisations and agencies. In 1995, CITYNET was granted consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations.
  • was recognised by UN-HABITAT with the 2002 Scroll of Honour for "playing a key role in facilitating City to City Cooperation and networking amongst local governments, NGOs and development agencies in Asia".