urban, planning, “urban planning”, planning, GIS

water, cities, political economy, governance, access to water
“urban planning”

Apples and Oranges: Acknowledging Intra-Urban Complexity of Access to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

I recently read an excellent paper on comparisons of infrastructure within cities (as opposed to the more frequent between/among city comparisons that are made in both the academic literature and the policy world.  As someone who appreciates water policy discussions at the intersection of academia and the real world, this was an enjoyable read.

In this paper, Colin McFarlane, Jonathan Silver & Yaffa Truelove discuss some of the factors within Delhi, Cape Town, and Mumbai that drive access to infrastructure services.  Many of these factors come as no surprise to a human geographer- political connections, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, and income.  Inequality of access within a city is certainly what I saw in my doctoral research in Dar es Salaam. In fact, I have seen situations in my hometown of Everett, Massachusetts (Greater Boston) where the ability of local businesses to contest chronically overcharging of water and sewer bills is dependent upon favoritism and access to the right people in the city public works department.

So, what are the implications for the real world?  

I believe that water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) professionals should look to this “radical shift”  that was recently highlighted on the World Bank’s Water Blog that calls for the policy world to think about WASH within the context of urban governance and city-level service provision, address issues of accountability and transparency, improve supply chains, train city leaders, and provide clear roles and responsibility.  

This is, of course, not an easy endeavor, not only due to weaknesses in the factors above, but also since city-level leaders in many countries still operate in a very centralized power structure in which ministry/cabinet-level decisions dominate.  What I see, therefore is a disconnect- between the need for local accountability and transparency in service delivery and the decentralized and empowered municipal governments who would be able to do this.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this.

 

 

 

water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID
“urban planning”

Urban Redevelopment and Water in the Boston Area: Giving a Voice to the Mystic River

As far back as Mesopotamia, cities have developed along rivers.  Water that once fed the industrial revolution has been polluted for over a century, but sparked by voices like Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, water and environmental quality have bounced back over recent decades.  Waterfronts and nature will always call humans to them, for recreation and for less polluting land uses, let us hope.  This is where urban redevelopment comes in.

What I would like to talk about is this tiny sliver of waterfront, the intersection of Boston and three of its suburbs – Everett, Somerville, and Medford.  These four cities meet at the Mystic River, a river that has brought the area economic growth, but has the pollution to show for it.

What I would like to suggest is that the cities ‘pay back’ the river for its service, to bring it closer to its cleaner past.

 

While each of these cities, to some extent or another has had its share of industrial growth, I would like to focus on Everett.   Everett, a 2.5 square mile, often maligned inner-ring suburb of Boston, is home to a largely lower income working class population that recently decided to allow the redevelopment of a large section of waterfront that was once the home of a Monsanto chemical plant.

While the redevelopment of polluted urban lands should normally be met with applause, this plan has been met with extraordinary, grinding resistance, largely due to two issues– first, the fact that this area will be redeveloped as a casino (Wynn Resorts) and second, that this, like any other development will have an impact on traffic in an area where the geography (a narrow bridge over the Mystic forms the border between Everett and Boston) already makes vehicular traffic difficult.  [The casino has just been given the go-ahead, but my feelings about this have not changed]

While I will not detail the excruciating and bitter, endless drama that this development has brought on (this would take forever), I am summarizing the categories of resistance and making an argument that the missing stakeholder from this discussion has been the river itself.

On top of the numerous and repeated referendums and the strict licensing has followed, the talk of this casino has been imbued by paternalistic moralism about gambling.  This has been the idea- largely from people outside of the City of Everett-that the presence of gambling is bad for the poor and vulnerable residents of Everett and that, others’ (non-residents’) paternalistic perspective on what is good for the people of Everett should override both the state’s and the city’s approval of the development.  This is a bit much, in my view.  Having said this, safeguards for some of the social and economic externalities of gambling are fine (resources for potential gambling addicts, etc).

The other concern is essentially a mixture of understandable mitigation and, to some extent plain old NIMBYism. There has been resistance to the project by adjacent cities because of traffic.  This is very understandable, and numerous adjacent city agreements and mitigation plans have been negotiated.  This is a good thing- this is cooperative planning.

What has been missing from this discussion of the redevelopment along the river is the voice of the Mystic River. Redevelopment that remediates polluted land and water is good, and this is a major opportunity for an economically disadvantaged community to improve the environmental health of its waterfront.  Otherwise, the land and water will stay polluted and dilapidated.  

In the management of cities and natural resources, rivers need to have a voice.  

They cannot speak.  Sometimes we must speak for them.

water, sanitation, hygiene, WASH, USAID
“urban planning”

Urban Africa and Asia Need (Good) Sprawl?

I recently read an article in the Economist that made the argument that, given high rates of current and future urbanization throughout Asia and Africa, what is needed is good and orderly sprawl, in which rights of way are planned out and property rights are upheld and landowners are compensated for development of public ways.

I found this article to be quite simplistic and, to some extent, misleading.  Furthermore, it seems to ignore realities of infrastructure and the populations served by it.

“Sprawl” and any sense of order (“It would be vastly cheaper and better to do sprawl properly from the start.“) are antithetical, since sprawl is seen as unplanned and growth and order is order.  Since comprehensive planning takes too long, the article asserts, the main roads and parks, at minimum, have to be planned.  If the roads are being planned, is the resulting development even considered “sprawl”?

What’s most striking in this article, however, is the implicit focus on the likely (very) small percentage of the new urbanites who would be served by planned communities and the dismissive tone towards doing anything within the existing unplanned areas:

In some unplanned African suburbs as little as 5% of the land is road. Even middle-class districts often lack sewers and mains water. As for amenities like public parks, forget it.”

What I am confused by is the complete giving up on existing unplanned settlements inside or outside the city center. Is it good policy to just ignore both the poor unplanned and the middle-class unplanned districts simply because these areas have poor roads and do not have sewer or water?  I find this to be completely wrongheaded, when regularization of tenure, upgrading or roads, extension of the water utility through relatively low-cost kiosks, and improvement of sanitation options in existing dense areas make a lot more sense than focusing just on new suburban developments for a small fraction of the anticipated urban population.