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Reversing the geospatial digital divide – one step, or leap, at a time

Anna Wellenstein's picture
Earth from space. Photo by NASA.

Global positioning systems (GPS), real time traffic maps, accurate weather forecasts, Uber, self-driving cars… Geospatial data is on full display 24/7 throughout the world these days.  It’s like nothing we have seen before. But none of this would be possible without the underpinning role of the government.

“Geospatial,” or location-based data has existed for hundreds of years – for example, in street and topographical maps. What’s different is how quickly new information is being gathered and the more sophisticated analytics that is being applied to it, thanks to technological advances.

What was once information only found in the domain of government, military, and select private sector, even up to the 1980s and 90s, has come into broad use over the last 20 years. With the increase of mobile technology and communications, handheld smart phones have democratized mapping, moving geospatial technology into the hands of every individual.

This summer, some tens of millions of people in the U.S. traveled to see the total solar eclipse, including a co-author of this blog. Not only was the eclipse amazing – but the drive back from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. showed the integration and impact of geospatial information in our daily lives.
 

Let’s make a deal for resilient cities

Carina Lakovits's picture
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
JIANGXI CHINA-July 1, 2017: In Eastern China, Jiujiang was hit by heavy rain, and many urban areas were flooded. The vehicles were flooded, and the citizens risked their passage on flooded roads.
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.

Much of this has to do with the lack of adequate infrastructure that can defend against the impacts of floods, sea level rise, landslides or earthquakes. Most cities need better flood defenses, better constructed houses, and better land use planning. But even when cities know what it takes to become more resilient, most often they do not have access to the necessary funding to realize this vision.

It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient.  It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.

Natural disasters are in 3D – and the rights that protect against them should be as well

Luis Triveno's picture
Photo credit: studiovin/Shutterstock


The recent series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean has reminded the world, once again, that natural disasters are not equal-opportunity destroyers. The economically marginalized and those lacking secure land and property rights are often disproportionately affected for at least three reasons:

A road by any other name: street naming and property addressing system in Accra, Ghana

Linus Pott's picture
Street names in Accra, Ghana
Street names in Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: Ben Welle/ Flickr CC
When I used to work in Rwanda, I lived on a small street in Kigali. Every time I invited friends over, I would tell them to “walk past the Embassy, look out for the Church, and then continue to the house with the black gate.” The day a street sign was erected on my street was a game changer.
 
So how do more than two million citizens of Accra navigate the busy city without the help of street names? While some street names are commonly known, most streets do not have any official name, street sign or house number. Instead, people usually refer to palm trees, speed bumps, street vendors, etc.

But, what happens when the palm tree is cut or when the street vendor changes the location?

The absence of street names poses not only challenges for orientation, but also for property tax collection, postal services, emergency services, and the private sector. Especially, new economy companies, such as Amazon or Uber, depend on street addressing systems and are eager to cater to market demands of a growing middle class.

To address these challenges, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), financed by the World Bank’s second Land Administration Project , is implementing a street addressing and property numbering system in Accra. Other Metropolitan areas received funding from other World Bank-funded projects for similar purposes.
 

Transit-Oriented Development with Chinese Characteristics: localization as the rule rather than the exception

Jasmine Susanna Tillu's picture
China: More Mobility with Fewer Cars through a GEF Grant

Since our days in school, we have often been told to first define our terms before doing anything else. China is a country that does not shy away from acronyms, and “TOD,” or transit-oriented development—a concept that merges land use and transport planning—is one such acronym that has become wildly popular within the field of urban development.
 
So, recently, when government officials from seven Chinese cities and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development gathered to launch the China Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot Project on the topic of TOD, it was clear that they all had the same definition of this three-letter acronym.
 
Or did they?
 

Understanding transit-oriented development through bike-sharing big data

Wanli Fang's picture
As one of over 20 million people who work and live in Beijing, China, I used to find commuting to work in rush-hour traffic rather painful. However, things have changed dramatically since last year. Now I can bypass the traffic by riding a shared bike to the closest metro station and make better use of public transit. Similar change is happening to my family and friends.

The unprecedented booming of dockless shared bikes in China presents a promising solution to the “last-mile problem” that has perplexed city planners for years: providing easier access to the mass transit system while ensuring good ridership. Thanks to the GPS tracking device installed on thousands of dockless shared bikes, city planners in China are now equipped with new and better information to analyze the demand for—and the performance of—public transit systems. For the first time, city managers can clearly map out the attractiveness and accessibility of metro stations by analyzing individual-level biking trips.

This innovation is good news to efforts to build more livable, sustainable cities through transit-oriented development (TOD). For example, to support the recently launched GEF Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot Project, we have been working with Mobike, a major bike-sharing company, to conduct an analysis utilizing the data of biking trips around metro stations in our project cities. Below are a few interesting observations:
  • Revisiting the scope of TOD. A commonly accepted textbook definition of the core area of TOD is an 800-meter radius around the metro station or other types of public transit hubs. This definition is based on the distance that can be reached by a 10-minute walk. However, the actual catchment of a metro station can reach a 2-3 km radius when biking prevails, as in Demark and Netherland. Our analysis illustrates that a big chunk of biking trips around metro stations even go beyond the 3km radius (see bright blue traces in Figure 1 below). This indicates that the spatial scope of planning and design around the metro stations should be contextualized. Accordingly, the price premium associated with adjacency to public transit service is more likely to be shared by a broader range of nearby real estate properties than expected.
Figure 1: Biking traces around major metro station in Beijing (left) and Shenzhen (right).

[Read: TOD with Chinese characteristics: localization as the rule rather than the exception] –  which also discusses defining the scope of TOD. 

Transforming urban waterfronts

Fen Wei's picture
HafenCity, Hamburg. Photo Credit: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at http://www.hafencity.com
HafenCity, Hamburg.
Photo Credit: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at http://www.hafencity.com
“The waterfront isn’t just something unto itself. It’s connected to everything else,” said Jane Jacobs, a prominent urbanist.
 
This connection is twofold; it refers to the relationship between cities and their waterfronts – as ever-changing as cities themselves.
 
Evolving from its past definition during the industrial era as a city’s service yard, the urban waterfront has, in recent decades, taken on new meanings.

On one hand, the waterfront is playing a more significant role in transforming the urban fabric of a city or even reshaping a city’s identity.
 
On the other hand, successful urban waterfronts have also demonstrated how city resources – such as available land, cleaner water, historic preservation, and urban revitalization – can be unlocked and realized, and how these elements can be integrated into the city and public life.
 
[Read: Regenerating Urban Land: A Practitioner's Guide to Leveraging Private Investment]

Let’s work together to make land rights for women a reality

Victoria Stanley's picture
Video: Land ownership for women prevents fears of uncertainty


Around the world, rural women are a major provider of food and food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations argues that improving women’s access to productive resources (such as land) could increase agricultural output by as much as 2.5% to 4%. At the same time, women would produce 20-30% more food, and their families would enjoy better health, nutrition, and education.

But women in rural areas often face both formal and informal barriers to accessing and owning land. Today, only 30% of land rights are registered or recorded worldwide, and women are the least secure in their access to land rights, with major gaps existing between law and practice in many developing countries.

Securing land rights for all is key to building disaster-resilient communities

Sameh Wahba's picture

October 13 is the International Day for Disaster Reduction.

From East Asia, South Asia, and Africa to Latin America, disaster events such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes are on the rise, destroying homes and claiming lives.

Climate change is making it worse. Extreme weather is hitting us harder and more frequently as the planet warms, causing greater losses.

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