ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff explains that the way cities in Asia and the Pacific are developed in years to come will be the defining element in the region’s long-term prosperity and stability.


Title: Green Cities Are an Imperative for Asia's Future

Description: ADB Vice-President Stephen P. Groff explains that the way cities in Asia and the Pacific are developed in years to come will be the defining element in the region’s long-term prosperity and stability.

Stephen P. Groff
Vice-President (Operations 2)
Asian Development Bank

My name is Steve Groff, I am ADB’s Vice-President for East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. And it’s really my pleasure to welcome you here today to our Green Cities forum. This is ADB’s first urban forum since the Asian urban forum that was held back in 2011, where we discussed ADB’s urban operational plan. Our idea today is to move on from the urban operational plan and discuss how we’re actually putting into place some of the strategies and some of the objectives of that plan and here from many many partners from across the region and their experience in developing green cities.

I think while we all know very well that Asia’s cities have been economically thriving, we also know that not all people within Asia’s cities are thriving equally. This video here could be any city across Asia with chaotic traffic, crowded streets, lots of pollution, and increasing demand for clean water and clean sanitation, to compound the challenges of the urbanization across the region, we are alarmingly exposed to natural disasters with Asia holding 1.7 million hazard-related deaths between 1970 and 2010, which represent 51% of the global total of deaths due to natural hazards. Other challenges are related to simply economically. Three-quarters of the total damage from natural disasters is held here in Asia-Pacific. And about $260 billion of hazard related damage were sustained in 2011 alone.

There’s a great deal of course that can be done to address the situation. And that’s of course why we are all here today. Now, what is a green city? As this slide shows us, a green city is simply a city that puts people first. It’s a city where we start to think a little bit more broadly about what economic development means. Economic development, we need to move away from the paradigm that simply focuses on economic growth and think much more broadly about how that growth can benefit a wider range of people.

Green cities are, of course, liveable cities. And livability in this sense has three important components – air, land, and water. We need clean air. We need clean water. And we need well managed land. Now, to ensure that green cities are sustainable, to ensure that their built to lasts. There are 3 other things that we need to strike balance between. It’s not just the social, the economic, and the natural assets we need to think about. We need to think about the environment much more broadly. We need to think about clean air. We need to think about clean water. We need to think quality sanitation and solid waste management.  We need to think about flood control. We also, of cource, need to be thinking about economic competitiveness, affordable clean energy, energy efficient buildings, cultural heritage preservation, and the protection of communities from natural disasters. We also need to be thinking about green enterprises, about broader economic growth through sustainable and equitable development. And lastly is, of course, equity itself. This unfortunately is something we all too often overlooked in how we develop our cities.

Equity means quality public transportation. It means public spaces and equitable access to urban services. We need to be thinking about promoting small and medium enterprises, managing lands used for economic opportunity and for affordable housing, the environment, economic competitiveness, and equity. Sustainable green cities require two other components, of course, which is stong leadership and effective asset management. Strong leadership requires being able to harness multi-disciplinary teams and effective asset management requires a long-term vision and the ability to think about planning and policy in a way that anticipates needs and changes in the future.

Of course, this is all starting to sound rather complicated. And as everyone in this room knows all too well, it is complicated but it isn’t simple but it does come down to common sense at the end of the day. Just go and ask your children or your grandchildren what kind of city they would like to live in. Children want to live in a clean and a green city. They want clean water to drink and clean air to breathe. They want green spaces to run, to play, and spend time in. They don’t want to spend lots of time stuck in traffic getting to and from school. They do want to get around easily and safely in our cities. The non-profit 8-80 cities puts it this way, if a city is good  for 8 year old and 80 year old, then it must be a great city. Now, its universally recognized that green cities provide a much better quality of life for their citizens and this is first and foremost why green cities are an imperative for Asia. The regions urban population is going to double between now and 2050, from 1.65 billion in 2010 to over 3.25 billion in 2050. This is the equivalent of adding another Metro Manila and Jakarta and Bangkok and Hanoi and Yangon to the region every single year. There’s no doubt that this is a daunting challenge but it is also a tremendous opportunities. Cities across the world have historically been to places where people come together and in these places where people come together we have a great opportunities for tremendous efficiencies of scale. Our cities can be global goods if we manage them well.

So, what does a green city look like?

First, one thing we have to realize is the fact that green cities do provide a lot of different kinds of opportunities. Tokyo is one of the world’s largest cities, and yet it does have the lowest per capita CO2 emission of any city across Asia and the Pacific. But other qualities that green cities have are clean and green energy efficient buildings. And this is a picture of a green building in Fukuoka, Japan.

Green cities also have quality public transportation. Here in this slide you see a before and after picture of a bus traffic transit project that I was fortunate enough to go visit just a couple of months ago in Lanzhou, China. And we could see what a tremendous difference this kind of quality public transporation makes.

Green cities have other elements too, if we go across the world to Copenhagen. Copenhagen has prioritize bike transportation as a means of transport. And currently, 1 in 3 residents in Copenhagen go to school or to work by bicycle. And, this of course, has had great benefits in terms of pollution reduction, in terms of CO2 emission reduction. But it also has a knock on effects with respect to the quality of life with significant health benefits that are derived from this change, as well as eonomic benefits from the increase infrastructure savings and, of course decreases in the public health provision.

Green cities also have energy efficient vehicles. The Philippines has introduced a program across numerous cities in the country where they’re going to replace fuel burning vehicles with a 100,000 electric vehicles.

Green cities also accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. Hong Kong as many of us know, is one of the world’s most crowded cities. And yet they have done a tremendous amount as far as developing pedestrians spaces, despite the huge number of vehicles we see across that city.

Green cities have a lot of public green spaces with clean streams and water bodies. A decade ago, this park - Cheonggyecheon Park in Seoul did have a river but this river, this stream was paved over to a road. The city planners went back, they reintroduce the stream and now, it has become a great public space, a very popular public space for the citizens of Seoul.

Green cities have good recycling, they have waste minimization that optimizes land value. Singapore has put a huge priority on waste minimization and recycling, so much so the upwards of 60% of waste in Singapore is recycled.

Green cities also have resilient infrastructure. In Phnom Penh, they’ve taken a water system in the early 1990s served about 1-5 residents with poor quality intermittent water to a system that now provides 90% of their population with clean international standard potable water, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.

Green cities also have well managed cultural heritage. Melaka, Malaysia has actively preserved its unique cultural heritage which has in turn resulted in increase in tourism. And we are very honored today to have with us the Chief  Minister of Melaka, and he’ll be telling us more later in the program. It’s the Chief Minister’s birthday today and so he’s making a big sacrifice to be us and be away from his city, and away from his family. So, thank you very much, Chief Minister, for making that sacrifice in coming today.

Now every city can make these changes. It wasn’t that long ago that clean green cities in the region like Singapore and Seoul were challenged by many of the same issues that face cities across developing Asia with respect to pollution, with respect to water, with respect to crowding and traffic, and a lack of green spaces. But what these cities did and what all cities can do is make a commitment. Making a commitment, a long term commitment to do things differently, to undertake policies and planning in a way that allows us to do things differently. And also, I think the other thing we need to do is recognize that it’s not just looking for paradigm shifts, it’s looking back in the past. If we look here, in this slide, we have a picture from Hanoi about 40 years ago with the public trans systems with lots of bicycles, really really fantastic, not all together different from what we see in Amsterdam today, which is well known as one of the world’s most pedestrian, bike, and public transportation friendly cities around the globe. So, sometimes it’s not just doing something new, it’s looking back to what has worked and simply going and doing that again.

Another thing that we have overlooked much too much, is the original form of human transportation or just simply walking. Many cities across the region are prioritizing car transportation over all other forms of transport. Prioritizing it over pedestrians, prioritizing it over public transportation, and prioritizing it over biking and other kinds or forms of transportation. This of course is how many cities would envisioned the future. But the truth, today, the vast majority of residents in these cities don’t own cars and are not going to own cars for the immediate future. So, we need to make sure that we’re planning efficient, clean, and green public transportation systems, that we’re providing space for pedestrians, and that we’re providing space for other transportation, in order that we can benefit the majority citizens in these cities and that we can plan properly for the immediate future.

The other fact, of course, thinking about vehicles is that vehicle ownership across the region is doubling every 5 years. And the result of that is going to be a further degradation in quality of life, a further degradation in the quality of air, as well as knock on health impacts the wrong way, and the ultimate cost of this is $100 trillion. A $100 trillion in infrastructure investment, in vehicles, in fuel, and in other areas. So, we also need to recognize the fact, that given this reality, given the cost that is associated with this kind of choices, cities in Asia cannot afford any longer to not do things differently.

So, at the end of the day as I started out by saying, this is not just amount the economic bottomline. It’s really about people. Walkable cities with green public spaces, walkable cities that offer a range of benefits with respect to cleaner air better health and a stronger sense of community. This simple changes can change the way we approach and the way we think about living in our cities.

When more people come outside, when more people share common spaces crime goes down, businesses go up and of course people are happier. So, it’s not just a question of economy at the end of the day, it’s not just a question of tourism, it’s not just a question of commerce. It’s a question of making our cities more liveable, which in turn has a knock on benefits with respect to economy but also more importantly with respect to health and cost associated therein. But we’re all here today because we care about this things. We’re all here today because we want to make the change. As all of you know better than I, there is no one size fits all solution here. There’s no one magic bullet that we can embrace that’s going to help us develop green cities. Each city has its own characteristics, each city has its own culture, each city has to make its own development plans, in order to set itself on a path of greener future. But the one common factor is the importance of commitment, long term political societal commitment and without that we won’t make the change. We cannot simply treat green as an add on, as an after thought in planning, and thinking about the future of our cities.

Another element that’s critically important here is partnership. In this room today we have representatives from governments, representatives from civil society, businessmen, we have representatives from academia, and development experts, from the media. We have a huge range of different partners here. All of whom have important contributions to make with respect to thinking about greener cities. But the other important element here, one with can’t forget is engagement of the citizens of the cities. Engagement of the citizenry much more broadly and thinking about how will do that in an effective matter and thinking how will bring their views to the table, because its their engagement, its their perspective that are going to put us in a sustainable path towards a greener future for our cites.

But the people that are here today are going to be  the ones who’s going to make a difference. All of you are going to make a huge difference in how we move this agenda forward. But we need to be thinking differently. We need to move out. As I said, we need to move away from the old paradigm of economic growth at the cost of everything else and to the one that thinks much more broadly about including the environment, about the fact that a good environment, a good public space is also good for the economy. So, we need to be thinking much more effectively and efficiently from that perspective as well.

Now, today and tomorrow, we do have the opportunity to think and do things differently. We’re going to here from a variety of you about the urban transformations that are being undertaken across the region. We’re going to be hearing about operational frameworks and action plans for fostering integrated urban development, we’re going to be presenting innovative urban management partnerships that have resulted in peer to peer learning, and we’re going to have opportunities for green entrepreneurs and business people to showcase projects, financing mechanisms, and technologies that are going to pave the way to a cleaner and greener future for all of our cities. Now, I’d like to leave you with an old Chinese proverb – “If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” The purpose of our gathering here today is to ensure that we don’t end up where we are headed at the moment, to bend that path to a cleaner and greener future for our cities, for our people, and for our region as a whole.

Thank you all very much.