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ADB’s Vision of Livable Cities

Strategy 2030 of ADB identified “Making Cities More Livable” as one of its seven operational priorities. Under this operational priority, ADB works to support the transformation of developing cities in the Asia and Pacific region into safe, inclusive, and sustainable urban centers.

Livable cities vision and approach to urban development

ADB’s vision is to transform the archetypical chaotic, polluted, inequitable cities of Asia and the Pacific into a competitive, equitable, environmentally sustainable, and climate resilient urban centers—in short, livable cities. This will require a new approach to city development, including how ADB supports that development.

To realize this operational priority, ADB has prepared the Livable Cities Operational Plan. The vision indicated in this plan is that “cities in Asia and the Pacific are more livable”. The plan is anchored in two overarching approaches: (i) Transformative opportunity, where the transformative potentials of cities are recognized and that they will eventually serve as economic powerhouses and innovation hubs that will help improve livelihoods and trigger prosperity; and (ii) Support global agenda with city-level plans, where ADB will help cities understand their challenges and opportunities and prepare their own visions, plans, and road maps through an integrated approach for cities to become more livable. More specifically, this plan will help ADB and cities in developing member countries adopt a holistic approach to achieve livable cities with the following strategic areas:

  • Improve the coverage, quality, efficiency, and reliability of services in urban areas to make them energy-efficient, gender-responsive, inclusive, and sustainable by supporting integrated development, building capacities, and promoting high-level technologies. 
  • Strengthen urban planning and financial sustainability of cities by promoting inclusive and participatory processes and supporting cities to develop and efficiently use their financial resources. 
  • Improve urban environments, climate resilience, and disaster management through, for example, enhancing resources and building capacity.

These strategic areas will influence the investment design across all urban sectors—for example, climate vulnerability determined under an environmental sustainability assessment will be inputted into the design of a slum upgrading project, which is primarily an inclusive city intervention.

Challenges and opportunities in urbanizing Asia

Asia and the Pacific region remains among the top urbanizing continents in the world – second to Africa. But in terms of housing the world’s urban population, more than half of both the world’s total population and the world’s urban population now live in Asia and the Pacific. In totality, urban residents in Asia and the Pacific increased from 375 million in 1970 to 1.84 billion in 2017, resulting in an increase in the urbanization ratio from around 20% to 46%.1

Among Asia and the Pacific’s subregions, East Asia experienced the most increase in urbanization from 19% in 1970 to 59% in 2017, followed by Southeast Asia which increased from 22% to 48%, and South Asia which increased from 19% to 34%, all during the same period. Increase in urbanization ratios are more moderate in the Pacific, which grew from 14% in 1970 to 20% in 2017, and Central and West Asia which grew from 46% to 50% during the same period (footnote 1).

Overall, Asia and the Pacific’s urban population is projected to reach close to 3 billion by 2050 with an urbanization rate of 64%. Globally, of the 36 cities that grew more than twice as fast as the global annual average rate of 2.4% between 2000 and 2018, 28 are in Asia, with 17 of them in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) alone (footnote 1).

In terms of development challenges, there are a number that cut across all cities and towns in Asia and the Pacific that are pivotal in ensuring cities become more livable. These are:

  • losses on gross domestic product (GDP) of up to 3% due to traffic congestion and long commuting hours;
  • environmental issues such as air quality, with estimates showing that more than 90% of the region’s population is exposed to air pollution beyond acceptable limits of the World Health Organization (WHO);
  • about 84% of the people affected by natural disasters worldwide are living in Asia and the Pacific; and
  • affordable housing is still out of reach for many people, such that in a survey ADB conducted in 209 cities, 93% of the respondents said they could not afford to buy their own house.

Despite these challenges, there are still substantial opportunities for cities in the region:

  • About 80% of economic growth in developing Asia comes from its urban areas, making cities and urban areas the so-called “engines of growth” of countries.
  • Asia and the Pacific currently has 20 of the world’s 33 megacities (cities with populations of at least 10 million), and is expected to increase to 27 by the year 2030 – giving an impression that many Asia and the Pacific cities will be centers of economic activities and anchors of product value chains regionally and globally.

ADB’s work on urban development

Much of ADB's lending and technical assistance have focused on urban water supply, sanitation, and wastewater and solid waste management. The up and coming investment portfolio in ADB’s urban sector operations is expected to become more diverse with cross-sector and thematic components and approaches that include urban transport, affordable housing, tourism and urban heritage, information and communication technologies and e-governance, circular economy, and ocean health.

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1 AfDb, ADB, EBRD, and IDB. 2019. Creating Livable Cities: Regional Perspectives. ADB, Manila.