fbpx ADB’s Vision of Livable Cities | Asian Development Bank

ADB’s Vision of Livable Cities

Cities contribute to national economic growth, but they can be polluted and overcrowded. Asia’s rapidly developing cities face inadequate basic services, environmental degradation, and increasing poverty. “Livable Cities” is ADB’s vision and approach to urban development. ADB works to support the transformation of developing cities in the Asia and Pacific region into safe, sustainable urban centers.

Livable cities vision and approach to urban development

ADB’s vision is to transform the archetypical chaotic, polluted, inequitable city of Asia into a competitive, equitable, and environmentally sustainable urban region - in short, a livable city. This will require a new approach to city development and to ADB’s support for that development.

At the heart of the envisioned transformation of Asia’s cities is a new integrated planning approach to the provision of infrastructure and services and other public goods. This new approach to integrated urban planning has three interrelated dimensions:

  • Economic competitiveness. ADB will identify investments to overcome constraints to, or build capacity for, inclusive growth by bolstering the efficiency and competitiveness of Asian cities.
  • Green growth. ADB will identify the key environmental issues of a city and prioritize investments to address them in an integrated way across infrastructure sectors to achieve a green city.
  • Social inclusiveness. ADB will identify key social issues of the city and prioritize investments to address them in a comprehensive manner.

These dimensions 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 to urbanizing Asia

Cities generate over 80% of gross domestic product (GDP) in many countries in Asia and the Pacific and are engines of economic growth that have lifted millions from poverty. But as these cities swell in size and number, they are under increasing strain. 

Asia’s cities will become home to another 1.1 billion people in the next 2 decades as the poor continue to be drawn to better opportunities. Over 200 million now live in urban slums, a number predicted to soar to a staggering 692 million by 2015. Many cities are already struggling with environmental degradation, traffic congestion, inadequate urban infrastructure, and a lack of basic services, such as water supply, sanitation, and waste management. Maintaining vital economic growth while creating sustainable livable cities for all is the biggest urban challenge facing Asia.

Urbanization is one of the defining trends of Asia’s transformation. With approximately 80% of GDP today coming from urban areas, the quality and efficiency of Asian cities will determine the region’s long-term productivity and overall stability. However, inefficiencies, such as unmet demand for urban services (water, energy, and transport), and huge financing requirements hamper economic growth and impede inclusive development, trapping the poor in slums.

City pollution—air pollution and ineffective wastewater treatment and solid waste management—remains a constant problem. Asian cities are likely to contribute more than half the rise in greenhouse gases over the next 20 years. They are also highly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, including flooding, landslides, heat waves, and drought.

These urban challenges have very significant impacts on the national economy.

ADB’s work on urban development

Since the late 1960s, about 200 urban projects were funded (approximately in the amount of $15 billion) and implemented by ADB throughout the region. Much of ADB's lending and technical assistance during the period focused on urban water supply, sanitation, and wastewater management.

In 1999, ADB approved its Urban Sector Strategy to strengthen ADB's leadership role in urban development in the region by expanding the level and impact of development assistance to improve the plight of urban areas. The review in 2005 determined the strategy’s effectiveness in guiding the urban development agenda.

Building on this, ADB’s new Urban Operational Plan 2012-2020 covers clean water, sustainable transport, energy, solid waste management, urban planning and financing.