Urban Development

ADB supports cities in Asia and the Pacific to become more livable.

Urban Development in Asia and the Pacific: Your Questions Answered

Manoj Sharma, Director of ADB's Water and Urban Development Sector Office, discusses urban development challenges in developing Asia and how ADB is helping through financing and knowledge sharing.

What’s the formula for ensuring Asia’s expanding cities continue to drive economic growth while providing good services and quality of life? 

Developing more livable cities (green, healthy, safe, and inclusive) begins with inclusive urban and regional planning. So, governments must prioritize investments that contribute to the general socioeconomic welfare of people and provide a safe, clean urban environment with good public transport.

Cities should be accommodating places for poor and low-income households, women, children, the elderly, and differently abled. In addition, infrastructure and public services should be reliable and equitable. Air, water, and soil in cities should be healthy. It's also important that education, health services, and employment should be available and accessible to everyone.

How will Asia and the Pacific's aging population impact on urban development in the future? 

As some populations in the region rapidly age, cities clearly need to be healthier and more responsive to the needs of the elderly. There has been a greater increase in life expectancy in urban rather than rural areas, and access to health services and quality of life tends to be better in cities. Yet cities are not necessarily healthy places; the World Health Organization estimates that 24% of global disease stems from urban environmental factors.

Making cities more livable is key as demographic changes result in more elderly people and fewer children in many urban areas. This includes modifying public spaces, infrastructure facilities, and buildings. These changes will make cities more accessible, healthier, and safer, especially for children, the elderly, women, and vulnerable groups.

What are the three things needed to mainstream the development of green and inclusive urban transport across Asia and the Pacific? 

First, cities must integrate land use and transport planning. Recognizing local geographic, environmental, and socioeconomic conditions is critical for developing quality planning. Planning must incorporate public mass transit, non-motorized transport, last-mile connectivity, and parking. Consideration for greener fleet renewal, road safety, and more inclusive access is also important.

Second, city planners and policy makers must facilitate greater mode choice and access from urban to rural areas where “leapfrogging” opportunities exist. The development of non-motorized, or “active modes” of transport should be considered as a tangible mode choice and mobility option to be integrated into transport systems.

Third, it’s important to integrate informal transport like rickshaws, and unregulated minibuses into urban transport design. New digital platforms can foster better formal and informal service integration. The use of ride hailing apps, mass public transit, and affordable electric mobility solutions provide the most promising mechanisms for improving urban transport access and affordability.

How does ADB support its developing member countries in ensuring they have adequate financing for urban development in Asia and the Pacific?

In addition to policy, regulatory, and institutional development, ADB supports projects that improve municipal financial management. One of the most important is improving tax and tariff collection and management, especially through property tax and land value capture. Related to this is the need for central and local governments to adopt simple taxation principles with as few exemptions as possible.

Also important here is land based financing as a tool to capture increments in land values from public and private investments. This is particularly relevant for urban regeneration, spatial expansion, and mass transit projects. Along with tariff reform, service and user tariffs must be upgraded, the focus here should be on improved design, billing, collection, and management.

  • Urban development challenges

    Asia-Pacific cities face challenges to provide adequate infrastructure and services to the growing population and, at the same time, can become the engines for economic growth.

  • Infrastructure needs

    Cities need to build resilience to address the risks associated with disasters, climate change, environmental issues, and shocks and stresses like the COVID-19 pandemic.

What special development challenges are posed by expanding megacities and metropolitan areas across Asia and the Pacific?

In Asia and the Pacific, besides megacities (those with at least 10 million residents), many urban areas are home to more than one million residents. Despite being physically connected, these places are far from efficient. They are fragmented by administrative boundaries and departmentalized local governance.

In most cases, they have no representation across jurisdictions and no mechanisms for coordinating urban planning, land use, transport, infrastructure, and environmental management. In these places, cities compete rather than cooperate for residents, investment, companies, and quality jobs. This leads to uneven development. The urban–rural divide and uneven suburban development have been a challenge to equitable and sustainable development in the region.

Can you cite an ADB urban development project that has a major impact on people’s lives and could be readily replicated elsewhere in Asia?

The city of Dhaka in Bangladesh has had major problems with its water and sanitation systems. More than 26% of households had no toilets and 70% of the city had no form of sewerage. In addition, the city obtained 80% of its water supply from depleted groundwater. ADB’s Dhaka Water Supply Network Improvement Project helped improve the supply to 8 million people with at least 15% of the additional supply going to low-income communities.

This inclusive approach provided slum areas with 2,000 communal metered connections, each one serving 15 to 25 households. The shared connections gave access to safe drinking water to as many as 30,000 households in all. Dhaka became the first city in South Asia with a reliable and constant water supply.

How can Asia and the Pacific move closer to achieving its urban development-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

About two-thirds of the 169 SDG targets involve local government. Local governments have a critical role in implementing and achieving the SDGs as they are closer to residents and are better positioned to provide opportunities for the poor and marginalized. Localization is therefore key to achieving relevant SDGs at subnational and local government levels.

National SDG programs are useful, but insufficient on their own. To exclude subnational governments in development programs is also a missed opportunity to strengthen local governance systems and development knowledge. Individual plans must also be developed at the local level because needs and priorities—and how they relate to different SDGs—vary among local governments.

Has knowledge sharing proven an important tool in furthering urban development in Asia and the Pacific?

Knowledge plays a unique role in addressing the policy, technological, environmental, economic, and social dimensions of urban development. ADB believes that knowledge and innovation are essential to understanding where ADB’s sovereign and nonsovereign operations can add value to DMCs in achieving the SDGs.

ADB operations combine tailored knowledge with attractive financing and innovative solutions to deliver value for money and development effectiveness. As a knowledge bank, ADB works to understand the realities of urban residents, focus on practical value, and learn lessons from development assistance. ADB also brings innovation, strong partnerships, and the ability to scale up and replicate good practice.