Singapore has implemented what Jan Gehl calls “human-scale design.” The bottom-up design of neighborhoods empowers citizens and emphasizes diversity, thereby preventing the emergence of poverty ghettoes through mixed-income housing, along with access to high-quality public transport, health, and education.
Likewise, despite strong resistance, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transport Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan invested in protected bike lanes and public transport. London, Singapore, and Stockholm have long used congestion pricing to discourage driving. In March, London will take this a step further – as Chengdu, Madrid, Paris, and others have already done – by banning cars altogether in core areas of the city, creating ultra-low emission zones. Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Copenhagen show us that designing city roads to be narrowerslows down traffic, boosting the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.
From Bogotá, Colombia, to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, cities around the world have implemented bus rapid transit, which essentially functions like a metro system, but is cheaper and faster to build. Dense urban corridors are emerging along the designated bus lanes.
Some cities have also introduced the types of parking reforms long advocatedby UCLA’s Donald Shoup. These include abolishing minimum parking requirements for buildings and introducing dynamic pricing that keeps 5-10% of parking spots vacant and channels revenues back to the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, housing no longer needs to be positioned and promoted as an investment asset; instead, rental housing, for all income segments, but especially for those in need of affordable shelter, can be given priority, as is the case in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Moreover, zoning and regulatory barriers to building new affordable housing should be dismantled, with high-density mixed-use areas developed close to public transport. To this end, following Copenhagen’s lead, more cities can use public-private partnerships to tap into the large stock of unused land owned by public agencies. Careful design of buildings can make them energy positive, so that they produce more energy than they consume. Norway is a pioneer in this area.
Finally, to fund these investments, cities need stable revenue sources. Too often, cities fail to tap the full potential of land-based financing, especially property tax. Yet satellite imagery and drone mapping can now produce for tax authorities a “fit for purpose” cadaster – showing how land is occupied and used – in a matter of weeks.
With careful planning, collaboration, communication, and consensus, cities can transform the lives of their residents. Initiatives like the World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities and the City Planning Labs are supporting cities’ efforts, by facilitating knowledge sharing and evidence-based urban planning. If we do what it takes now to ensure inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urbanization, Dante’s City of Dis can remain in its imagined hell.