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Urbanization Can Be Good For The Environment

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Urbanization degrades the environment, according to conventional wisdom. This view has led many developing countries to limit rural—urban migration and curb urban expansion. But this view is incorrect. There are a number of reasons urbanization can be good for the environment, if managed properly.

First, urbanization brings higher productivity because of its positive externalities and economies of scale. Asian urban productivity is more than 5.5 times that of rural areas. The same output can be produced using fewer resources with urban agglomeration than without. In this sense, urbanization reduces the ecological footprint. The service sector requires urbanization because it needs a concentration of clients. As services generally pollute less than manufacturing, this aspect of urbanization is also beneficial to the environment.

Second, for any given population, the high urban density is benign for the environment. The urban economics literature shows that compactness is a key determinant of energy use. High density can make public transport more viable and reduce the length of trips. Urban living encourages walking and cycling rather than driving.

Third, environment-friendly infrastructure and public services such as piped water, sanitation, and waste management are much easier and more economical to construct, maintain, and operate in an urban setting. Urbanization allows more people to have access to environment-friendly facilities and services at affordable prices.

Fourth, urbanization drives innovation, including green technologies. In the long term, environment-friendly equipment, machines, vehicles, and utilities will determine the future of the green economy. Green innovations in Asia’s cities will be supported by the region’s vast market as the billions of people who will be buying energy-efficient products will create opportunities and incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in developing such products.

Finally, the higher standard of living associated with urbanization provides people with better food, education, housing, and health care. Urban growth generates revenues that fund infrastructure projects, reducing congestion and improving public health. Urbanization fosters a pro-environment stance among property owners and the middle class, which is crucial for the introduction and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

Of course, urbanization also comes with costs. Millions of people are migrating to Asian cities and companies are locating there to employ them. Urban sprawl and industrial activities, such as power generation, transportation, construction, garbage and waste disposal, harm the environment. An assessment of the impact of urbanization on the environment must balance its benign and adverse effects. Figure 1 shows that the Asian environment–urbanization relationship varies, depending on the level of development. Once a certain threshold has been reached, urbanization becomes good for the environment in terms of lower emissions of CO2 and particle pollution (PM10).

Figure 1: Environment–Urbanization Relationship in Asia

Figure 1 Environment Urbanization can be good for the environment

CO2 = carbon dioxide; PM10 = particulate matter with diameter of 10 micrometers or less; μg/m3 = micrograms per cubic meter; t = ton.

Source: ADB estimates.

The graph’s curves show that cities in the 2000s enjoyed a better environment at the same level of urbanization than cities in the 1990s. To ensure green urbanization, developing countries need to continue the downward shift by adopting the following recommendations.

The first priority is to improve energy efficiency and conservation through appropriate pricing, regulations, and public sector support. It is vital to get prices right so that they incorporate the full social costs and benefits, and ensure the efficient allocation of resources. This can be done by imposing congestion and emission charges, as in Singapore, and by removing inefficient subsidies, as in Indonesia. Other examples are the introduction of carbon taxes, as in the Republic of Korea, and increasing block pricing for water, electricity, and other public utilities, as in the Philippines.

Countries need to introduce regulations and standards in a timely manner. These can correct for market or coordination failures on air, water, vehicles, and appliances, as in India. The government can build green industrial zones to attract manufacturing, as in Indonesia. Improved regulations can reduce or prevent urban sprawl.

Cities need to build rapid public transport systems to improve connectivity and reduce pollution. Speedy connections to and from satellite cities can ease congestion in central megacity hubs. Rapid bus transit systems, as in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and subways, as in India, can reduce environmental degradation in densely populated cities and improve the quality of life.

The second priority is to promote renewable resources and new energy technologies. Waste-to-energy plants reduce pollution and generate energy, as in the Philippines and Thailand. Green technology can be acquired either by importation or innovation through research and development, as in the PRC.

The PRC is building new towns and satellite cities using renewable energy as primary energy sources. Urban sprawl can be tackled by reviving city centers and developing compact, walkable satellite cities centered on efficient train, light rail, or subway systems, without heavy reliance on highways and major roads.

The third priority is to help the poor by reducing disaster risks and improving slum conditions. Disaster risk reduction can be done by building dwellings in safe areas, improving housing affordability for the poor, and investing in drainage infrastructure and climate forecast technology. Policies to improve slum conditions include providing basic services, granting land titles to slum dwellers, and issuing housing vouchers linked in value to the length of a resident’s tenure in the city.

The fourth priority is to strengthen public finance, transparency, and accountability. Public finance can be improved by broadening the tax and revenue base and by increasing the access of urban governments to broader and deeper capital markets in order to lower infrastructure and public service costs.

Politicians can be encouraged to do the right thing by disclosing city government performance to the public and nongovernment organizations, and having national competitions and campaigns to encourage a “race to the top” to reward high achievement.

Reference:

ADB. 2012. Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012. Manila www.adb.org/publications/key-indicators-asia-and-pacific-2012. The arguments in this post are covered in greater depth in the Key Indicators volume.

 written by Dr. Guanghua Wan is a principal economist at the Asian Development Bank .See more

Callum Connects

Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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