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Cities set the pace on fighting poverty, climate change but who will pay?

by Sophie Hares | @SophieHares | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 25 July 2017 14:04 GMT

People walk under the rain on Times Square, New York, U.S. May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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"If we're going to be building $78 trillion of infrastructure, let's build it better and smarter and in a more resilient way"

By Sophie Hares

NEW YORK, July 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - F ast-growing cities will determine how the world manages to fight poverty, disease and climate change in coming decades but increased resilience is likely to come with a hefty price tag, said urban development experts.

While cities are poised to benefit from technological innovation, tackling crippling inequality is crucial to help cope with shocks and stresses which are set to rise alongside urban populations, said experts at a New York summit organised by the Rockefeller Foundation-backed 100 Resilient Cities.

"The way we design food systems, community health systems, economies that create opportunities across the socio-economic spectrum and public infrastructure... will very much define how the world performs in the fight against poverty, hunger, disease, inequality and against climate change," said Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Cities from London to Lagos, San Francisco to Seoul have signed up to 100RC's $164 million programme in a bid to boost their resilience as cities continue to swell, with the United Nations predicting two thirds of the world's population will live in cities by 2050, up from 54 percent in 2014.

Better protecting urban populations from flooding, heatwaves, hurricanes and earthquakes, improving housing and basic amenities, reducing crime and inequality, and developing better transport options top the list for many cities.

However, financing resilience remains a crucial issue for cities with many struggling to raise revenues and hammer out much needed private sector partnerships.

In the United States, cities can create jobs and cut social inequality as they reduce global warming but must act quickly since the nation took a "wrong turn" on climate change, said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Some 300 U.S. cities have stepped up and said they would work to meet the Paris climate goals, sidestepping President Donald Trump's decision to pull the country out of the 2015 pact to limit global warming, the mayor said.

"Cities are taking matters into our own hands, because we have no illusion that things will change otherwise," he said.


With cities needing to spend an estimated $78 trillion on infrastructure over the next decade, they should consider collective action to influence markets and shape policies, as they try to design cities to protect the vulnerable, said Michael Berkowitz, president of 100RC.

"If we're going to be building $78 trillion of infrastructure, let's build it better and smarter and in a more resilient way," he told the summit.

Better tackling inequality would make "our cities better able to handle whatever the shocks and stresses they face, that will make them resilient," he said.

New technologies such as 3-D printed buildings are set to revolutionise infrastructure, while the internet of things and big data projects would help develop smarter cities, said Judith Rodin, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation that partners with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on a project focused on building resilience.

Vertical farms - producing food in stacked layers - could help feed urban populations while self-driving cars and technology entrepreneur Elon Musk's proposed 'Hyperloop' highspeed underground transport system would revolutionise transport for cities of the future.

"It's clear the future of cities will be increasingly interconnected both physically and digitally," said Rodin.

But financing these new innovations will not be easy.

The World Bank's Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez said a recent review of 500 cities showed only 20 percent had a credit rating high enough to borrow on domestic markets and only four percent could raise capital on international markets.

"There needs to be clarity of the rules of the game, the investment in cities is enormous, everyone needs to contribute, so national governments need to do their transfer of funds in a systematic and transparent manner," said Ijjasz-Vasquez, senior director of the Bank's social, urban, rural and resilience global practice.

"That's the only way everybody, the citizen and household, the city and the national government will continue together to fill this financial gap... whatever we bring as donors, international philanthropy, is a small drop in the bucket."

(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.

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