The value of sharing experiences in urban redevelopment


By Dr. Koki Hirota, Chief Economist, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

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Koki Hirota2
A future image of the Cebu metropolitan area

Catastrophic floods and earthquakes have hit Asian cities such as Manila, Bangkok or Kathmandu in recent years more than ever before. Air pollution in Delhi, Dhaka or Beijing has turned more and more dangerous, threatening the lives of residents. All this as the international community agreed on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Responding to this call, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) decided to allocate 35% of its financial co-operation programme last year to urban development.

Why? Urbanisation in developing countries is happening fast. Ten mega cities of over 10 million people existed in 1990; that number increased to 28 in 2014 and is projected to reach 41 in 2025 (UN [2014]). Urban areas in Shanghai expanded by 8.1% annually between 2000 and 2010 and by 4.0% in Jakarta. Tokyo, in comparison, expanded by 0.2% (World Bank [2015]). Dhaka became a mega city in just 40 years from a population of 1 million. Many other Asian mega cities took only 50 to 70 years to reach that level, which is a much shorter time than what advanced economies experienced.

This fast urbanisation, exceeding the pace of economic growth, comes with severe challenges. Indeed, it causes environmental deterioration as well as unemployment, leading to the rapid expansion of the informal sector. Urban populations living in slums increased from 689 million in 1990 to 881 million in 2014, although the proportion dropped from 46.2% to 29.7% (UN [2015]). In South Asia, 35% of urban residents still lived in slum areas in 2010 (UN Habitat and UN ESCAP [2010]). Many immigrants coming into cities live in low quality residences with insufficient infrastructure. Therefore, once disaster happens, losses and damages for those residents tend to be large. That is why a comprehensive approach to disaster prevention is necessary from planning to implementation, and a “build back better approach” is needed once disaster strikes.

At the most basic level, a master plan for urban redevelopment is increasingly important. The sustainable development of cities should include: 1) equity and fairness, 2) safety and security, 3) environmental friendliness, 4) convenience and competitiveness, and 5) creativity. However, rapid urbanisation often causes the disorderly development of cities in many developing countries. This results in a shortfall of infrastructure and public facilities. Therefore, well-harmonised development and coordination amongst private sector activities, the livable environment and urban infrastructure are of utmost importance.

To achieve these objectives, the role of transport amongst various city functions deserves special attention. In many developing countries, massive city sprawl causes the inefficiency of economic activities and the deterioration of the living environment. Japan’s typical urban development, for example, places the railway station at the core of regional development.

After reaching a certain development stage, many Asian cities face serious traffic and environmental problems, thus needing redevelopment. Many such cities are now introducing urban public railways, like metro.

Indeed, it is a good opportunity to pay attention to spatial urban planning through an overall master plan. A transit-oriented development approach often helps make city functions more effective by achieving more efficient land use and reducing environmental burdens. Introducing public transport is, in fact, a good opportunity to improve traffic and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A master plan also is useful to construct more resilient cities for disasters, including measures such as land-use restrictions, disaster-prevention road construction or evacuation places. With this goal in mind, a master plan for city redevelopment becomes even that much more important.

A master plan has several advantages. It outlines a scientific and reasonable methodology that estimates urban demand with high predictability. It also reflects a commitment to transparency and accountability in infrastructure investment. This has implications for boosting the confidence of investors and financiers and encouraging their participation in development activities.

JICA, for example, has supported more than 500 master plans between 1974 and 2013. Our support for a master plan often involves furthering a city’s capacity building for planning, city administration and infrastructure management. In addition, we actively support the follow-up and review of a master plan, including monitoring and facilitating partnerships with the private sector for area development and operating infrastructure.

One successful case is support from the Japanese city of Yokohama for the redevelopment of Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines. JICA helped prepare “Mega Cebu Vision 2050” that constructs an urban redevelopment vision for metro Cebu, relying on co-operation from Yokohama, which successfully achieved its urban redevelopment by implementing six flagship projects. With support and co-operation from both JICA and Yokohama, Cebu is defining its flagship projects and pursuing its urban development planning to achieve its targets for 2030 and 2050. Moreover, the private sector in Yokohama is now a partner in Cebu’s redevelopment. The Yokohama-Cebu partnership involves technology transfers for recycling plastic waste into fuel, combining power production systems for solar and diesel, and implementing sludge treatment for residential septic tanks. Private sector participation and proposals are key for solving urban redevelopment issues.

Ultimately, we see great value in sharing the experiences of solving problems in Japan’s municipalities — including developing master plans and engaging with the private sector — to effectively tackle similar urban challenges in developing countries.


JICA (2013), Mega Cebu Vision 2050

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2014), World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision

United Nations Human Settlement Programme(UN HABITAT) and United nation Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific(UN ESCAP)(2010), The State of Asia Cities 2010/11

United Nations (2015), The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015

World Bank (2015), East Asia’s Changing urban landscape-Measuring a Decade of Spatial Growth