Megacity report highlights urban planning

3 min read

Research conducted by GlobeScan and MRC McLean Hazel and supported by Siemens shows that in emerging megacities infrastructure growth often takes precedence over the environment.

This is just one of the key findings of a survey of 522 decision makers from 25 global metropolises. Experts presented the results of the research in a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Solving transportation issues has the highest priority in the cities surveyed, and air pollution is seen as the main environmental issue. Survey respondents believe that the private sector should play a major role in city infrastructures like energy, water, transportation and health care. More than 70 per cent of them believe that public private partnerships are a promising approach.

Respondents see the enormous strain on the environment caused by the huge increase in the number of cars worldwide as a major urban issue. Air pollution and traffic are the most frequently named environmental challenges for megacities. In Shanghai alone, the number of cars and trucks is expected to quadruple by 2020.

Infrastructure growth takes precedence over the environment. Fifty five per cent of the respondents from emerging countries said they would sacrifice environmental protection for growth, as opposed to only 14 per cent of the respondents from industrialised countries.

‘If cities manage to harmonise economic attractiveness, clean environment and quality of life for their citizens, then they will drive growth in their region and be positioned for global competition,’ said Dr. Klaus Kleinfeld, President and CEO of Siemens AG, in Davos.

The environment weighs heavily in solving the traffic problem. According to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution kills approximately 130,000 urbanites a year in industrialising countries. That is why 71 per cent of the traffic experts believe that cities will focus on building out mass transportation systems in the coming years. Only 29 per cent believe that automobile traffic will be given priority.

Twenty seven per cent of the respondents named transportation as the main driver of their city's competitiveness. This contrasts with the nine per cent of respondents that named safety and security as the second driver to competitiveness.

‘Solving the transportation problem will be the foremost challenge for decision makers and the primary focus of municipal investment over the next five to 10 years,’ said Doug Miller, President of GlobeScan.

The environment also plays a major role in the area of energy issues. Forty eight per cent of the energy experts said that they intended to focus on promoting sources of renewable energy in the coming years.

‘In most countries, alternative energy contributes less than 10 per cent to the total energy mix,’ said George Hazel, Managing Director of MRC McLean Hazel. Today, the UK generates 39 per cent of its energy with gas, 35 per cent with coal, and 20 per cent with nuclear – renewable energy provides only four per cent of the total demand.

‘Considering the interviews, however, alternative sources of energy will have a bright future in megacities,’ Hazel said. By 2010, the UK wants to cover 10 per cent of its electricity needs with renewable energy sources. Siemens Wind Power and Burbo Banks are currently building their first offshore wind park in Great Britain. Another project is the onshore wind park in Whitelee, which when completed will be the largest wind park in Europe.

Kleinfeld said: ‘Such projects deliver clean energy and will be increasingly more important in the future. We expect that by 2020 there will be 700 million tons fewer CO2 emissions due to the expansion of wind power.’

To meet growing demand for mobility, power, energy and water in the long term, megacities must not only build out their infrastructures and use them more efficiently; they must also proactively manage demand. For instance, worldwide power consumption is expected to double between 2002 and 2030, especially due to the increased demand in rapidly growing countries like China and India.

‘Demand management is an approach that respondents do not appreciate enough yet,’ said Hazel.

The London toll system is an example of successful traffic management. Motorists pay an automatically charged fee in the city centre area. Since its introduction in 2003, traffic jams have been reduced by 26 per cent on average, total traffic volume in the charging zones has decreased by 21 per cent, and delays have been shortened from 2.3 to 1.8 minutes per kilometre. Siemens is currently delivering the technology to extend the toll system to London's western city districts.

However, city government experts are aware of the fact that efficiency must be improved significantly. Eight out of 10 respondents expect IT solutions to be implemented that make their work more efficient and transparent.

Denmark offers a good example in this regard: electronic purchasing systems help the Danish government save taxpayers $188m annually. More than half of the specialists surveyed consider improving city management more important than boosting city spending, which was named by only 12 per cent. More and more, city officials are evolving from administrators of public institutions to active, efficiency-oriented managers of municipal services.

‘The more efficiently cities are managed, the better they can contribute to the well-being and quality of life of their citizens,’ said Kleinfeld.

The survey also investigated how privatisation can contribute to solving the problems of urbanisation. Over 70 per cent of the respondents are interested in public private partnerships (PPP). Surprisingly, more than 60 per cent of the respondents expect greater efficiency to result from private sector involvement.

‘Issues related only to financing are secondary to governance,’ concluded Miller.