The world in the 21st century will experience unprecedented urban growth. It was only in 1960 that the first 1 billion people had urbanized. We have since then seen a runaway urban growth. In the 15 years between 2003 and 2018, 1 billion people will have been added to our cities. Most of this growth is occurring in developing regions. In fact, it is predicted that seven out of ten urban dwellers will be African or Asian in 2030.
Beyond being a demographic phenomenon, urbanization is a transformative force that is continually shaping societies, their economies, political systems and environments. Local governments in these regions are facing immense challenges in planning and developing urban infrastructure, and subsequently in providing adequate access to basic services for new and existing urban residents. Moreover, urbanization challenges in the 21st century are unfolding before a multitude of interconnected global challenges, which include:
• Scarcity, depletion and increasing price of energy and other resources
• Increasing destruction of the natural environment
• Climate change
Cities are where most human productive activities are taking place. These activities consume energy and resources and they contribute to climate change and environmental degradation. It is, therefore, self-evident that cities must play a major role in achieving sustainable development in the course of the 21st century. Clearly, our current infrastructure choices will affect city-level sustainability in the medium and long term. The key question linked to the planning and implementation of sustainable urban infrastructure is how cities can provide services, improve quality of life and competitiveness, while making optimal use of energy and resources, minimizing consumption and preserving the environment.
In this context, rapid urbanization presents an opportunity as well as a challenge. If the world continues to urbanize at the projected speed, most of the cities that will exist by the end of this century, are yet to be built. The opportunity is at hand to take a sustainable urban development path for developing these new cities right from the start, which means now.
This includes sustainable supply and disposal infrastructure and the access to basic services for all new and existing urban residents. Infrastructure choices and options are intimately linked to the amount of public space and the density and distribution of activities. These determine to a large extent the possibility and viability of technological solutions and of service provision.
It is not only the quality of infrastructure and services that is important but also the speed at which it is delivered. When urbanization is rapid, planning and implementation must be carried out at a similar pace. It also requires planning in advance and sufficient understanding of the dynamics of urban development to avoid infrastructure choices that lock cities in inflexible patterns. Cities grow dynamically and depend on their local context so each one is different. Cities are not isolated from the surrounding regions that provide vital resources.
Urban development which is sustainable and energy and resource efficient requires integration across hierarchies, sectors and projects. Data presents a significant problem. The challenge is the lack of accurate data and the technical capacities for gathering and analyzing it. Moreover, infrastructure planning is mostly sector related and potential synergies between them remain unconsidered due, in part, to a lack of data, information and subsequent urban management. Adequate urban infrastructure planning and management requires adequate data for only that which is measured adequately can be managed.
The Rapid Planning Project seeks to respond to the need and demand for rapid urban trans-sectoral infrastructure planning, linked to fit-to-purpose physical planning.