Reflections from the World Bank Conference: Pioneering Solutions for Sustainable Urban Development

Current MSc in Sustainable Urban Development student, Iyad Al-Attar, was recently invited to attend the 8th Urbanization and Poverty Reduction Research Conference at The World Bank Group in Washington, DC. Below he shares his reflections and key insights garnered from attending.

'The conference gathered academics and policymakers to share ideas and solutions to address the growing challenges of urban expansion. The conference has been an excellent platform for widening the scope of sustainable urban development and the remaking of cities. The conference drew from experts at the interface of policy and research to understand which new ideas, methods, and collaborations can bring about necessary changes.

'Since the Industrial Revolution, cities have been the main engines of growth. Today, more than 55% of the global population is urban, and more than 75% of GDP comes from cities. With 75% of global CO2 emissions coming from cities, the rise in urban populations can exacerbate climate change. In turn, Urban populations are increasingly exposed to climatic risks from heat islands to floods, which disproportionately affect poorer people.

'Planning for the cities of tomorrow is, thus, a crucial task, but one benefits from a multi-disciplinary approach. Today, cities in some developing countries are growing faster and keeping its citizens at lower income levels than those in developed countries. If well-directed and well-managed, expansion and densification of urban areas can bring economic growth while offering poverty reduction opportunities. If poorly directed and managed, the result can be congested, unsustainable, and unproductive environments.

'The conference facilitated an ideal venue for gathering policymakers and researchers and fostering dialogue between them to capitalize on scientific findings and reframe policies to make them easier to implement. Topics addressed ranged from urban expansion, the future of cities, urban resilience, sprawl, and densification. The interactions at the conference helped identify the knowledge gaps researchers can investigate to stimulate more effective and less costly policies. Innovative policies can also support academics in helping demand-led research to determine how humanity can benefit from the rapid urbanization it is undergoing.

'Mrs. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, a politician and finance professional, highlighted the importance of understanding growth when it is viewed from the lens of population size and its correlation with economic growth. She added the pivotal role of government in helping improve the lives of those living in the city.

'The conference reinforced my belief that while we live in architecturally different cities, we share common dreams and challenges of living in clean, green-built environments. Air quality inclusion must emerge as a foundation for urban planning and a pillar of global economies to safeguard our well-being so we can live, grow, and urbanize without polluting. No one wants to and no one should have to breathe polluted air in our modern cities. Urban air quality governance is the topic of my dissertation, which I plan to investigate in my MSc in Sustainable Urban Development research and hope to present at various global conferences.'

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Published 30 April 2024