The Future of Asian & Pacific Cities 2019 explores important policy pathways to guide urban stakeholders towards a future vision of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities within the Asia-Pacific region.
The report was developed through a regional participatory process by contributions from a multitude of experts and practitioners. The principle partners are: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Asian Development Bank, the European Union - International Urban Cooperation (IUC), The Rockefeller Foundation, Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The main objective of this report is to provide a set of actionable “common solutions to common problems” a guide to what the region’s sustainable urban future could look like in line with the United Nations global agendas: 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development; Paris Agreement on climate change; New Urban Agenda; Addis Ababa Action Agenda; and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
To enable Asia-Pacific cities to become leaders and innovators in sustainable development, four interlocking themes are explored throughout the report: urban and territorial planning, urban resilience, smart and inclusive cities and urban finance. With just three to five future policy pathways per chapter, the report offers a manageable road map to tackle endemic challenges of natural resource management, climate change, disaster risks and socio-economic inequalities within the region.
As outlined, the report deals with four interlocking themes with a focus of assessing present challenges and presenting future solutions. Urban and territorial planning is the first chapter containing an overview of the state of planning in the region, acknowledging recent successes in strengthening local planning and developing national planning systems within countries, the rise of Asia-Pacific cities in the top global liveability rankings as well as the impact of peer influence of planning education and institutes within Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore. Although highlighting that there is still a major challenge in making effective planning systems a foundation of national policy throughout the region.
Chapter 2 identifies the extensive resilience activities that have taken place thus far in the region. The chapter scans the major shocks and stresses likely to afflict the area, from natural disasters, such as typhoons and earthquakes, to economic reliance on single industries in the face of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, to an ageing population set to follow the greying trends of Japan and the Republic of Korea.
The twenty-first century’s digital revolution has undeniable implications for cities, which is discussed within chapter 3 on smart and inclusive cities. Asia-Pacific cities have been at the forefront of adopting smart city key performance indicators and plans, as evidenced by forms of collaboration, such as the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. The region is a hub of both tech-savvy citizens, characterized by high levels of smartphone penetration and centres for high-tech industries. However, the chapter also acknowledges the potential limitations and drawbacks of an overreliance on technology from a failure to address the digital divide to the need to regulate the use of technology in order to protect citizens’ privacy.
Finally, the report indicates that no city will succeed without the ability to finance its development and infrastructure needs sustainably. To that end, the report concludes with chapter 4, urban finance. While finance is a complex world with potentially endless possibilities, the report takes a practical approach by narrowing them down to key types of finance that are most likely to offer sustainable and inclusive solutions for the region’s diverse economies and governance structures, which influence the degree to which cities can raise revenue.
Therefore, a sustainable future occurs when planning lays a foundation; resilience guards against future risk; smart cities deploy the best technology for the job; and financing tools help pay for it all. Getting these essentials right in cities today is vital in order to adapt to the demands of tomorrow.
What will be the outcomes of the report?
The Future of Asian & Pacific Cities will be launched in Penang during the 7th Asia-Pacific Urban Forum (APUF 7) on the 15th to 17th October 2019. It will serve as the flagship report for participants of APUF 7, serving as a framework for enabling and accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia-Pacific cities. The four thematics will guide the discussions during the Forum regarding policy directions and solutions for localizing the global agendas in various cities. After APUF 7, the report will still act as a reference for continued policy dialogue and deliberations in various opportunities at the national, sub-national and regional levels throughout the region.
The current status of Asian and Pacific cities is one of enormous economic growth and rapid urbanization. It is estimated that the region became majority urban in 2019 for the first time in history, with an urban population exceeding 2.3 billion. By 2050, the Asia-Pacific region is predicted to hit nearly 3.5 billion urban dwellers causing profound implications for economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Additionally, the development of the region’s urban economies has largely occurred through environmentally exploitative models. Rapid, inefficient and unplanned urbanization along with unsustainable consumption patterns and changes in lifestyle over recent decades together have predominantly resulted in environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, increased pressure on natural resources, generation of waste, exposure to pollution and disasters, and vulnerability to climate change.
« Peak hour commuters in Bangkok experience one of the worst traffic congestions of any Asia-Pacific city. Idling vehicles contribute to air pollution, a regional problem, and create a drain on economic productivity and quality of life as Bangkok commuters spend a significant amount of time sitting in congestion. »
Therefore, a sustainable future for cities in the Asia-Pacific is needed more than ever. Tackling climate resilience and social issues simultaneously with creative financing streams and streamlined municipal governance are some examples of the bold public policy interventions the region will need between now and 2030 if it hopes to meet the United Nations global agendas.
« Chinese “ghost cities” built to accommodate an anticipated population may result in long term debt liabilities for the city. Economic and social disparities in urban populations continue to grow, as the absolute number of urban slum dwellers is increasing in parallel with the fast pace of urbanization. »
The responsibility of ensuring a sustainable urban future falls on city stakeholders from elected leaders, private sector players and local communities. Although they also require the correct information and policy tools to make well-informed sustainable development decisions. If done right, Asian and Pacific cities will have a transformative potential that can be harnessed and enhanced to build resilient, inclusive and prosperous places acting as drivers of sustainable development for the world.
Infographics source: University of Sydney's students
Urban and Territorial Planning
Chapter 1 contains an overview of the state of planning in the region, acknowledging recent successes in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and other Asian countries in areas such as strengthening local planning and developing national systems of cities, even as the region as a whole struggles to make effective planning systems a cornerstone of national policy. It notes the Asian and Pacific cities that have risen to the top of global liveability rankings and the peer influence of planning education and institutes in Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore.
Urban and Territorial Planning Chapter:
Chapter 2 highlights the extensive resilience activities that have taken place thus far in the region, from the number of cities that have tasked high-ranking city officials with this cross-cutting topic to those that have prepared resilience strategies and climate action plans. The chapter scans the major shocks and stresses likely to afflict the region, from natural disasters, such as typhoons and earthquakes, to economic reliance on single industries in the face of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, to an ageing population set to follow the greying trends of Japan and the Republic of Korea.
Urban Resilience Chapter:
Smart and Inclusive Cities
The twenty-first century’s digital revolution has undeniable implications for cities, which are captured in chapter 3 on smart and inclusive cities. Asian and Pacific cities have been at the forefront of adopting smart city key performance indicators and plans, as has been done in Goris, Armenia, combined with new technologies to manage city services, as evidenced by new forms of collaboration, such as the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. The region is a hub of both tech-savvy citizens, characterized by high levels of smartphone penetration, and centres for high-tech industries. However, the chapter also acknowledges the potential limitations and drawbacks of an overreliance on technology, from a failure to address the digital divide to the need to regulate the use of technology in order to protect citizens’ privacy.
Smart Cities Chapter:
The report concludes with chapter 4, which is focused on urban finance. While finance is a complex world with potentially endless possibilities, the report takes a practical approach by narrowing down the key types of finance that are most likely to offer sustainable and inclusive solutions for the region’s diverse economies and governance structures, which influence the degree to which cities can raise revenue. Specifically, the chapter analyses the potential of public-private partnerships (PPPs), targeted environmental levies or charges, land value capture mechanisms, municipal pooled financing and climate funding sources in cities.
Urban Finance Chapter:
Integrating Solution Pathways
A sustainable future occurs when planning lays a foundation; resilience guards against future risk; smart cities deploy the best technology for the job; and financing tools help pay for it all. The report makes the case for four priorities and four approaches to realize a sustainable urban future in Asia and the Pacific, each of which contain specific policy pathways. Wherever a city is on its progression, it is never too late to embark on the path to a sustainable city.
Action in the Region
The Seventh Asia-Pacific Urban Forum (APUF-7) will be held from 15-17 October 2019 in Penang, Malaysia, to mobilize partners from across the region to focus on accelerating implementation to achieve a sustainable future for cities throughout Asia and the Pacific. APUF-7 will bring a diverse array of cities, expert speakers and thought leaders who are shaping the region’s urban future. Held every 4-5 years since the first APUF was held in Bangkok in 1993, the Forum is the largest regional gathering of urban stakeholders, engaging policymakers from local and national governments, financial institutions, civil society, the academia, the urban training-research community and private sector to discuss innovative solutions, identify common actions and objectives and strengthen effective partnerships to achieve sustainable urban development.
The World Urban Forum (WUF) is the world’s premier conference on urban issues. It was established in 2001 by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies.
Organized and convened by UN-Habitat, the Forum has become one of the most open gatherings on the international arena, for exchanging views and experiences on urban challenges. The inclusive nature of the Forum, combined with high-level participation, makes it a unique United Nations conference and the premier international gathering on urban issues.
- Cities Showcase
"This section looks at urban initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region and showcases different cities where innovation is happening in response to sustainable development pressures. Through current good examples of urban development, the publications above outline how other cities, regions and countries could benefit from these inspiring frameworks and practices. Indeed, more and more integrated approaches are emerging in Asia and the Pacific cities; therefore peer influence can foster the implementation of sustainable urban practices in line with global agendas."
- APUF-7 Urban Innovation Session Reports
To access the Urban Innovation Session Reports, please click here.
Tools and Methodologies
The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities 2019 is the third report, jointly developed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme in partnership with the Asian Development Bank, Centre for Livable Cities Singapore, the European Union, The Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations Development Programme.
The report explores important policy pathways to guide urban stakeholders towards a future vision of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities within the region. It makes the case for four priorities and four approaches to realize a sustainable urban future in Asia and the Pacific.Getting these essentials right in Asian and Pacific cities today is vital in order to adapt to the demands of tomorrow and to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda.
The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015 is the second such report published by UN-Habitat (the United Nations Human Settlements Programme) and ESCAP (the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific). In capturing the region's rapid urban transformation The State of Asian and Pacific Cities 2015 highlights the growing gaps between current urbanisation patterns and what is needed to shift to a more inclusive and sustainable urban future, in which the region’s cities are unquestionably tied to national, regional and global development prospects. The Report also draws upon the most recent urban data from The World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision.
The State of Asian Cities 2010/2011 reviews and documents trends in urban development throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The preparation of the report drew on the latest data, good practices and examples, the rich knowledge of a broad range of specialists, and was supported through peer reviews by experts. The report throws new light on current issues and challenges which national and local governments, the business sector and organised civil society are facing. On top of putting forward a number of recommendations, The State of Asian Cities 2010/2011 testifies to the wealth of good, innovative practices that cities of all sizes and development stages have exhibited across the region. It shows us that sustainable human settlements are within reach, and that cooperation between public authorities, the private and the voluntary sectors is the key to success. This report highlights a number of critical issues – demographic and economic trends, poverty and inequality, the environment, climate change and urban governance and management.
New Forms of Urbanism
Rapid urbanisation in Asia-Pacific hides yet another equally critical trend: the very reasons for which people once chose to live in cities are undergoing a drastic change. A thriving city of tomorrow is hence a city that has grasped this change today and laid out its development in such a way that it becomes a place of aspiration tomorrow.
- Data Portals
The SDG Data Portal provides a regional perspective on current status and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon under the 2030 United Nations sustainable development agenda. Covering the 58 regional member states of ESCAP, the data portal includes all SDG indicators from the globally agreed SDG indicator framework for which data source could be identified.
UN-Habitat’s City Prosperity Initiative (CPI) is both a metric and a policy dialogue that offers decision-makers the conditions to formulate adequate policies based on good data, information and knowledge. The CPI is a global initiative that provides an innovative approach to urban measurements and it is meant to identify opportunities and potential areas of intervention for cities to become more prosperous.
CDP Open Data Portal
Search hundreds of data sets on local action towards a global sustainable economy.
The NYU Urban Expansion Program at the Marron Institute of Urban Management and the Stern School of Business of New York University, in partnership with UN-Habitat and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, has initiated a multi-phase research effort to monitor the quantitative and qualitative aspects of global urban expansion. This effort is a continuation of an earlier project by the authors and their colleagues that resulted in the Atlas of Urban Expansion (Cambridge MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2012).
The Global Municipal Database (GMD) was created by UN-Habitat with support from New York University and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. It contains population and budget data for a sample of cities around the world.
- Knowledge Platforms
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Seoul Metropolitan Government and CityNet have established the Urban SDG Knowledge Platform to promote and support knowledge sharing and city-to-city cooperation for sustainable urban development.
The Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) is a partnership and knowledge platform that promotes integrated solutions and cutting-edge support for cities seeking to improve their urban sustainability.
- Infographics and Videos
Urban Territorial Planning
- The Chinese Cities with Unsustainable Urban Land Expansion (infographic)
- The Chinese Cities with Unsustainable Urban Land Expansion (design process)
Source: University of Sydney students
- The Economic Losses from Natural Disasters (infographic)
- The Economic Losses from Natural Disasters (design process)
Source: University of Sydney students
Source: University of Sydney students