Africa: building people and environmental friendly cities-PART 1

Global Observatory linking research to Action CEO Gora  Mboud, in Toronto at the 2013 launch of Global Cities Institute. Courtesy Photo

Global Observatory linking research to Action CEO Gora Mboud, in Toronto at the 2013 launch of Global Cities Institute. Courtesy Photo

The Global Green Growth Forum popularly known as 3GF was held in Africa for the first time on 12th to 14th May in Nairobi, Kenya.

The two-day conference identified the barriers to Africa’s sustainable development and the ways to turn them into opportunities for green growth and improved livelihoods.

It focused on three key areas: new financing models for green growth, sustainable urbanization and sustainable lifestyles.

Afrika Reporter’s Chris Mandi had an exclusive interview with Dr. Gora Mboup, the former Chief of the UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory and now leading the Global Observatory linking Research to Action (GORA) Corp on a wide range of issues such as urban planning, equity and social inclusion, institutions and laws and infrastructure development among others.

Below are the excerpts;

Dr. Mboup would you please tell us about Global Observatory Linking Research to Action (Gora) Corporation, what is it exactly and what is it about?

The Global Observatory linking Research to Action (GORA) Corp was established in July 2014 as a not-for profit organization in New York by Dr. Gora Mboup, the former Chief of the UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory. GORA Corp operates in all member countries of the United Nations.

GORA Corp is the institutionalization of more than 25 years of international experience of its founder in the field of statistics, monitoring, evaluation, and sustainable urban development.

GORA Corp’s services include establishment of Observatories linking Research to Action (ORAs) with the aim of empowering people and institutions to select, collect, and analyze indicators and develop policies on a range of local and national priorities such as urban planning, equity and social inclusion, institutions and laws, infrastructure development, social and economic development, environmental sustainability, resilience, safety, disasters, peace and security.

You recently launched two simultaneous initiatives in Kenya during the UN Habitat III Conference and the 25th Session of the Governing council. Can you tell us what they were about?

On 16th April 2015, we launched key findings of GORA Corp’s research “ Streets are Public Spaces & Drivers of Sustainable, Inclusive & Prosperous Cities in Africa” as a bridge event between the second preparatory committee of Habitat III and the twenty fifth Governing Council of UN-Habitat.

The bridge event was marked by the presence of 83 participants from all regions of the world (Africa, Asia, America, Europe and Oceania) and various sectors and social groups, including youth, women organizations and Civil Society Organizations.

It has conveyed a message of progress and hope in sub-Saharan Africa with the decline of the proportion of urban slum dwellers from 70% in 1990 to 59% in 2015.

To further this progress and make cities sustainable, inclusive and prosperous, more streets are needed in slums as the foundation for provision of water, sanitation and sewerage systems.

African cities are called to allocate sufficient land to streets to enhance infrastructure development, environmental sustainability, economic and social development; and to make cities resilient to overcome natural disasters and other calamities.

No city can claim to be sustainable, inclusive and prosperous when large segments of its population do not have access to streets. Streets are the starting point for the physical integration of slums into the formal and official systems of urban planning and management of a city
.

A week later, on 22nd April 2015, GORA Corp and the Community Systems Foundation (CSF) launched the OpenCities Institute (OCI) during the 25th Session of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat.

The OpenCities Institute (OCI) (www.opencitiesinstitute.org), is an institutional platform of open data/data revolution/big data in a friendly integrated platform for the analysis of a wealth of information aiming to guide planning, monitoring and evaluation of urban development programmes and policies towards smart, sustainable, inclusive and prosperous cities.

OCI aims to empower people and institutions with information that helps to prioritize their needs in the global, national and local development agenda, particularly in the context of the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations Third Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III, 2016), the new Urban Agenda and the Africa Agenda 2063.

Gora Corp as an Institute advocates for open data in a friendly integrated platform for the analysis of wealth of information to guide planning,monitoring and evaluation of urban development programmes and policies towards smart,sustainable,inclusive and prosperous cities. Why is this important?

In the era of data revolution, open data and big data makes it possible to witness the emergence of a sustainable inclusive urban ecosystem. The flow of information has increased many folds with data from traditional surveys and various other sources including social media and mobile applications.

However, this wealth of information can serve policies only if they are integrated in a simplified, coherent manner, and they are accessible to all users to serve real time planning, monitoring and evaluation of national and local programmes.

The main mandate of the first programme of GORA Corp, which is the establishment of Observatories linking Research to Action (ORA), is to present an institutional platform of an integrated people centric policy, to promote a people agenda, an agenda by the people for the people.

How can urban planning, particularly planning of streets contribute to environmental sustainability?

The impact of pollutants on the ecological state of the city makes it imperative that streets as a “zone of maximum exposure” take centre stage when the study of environmental sustainability towards the achievement of sustainability, inclusion and prosperity is examined.

Pollution emissions released on the street contribute to the most harmful effects on climate change, ozone depletion, ecological damage, street aesthetics, and human health.

The idea that streets are a “green” public good and are public spaces is one that needs to be examined. Non-motorized forms of transport, pedestrianization, cleaner fuels and reduced traffic congestion are just some of the measures that can limit the damaging effects of motorized transport and traffic congestion.

These should be considered when planning streets of the future. A connected street network helps to safeguard environmental sustainability in easing mobility and provision of basic services will low carbon emission.

By promoting walkability and cycling, connected streets contribute to the reduction of air and water pollution and to the preservation of biodiversity. Along with public parks, waterfronts and “green” areas for recreational and productive purposes, connected streets help to reduce fragmentation of natural systems and reduce the spatial footprint through the careful design of infrastructure networks and settlements. 

Africa as a continent is urbanizing faster than other continents and projected to become 56% Urban by the year 2050 at least this is by the United Nations world urbanization prospects, with a majority of the urban population expected to grow, how will this affect the urban current settlement especially streets as public spaces of urban prosperity?

In most African cities, urban expansion is the consequence of poverty as informal unplanned settlements on the periphery spring up in response to a lack of affordable housing options within the city itself.

In these cases, urban expansion results from a lack of policy attention to current urban challenges, and more particularly, an inability to anticipate urban growth, including through provision of land for the urban poor.

Denial of permanent land rights to the urban poor is one of the main factors behind the “peripherization” associated with urban expansion in African cities, where 59% urban dwellers live in slums. Today, most African cities shared common characteristics: progressive decline of land allocated to streets and public spaces; inadequate and deteriorating streets; and poor facilities for non-motorized transport (walking and cycling).

Poor street connectivity has negative impact on most dimensions of urban sustainability, inclusion and prosperity such as infrastructure, social and economical development, environment development, disaster exposure and resilience, peace and security.

It is urgent that city authorities adopt a street network that expands multimodal transport systems with sidewalks and bicycle paths, ensures eco-efficiency of infrastructural systems, and supports density through integrated infrastructure development, thereby enhancing efficiency and access.

By accommodating all kinds of users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorists), this type of street network promotes easy connections to services that contribute to good health and productivity.

Gora Corp as an establishment of the Global Human Settlement (GHS) working Group that was launched in 2014,is working on new measures and products to be developed to support the UN third Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban development(UN Habitat III2016) and the concurrent Post 2015 processes on sustainable development, climate change and the Hyogo framework for disaster reduction. I understand the GHS partners have drafted a final statement in regard to the above. Tell us about some of the measures and products the (GHS) came up with?

The current picture of the human footprint is incomplete. The majority of small and medium-sized settlements, critical for accounting and understanding the impact of people on the globe, remain largely invisible.

The big dots may be visible, but not the all-important connections between them. And the truly vulnerable, such as those dwelling in refugee camps, shantytowns and slums are effectively missing from our global understanding.

The Global Human Settlement Working Group is to provide innovative measurements and products for scientific evidence supported by new technologies that can harness to its full extent to generate a comprehensive and holistic understanding of the complexity of human presence and its interactions with the earth’s social, economic, and ecological environments. Such vital information should enable global action to prevent and reduce disaster risk, eradicate extreme poverty and promote sustainable development.

50% of Gora Corp activities are in India, Nigeria and now Kenya; why Kenya?

On 10 February 2015, GORA Corp and the National Institute of Urban Affairs of the Ministry of Urban Development signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the establishment of observatories for the provision of reliable, up-to-date information on key urban issues and the creation of conditions for smart cities within the framework of sustainability, inclusiveness and prosperity cities developed by GORA Corp.

GORA Corp collaborates with the State of Ondo and Kogi in the establishment of Observatories linking Research to Action (ORA). GORA Corp also took part at the national workshop, particularly at the session on the Establishment of an integrated Nation-wide Urban Observatory (NUO), organized by the Federal Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development.

GORA Corp is establishing a regional programme for Africa for three reasons. First, our work started in Nairobi where we assessed the share of land allocated to streets. From Nairobi, we expanded our assessment to 100 cities around the globe. Therefore it is reasonable when we advocate to link research to action, to come back to Kenya and share with national and local authorities the key findings of our research and collaborate with them for the development of informed urban programmes.

Second, when you reach Nairobi, you reach Africa, Nairobi is the African hub linked to all corners of Africa with Kenya airways covering almost all African countries, and a well-developed Information Communication Technology (ICT).

In addition that most of the international organizations are based here, particularly the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which are our main global partners.

Third, the Kenyan manpower is internationally recognized as well trained and competent, this makes feasible the Africa-Africa Cooperation (AAC). GORA Corp is seeking to work closely with Kenyan nationals for capacity development in Africa, to develop an African agenda, an agenda by Africans for Africans.

to be continued, watch this space for Part 11 of this fascinating interview