Notes from the Policy Field: Building or Rebuilding Cities for Growth

Notes from the Policy Field Graphic

Event: 4th World Bank / George Washington University / IGC-Cities Urbanization and Poverty Reduction Research Conference, “Building or Rebuilding Cities for Growth

Date: 09/08/17

Notes from the Policy Field provides write-ups of policy-oriented events in Washington, D.C. and comments on whether the format of the event facilitated policy change or improvement.

Event effectiveness rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)

Write up by Megan Mattson, MPA, Executive Editor, Brief Policy Perspectives 

Given rapidly increasing rates of urbanization, how can cities be organized effectively so citizens are happy, environmental impacts are low, and transportation and housing are high-functioning? The fourth annual research conference hosted by the World Bank, GW, and IGC-Cities sought to address this.

The conference combined keynote speeches from World Bank presenters with research presentations on urban governance, land policy, transportation, and public services. Each panel was comprised of two academic presentations and one “mini-keynote” and led by an expert, who guided conversation. The format facilitated dialogue between academics and practitioners, which is vital for the urban planning field. Still, it is doubtful that this event will lead to concrete action, as there was little audience participation and a lack of emphasis on solutions.

The content of the conference addressed a variety of issues facing cities, including resource limitations, a lack of executive authority vested in local government, and increasing pollution. The research addressed the causes of these problems. For example, research presented by , from what drives slum formation to whether subway openings decrease air pollution levels. This information was helpful for practitioners in the room and may affect their decision making, but the research would have been more effective had it explored solutions to urban issues, rather than causes alone. Development practitioners are notoriously busy, and a conference like this is a rare platform to discuss what works and what does not.

WB Conference 9.8.17
From left to right: William Maloney, Chief Economist at The World Bank; Jennifer Musisi, Executive Director for the Kampala Capital City Authority; Paul Romer, Vice-President of The World Bank; and Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics at Harvard University.

That said, some presenters did emphasize solutions. In the first session on urban governance (pictured above), all three panelists agreed that city expansion, regulation, and building secondary cities can address city overcrowding. Panelists underscored it is necessary for local city bureaucrats to have decision-making power. For example, Ms. Jennifer Musisi, Executive Director for the Kampala Capital City Authority, said it is impossible for an entire city to agree on road width, so that decision should be made by an expert. In the second session, Daniel de Mata from the Institute for Applied Economic Research discussed that, in Sao Paulo, a ten percent decrease in regulation was just as effective at regulating slums as a decrease in taxation by fifty percent. This implies it may be easier for city governments to regulate slums, for example with lot size or height control limitations, than to use a drastic change in taxation. An increased focus on solutions such as these would improve the conference moving forward.

In addition, the fifth annual conference should encourage audience participation. Each session ran close to the time limit and left little opportunity for audience questions and comments. In addition to allocating more time for audience questions, the conference could feature a table where participants can write their ideas for urbanization or poverty reduction. Tweets using the hashtag for the event could be shown on a screen during breaks.

Overall, the conference is laudable for bringing research into a prominent development organization’s folds. Audience participation and more solutions would help the event address urbanization and poverty reduction to a greater extent.


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