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EXCLUSIVE – ADB’s Future Cities Program – Building the jigsaw, one piece at a time

EXCLUSIVE - ADB’s Future Cities Program –  Building the jigsaw

Photo credit: ADB

OpenGov spoke to Mr. Andrew McIntyre (above), Senior Urban Development Specialist at Asian Development Bank (ADB) about the Bank’s Future Cities Program (FCP). FCP seeks to meet the challenge of maintaining economic growth and environmental integrity, while creating liveable cities for all, across Asia and the Pacific.

Launched in early 2016, FCP could be described as a corporate technical assistance (TA) program. But it is much more ambitious than it sounds. FCP is an attempt to define a new integrated, multi-sector approach for ADB’s engagement with cities. Its aim is to build a network of relationships between all the stakeholders and to bring in new partners to organically achieve end-to-end infrastructure development.

The program has seen significant success to date. While originally a $1.5 million TA, FCP has brought in over $10 million through 9 other technical assistance programs, and over $30 million in grants and feasibility studies to identify a potential $1 billion worth of projects for enhancing ADB’s pipeline.

The cities

FCP is currently running in 6 cities, Tbilisi in Georgia, Makassar and Bandung in Indonesia, Suva in Fiji, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, and Mandalay in Myanmar.

These cities were selected because the project officers and country directors were interested in doing more than individual projects. Mr. McIntyre explained, “They didn’t just want to build a road or a railway or a water supply system. They wanted to see value-added investments. They wanted a “One ADB approach.”

“It is about achieving end-to-end impact. When a road is built, it is assumed that it gets people to jobs, to health facilities, and to schools; that ticket transactions are seamless; that data and information are collected and used by planners and consumers to improve services and efficiencies – these are the fundamental assumptions for development effectiveness and sustainability – but are often not implemented. However, ADB can also ensure these areas receive investment and utilise world’s best practices; ensuring improved livelihoods and income and thereby ensuring leverage of the initial investment,” he said further.

Reworking the sector-specific approach

Typically, ADB focuses on sector-specific projects. It could be a water supply project in one city, road transport in another. In Tbilisi, there’s an ADB-funded sustainable urban transport project, which has been ongoing for over 8 years. In Kathmandu, ADB has been supporting water supply projects for more than 10 years. It was assumed that these big infrastructural projects would fit in with multi-sector activities undertaken by other donors or by the city administration and the benefits would be fully realised. Yet even within the same city, there needs to be improved integration and communication between projects from different sectors to realize synergies and mutual inter- and intra-effectiveness.

Start with a core project and build the jigsaw – the Tbilisi case study

The Future Cities Approach (Image credit: ADB)

Under FCP, existing ADB infrastructure investments are enhanced and used as an entry point to the city to build long-term relationships between the city, ADB, and other financing and knowledge partners. From this core project the engagement is broadened and a more integrated urban development is achieved.

Mr. McIntyre called it the jigsaw puzzle approach. He said, “What we are looking at here is enhancing the core project, and building that jigsaw. We don’t want to go into Tbilisi and start doing something that’s not aligned with what we have done before. It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t take a piece and put it somewhere in the middle of the puzzle. You put it next to another piece you already got on the board.”

In Tbilisi it started with the aforementioned sustainable urban transport project. Now there are seven concurrent teams working harmoniously on different components of urban development.

Public bus at Freedom Square in Tblisi (Photo credit: ADB)

One of these teams is the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) – an international partnership established in 2007 by ADB and the Government of Germany, with additional core funding support from the governments of Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and the Shanghai Municipal Government – which has recently completed a bus network improvement prefeasibility study and is now conducting another prefeasibility study on a metro rail rehabilitation and upgrade.

Other teams include an ADB-led digital finance team. They are currently exploring opportunities to leverage existing financial institutions to scale access to cashless transactions (to enhance ridership and reduce transport transaction costs), as well as digitizing payments for micro, small and medium enterprises – thereby broadening the investment around a transport core. Another team is the smart systems technical assistance team, who is looking at technologies that could improve efficiencies in transport, water supply, sanitation, education, health, building, and so on.

Third is the Future Women, Future Cities technical assistance team. They are looking at ways to mainstream gender throughout ADB and other projects. This includes ensuring transport decision making for station and vehicle design include the often forgotten 50% of the population – ie women – are fully involved. Women will be the focus of the small and medium enterprise work, and the focus of technological innovation. Having women drivers on the buses and looking at how to address gender-based violence on public transport links the work with the current core project and with the potential opportunities identified in the CDIA bus study.

In addition, through FCP, there is a knowledge partnership with the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). The team from AIT is looking at big data in the context of digital finance, smart systems, gender, and the existing transport projects and how that could be utilised.

         “They are looking at ways that we may be able to harvest data off our transport project such as vehicle and pedestrian movements around stations and interchanges (using digital cameras and smart phones) and even digital sensors in new LED street, walkway and station lighting sensing movement, pedestrian/vehicle volumes, air and noise pollution – all providing more complete information to enable better planning and design; and to real time information for consumers and citizens. This will enhance planning within the city of Tbilisi and promote citizen engagement, which will enable long-term development effectiveness and sustainability” Mr. McIntyre said.

AIT is also embracing its role as a knowledge partner with the city by helping to facilitate city twinning with Vienna, planning capacity exchanges and further research partnerships with other institutions. It provides a justification for other financiers, such as the Austrian Government in this case, to consider further capacity, financial and research support into Tbilisi over the next few years.

The contribution of all the 7 teams is expected to lead to concrete projects that will enable the city and its residents to thrive. A key component of the ADB FCP approach is that not all outputs are for ADB investment – with many possibly attracting funding from European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); Agence Française de Développement (AFD), a French development agency; and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Tbilisi sees ADB as an honest broker in the urban space, providing leadership and non-proprietary project concepts that focus on improving livability for Tbilisi, rather than discrete infrastructure projects that represent traditional financing approach.

ADB team meeting with Tbilisi city administration at Tbilisi City Hall (Photo credit: ADB)

The elements

Future Cities is an organic approach to building relationships and knowledge and financing partnerships. Akin to a jigsaw puzzle, it builds a base for future investments in the city – investments that are integrated and generate more positive impact for people. The essential elements of the puzzle are the following: 

Core project

Having a core ADB project in place is important to get work off the ground. It provides the initial institutional linkages allowing the time and space to enhance the relationship and leverage existing impacts. It takes significantly longer to gain traction in the absence of a core project, according to Mr. McIntyre.

         Building off the existing project and relationship with the local government enables ADB or other potential partners to broaden engagement into other sectors within the city, such as water, governance, education, and health.  

The core project also helps broaden relationships within ADB, since bringing in teams from different sectors and knowledge groups builds cooperation and takes advantage of better synergies – functionally achieving a One ADB approach. The private sector is involved as the program expands and other donors are linked to focus on overall development for the city as a whole – there is enough demand for investment for everyone’s capability – its about coordination, opportunity and thinking more broadly at what a city wants to and can achieve.

National urban planner

One of the advantages of FCP consists of national urban planners that are appointed for each of the cities. The planner, who has undergone significant familiarity training with ADB HQ and its resident mission, is usually based out of the mayor’s office and acts as a two-way conduit of information between the city and ADB, relaying needs and ideas; and potential resources, capacity and knowledge support.

All ADB and other donor teams, not just FCP, are encouraged to utilise this person as a focal point of contact with the city.

Mr. McIntyre said that this has been one of the most successful aspects of FCP in all the cities.

City twinning

One of the ways in which FCP is connecting the dots and building relationships between knowledge partners and financing partners, both private and public, is through city twinning. Edmonton in Canada is twinning with UlaanBaatar, while Vienna is considering developing a program with Tbilisi. Through this exchange, cities can pick up relevant best practices and lessons that can enrich their institutional capacity and improve city management.

For Tbilisi, in particular, the twinning opportunity with Vienna will be done through the support of AIT. This will allow the exchange of urban planning personnel between Tbilisi and Vienna for one month; and hopefully evolve into a much closer relationship between urban planners and practitioners.  

Knowledge partners

Knowledge partners are a key piece of the puzzle. An ongoing water-sensitive slum revitalisation project in Suva demonstrates this well.

Monash University and the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC), has pioneered successful water management programs in Australia, China, Israel, and Singapore. But these haven’t been applied in slum areas. They started looking at opportunities in Suva and Makassar to fit in their approach with ADB’s ongoing water and sanitation projects in the cities.

Slums in Suva, Fiji (Photo credit:ADB)

Then the research consortium received an AUD $14 million grant, from the Wellcome Trust, a UK-based global charitable foundation. The funding, combined with ADB grant resources and financial and capacity support from utility companies in Australia, will be directed towards a seven-year development grant and research project in Fiji and Makassar, Indonesia, to advance human health and well-being in slums or informal settlements, by transforming water infrastructure, water management, and sanitation practices, in collaboration with ADB.

         Traditional centralised, energy-intensive ‘Big Pipe’ solutions used to pump water from reservoirs into cities, and sewage to centralised treatment plants, often bypass slums. The water sensitive approach opts for modular, decentralised infrastructure instead.

Initiatives include individual site assessment and surveys including modelling flood risk and identifying mosquito supporting habitats, conveying faecal-contaminated water to biofilters and surface wetlands for cleaning, building rainwater tanks and communal septic tanks and capturing and cleaning storm water and waste water for use in urban agriculture.

The project is about to be implemented in Suva and Makassar, aiming to transform 24 settlements over 5 years. It brings together researchers in medicine, architecture, engineering, ecology, economics and social sciences, from Monash, CRCWSC, Stanford University, Emory University, the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Water and South East Water, World Health Organisation, Oxfam International and WaterAid.

Mr. McIntyre said that this is a significantly faster and cheaper approach, can cover more people and the benefits are expected to be comparable to those from piped water and sewage. Once the concept is demonstrated successfully in Suva and Makassar, it will be scaled up across slum developments in Asia.

Finance Plus Plus

The FCP process starts with funding from ADB on the core project. When the project expands into related sectors and knowledge partners start stepping in, additional finance starts flowing in. Sometimes, knowledge partners bring in new sources of funds. Other donors working in the city begin to get involved. Mr. McIntyre described this as the Finance Plus Plus approach, which is championed by ADB’s President Takehiko Nakao.

Grabbing hold of opportunities

The FCP approach could be seen as chaotic. But it is about grabbing the right opportunities and using them as openings into a city to start building the relationship, broadening impact and embracing and managing complexity and change. It is about re-energising practitioners in ADB, the cities and other stakeholders to their passion and potential for achieving development results and sustainability.

For instance, ADB’s Smart Systems technical assistance Program is preparing smart system feasabilities for Bandung. One of ADB’s knowledge partners, Singapore-ETH Centre (a collaboration between ETH Zurich – the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the National Research Foundation in Singapore) has also been mobilized by FCP to work on areas that are aligned with its own research program and that of the smart systems RETA. This led the two organizations to start working together to ensure a more cohesive and synergised approach. AIT has now also expressed interest in working in Bandung, complementing the others’ work program and hoping to source funding from the Austrian government.

         While there are projects being considered, it is the approach that is generating the synergy, and broadening the potential investment opportunities. Perhaps, there will be scope for smart city investments; citizen-led data agglomerations for public transport planning and development; or even potential financing through public-private partnerships with Bandung’s excellent universities and research units for developing Bandung as a regional IT research and knowledge hub.

While cautioning that the Future Cities approach is not going to be a panacea, Mr. McIntyre said that there are great benefits to be derived from wider adoption. The future of these cities has not been written yet. By coordinating and synergising resources, we can achieve a lot more than otherwise. Plans are out of date before they are developed. Cities and their partners need to be agile, responsive, dynamic and dedicated to managing complexity and change, using world's best practices and sourcing the myriad of opportunities and resources available. It takes a lot of effort to coordinate and to maintain those relationships. But that’s part of the challenge. I have seen the payoff and I think it is exciting.”


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