On Trash

By Galen Laserson

Visitors returning from emerging markets commonly remark on two problems that plague developing cities: traffic and trash. Admittedly, visitors likely purchase bottled water and do not stay long enough to have to navigate power outages or a local transit system. More viscerally, traffic and trash are both highly visible and unpleasantly familiar enough that there is nothing “charming” or “local” about experiencing them and nothing particularly exciting about fixing them. Saravana’s post (“Roads – Simple, Mundane and Absolutely Vital”) teases out the significance of roads to economic development in West Africa, a concept we have added to in our class discussions about how to capture the lost productivity resulting from traffic. Accordingly, I would like to leave traffic aside for the moment and focus on trash.

At its core, trash is waste – the enemy of sustainability. Continue reading


On Density and Happiness 2


Springing off from my last post (here) in which I identified an “ideal” density of 3800ppl/km2, I decided to directly chart population density against happiness for a selection of cities that belong to the following three categories: most livable, most global and most emerging.

A clear converging tendency can be observed, almost as a funnel, reaching to that “ideal density” zone. From this tendency and the selection of cities we can extract a series of observations that relate to some of the issues that we have seen in class: Continue reading

The Entrepreneurial Urban Planner

By Ted Oberwager

Our recent class discussions around greenfield cities like King Abdullah Economic City and Masdar have illustrated the difficulties in executing hugely ambitious development undertakings. However, the issues experienced in each city have also highlighted the opportunities in applying core management concepts to the world of city planning. So what lessons can we draw from the failures experienced in each of these cities? I offer a few ideas: Continue reading

Atlanta’s BeltLine: Ambitious Plan Fit for Atlanta

By Anonymous

Between 2000 and 2010, Atlanta was the 3rd fastest growing city in the country (behind Houston and Dallas).[1] Attracted to a cheaper cost of living and temperate climate, Atlanta added over 1M people to a population of 4M. However, the rapid increase has worked to tax an already strained city transportation infrastructure.

This suburban-centric view has started to change in the last few years with the ambitious Atlanta BeltLine project. The project, based on a Georgia Tech graduate student’s 1999 thesis, will be, by many accounts, the “most expensive rails-to-trails project”[i] in the country.[2] Advocates of the new emphasis on walkable cities, led by Charles Leinberger of the Brookings Institute, highlight the numerous advantages of investing in the infrastructures at the center of cities around the country – mainly lower transportation costs [and] higher transit access.”[3] Atlanta’s BeltLine project will connect 45 neighborhoods, increase parkland by 40%, and add 22 miles of transit lines to a geographic expanse that covers 22% of the city’s population and 19% of its landmass. Continue reading

Can flexibility and phasing improve the success rate of large-scale development?.

By Hannah Aronshtein

Reading ‘The Atlantic Cities’ website[1], I came across an article about the International City in Dubai, and thought it was an interesting case of large-scale city development. Amongst the principles discussed in class for dos and don’ts of city development, success of projects, particularly large-scale, depends on design, financing, timing, and phasing, but also on market demand. Two issues that are highlighted in this article, include phasing of infrastructure and intentions/goals. The intention and goal of a project is of particular importance and informs all other decisions. Continue reading

Innovative Programs and A Smart Government

By Yiran Gao

“It is not a government’s obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided.”

—former New York Governor Mario Cuomo

Different strategies of how private sectors can invest in sustainable cities under various situations have been laid out in Professor Macomber’s framework. In this framework, government appears as an “entity making direct investment”. However, is this the best role that government should play in the framework of creating sustainable cities? If not, how should a smart government behave to best facilitate creating sustainable cities? Continue reading

Can there be Sustainable Cities in the U.S. without a consideration of Rural America?

By Anonymous

I am from an economically stagnant, rural area of the United States. Back home, we can barely afford to fund public services like criminal justice and public health, even at a threadbare level. Yet every time I return to visit, the “fathers” of our community seem to be redoubling their attempts at economic rejuvenation, hoping to lift the region out of poverty. These efforts usually strike me as misguided boosterism. If they were really concerned with improving peoples’ lives, it would be more efficacious to simply make it easier for people to leave the area, and move to a more vibrant city. But to say so would, of course, not be appropriate in polite conversation.

The world’s cities are, for the most part, better places for its inhabitants to live; people who live in them earn higher incomes with less environmental impact, and are better educated, healthier, and happier. In class we’ve discussed many ways to design, build, and finance the infrastructure and urban environments the world will need in the near future. But I am left wondering, can we really adopt a framework for developing sustainable cities, particularly in the United States, without addressing some of the pathologies endemic to rural areas? Continue reading