Causality and Hierarchy

By Jan Dolezal

I was thinking whether there are some frameworks for ranking and organizing different initiatives, for example those on the menu of PlaNYC (here).  PlaNYC is not conveyed with costs (or benefits) and it’s only part of the overall approach of the City and State of New York so it’s hard to quantify the components, but here are some qualitative thoughts:

Hierarchy of Needs

One is a pyramid mirroring Maslow’s pyramid (’s_hierarchy_of_needs) with a similar pyramid for cities (e.g. you don’t care about energy efficiency if you don’t have energy. You don’t care about climate change if you don’t have housing…) On the bottom level, there are basic infrastructure needs (housing, transportation, water, energy). If this is not met, nobody will really care about what is higher. Above that initiatives that improve immediate quality of living, such as Air quality or Parks. Only when this is met, people might be thinking more about recreational Waterways and problems that are not troubling them directly such as Solid waste management. At the top of the pyramid is climate change that people will be more willing to address only when their lower needs are met.

This pyramid also demonstrates why cities in developed countries care more about the higher levels than in developing countries where even the lower levels are not met.   We could place the PlaNYC (or KAEC or Tianjin or Dharavi) initiatives in such a pyramid.

Dolezal's Hierarchy

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Ecopolis in China: Lab for Idealist or Realist?

By Anonymous

This two weeks we read about two sustainable cities, Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Tianjin in China. It is reasonably straightforward to form the overall framework for sustainable urbanization, which consists of four interrelated actors and points of view: investor, government touches, design configuration and business tactics (source: class discussion and Prof Macomber’s chart).

In today’s China, the development of eco-cities has been a hot topic extensively reviewed and discussed by different parties, and the progress of Tianjin draws a lot of attention – particularly because of the failure of its predecessor, Dongtan District of Shanghai. Indeed, the concept of eco-cities has been tentatively utilized to provide theoretical support and planning model for more than 5 cities in China, and in addition to that, more municipal governments are approaching the central government and seeking financial, political and technological support. Nevertheless, there is not even a far cry from a successful in model in practice that can be found to underpin the feasibility of the “eco-city” concept. Continue reading

New York – Sustainable and Competitive Urbanization, Infrastructure, and Finance? in the News This Week

By John Macomber

These news items from Gotham City might add some further flavor to our discussion of PlaNYC in Thursday’s class, March 7:

(Learning Hub entry here)

(Related post in this blog about current events here)


Glad to see that long view politicians and domain experts can mobilize funding to make investments based on science and with the benefit of the populace in mind! Continue reading

What’s your city’s competitive advantage?

By Anonymous

During our discussion of city developments over the last few class periods we determined that in order to evaluate a certain development approach we needed to know what goal we were optimizing for. However, in my mind, we neglected a more basic discussion of the theory describing why cities exist and how they have historically been formed. Instead, our approach was mostly along the lines of “Lots of people are moving to cities, so we need more cities. Resources are limited, so we need sustainable cities. Go.”

We skipped two fundamental questions: a) What makes a city a city? and b) What’s your city’s competitive advantage? Continue reading

How Can we Improve the Urban Sustainability Index: Look to Maps and Demographics

By Megan Brown

After our discussion in class about measuring sustainability, I found myself quite torn about the McKinsey Urban Sustainability Index. I agree with many of my classmates that the overabundance of data seemed almost arbitrary and artificial. The data allow us to rank cities based on five sets of criteria, but the use of averages can hide extremes. I think it is important to dig deeper into what sustainability means and to find better ways for measuring it and predicting how to improve it. Without them, how will we be able to assess how well cities achieve their objectives or determine what best practices are? I believe the Urban Sustainability Index could be dramatically improved by incorporating mapping to visualize the data and by adding a 6th category: demographics and happiness. Continue reading

The Next Generation of Cities

By Regan Turner

In studying brand new cities such as King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and Masdar, we saw examples of ambitious sovereign governments taking on bold development projects that encapsulated their vision for how their country’s population would live, work, and play in the future. In undertaking these projects, however, these governments also assume enormous financial and social risk that the cities may never reach their potential. In the future, therefore, I would argue that master-planned growth should happen in locations where people already choose to live, rather than in places that are sparsely inhabited, or not inhabited at all.

Across the globe, populations are urbanizing and densifying. For the first time in the world’s history, more people now live in urban centers than in rural locations, and as Figure 1 shows, that gap is growing.

Figure 1: Urban and Rural Population of the World (Source: United Nations,

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How complex should new economic cities be in order to meet their objective?

By Nour El Hoda Farrag

The stated objective of establishing King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Saudi Arabia is to diversify the economy and reduce unemployment. Two of Saudi Arabia’s main challenges are the economy’s high dependency on oil and relatively large local population. However, the same challenges can be perceived as its two main levers, and the reasons why such an initiative can be successful. As the second largest country in the Arab World, Saudi Arabia can rely on local consumption to drive GDP growth and use this platform to scale and export to neighboring countries. With the second largest proven oil reserves in the World, Saudi Arabia has the unique, invaluable advantage of deep pockets to sponsor mega infrastructure / economic projects that can enhance value across the economy, and is incentivized to do so. Moreover, acknowledging its natural resource wealth as a key strength, the government/City’s leadership has rightfully, in my view, focused on especially expanding industries that are either energy-intensive, or oil-based, to leverage its resource, alongside other non-oil related industries. To this end, as the case indicates, early adopters of the project were companies spanning the food, packaging, pharmaceutical, and oil industries.

The project’s main shortcomings, in my view, lie in its financial planning and execution. The case quotes the president of KAEC’s Industrial Valley and City Services, Ahmed Linjawy, as saying: “The original assumption was that… anything we do, we assume we will do it ourselves.” The “Labor Camp” is an example of a responsibility, which in my opinion should be left to the project’s industrial / corporate clients. Other examples in fact include the education, hospitality and residential arms of the project; all of which seem to be dictated through a master plan, as opposed to taken care of by market demand/supply forces. Continue reading