Cities – Slums, sprawl, and skyscrapers (Brookings)

Somik V. LallMathilde Lebrand, and Hogeun Park write: These three words are probably the most used in popular and policy discussions of city development. The squalor of slums, unsustainability of sprawl and sterility of skyscrapers are the proverbial Achilles heel of community leaders and urban planners. They call for livable neighborhoods with a vibrant mix of homes, shops, offices, and local amenities.

go to Brookings: Slums, sprawl, and skyscrapers (


Cities – Cities Managing Migration: the State of Affairs (GMF)

Christiane Heimann, Janina Sturner, Paul Costello writes: After migrants and refugees have crossed national borders, they settle in local communities and increasingly in urban areas. The responsibilities and competences of cities include many aspects that are essential to welcoming them. Moreover, cities are not just the places where challenges and opportunities materialize; for cities to thrive, they inherently depend on diversity, inclusion, openness, innovation, and social cohesion. Reflecting this reality is the increasing role that cities are playing and claiming in migration policy nationally and internationally. There are many ways that city policies and practices can inform national and international policymaking, but cities can do more than transfer critical information. Drawing on their local experience and (need for) innovation, local authorities can provide important reality checks for national and international policies and present scalable models to follow.

go to GMF: Cities Managing Migration: the State of Affairs | The German Marshall Fund of the United States (


Rethinking urban climate resilience: time for a reset? (IIED)

Aditya Bahadur and Thomas Tanner write: For the first time in the history of the world, more people live in towns and cities than in rural areas. Urban areas are highly exposed to climate change and are facing hazards at increasing frequency and intensity. Cities also concentrate people with limited capacity to adapt to these risks.

go to IIED: Rethinking urban climate resilience: time for a reset? | International Institute for Environment and Development (


(Cities) The economic benefits of cities in the developing world (Brookings)

Arti GroverSomik V. Lall, and Jonathan Timmis write for Brookings: Dulani Chunga moved from a safe, quiet but poor village in Malawi to Blantyre, the prime business city, in the hopes of changing his destiny. He was drawn to the city by stories of streetlights, the opportunity to make money, and the chance to send his children to school. He lives in Ndirande, an immense slum with squalid conditions. While his income is higher than what it used to be in his village, it is barely enough to feed his family of four—food and shelter cost a lot more in Blantyre.

go to Brookings: The economic benefits of cities in the developing world (


(Cities) Building better cities for children: Coordinating within and across city agencies to harness the power of playful learning (Brookings)

Helen Shwe Hadani and Shwetha Parvathy write for Brookings: Today, more than half of the world’s children are growing up in cities. By 2030, up to 60 percent of the world’s urban population will be under 18 years old. Yet, children are often invisible to urban planners, developers, and architects when creating citywide policies that impact transportation, air and noise pollution, and health and well-being, as noted by Tim Gill in his recent book “Urban Playground.” “The truth is that the vast majority of urban planning decisions and projects take no account of their potential impact on children and make no effort to seek children’s views. … All too often, this is down to a simple lack of respect for children’s rights or abilities,” he writes.

go to Brookings website: Building better cities for children: Coordinating within and across city agencies to harness the power of playful learning (


Cities/SDGs – City playbook for advancing the SDGs (Brookings)

This “City Playbook for Advancing the SDGs” compiles a series of how-to briefs and case studies on advancing sustainable development and social progress locally. These short, digestible, and practical briefs are written by city government officials for other city officials, based on their direct experience.

City playbook for advancing the SDGs (


Cities – Steering a Green, Healthy, and Inclusive Recovery Through Transport (Travis Fried, Ben Welle and Sergio Avelleda, WRI)

The pandemic and resulting economic fallout have upended mobility. This report, with the Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA), evaluates how countries, cities, and companies have allocated funds, directed policies, or launched actions that impact the transport sector. It provides evidence of how these interventions could shape long-term economic recovery that addresses climate, health, safety, and equity goals.

Steering a Green, Healthy, and Inclusive Recovery Through Transport | World Resources Institute (


Cities – Healthy Cities and Communities Playbook (WEF)

Maintaining health and well-being is the issue shaping our time. Around the world, in every city, poor lifestyle choices, limited opportunities and inadequate financial security have combined to produce poor nutrition, insufficient physical activity and limited rest. Such unhealthy living leads to rising levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels – the root causes of many preventable diseases. Yet cities have the potential to be centres of innovation and progress.

The World Economic Forum’s Healthy Cities and Communities initiative aims to improve people’s well-being holistically by enabling them to live longer, fuller lives in their local environments. The Healthy Cities and Communities Playbook provides city leaders with a toolkit and roadmap so they can begin their journey of creating, accelerating and sustaining healthy-living environments in their cities.

The Healthy Cities and Communities Playbook provides city leaders with a toolkit and roadmap to start creating, accelerating and sustaining healthy-living environments in their cities.

to download the report – Healthy Cities and Communities Playbook | World Economic Forum (


UK – Lessons from London: How the city is tackling air pollution (Anne Maassen, Madeleine Galvin, WEF)

  • London’s air pollution is associated with 9,000 premature deaths every year.
  • For some Londoners, exposure to toxic air is the equivalent of smoking 150 cigarettes a year.
  • Most of London’s air pollution is from road transport.
  • London’s Mayor has implemented several measures to reduce emissions.
  • The Ultra Low Emissions Zone, new buses, electric taxis, more cycle lanes, and road closures have helped improve air quality.
  • The number of schools facing unsafe pollution has dropped from 455 to 14.

Half a century ago, a lethal haze of smoke and fog, otherwise known as the Great Smog of 1952, covered London and killed as many as 12,000 people. More recently, in 2013, Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah died at the hands of air pollution. “[Ella] was the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as the cause of her death,” says 17-year old co-founder of the organization Choked Up and Ella’s friend, Anjali Raman-Middleton. But London’s toxic air, a longstanding problem associated with 9,000 premature deaths per year, is more than a public health and environmental issue.

“It’s also a social justice issue,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan told WRI, “with the poorest Londoners living in the areas most badly affected by toxic air.”

The most impoverished Londoners, who are often non-white, are exposed to levels of air pollution equivalent to smoking 150 cigarettes a year, according to the British Heart Foundation. And they are not alone in facing toxic air pollution in their daily lives. These residents belong to the 90% of the world’s population exposed to polluted air, which causes around 7 million premature deaths each year from stroke, lung cancer, heart disease and chronic and acute respiratory diseases.

Most of London’s air pollution is from road transport, including cars, buses and taxis. When these vehicles combust fossil fuels, they release toxic air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide.

Over the last two decades, London’s mayors have steadily worked to turn the city’s pollution trajectory around. Recently, Mayor Sadiq Khan, elected in 2016, has pushed to implement some of the most ambitious policies to reduce air pollution across the city. The latest measure, the “Ultra Low Emission Zone” (ULEZ) is a finalist for the 2020-2021 Prize for Cities, which spotlights innovative approaches to simultaneously tackling climate change and urban inequality. Currently covering all of central London, the ULEZ requires drivers to meet strict vehicle emissions standards or pay a daily charge, encouraging residents and businesses to switch from heavily polluting vehicles to cleaner modes of transport.

a picture of Mayor Sadiq Khan speaking at an event
Mayor Sadiq Khan has actively pushed for a speedier implementation and expansion of the ULEZ in order to reduce London’s dangerous levels of air pollution.
Image: Greater London Authority

Saving lives through cleaner air

The ULEZ sits within a larger policy agenda to make London a more equitable place to live while tackling the climate emergency. Launched in 2019, the ULEZ represents the culmination of almost two decades of ambitious policies aimed at taxing air pollution and reducing traffic congestion.

Working in tandem with other policies, the ULEZ has tough greenhouse gas emissions standards that vehicles must meet when driving in the zone. Vehicles exceeding the ULEZ’s emission standards pay between £12.50-100 ($17.50-140) to drive into the 21 square kilometers (roughly 8 square miles) zone, which covers central London. A camera system ensures vehicles are charged correctly. The ULEZ will expand the zone to London’s main circular roads, an area of 360 square kilometers (roughly 140 square miles) in October 2021.

a picture of a UZLEZ sign
The ULEZ boundaries in central London are well-marked, ensuring that all pedestrians, cyclists and drivers are aware when they are entering the zone.
Image: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Central to the execution of the ULEZ was the gradual and complementary nature of preceding policies implemented by previous administrations. While originally focused solely on combatting traffic congestion, charges expanded incrementally to incorporate emissions reduction measures for large vehicles, and then all vehicles, with increasingly strict standards.

a picture of a road block sign
Outside of central London, street closures for cars have promoted walking and cycling while reducing local air pollution.
Image: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

In addition to complementing previous policies, the ULEZ is also embedded in London’s broader, more comprehensive package of clean mobility measures. These measures include upgrading the public bus fleet, electrifying taxis, building cycling infrastructure, and closing roads during school pick-up and drop-off times. As a result, inner London’s 3.2 million residents have benefited from cleaner air, higher-quality vehicle fleets and improved non-motorized infrastructure. The number of schools facing unsafe pollution levels has dropped from 455 in 2016 to 14 in 2019, and protected space for cycling has almost tripled. A study conducted 10 months after the introduction of the ULEZ found 49% fewer polluting vehicles were driven into central London every day — the equivalent to 44,100 vehicles — while CO2 emissions from road transport dropped 6% and NO2 concentrations dropped 44%.

Transport for London (TfL), the local government body responsible for London’s transport network, estimates that London’s policies, including the ULEZ, will help avoid 1.2 million new air pollution-related hospital admissions London-wide by 2050 — saving the UK’s National Health Service and social care systems £5 billion ($7 billion) and lowering the $4.6 billion annual economic cost of air pollution in the UK.

No one left behind

Since low-income London neighborhoods and residents are impacted most by toxic air, the ULEZ and its related policy packages ensure that air pollution benefits are distributed fairly across the city, particularly in neighborhoods that rely more on public transport and are closer to busy arterial roads. As a result, the ULEZ and these policies are projected to reduce disparities in exposure to air pollution between the most and least polluted neighborhoods by 85% by 2030.

John Lowe, a local parent and doctor, explained to WRI, “As a parent, [the ULEZ] is very important to me because my children were attending a school which was close to a busy main road, so I was particularly mindful of that. And also as a medic, I know that children are more vulnerable to the effects of pollution and air pollution.”

Revenue from the ULEZ and other policies have also helped the Greater London Authority (GLA) invest $105 million in retrofitting and purchasing new public buses — which now meet ULEZ standards — making London the owner of Europe’s largest electric bus fleet. At the community level, the $30 million Mayor’s Air Quality Fund supports borough-led projects, including low-emission streets and extended bicycle networks.

An important aspect of implementing the ULEZ and its predecessors was measures to ease the burden of adapting to tougher emissions standards. The GLA ran a series of Integrated Impact Assessments and extensive stakeholder engagement meetings, workshops, focus groups and public consultations. These influenced the creation of a $60 million fund to help targeted groups — including small businesses and low-income and disabled residents — replace non-compliant vehicles.

A tipping point for collective action

Today, the ULEZ enjoys high levels of both public acceptability and political commitment, contributing to its massive success. But this level of public commitment was not always the case. Public opinion only shifted after the implementation of the first congestion charge in 2003, which came almost half a decade after the deadly Great Smog of 1952.

Widespread public communication campaigns accompanied ULEZ’s roll out and were critical to its success. “These [campaigns] are really to help change people’s minds,” said Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy.

The ULEZ and its predecessors shine a light on the importance of government-led approaches that work alongside the scientific community and local stakeholders. Together, they develop a strong evidence base and build public awareness and understanding. Furthermore, dedicated and skilled civil servants have been key to upholding a long-term, participatory vision as mayoral administrations shift.

“The lessons that we have would be make sure that you really have the health case and the economic case well understood, that you have the appropriate incentives and disincentives, and that you have alternatives for people,” Rodrigues added. “For us, for example, a public transport system, but it’s also walking and cycling.”

a picture of a woman on a bicycle
The Greater London Authority (GLA) is ensuring that walking and cycling, in addition to public transport, are viable options for London residents.
Image: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Issues of urban inequality and climate change are often intractable for cities, but the ULEZ and its related policies show that it is possible to take effective action on issues of global importance at the local scale. London’s goal is for 80% of all trips in the city to be on foot, bike or public transportation by 2041. Today, the city is coming closer to achieving its vision of making London a cleaner, healthier and more equitable place to live.

The 2020-2021 Prize for Cities celebrates innovative approaches to tackling climate change and urban inequality together, showing how to live and thrive in a changing world. From five finalists, one grand prize winner will be announced June 29, 2021.

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