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Archive: Eugenie Birch

Istanbul — A Megalopolis That’s Beginning to Work

Eugenie Birch / Jul 23 2010

For Release Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eugenie BirchISTANBUL — This fabled world city has a remarkable story to tell. Recently the European Union awarded it the highly competitive “European City of Culture 2010,” title, the first for a non-EU member. More important, Istanbul is becoming a viable model for the 21st century megacity — places of 10 million or more inhabitants, likely (cumulatively) by 2050 to house 20 percent of the world’s urban population.

With its 11 million people, Istanbul is the fifth most populous city in the world, following Shanghai, Mumbai, Karachi and Delhi. It’s emblematic of megacities, now largely concentrated in Asia. But it’s no newcomer: it’s been occupied for 8,000 continuous years. It sits in an earthquake zone, it has flood-prone geography and municipal boundaries that span Europe and Asia; the internationally-governed, heavily-trafficked Bosporus River divides its territory.

Huge (5,400 square kilometers) and dense (2,400 people per square kilometer) Istanbul for the last five years has absorbed about 250,000 rural migrants and new babies annually. A stream of fresh population has flowed continuously for the past 50 years at an annual growth rate of 4.5 percent. (For comparison, figures for the largest city in the continental US, Jacksonville, are 2,292 square kilometers [area] and 354 people/square kilometer [density] and 5% [annual growth rate]).
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Moving Beyond “Best Practices” to Truly “Living Practices”

Eugenie Birch / Apr 01 2010

For Release Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eugenie Birch

The fifth World Urban Forum (WUF5), held last week in Rio was pulsing with energy. More than 13,000 attendants attended plenaries featuring popular Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Ana Tibaijuka, director of UN-HABITAT, Shaun Donovan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Deputy HUD Secretary Ron Sims, Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer, Director Adolfo Carrion of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, and many others.

New knowledge abounded at this meeting. Slum Dwellers International told how its members are conducting census enumerations of informal settlements. The World Bank reported on its new urban outreach and new diagnostics to test the success of its urban investments. Scholars presented papers, including Janice Perlman who has tracked the way that houses are bought and sold in Rio’s favelas given that nobody owns the land beneath them.

In many instances, the presenters were putting forward best practices in one form or another. And a team of doctoral students from the University of Pennsylvania – our “Global Urban Commons Research Group” — was in attendance, lapping it all up. They have spent the past seven months evaluating the theory and application of the concept of best practices, analysing the UN-HABITAT Best Practices Database and contributing to thinking about a new form of communicating information, “Living Practices,” that UN-HABITAT launched in beta form at WUF5.

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Rethinking Urban Policy With China at Our Back

Eugenie Birch / Jul 16 2009

For Release July 16, 2009

Eugenie BirchChina: 1.3 billion people, 60-plus cities with more than 1 million people, three with over 10 million. Yet we really don’t have a grip on what’s happening in China’s cities, or the competitive dimensions of Chinese national urban policy. The question’s especially timing right now as we shape our first-in-decades national urban policy, including the avowed focus on metropolitan areas that President Obama, chief White House urban affairs officers Adolfo Carrion and Derek Douglas and other top officials underscored at a White House Urban Policy Roundtable last week.

A few authors have focused on Chinese cities. Tom Campanella’s brilliant The Concrete Dragon, China’s Urban Revolution and What it Means to the World (2008) takes us to places one wouldn’t have imagined two decades ago. He tells us of the South China Mall that at 7 million square feet is bigger than the Pentagon. About Grand Epoch City, a 540 acre hotel, conference center, Buddhist Temple just outside of Beijing. And China’s 25,480 miles of national trunk highways–a project that has built more than 15,000 miles of interstate-like roads in just four years, including phenomenal engineering feats to increase vehicular mobility in cities–yet at great expense to the neighborhoods. Read More »