WDR 2009 – Reshaping Economic Geography – highlights that whilst Global Economic Growth will be unbalanced; development can still be inclusive. The Report focusses three key urban development issues density, distance and division and demonstrates how these spatial dimensions play a crucial role in the transformation of economic, social and environmental outcomes. Cities will not develop in an orderly fashion and, as the Report points out,

” informal communities will emerge and expand as the rising demand of workers and firms outstrips the capacity of governments to institute well functioning land markets and to invest in infrastructure and accomodation”

We must not ignore a parallel need to develop rural connectivity to local, national and global markets or, we will trigger an even faster migration to the Cities and exacerbate already significant congestion. One thing is for sure, as Professor Martha Chen and others have pointed out many times elsewhere, the informal economy is not going away. So, what are we going to do about infrastructure, logistics and the informal economy?

This Report supports the urgent need to develop innovative models that explore synergies between the informal and formal sectors and the transformative role of logistics plays a huge part in its conclusions.

WDR 2009 highlights three dimensions of urban geography; Density: 1 billion people live in slums; Distance: 1 billion people live in remote or lagging regions and, Division: 1 billion people live at the bottom of the global hierarchy of nations. The interplay of these three dimensions will be crucial for our future world. Let’s look at Development in 3 D more closely:

(1) Density: In 2008 world population in urban areas surpassed rural settlement for the first time. For example, whilst Tokyo has 35 million inhabitants; 25% of Japan’s population living on 4% of the land mass. This issue will grow in significance as world population grows from 6 to 9 billion by 2050.  A failure to deal with density could unleash a silent tsunami of disease in areas too congested to quell any pandemic rapidly.

The Report uses the example of Singapore to illustrate how density does not always mean disaster. Back in 1965, the year of Independence, 70% of Singaporeans lived in overcrowded conditions and the rest squatted on the City fringes. There was 50% illiteracy – about the same as Morocco today – and poverty was rife. The rest, as they say, is history; effective urbanisation has delivered consistent growth rates of 8% YOY.  There are many more potential opportunities but none of them can be realised without integrated transportation and, a clear logistics agenda that embraces synergies between the formal and informal sectors.
 
(2) Distance: Workers living close to job opportunities. For example, in Mexico City 20% commute an average of 3 hours per day to and from work whilst in Buenos Aires, 87% of jobs in the metropolitan area are within 45 minutes reach. The report uses many examples to explore how trade offs between density and distance can be hugely beneficial. For example, many would consider that a major urban area is a recipe for a CO2 emissions disaster. Not necessarily. 

A 1990 comparison between Atlanta [2.5 m population]and Barcelona [2.8m] highlights that Atlanta, with a metropolitan area sprawl of 137 kms between most distant points and a metro system of 74 kms makes poor use of its spatial geography.  Only 4% of citizens live within 800 m of a Metro station and only 4.5% use the mass transit systems. By comparison, Barcelona, with a metropolitan area of 37 kms and 90 kms of metro line has 60% of its citizens living within 600m of a metro station and, 30% using mass transit systems. More to the point these densities mean that Atlanta per capita CO2 emissions are 400 metric tonnes versus Barcelona’s 38 metric tonnes. Given these figures, many businesses will locate to where Density makes a positive difference and integrated transport systems are crucial to sustainable solutions.

It is important to note that rural areas are not exempt from this analysis. After all, a failure to provide the connectivity for rural regions to connect to local, national and global markets will only serve to accelerate an exodus to rapidly congesting urban areas. In this way, urban and rural policies must be synchronised.
  
(3) Division: This is all about freeing up the flow of goods, capital, ideas and people. Of how nations must lower trade barriers to enter global markets and, promote market access through hard and soft infrastructure. This dimension has many salutary lessons and reminds me of John Readers *observations on Africa’s geometrically constructed nation states with few connecting roads, railways or, air routes to build trade and sustainable growth. Such divisions are part of the problem and not the solution to spatial geography and sustainable development and growth.

WDR 2009 is rich in helpful examples and illustrates clearly that none of the ways in which cities and towns develop will be orderly or easy to predict. In fact, the Report highlights clearly that  informal settlements – slums and shanty towns – will emerge more in response to the lack of capacity within government agencies to agree policies that can deliver urban spaces with supporting infrastructure and amenities sufficient to accomodate rapidly growing populations than because of any criminal tendency.  

Clearly, Logistics has much to offer the Development Agenda. There are so many Humanitarian Logistics examples. Here, we are keen to develop this theme closer to the marketplace and explore how logistics can play a crucial role in transforming outcomes.

* John Reader, Africa – A Biography of a Continent