With that reality in mind, Angel spent the past year developing Accommodating Urban Growth, a new eight-hour online course on shiftcities.org to help municipal officials in the Global South prepare for dramatic changes to their cities.
Launched in October, Accommodating Urban Growth offers practical tools for taking a proactive, orderly approach to managing the influx of new urban populations, with the goal of building cities that are productive, inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and better able to accommodate climate change in the decades to come.
Crucially, the course provides city planners with realistic pathways for settlement into the urban periphery by setting the stage for “green” expansion. That means connecting the periphery to the urban job market with public transport, protecting environmental assets from encroachment, and relaxing regulations to allow emerging neighborhoods to be built at higher densities. While densification is one way of mitigating climate change, Angel explains, expansion is often necessary too.
“Our research has confirmed that in the past two decades, only one-quarter of the population added to cities was accommodated by densifying their existing footprints, while three-quarters was accommodated in newly built expansion areas,” he says.
Prepared with a grant from C40 Cities (a global network of mayors), the online course is made up of some 120 short videos and is accessible at no cost through Zoom. Participants can either view the videos or read illustrated scripts, currently in six languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Bahasa Indonesia.
“The traditional goal of effective urban planning since time immemorial was to prepare cities to accommodate the growth in their population, commerce, and civic life by laying out streets and public open spaces at the anticipated scale on the urban periphery before it was occupied,” Angel explains. “One of the principal objectives of this course is to revive this tradition, to create the local capacity in the cities in the Global South to accommodate their expected urban growth in an effective manner, at scale, with climate change in mind, and with the goal of developing its cities in an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient manner.”
The course is making its debut when urban plan-making has become a thriving international industry, with consulting firms offering municipal authorities and central governments in the Global South data and tools to help anticipate growth.
What’s often lacking in that scenario is follow through, Angel says. “These plans, typically funded with foreign aid, are prepared largely with knowledge and data that are not locally available and are then submitted as ‘deliverables’ to the local authorities, leaving them with the responsibility to implement them as they see fit after the consultants leave,” he explains. “It is no wonder that very few of these plans are ever implemented. There is typically no local ownership of the plans and little local understanding as to how they came about and how they can be changed when circumstances change.”
Gabiley, in Somaliland, is a small secondary city (2019 population: 31,000) that is growing and expanding rapidly. Like thousands of other cities in the Global South, it has no planning professionals, no planning data, and no resources for contracting planning consultants to prepare for accommodating its expected growth. The course materials, then, helped fill the gaps for its mayor, Mahamed-Amin Omar Abdi. After completing them, he said that “we not only have a long-term urban expansion plan for our city, but we also know how to do it by ourselves. And this is exactly what we need,” according to Angel.