Cities need to adapt to changing urban dynamics

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Caption Yumiko Noda served as the deputy mayor of Yokohama city between 2007 and 2009. She has been a senior fellow at Japan Research Centre in Tsinghua University, Beijing, as well as a project finance banker working in Tokyo, London and New York. She also leads PwC Cities Solution Centre in Japan.

Yumiko Noda, Head of PwC’s Cities Solution Centre (Tokyo) and former deputy mayor of Yokohama City, speaks to Abhishek Pandey, Editor, OBOR, on changing urban dynamics and what cities need to do to face evolving challenges.

You have worn many hats in the area of urban development. From a deputy mayor of Yokohama city to heading various projects in Asia and Europe for improving living conditions in cities. What are the major problems cities are grappling with, and how local leaders can help resolve them?

I have been involved in many urban development projects especially Public Private Partnership projects in Asia, Africa and Europe in various capacities for over 25 years. I helped the central governments, local governments and private players as a consultant. While I was the deputy mayor of Yokohama city that is the second largest Japanese city with 3.7 million population, I tried to improve livability of the city by engaging different stakeholders. Yokohama city is recognised as a smart city in Japan and has won many awards including the Eco2 City (Ecological Cities as Economic Cities) Award from the World Bank in 2009. The award is for urban development strategy to aim at the making of sustainable city by balancing economy with ecology.

Cities are facing problems in many areas especially providing tailor-made services to all sections of society. Japan is among the few nations that have cities which have set examples for handling urban issues. In my view, public participation is must. Most of the solutions can come from local experts. Engagement of local leadership with citizens is the key.

You are called the pioneer of bringing in PPP/PFI concept in Japan. Since you have worked in many cities around the world, do you think it is feasible to upscale the similar concept in other Asian cities?

PPP is easy to say but difficult to implement because there are different motives, mission and behaviours of private and government sector. Aligning the two sectors to meet the demand is a challenging thing. Public sector can bring long term perspective to make cities more valuable and livable. It protects citizens’ interest especially of poor people and provides universal access to civic services. On the other hand, private sector can bring innovation, technology and efficiency in many areas. Private sector may cream skim to maximize the profits. They may just focus on providing services to the high-end users and may ignore the interests of people at the bottom of the pyramid. Under PPP, we need to bring the best of both sectors.

There are four main ingredients for the success of any PPP projects—output specifications, lifecycle approach, performance monitoring and optimized risk allocation. The clear specifications on roles and responsibilities of both the sectors can help in improving the quality of any project.

Have PPP projects borne results? What has been your experience in this regard?

In Japan, we have over 500 PPP projects. You will be surprised to know that one of the successful sectors is prison. In the prison projects, public sector carried out core custodian services while private sector designed, constructed, maintained and refurbished facilities. What private sector proposed for reducing maintenance cost was very interesting. They got rid of thick and high walls in prisons and placed electric fencing and CCTV cameras. This has reduced cost drastically. They are also providing training to prisoners so they can get employment after their jail terms are over. City governments can find out a range of areas where private players can be involved for reducing cost and increasing efficiency.

Elderly population is growing in many Japanese cities. What are the steps local governments have taken to address the issue?

Japan is among the most aged nations in the world. Almost 27 per cent population of the nation is above 65. Mobility is a major challenge for elderly population in cities as we have witnessed many fatal accidents by elderly drivers. It is becoming a serious social issue. It is dangerous to have a car-oriented society in a city where a major population is of senior citizens. We need to build public transport oriented walkable cities. My mother is 83 years old and she needs to go to only three places—hospital, grocery store and bank. Providing such services at walkable distance is important.

Another concern is that if the city has elderly population then tax revenue shrinks as the population is not spending or contributing to city’s economy. Toyama city is a good example. I was special advisor to the city. The city is considered as model city for aging society. The city revitalised public transport and encouraged relocation of residences and businesses along the public transportation system. They also revitalised city center which were increasingly becoming deserted places. The city government came up with an innovative idea to attract elderly people to come to city center and engage in recreational activities and spend money. They launched a travel pass in which they have to pay only one dollar if they were going to city center but if they get down before city center then they had to pay normal fare.

Which are the areas cities in the developing countries of Asia need to focus on to compete with global cities?

Cities should be inclusive and must have space for all sections of society with provision of adequate civic amenities for everyone.

Traffic and air pollution are key concerns in many cities because public transport is not popular and vehicular population is on the rise.  What is the scenario in Japanese cities?

Focus on improving public transport systems can be of great help. In one of the PPP projects in Japan, Airport Terminal Project, a consortium was created in which two rail companies were also involved. It was a successful project; it has provided convenience to commuters and passengers. When you exit from the train, you can reach the check-in counter in just one minute. It is most probably the shortest distance form a train station to airport check-in counter. If we can provide commuters with a convenient option to private vehicles, I am sure that people will opt for public transport. Such efforts would help in solving traffic and pollution problem in our ever-increasing cities.

Tell us how innovation can help in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and objectives mentioned in Habitat III declarations. How important is the role of cities?

Technology can play a crucial role in many sectors. City governments can make their service efficient and sustainable by applying technological innovations. World leaders have underlined that cities would need to play an important role if SDGs have to be achieved within time frame. Capacity building of local government officials and knowledge sharing among cities would also help.