Eco2 Cities: New World Bank Program for Developing Cities

The pre-launch materials for the World Bank's new Eco2 Cities program just came in. “Eco2” is the term they are using for cities that have (stop me if you've heard this before) harnessed the synergies that exist between ecological and economic success and sustainability.

So, is this just a re-branding of two corners of the sustainable development triangle or is there more on offer here than another “10 milestone” program to a brighter future?

It's a bit early to say. The program launch is scheduled for July 1st in Marseilles – immediately following the Urban Research Symposium that the Bank is co-hosting there (more on that later this month). An Eco2 Cities book will be coming out at the same time, so I'll put off any detailed comments until then. For now, I wanted to post a preliminary sketch of the program.

Eco2 is aimed specifically at cities in developing countries. Our position on the cusp of an explosion in urbanization is, as they put it, “a once in a lifetime opportunity to plan, develop, build and manage cities that are simultaneously more ecologically and economically sustainable.” The goal of the program is to support municipalities in making the decisions that will make that possible. With that goal, the program sets out 4 key planning principles and 20 milestones that wind their way through it. I won't list them all, but I have reposted a diagram that runs through the various stages of the program (click on the image above for a detailed view).

Overall, the program's outline definitely hits the mark. It lays out a framework for building long term municipal plans that bridge the inefficient internal silos that plague municipalities, plans that are developed collaboratively with community members and businesses, and that pay attention to life-cycle costs and resource flows.

In many ways it takes the increasingly popular principles of industrial ecology and applies them to the city as a whole: one unit of input (water, energy etc.) can be used many times over, the waste produced by one process can be the input for another, and careful attention to spatial development can make it possible to actually take advantage of these complementary uses (if you are going to use someone else's waste water – it helps if you are nearby).

It looks great. But I'm skeptical. What we are looking at in Eco2 is a dramatic rewriting of the way that cities do their planning. It also challenges many of the institutional and social relationships that structure how cities run themselves. Both may be necessary - urgently so even. But it takes a lot to change how people are accustomed to doing their jobs. If you bear those challenges in mind though, it is possible for key interventions can make a real difference. Durban (South Africa), for example, has had real success with changing their GIS system in a way that helps both Planners and Engineers provide residents better access to municipal services. Change how information is gathered and displayed and you can really influence how things get done.

They key isn't just having good ideas about how things should be done – it's also knowing how to actually get them done. In my experience, paying attention to the internal dynamics and institutional culture of municipal organizations is key. If the people who keep the city running aren't interested in what you have to say, or aren't empowered to put new principles into practice, there's not much chance that your program will get off the ground. (Especially in cities already stretched to the breaking point by shortages of personnel, finances, and critical infrastructure).

Other recent WB publications have paid real attention to these institutional dynamics. I am looking forward to the full release of Eco2Cities, to see how the World Bank is going to translate these admirable principles into real action.


4 Responses to "Eco2 Cities: New World Bank Program for Developing Cities"

sasha (via ReNew Canada) said... 16 June 2009 at 00:24

eco2 cities sounds great but like you said with budget crunched municipalities how likely is this to be a reality. I think hindering eco friendly cities as well is the fact that many of the municipal, and federal, departments (i.e. transportation, development, health care, education, etc.) all act like silos. Planning a sustainable city requires the cooperation of all the departments.

Alex Aylett said... 16 June 2009 at 00:25

Thanks for commenting Sasha.
I’m currently at the ICLEI World Summit in Edmonton and more information about the Eco2 Cities program is slated to be released later this week. The topic of funding is an important one. The puzzle is to find ways of linking these types of capacity building programs with the funding necessary to implement the plans that they help cities design. ICLEI, for example, gives municipalities access to wonderful planning resources, but they are not a funding agency.

Perhaps, given that the Eco2 program is coming out of the World Bank we will see some financial backing as well as a solid methodology…

Don Knapp said... 18 June 2009 at 14:45

Alex, I hate to leave this comment here, but I couldn't find an email address for you or a contact field.

You may already know that ICLEI USA has launched a Local Action Blog to follow the work of cities and counties on the front lines of climate, sustainability, and energy action. (

If you write any blog posts on openalex that you think U.S. local government staff might be interested to read, just drop me an email about reposting on the Local Action Blog.

Also, would you consider adding us to your blogroll? Thx!

Alex Aylett said... 20 June 2009 at 15:46

Cheers Don,
will do. thanks for dropping by.


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.

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