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Creating Livable Asian Cities: Challenges Ahead for Urbanization in Asia

Date & Time

Jul. 8, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am ET


The global pandemic has led to a reconsideration of how people live, work, and connect. It has also highlighted the risks of living in cities, and how they can become drivers of economic growth as well as hubs for sustainability. In its latest report Creating Livable Asian Cities, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) identifies five priority areas in meeting the challenges of urbanization; namely urban planning, transport, energy, financial innovation, and disaster as well as climate resilience.

Given that developing Asia is now home to 17 of the 33 megacities in the world, and with the region’s urbanization rate is projected to reach 64 percent by 2050, developing livable and sustainable cities is critical for Asia’s future growth. Policies that promote the use of technology, data, and innovation to make urban services including mobility, social infrastructure, and resilience management, inclusive and sustainable will be critical.

The ADB’s lead contributors to the report discussed their findings and addressed the challenges ahead in making cities more livable across the Asia and the Pacific Region.

Selected Quotes

Jingmin Huang

“There is no universal solution to any problem. It’s always case by case.”

“Women specifically play a very important role [in modernizing cities] because most of the time they are in charge of families… so obviously we are trying to keep them involved. And also, most of the time we work together with the local NGOs and some international NGOs to promote that.”

“Specifically in Asian cities, you can see, their cities are not growing like a pancake, but more like a pyramid. So the city grows in three dimensions.”

Jamie Leather

“With mobility as a service, it’s really how people should travel around a city. Not how we should build railways, or build bus routes, or build roads, it’s about putting the person first.”

“Within these cities… they must be driven by transit systems… East Asian cities are very large, very dense. [They] must be served by a transport system that can move the most number of people in the limited space available, which is a transit system. But with that, we need to ensure that we're not creating too much emissions, either local or global. We want to make sure the roads are safe, and we want to make sure they’re accessible for all. And that includes the information [and] the data that we can utilize for there as well, as affordability—particularly in the poorer countries—[is important] in making sure that no one is left behind within urban access and urban mobility.”

“[The informal sector of the transport system] is an integral part of the system, it should not be replaced, it should be strengthened… With digital technology and how can we ensure it’s operating more efficiently, it’s both for the passengers and for the operators themselves. So bringing in that technical innovation [and] information sharing at both ends, it is critical and it certainly should not be removed. It should be encouraged, it should be strengthened where possible, and I think that is possible through the digitization and information sharing.”

Priyantha Wijayatunga

“As cities develop from rapid urbanization across developing countries, the demand for energy increases. Cities account for about ⅔ of the world's energy consumption, contributing to about 70% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable urban energy systems are key enablers for making cities more livable.”

“The case studies demonstrate that a wide range of technological options are already available for the transition to clean and low carbon urban energy systems. The cost of these options are continuously decreasing and they are improving in capability. Thus, there is a compelling case for cities to make progress now and adjust their strategies as new approaches and technologies become viable.”

“While there are many challenges to developing a circular economy, this can be overcome through various interventions, from something as simple as awareness creation, and more challenging like fiscal policy support. As an alternative to a traditional economy, a circular economy can definitely be a more sustainable solution in the longer term.”

Hisaka Kimura

“Developing countries in Asia will need 1.7 trillion US dollars annually to meet the sustainable development goals. Cities count for 70% [of that] and need a broad range of solutions—including [the] private sector—to meet their goals. [By] relying more on [the] private sector, the government can free up [a] significant amount of funds to each critical expenditure—such as pandemic relief funds.”

"Living space is most essential in these trying times. Housing financing includes both the finance for housing supply as well as a mortgage market for consumers to borrow. A housing bond can bring fundamental changes to structure [of] housing finance."

“After the pandemic, there are so many opportunities for [the] private sector to shoulder some tasks, which used to be shouldered by local governments. And also, local governments are facing financial constraints, and also operational constraints.”

Neeta Pokhrel

“It’s not just COVID-19 that we’re talking about [in terms of development]. For centuries, various pandemics have influenced urban developments… However this COVID-19 pandemic has caused and is continuing to cause an unprecedented impact on urban development and is again presenting numerous lessons for us to move forward as we build back better through these various phases of response, recovery, and rejuvenation.”

“Every crisis can serve as an opportunity and this crisis really will present a lot of opportunities for our cities to become livable… That hope and that opportunity [will] leapfrog into a more resilient, a more inclusive, a more prosperous and sustainable future for our cities.”

“Tracking progress… really is aided by sharing knowledge. And we see as we move toward cross-fertilization of ideas that that process becomes a lot more efficient. We have found that in the cities that twin, that partner, that really go all out to gather how other cities have done, have become slightly more resilient.”

Robert Guild

“Asia’s future is urban. Asian cities are hubs of economic and social opportunity, for people, for business, and for many other things. And they are booming. However, the growing urbanization we see does not neatly translate to increased opportunities for residential populations. As Asian cities grow, the urgency to address critical development issues becomes ever greater.”

“Cities everywhere in the world compete. They compete for population, they compete for businesses, because they’re incentivized to do so. That’s where they get their business license revenue, their tax revenue, and all of these things. [But] when you govern a cluster and if you work it out properly, instead of competition you can actually incentivize cooperation… And if you do this properly, with revenue sharing, with governance, with land development in a cooperative sense, these things can work efficiently.”

“If you look at other megaregions in Asia… most other countries haven’t reached that level of sophistication when it comes to cluster governance, but that is clearly the path forward.”

Uwe Brandes

“We are at this moment where we’re only 30 years out from a major global milestone of 2050, where we know we have to transform societies and cities into more sustainable systems. And so this publication could not come at a better time.”

“The rise of urban development practices in Asia, and east Asia in particular, are so significant globally because this region is conducting bold innovations and experiments that are really teaching the rest of the world how to think big, [and] how to serve populations in new ways.”

“I think that this publication is totally appropriate in being a call to action to think about… the concepts of resiliency in a much more explicit manner. To think about the process of decarbonization of cities, not as just another thing that we need to do, but really as a bold opportunity to rethink how people live in cities and how urban systems support people’s needs.”


Jingmin Huang

Urban Development, Water Supply, and Sanitation Division, Pacific Department, ADB

Jamie Leather

Chief of Transport Sector Group, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB

Priyantha Wijayatunga

Director of Energy for South East Asia

Hisaka Kimura

Advisor, Private Sector Operations Department, ADB

Neeta Pokhrel

Chief of Water Sector Group, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB

Robert Guild

Chief Sector Officer, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB

Uwe Brandes

Professor, Urban and Regional Planning Program, Georgetown University


Bambang Susantono

Vice President, Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, ADB

Hosted By

Asia Program

The Asia Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more

Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy

The Center for Korean History and Public Policy was established in 2015 with the generous support of the Hyundai Motor Company and the Korea Foundation to provide a coherent, long-term platform for improving historical understanding of Korea and informing the public policy debate on the Korean peninsula in the United States and beyond.  Read more

Urban Sustainability Laboratory

Since 1991, the Urban Sustainability Laboratory has advanced solutions to urban challenges—such as poverty, exclusion, insecurity, and environmental degradation—by promoting evidence-based research to support sustainable, equitable and peaceful cities.  Read more

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