On the erroneous belief of understanding the arrival point of development

Are “developed countries” deluding others or themselves?

Ryan Murphy (2010): Eat Pray Love

Diligent students of Economics might wonder what a scene from a Julia Roberts movie and the Italian expression “dolce far niente” have to do with development. Having been an Economics student myself confronted with heavy loads of neoclassical and neoliberalism theory, I would like to shed some light on the coherence of the aforementioned from a new point of view.

When researching definitions of “development”, one encounters numerous versions with rather diverse quintessences. For the purpose of this blog post I would like to concentrate on the following interpretation by the G8 of development as “… a strong, dynamic, open and growing global economy“. This choice is not one taken out of agreement, but one that tries to focus on the pivotal assertion that still drives the development discussion today. It is a discussion that is dominated by only a few parties, namely the Western nations 1, and it is directed if not to a single pathway of development at least to a single arrival point: consumerism. Post-development thinkers, such as Wolfgang Sachs, refer to the 1949 inauguration speech of Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States, as the corner stone of the first world hegemony in development. In this inauguration speech Truman proclaimed:

“[…] we must embark on a bold new program […] for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. […] Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. […] Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace.”

By coining the term “underdeveloped areas”, Truman constructed a hierarchical system that imposed a materialistic Western lifestyle, an “American World Dream”, as the ultimate goal of development on the rest of the world. On the verge of the Cold War, it was a strategic move to demand allegiance of the decolonizing countries of the third world to the first world reinforcing its supremacy against the communist-socialist bloc. US economist W.W. Rostow argued in his 1960 “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto” that with the right development assistance of capital and technology all countries would eventually converge to the ultimate stage of development, “high mass consumption”, from which the USA had already emerged from.

Largely concealing the fact that this prevailing notion of development is socially constructed and is an ideological concept generating power for the first world, it has found its way into the syllabi of leading universities in the form of varying development theories and it has successfully been perpetuated from there on. As a response to the failure of “improving the life of the masses”, development policies shifted repeatedly during the last 60 years: from growth orientation over poverty alleviation towards the aggressive neo-liberal policies of the Washington Consensus 2 implemented by the Structural Adjustment Programmes by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1980s, when debt levels and aid-dependency spiked (Moyo, 2010, p. 20-21).

Despite the failure to advance development, it “… had achieved the status of a certainty in the social imaginary” (Escobar,1995, p.5) in such a way that even the opponents of capitalism looked for alternative ways to develop, rather than questioning the construct of development and its arrival point itself. This mistake is equally reflected in the different ways and the evolution of how development has been measured ranging from purely economic indices that depict economic growth (e.g. gross national income per capita, gross domestic product) or defining the percentage of people living below the poverty line 3 to multidimensional indicators of human development such as the New Human Development Index (2010) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The latter include factors such as life expectancy, birth rates, literacy, years of schooling and income, which again play into the hands of the already known development front runners. Despite the creation of hierarchies and the homogenisation of “under-developed countries”, I believe that the biggest mistake herein lies in the assumption to know the arrival point of development, which in turn leaves little necessity, but also little freedom for the front runners to change.

From a Western perspective, what assures us in the end that we objectively chose the right path to development? Based on national footprint data from the Global Footprint Network, Tim De Chant calculated that at least 4.1 worlds would be needed in order for 7 billion people to live an average American lifestyle 4. Luckily we only have one world. So, if the development myth of the last 60 years neither has worked nor has been proven to be a realistic vision for the entire world at all, has it brought any good for the countries that reached the “top of the ladder”?

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 23.06.47

Source: Illustration © 2012 Tim De Chant, Data from Global Footprint Network

Aristotle firstly described that happiness (eudaimonia 5) is the ultimate end for all human activities and all activities are therefore only means to pursuing happiness, not ends in themselves. It is enticing to assume that if there could possibly be a universal goal for development, it could only be the pursuit of happiness. Despite the fact that the Unites States had already recognised precisely this as an inalienable right in their Declaration of Independence in 1776, it took over 200 years for happiness to take center stage in the broader discourse about development. In 2006, the New Economics Foundation introduced the Happy Planet Index (HPI), which measures “the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them”. Four years later, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network followed with the first World Happiness Report (2012). Attempting to measure happiness on a global scale, six factors are being used: GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, trust, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. Critics of the past approaches to development might favour this new course and feel vindicated by the fact that the report highlighted the circumstance that “despite strong economic growth” happiness had stagnated in the USA since the 1950s (Helliwell & Layard & Sachs, 2012, p.61). It would be hypocritical, however, to incautiously declare happiness as the new panacea for development and it might result in making the same mistake this post is trying to highlight in the first place. The following should explain how the newest debate of development is still caught up in its initial mistake.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 02.58.45

Source: Happy Planet Index, Map for Experienced Well-Being 6

The initial development debate described high mass consumption as the arrival point of development and with it a set of policies was created by first world countries that allowed for interventions in “poorer countries” that were seldom altruistic. In contrast, the theoretical beauty of defining happiness as the ultimate arrival point of development is that happiness in its philosophical sense is something utterly subjective, a self- determined measure of achieving what one wants in life — whatever that be and by whatever means this can be achieved. But it seems rather naive to believe that the concept of happiness is not strongly subject to ideological contextualisation and that we actually open up the way to a freely open discussion about “development”. I dare to raise the question whether the attempt to measure happiness using constructed proxies such as generosity destroys the exact justification of the pursuit of happiness as the only universally favourable concept of development: subjectivity. Does it not declare the “status of certainty” 7 of just another constructed arrival point of development despite being barely less ideologically biased than the previous development agendas? Is the pursuit of happiness a new “wolf in sheep’s clothing” to perpetuate the hegemony of a few countries?

To refer back to the introduction of this article, I believe that in many Western cultures we are indoctrinated that happiness is achieved by increased economic productivity, efficiency and consumerism. Forced onto society with the help of vast quantities of advertisement, this absolutely fails the liberal definition of happiness, but helps to ensure the economic system from within. By making happiness measurable and comparable, the only thing we achieve is giving a new name to an old strategy.

In the first World Happiness Report of 2012, American Economist Jeffrey Sachs successfully describes the phenomenon of “the ills of modern life” (Helliwell & Layard & Sachs, 2012, p. 3-4) such as obesity, smoking, diabetes and depression and calls them “disorders of development”. The subsequent report in 2013 promisingly even devoted a whole chapter to mental illness “as the main cause of unhappiness”, but I believe that it disappointed in two facts: Firstly, the report states that “…the large majority of persons with a mental disorder reside in low- and middle-income countries of the world” (Helliwell & Layard & Sachs, 2013, p. 41). However, the report then follows with data from the World Health Survey describing depression rates by groups of countries showing the following results: high-income countries 7.1%, upper middle-income 7.6%, lower middle- income 6.4% and low-income 6.0%. It seems that the initial statement is therefore not coherent with the findings of this study, but tries to reinforce the economic hierarchy constructed at the historical beginning of the development debate. My statement should in no way question the existence of equal importance of mental illnesses in the “developing countries”, but rather suggest a perceptual bias in the interpretation. Secondly and most importantly though, the World Happiness Report 2013 defines risk factors for mental illness such as loneliness, bereavement or a low self-esteem. Despite briefly explaining the problem of under-treatment of mental illnesses and introducing effective ways for treatment, the report does not question at all what causes or favours the risk factors of mental illness to originate or to increase. I believe that the World Happiness Report capitulates to the past development approach and does not reflect sufficiently on the possible influence of systemic errors in the contribution to mental illnesses and therefore reduced happiness.

Like other development approaches before, the pursuit of happiness in the ascribed way is looking for remedies to problems that are caused by a system that the approach itself tries to uphold, because dealing with the actual cause of the problem would most likely require a change in that same system. The initial movie scene from “Eat, Pray, Love” should surely not be used as a serious reference, but it puts in a nutshell what from a societal point of view is starting to be recognised in different movements: We live in a world where happiness is imposed to come from economic wealth and in which technology helps us to become more and more efficient and time saving in what we do. But instead of directing this newly achieved time towards things that essentially would make us happy, we use the time to become even more productive and more busy. Sadly, “dolce far niente”, the sweetness of doing nothing, became socially unacceptable in many contexts.

Ultimately, I wonder if followers of movements that try to “slow down life” and reconnect it to real terms can teach us anything about development? The only fact that it can hopefully support is that the assumption to know a generalised ending point of development is an erroneous belief. Or did Rostow actually expect the emergence of a social group that would prefer to be modern traditionalists rather than pure modernists?

1  The “first world” or “the West” describes a group of capitalist countries aligned with the United States after World War II that were opposed to the “second world” communist-socialist countries states headed by the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic. Accordingly, the third world incorporated non-alined states.

2  The Washington Consensus are ten economic policy prescriptions developed by John Williamson that are used for the structural reform of countries in crisis.

3  In the EU the poverty line is defined as 60% of median income.

4  Highest ranked were the United Arab Emirates with an estimate of 5.4 worlds needed.

5  Aristotle described the concept of happiness in the Nicomachean Ethics.

6  Experienced well-being is assessed in the HPI using data from the Gallup World Poll, which asks respondents to imagine a ladder, where 0 represents the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life, and report the step of the ladder they feel they currently stand on.

7  Compare to Escobar, 1995.


De Chant, T. (2012). If the world’s population lived like…. Available: http:// persquaremile.com/2012/08/08/if-the-worlds-population-lived-like/. Last accessed 5th January.

Escobar, A. (1995). Encountering Development: The making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

European Anti-Poverty Network. (n.d.). Poverty and Inequality in the European Union. Available: http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/eapn.shtml. Last accessed 4th January 2016.

G8. (2001). G8: The Final Official Notice. Available: http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/themes/ g8-5.htm. Last accessed 3rd Jan, 2016.

Jefferson, T. (1776). The Declaration of Independence. Available: http://www.ushistory.org/ declaration/document/rough.htm. Last accessed 5th January.

Helliwell, J & Layard, R & Sachs, J (eds.). (2012). World Happiness Report. New York: The Earth Institute, Columbia University.

Helliwell, J & Layard, R & Sachs, J (eds.). (2013). World Happiness Report 2013. New York: UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Helliwell, J & Layard, R & Sachs, J (eds.). (2015). World Happiness Report 2015. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Moyo, D. (2010). Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa. London: Penguin Books.

Rostow, W W. (1960). The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sachs, W. (2010). The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

Taylor, C. (2006). Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics: Books II-IV. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The New Economics Foundation. (2006). The Happy Planet Index. Available: http://www.happyplanetindex.org. Last accessed 8th Jan 2016.

Todaro, M & Smith, S. (2012). Economic Development. 11th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

Truman, H. (1949). Inaugural Address. Available: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/? pid=13282. Last accessed 3rd Jan, 2016.

Time to build it right

How new forms of urban living concepts can prevent past segregation problems to become the problems of the future




In 2015 alone, Germany registered 442.000 initial asylum requests. However, the number of asylum seekers that were registered in the EASY-System, which first registers asylum seekers before they can apply for asylum at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), mount up to 1.1 million people. Some of these registrations are accounted for by double entries or by people who eventually seek asylum in other European countries. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the influx of refugees to Germany is enormous and at least a part of them will to stay for the long-run. One of the biggest organizational challenges in this regard is to organize housing for the thousands of people arriving on a monthly base. Many are first accommodated in preliminary emergency facilities such as gyms or converted office spaces.

Nonetheless, the even bigger problem manifests itself in long-term housing possibilities. After three months of stay, asylum seekers are not obliged to stay in the “initial reception accommodations” anymore. The influx of refugees stresses the already existing housing shortage in conurbation areas. According to official estimations, up to 400.000 new accommodation entities will need to be build each year up to 2020 to cover the demand for affordable housing. In 2015, only 260.000 accommodation facilities were built, leaving Germany with a social housing gap of 140.000 apartments. This huge number highlights the extensive failures and helplessness of German housing policy during the last years and implies a devastating reality to offer new prospects to asylum seekers.

Different measures and proposals for solutions have arisen to tackle the housing problem. Federal and State Governments intend to implement fiscal advantages to incentivize new construction in high cost areas and those areas with caps on rent increases. Furthermore, the amount of social housing, which has been significantly reduced since the early 90s, will be expanded and supported with significant budget increases. The precipitous building of social housing, however, is far from being the panacea for this problem. Indeed, premature housing solutions might evoke bigger problems in the future than they will solve in the present. Markus Reiter from the public radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio Kultur sees this challenge in turn as a catalyst to finally approach social housing problems from the past and learn from them for a better future. More living space needs to be created in conurbation areas – for both socially disadvantaged as well as high-income earners. Concentrated social housing areas from the 60s and 70s have in many cases developed into social hotspots. Social relegation and above-average rates of inhabitants with migration background led to the sealing off from majority society and eventually led to the creation of poverty ghettos in some cases. In order to fully integrate arriving refugees into German society, urban monocultures need to be broken down and social strata needs to be mixed: there is a need for social housing in bourgeois areas as well as apartments for high-income earners in more socially disadvantaged areas.

However, the central concern has drifted from finding suitable and central locations to finding any space at all where the large amount of refugees can be accommodated under the pressure of time. Exemplary is the city state of Hamburg, which is planning one of the most ambitious projects in terms of social housing: building 5.600 apartments for 28.000 asylum seekers spread over the seven districts of Hamburg until January 2017. The crux of the problem is that many big refugee accommodation centers as well as the newly planned buildings are and will be situation in already socially disadvantaged areas with high rates of unemployment, family breakdown and strong migration background. Even though it is planned to on the long-run also house students in these quarters, it is unknown whether the social mix will really occur. Having hundreds of young children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan grow up in such areas where they potentially cannot properly learn German, might repeat the problems connected to social housing of the past and make it impossible for neighborhood management to achieve social integration.

Nonetheless, there have been many creative building concepts based on urban postcompaction strategies in order to foster hybrid living forms counteracting the development of social segregation in cities. New concepts are mainly based on the following five strategies:

  1. Outbuilding of existing edifices
  2. Closing of curtilages of buildings
  3. Restructuring of existing areas
  4. Building of new edifices in large courtyards
  5. Conversion of unused buildings

Unfortunately, many creative solutions are restricted by legal requirements. Architect Arno Brandluber suggests, for example, a liberalization of the eaves height for the addition of new stories on existing buildings. This needs to be accompanied by a legal regulation that property owners can only add on in order to provide cheap housing. Regulation exemptions like this could efficiently lead to the mixture of social and cultural milieus fostering long-term urban sustainability. A study group led by architect Jörg Friedrich already developed an architectural concept to increase their faculty building by two floors offering new studio spaces for students as well as apartments for refugees.



The same group of students developed further easy to build, aesthetic and low-price concepts to reflect Germany’s “Willkommenskultur” (welcome culture) in a “Willkommensarchitektur” (welcome architecture). Among them, the concept “Fill the Gaps” which is based on the construction of modular shelf systems in the curtilages of buildings. The different housing modules, stairways and terraces can be fitted according to the needs of the inhabitants and can be rearranged for future student housing solutions for example. Other design ideas include the restructuring of unused parking lots, house boat systems or living concepts in garden plots as gardening can foster new forms of togetherness between refugees and local people – all centrally situation in order to prevent influx and segregation in the outskirts.



It is only to hope that Germany does not take the root of flawed urban planning by trying to accommodate refugees in concentrated social housing due to the pressure of time. Innovative architectural solutions and the loosening of certain legal building restrictions can help to create humane building solutions for refugees, which emanate the feeling that people with traumatic experiences are not only tolerated but actually welcomed (Rolf Toyka, 2015).

Towards the reality of the statement “De Madrid al cielo”

When you think about Spain, besides fiesta and siesta, three big cities might come to mind: Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao. Probably everybody knows the typical phrase or slogan that is linked to Madrid: “De Madrid al cielo”. However, I would prefer to think about the ground of the Spanish capital and assess the city in terms of accessibility.

Why Madrid? It was not for the mere fact of being the capital of the country but because it is the most populated city in Spain and the third in the European Union, after London and Berlin. Moreover, it attracts a huge number of tourists every year and also, regarding other type of mobility it is where the big companies set their headquarters in Spain.

To have a wider and personal perspective, let’s travel across time, 1990, and let me introduce you Mary. Who is she? She is from La Coruña, she is 30 and she is travelling to Madrid by train to visit a friend. They have nothing pre-planned, they only want to enjoy the city, and she doesn’t care about the long hours in the train neither the monuments they will see. Once she is there, her friend pick her up in Vallecas, Line 1 to Sol, and their trip starts. The week goes without any problem, and their touristic itinerary does not differ from the typical one: sightseeing and walk along the different streets.

I have mentioned the Line 1, which is the oldest line of Metro de Madrid. In the capital, the metro network was inaugurated in 1919. Regarding its growth, we can see that the Lines were appearing having Sol as the starting point. In 1990, the situation of the Metro was the following:

metro 1990

Mary and her friend use the metro daily during their trip, combining different lines at their convenience. Even though there are other options to use such as the bus, they prefer the comfort and speed of the metro.

The intermodal transport as an holistic approach, has appeared in 1985. From this date until today, there have been many improvements in the network. The actual situacion comes from an agreement between all the different governments and the Consorcio Regional de Transportes de Madrid (CRTM), which is the responsible of the plannification and management of Madrid’s transport, combined with an ambitious investment in infrastructure.

Mary came back to La Coruña. And now she is 56, we are in 2016. There have been 26 years from the last time she was in Madrid. Mary and her husband are visiting their daughter who is studying in Madrid. The situation has change, not only in capital’s infrastructure. There have been 20 years that she can’t walk properly and uses a wheel chair. The couple is not used to travel, however, they prepare the trip in order to enjoy Madrid for a week. Now, the scenario changes also in the plan, every visit (transport, buildings, streets, etc) has to be previously checked in terms of accessibility.

They want to live these days as “madrileños” and use the public transport instead of a taxi, walk in El Retiro, go to Bernabeu, eat in Plaza Mayor, see the sunset in the Temple of Debod, etc. and they do it. The family have faced several boundaries, starting from the roads and pavements, and finishing from the Metro.

The overcrowded streets where not the biggest deal, as they have thought. The obstacles come from bad design of pavements in terms of width and height, and also with urban furniture on them that obstructs the access or even prevents it.

Access to well-known buildings such as Real Madrid stadium, Santiago Bernabeu, with the wheel chair also requires an extra effort in comparison to people that do not use it. The main entrance of the famous “Tour Bernabeu” is full of stairs. The solution come from the security guards of the stadium that offer the family the opportunity to enter the stadium using other gate and help them all the time they were there. This is the first example in which people “save” the accessibility problem and not the architectural design itself.

Even in open public spaces, the main entrances have stairs. At this point, is key to point out this statement from Habitat III that is at the stake: “public spaces are publicly owned land or privately owned land designated for public use, and are accessible and enjoyed by all citizens without restrictions and free of charge”. One small example of the lack of empathy in architectural design, is the Temple of Debod, which entrance to be used by people in wheel chair is at one corner and there is no signal that shows it is there. Here we have another example of people helping the family, a woman explains them how to enter. However, the main concern they have is the transport.

When in 1990 Mary took the Line 1 from Vallecas to Sol, there was no problem. Now, the issue is that the same Line is not ready for her to go from Valdeacederas. So, in order to travel from there to Sol, or other places in the centre, they use the bus.

Let’s have a look at the current situation of the public transport in Madrid city to understand what can be affecting the accessibility for all in the capital of Spain.

For so, it is very useful the “Plan de Movilidad Urbana Sostenible de la Ciudad de Madrid”, (PMUSCM) published in 2014. As a previous step to develop the plan, a diagnosis of the situation has taken. In the diagnosis, there is a paragraph related to universal access that agrees with what the family has lived. Even tough almost 100% of buses and bus stops are plenty accessible, more than the 50% of the metro stations are not. The Metro de Madrid network is one of the biggest in the world (293 km) and despite the fact that there are very proxy stations within the M-30, the access to them is far from being universal. The plan already mentioned contemplates three objectives of making the net more inclusive and ensure the universal access that such a big city needs. the objectives go around the establishment of the urbanistic intervention criteria to improve the pedestrian accessibility in the urban environment; improvements on the accessibility to stations and bus stops; and improvements on the accessibility and its interference with bike paths.

Looking at the real life with the story of Mary, and looking at the PMUSCM, you can see that there is a huge potential regarding the development of infrastructures that encourages the autonomy of people suffering from any handicap: such as more elevators, signals and other elements that can make the difference. However, there are platforms, webpages and apps that want to tackle the problem of information availability. For instance, related to the importance of tourism in Madrid, there is a guide of accessible tourism done by the council of Madrid, the association called Predif (Plataforma Representativa Estatal de Discapacitados Físicos) and different entities from the touristic sector, which is available on the internet. The problem? Lack of noise of this kind of initiatives. In regard to the phone apps that can be used in Madrid, some examples are: Tur4all, Citiesforall and Accessibility, among others. The need for change is also bringing opportunities for social business, one example is one company located close to El Retiro whose aim is foster mobility of handicapped people around the city.

Back to the real story, Mary does not know about the United Nations Agenda regarding the Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted on September 2015, and have a specific goal (Goal 11) to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Under this statement, what is clear is that architecture and infrastructure have to go around people and not the other way around.

How to ensure that one city such as Madrid is fostering universal access around its streets? “De Madrid al suelo”? Of course, the ambition has to be enough to break all the barriers and bring Madrid to the sky, however, what has to be changed is the ground.

wheel chair

Photo taken in Jardines de Sabatini, Madrid (2016).

Fátima Enríquez Lago, student of the International Master in Sustainable Development and Corporate Responsibility at EOI Madrid.

Replacing Shanty Towns by Green Buildings, A realistic solution?


It has always been an ongoing phenomenon in the human nature to find and build adequate shelters to protect themselves from environmental circumstances. However, the high growth in the construction industry, current climate change impacts and depletion of natural resources has been accelerated at an alarming rate. Therefore, it is the turn of the buildings to help protect their environment and be developed in sustainable manners.

With the frightening and rapid effects of global warming on the environment and several communities, green buildings are considered to be great opportunities to address these challenges. What are they exactly? By definition; green buildings involve mainly the use and creation of eco-friendly structures throughout the whole building life cycle; it includes the process from the extraction of raw material and ending with the demolition and the disposal of the waste. Therefore green buildings are significantly important in reducing the pressure on available natural resources, in other words the earth’s carrying capacity. Environmental awareness, along with financial incentives has been increasingly influencing the implementation of eco-friendly construction throughout developed countries. However, for several reasons, it is obvious that constructing these green buildings in developing countries is much more challenging.

The world is currently undergoing the biggest wave of urban growth throughout history. Currently, more than 50% of the World’s population lives in urban spaces. The pressure on cities has drastically increased, which led them to run out of space, proper infrastructures and equipment. This issue has led people to move and settle into Shanty Towns, where the lack of good living conditions, proper housing, proper health care, and sanitation is prevailing. According to the United Nations (2013), at least 863 millions of people are currently living in Shanty Towns and 90% of these shanty towns are situated in developing countries. Unfortunately, with the population growth and the increase in urban migration, the issue of Shanty Town’s expansion won’t be easily solved. Therefore as mentioned before, I propose to examine closely the option of replacing Shanty Towns by Green Buildings in developing countries as a solution to reduce the bad living conditions of the people.

Even tho, the transformation of informal, inefficient and very poorly structured settlements into sustainable constructions is highly costly, what are the benefits and the reasons behind their implementation in developing countries?

Green buildings are intended and known to reduce directly the impacts on the environment, human health and economy, which are the following:

Green buildings help saving money and reduce environmental impacts through energy and water efficiency. Moreover, the waste generated and the carbon emissions will be reduced throughout the building life cycle. Additionally, the visual pollution created by Shanty Towns will disappear and be replaced by green and clean landscapes.


Sustainable construction ensures a good indoor ventilation system, avoids the use of harmful chemicals and provides access to natural sunlight. Therefore, the overall quality of life and the people’s well-being and comfort will be improved.

Improving the well-being and health conditions of the people at home will certainly increase their productivity at work, mainly by reducing their stress level. Moreover, it increases green job opportunities in the construction sector. Furthermore, it could expand markets opportunities for green products and R&D. Additionally, it is important to mention that sustainable constructions will lower the long-term operations and maintenance costs; mainly by energy savings and high life expectancy of the buildings materials.

However, due to a high capital cost and legal reasons, some say that green buildings can’t replace informal settlements. Moreover, one of the disadvantages that developing countries might encounter during the construction phase; is the availability and the delay of the resources and materials.

Developing countries might face many obstacles during the transformation of informal buildings into more sustainable constructions. A more realistic approach would be to replace them by conventional buildings. However, the investment capital of conventional buildings might be lower than the one of green buildings, but on the long-term the operation and maintenance cost will reasonably payback the investment cost. Moreover, as a Human Right, every one of us has the right to adequate housing. As the government role to protect and provide the best conditions for its people; sustainable construction is a great way to promote the social, physical and economical well-being.

On a large scale green buildings will deal with economic priorities such as security of supply, green job opportunities, long-term resilience and life expectancy of the buildings, quality of life, resource conservation and finally climate change mitigation measures.

Medellín – The Future of Latin American Cities

Latin America is one of the most urbanised regions on the planet, but it also has one of the world’s highest level of inequality, which means a huge gap between wealth and huge poverty. Adaptation to current circumstances, such as climate change offers a big opportunity for urban areas and cities to use this issue as an opportunity to make themselves more efficient, more sustainable, and smarter and thus close the gap of inequality. A better infrastructure, a better public transport system, a more efficient energy, waste and water management with the focus drawn to a strong social component can improve quality of life and create financial benefits for all citizens. One of Latin American’s ideal examples of a sustainable and smart city is Medellín in Colombia. A city which for a long time was known for drugs, Escobar, corruption and a high crime rate, but times have changed and today the city in the north of Colombia represents the future of how Latin Americas cities can be one day. Medellín is definitely on track, it used the power of rapid growth, converted it in a dynamic energy source and got prepared for future challenges, such as the satisfaction of the needs of its almost 3.8 million inhabitants. It was in the late 90’s when Medellín has recognized the signs of the time and started to lead a change towards social inclusion by focusing on innovation, technology and infrastructure. It was a time when the city was still healing the scars of a violent history, but public leadership and dialogue with its citizens changed the attitude of the city, increased efficiency in public services and made Medellín to a hub for innovation, investment and entrepreneurism.

A milestone in terms of public services was definitely the massive improvement of its public transport system.  Foremost the cable-car system, or so-called MetroCable, got first planned and designed and then succesfully reformed and adapted. Today it connects various spots of the city in an efficient and intelligent way and thus day by day helps hundreds of thousands of people to avoid lengthy and dangerous commute. A two and a half hour commute was reduced to less than half an hour when the first new MetroCable line of this revolutionary transit system was inaugurated in August 2004. Also the impact on the environment is remarkable, through the high use of public transport systems Medellín saves more than 20.000 t CO2 every year.


Besides the improvement of the public transport system, the focus on a “social urbanism” philosophy was one of the main drivers of the change in the city. As a result today Medellín has one of the lowest amounts of waste production per capita of Latin American big cities. Furthermore it has one of the best wastewater treatment management systems and the highest percentage of people with access to sanitation compared to other cities in its income bracket. This continuous improvements are supported and regularly get reinforced by various “green initiatives” for further improvements in water infrastructure, congestion reduction and a strong focus on the development in low-income areas. All these urban management actions have redesigned the city and reopened the space for dialogue and thus strengthened the successful process of social inclusion. Another tool for it is the city’s strategy on connection and communication within the city. Around the city there are more than 60 free Wi-Fi hot spots what gives all citizens the permanent opportunity to be online and thus it facilitates their daily life. In terms of entrepreneurism free open spaces and offices are offered by the public and so offers a platform for entrepreneurs, students, teacher and any kind of creative individuals to come together. This increases continuously the potential of innovation and entrepreneurship in the city and thus attracts investment and talent.

In conclusion, Medellín is the perfect example which path Latin America’s big cities have to choose in the future. The focus on innovation and infrastructure with the superordinate goal of social inclusion must be the key of any urban strategy. As mentioned at the beginning the gap between poor and rich is tremendously huge in Latin American. However, the success story of Medellín can be an incentive for other urban governments around the continent in order to take the right decisions and thus create prosperity and wealth for all citizens. No doubt that the challenges of urban planning will be one of the most crucial ones in Latin America for the next decades. The migration towards cities is unstoppable and the speed of this migration is critical. The signs of the time have to be recognized and the change must be initiated and leaded soon. Only then the future for Latin American cities will be a bright one, one where the gap between the poor and the rich will incrementally fade. Like in Medellín since the late 90’s!

Urban Farming: The case of Rotterdam

Urban farming Rotterdam

The concept of urban farming or urban agriculture is surely not a new kind of practice, it has however gained a lot of traction in the recent years. It is defined by the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food within a town or city. The activity of urban farming, like the name states is undertaken within an urban space. In order to fully understand this practice it is essential to provide a certain amount of context to the term.

There is no doubt in saying that today we live in an interconnected world, where more people live within urban areas than in rural ones, with an amazing 54% of the world’s population residing in cities as of 2014. Urban living is on the rise whereas rural living is becoming an exception. This trend is happening in all parts of the world and at an expanding rate. We cannot deny the facts, our world is shifting towards an urban, small – family household. Many individuals may see this as a danger, as living in urban settings can be threatening in so many ways. For instance, if an individual doesn’t have enough personal space, together with insufficient security or unstable economic conditions this may result in stress related health consequences.

On the other hand, I tend to believe that the increasing urban living phenomenon represents a great potential in terms of finding adequate opportunites for society. In point of fact, I acutally see urban farming as a perfect example of urban living opportunities. Urban agriculture can be considered as a result of the migration of individuals from rural to urban areas. Through reflection, people residing within cities are naturally more exposed to food insecurity, due to the greater supply risks involved in bringing food to them. Therefore I believe people become innovative in order to find adequate and sustainable measures to their potential issues. I really think cities can provide people with an environment that tends to foster greater creativity and productivity.

Interestingly enough urban farming can reflect a certain amount of economic and social development. In more developped countries, urban farming is currently considered as a social movement that searches for sustainable solutions for the well-being of their communities.

On the other hand, in southern countries that are still in the phase of development it has a whole different aspect. Their motivation to undertake urban farming activities is completely different. Understandably, in less developed nations, income generating, food security and nutrition are their main incentives for engaging in such activities ! (The world has definitely seen a certain amount of progress with regards to the fight against hunger. However, this being said it is still inadmissible that there is a considerable amount of people worldwide that continues to struggle and lack of food for ongoing a healthy life. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) « About 795 million people in the world – just over one in nine – were undernourished in 2014 » (FAO , 2015) It is essential to point out that the majority of hungry people live in developing countries, where hunger persists in rural areas. These vulnerable communities are strongly depend on agriculture activities as a vital source of income and livelihood. Indeed in a developing country context, the motivation of communities, families, or simply individuals to get involved in such urban farming activities. This really underlines the real value of urban farming for poorer and vulnerable communities, where such activities will provide them with some sort of income or even just food for their families.

In the next section, we will explore the practice of urban agriculture in a specific city – Rotterdam. With this in mind we will try and understand Rotterdam’s aim with urban agriculture and the reason why they want to stimulate such practice.

The case of Rotterdam

There is no question in the ambition of Rotterdam’s municipality. They have high objectives and want to become a pioneer in the field of sustainability, with a city much cleaner and greener in order to enhance the health of citizens. An effort to create an eco-friendly environment, where people can enjoy outdoor spaces with various facilities. I believe the direct return of investment here is to see the city becoming a more attractive place to live and work in, which of course in the long – run will enhance the economic development of Rotterdam.

In recent years, we have noticed a global trend towards a more sustainable kind of food. Indeed society have a desire to change the way they eat, a desire for authentic and better quality products. The rise of movements such as slow food which « supports countries around the world who link the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment » have gained in momentum and could potentially influence the municipality of Rotterdam as they have opened a branch within the city. The goal for the municipality would be to set up an enthusiastic food strategy in the coming years, however this is not in their current agenda. The municipality of Rotterdam have an objectif to maintain the spontaneous character of urban farming. This mainly involves grass-roots initiatives, from citizens and professionals who are already involved within this field. Organizations such as Buurtlab and Creatief Beheer are progressively combining social activation and gardening, with the purpose to contribute positively to the greening of districts which lack of green areas.

The municipality is ready to help and get things going. They have a desire for urban farming to be a combination of citizens initiative and entrepreneurship.

The relation between urban farming and happiness

One may think that the only outcome of urban farming lies within the end product, for instance the healthy natural vegetables that are of course GMO free ( Genetically Modified Organisms). This in a way is correct, however for the next part of this blog post, we are going to focus on the bigger picture – the real value of urban farming and what it creates. I strongly believe that urban farming agriculture is about much more than just growing food, it is an activity directed towards community development goals. Of course, it is essential to highlight the fact that urban farms differ drastically from one another with regards to their objectives, structures and locations. Some may focus on production in order to obtain some sort of profits (depending on their context), or they may make social and educational goals their priority. It may also provide hefty health, ecological and economic advantages to communities, which in the case of vulnerable communities may have a spill over effect as it would address certain social and economic issues within the community but most importantly it would help restore community pride and dignity !

Edouard Leonet


We are currently facing the effects of climate change and there is no doubt that we need to initiate a change and act now in order to avoid catastrophic consequences in the future. Therefore various new ideas, concerning this issue, have been evolved. Ultimately, a lot of proposals regarding the construction of “eco-cities” have been considered. But, what does this concept mean?. Cities with a specific environmental focus that incorporate efficient buildings, comprehensive master planning, renewable energy sources and efforts to achieve resource self-sufficiency. Something that will result in smarter cities and in a reduction of the GHG.

The Masdar City Project is one of these proposals. A model of a carbon neutral and zero waste city designed by the famous British international architecture studio “Norman + Partners”. The project is in a city located 11 miles southeast of Abu Dhabi City, with an area of 2.3 square miles. The city, that is going to host 50.000 permanent residents and 40.000 daily commuters, will rely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources.

Amphitheater, Masdar City

Although all this sounds like the ideal scenario for the future, the project has been hardly criticised. One criticism of the Masdar City project is the construction of a brand new city in a desert (an unquestionably resource intensive place) is completely unsustainable. Even though it will be carbon neutral, it also will require massive amounts of energy, land and water to construct and sustain. The surrounded area is a huge limited freshwater area, something that will cause massive shortages of water supply and thus is unsustainable at all. Another criticism is that the $22 billion cost of building Masdar City is funded almost entirely through revenues from oil and gas. In other words, funded by non-renewable and intensive polluting sources. In addition, The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is one of the worst countries in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions because of the country’s intensive activities related to oil and gas reserves. Hence, the concern of how effective this project will contribute to a successful reduction of the UAE’s greenhouse gas emissions as a whole is more than justified. Masdar city is supposed to be an example for other cities worldwide, but there is still a lot of doubts related to the significance of the impact this project can have in other cities. Model cities do not have a good track record of affecting large-scale changes in terms of urban planning practices.

By analysing all the critics that have arisen since the project was designed, from my personal point of view Masdar City it is still a step in the right direction. No project is perfect and no one can deny that Masdar is an interesting project that will help to develop green technologies. It’s true that the UAE economy relies on their vast reserves of oil and gas, but they have realized that economic growth based on fossil fuel production is unsustainable in the long term due to limited fossil fuel reserves. So, investing in this kind of projects is a great opportunity to diversify their economy while reducing the GHG emissions. Finally, since Masdar  is a city made of innovation and new technologies it definitely will have positive impacts on smart city projects around the world, will deliver crucial learnings for the future and thus make cities smarter and the world more sustainable. However, since it is also an artificial city, Masdar does not have to face the huge challenges normal cities are facing ever since. Therefore the implementation of various elements of the Masdar model in other cities will be a difficult task which we should not underrate.

Urbanization and Climate Change: The Front-Line of Sustainability

Urbanization and climate change are transformative and defining issues of the 21st century. The ever increasing numbers of people concentrating in urban areas reflects the unprecedented growth of cities in the past half century.

To this point, between 1950 and 2014 the world’s urban population grew by 422 percent. Current projections estimate that by 2050 70 percent of the world’s population will reside in cities. The surge in urban populations is expanding the footprint of cities, making them the major sites for production, consumption and waste. Consider the following:

In many cases the rapid growth of cities are challenging established approaches and notions within urban planning (e.g., car centric vs. people planning) as well as presenting more systemic concerns  regarding sustainability (e.g., pollution and waste, increasing development in hazard prone areas). Perhaps the biggest sustainability issue is climate change.

Available scientific evidence indicates that climate change that will continue to increase the frequency of extreme weather events (e.g., hurricanes/typhoons, tornados, winter storms, heat waves) and contribute to sea level rise (recent studies suggest that mean sea level rise could exceed 1 m by 2100). Moreover, new projections that estimate that disasters losses could top $300 billion per year in the coming decades.

Climate change is a risk multiplier. It is a game changer. As ground zero for mitigating and adapting to climate change, cities are well positioned to take action because of their unique mixture of political and financial clout, and disproportionate risk exposure.

While the imminent and growing risks of climate change may provide the impetus for ingenuity and innovation, urban sustainability cannot be achieved if we continue to conceive of, plan and build cities as we have.

In many respects, identifying and realizing the co-benefits of adaptation and mitigation must lead to the transformation of urban landscapes. Environmental destruction can be replaced with restoration. Cities do not have to be a burden on ecological systems. To this end, there are numerous opportunities to modernize food production, energy generation, waste management and transportation systems. For instance, decentralized energy generation by integrating solar and wind technologies into existing infrastructure (i.e. roads and buildings). Another example is the promotion of green spaces (e.g., expand and reclaiming park areas, green roofs, urban farms) to reduce heat island effects, increase porous surfaces for rainfall run-off and minimize flash flooding.

While the role of technology is unequivocal in the drive toward greater urban sustainability, it is important for city leaders and citizens alike to not be seduced by design. In other words, managing climate change and its related issues will require cities to be smarter. But smart cities cannot be limited to the incorporation of digital technologies, software and equipment into infrastructure. Cities must pursue a broad mix of structural and non-structural measures insofar as the policy choices effecting density, land use planning, building codes, mobility, poverty and social inclusion are equally important as the waste-to-energy plant or floating buildings.

The built form is not the end per se but a means to complement non-structural policies in achieving environmental, social and economic objectives related to climate change mitigation and adaptation. In turn both structural and non-structural measures must ultimately address the underlying dimensions (i.e. social, economic, environmental) of vulnerability and risk to climate change related impacts.

Cites are at the front-line of climate change and sustainable development.  A pivotal opportunity for change and future prosperity. Such an opportunity, however is also accompanied by great expectation and responsibility because if cities do not sufficiently mitigate and adapt to climate change, the consequences are perilous.

Is banning the use of private cars the right answer?

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world with approximately 21 million inhabitants. But this city endures some of the worst smog levels worldwide, making the air pollution one of the most pressing issues for the government.

According to estimates of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness A.C. (IMCO), in 2015 only in the Valley of Mexico 1,823 people died, 4,494 required hospitalization for respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases, in addition, 247,729 attended medical visits for respiratory infections, asthma and ischemic heart conditions.


In March 2016 Mexico City faced a huge environmental crisis, an environmental contingency caused by the poor quality of the air due to car pollution, this crisis led to the application of different anti-pollution measures to improve the index of air quality.

One of these measures is called “Hoy No Circula” (No drive day), a program in which each of the vehicles are categorized by two main factors: their level of emissions, that gives them a hologram after making a test, and also the digit termination of the plate, which defines the color of the sticker for the vehicle. With these two factors, the program defines who may or may not move around the city every day.

In my opinion this measure is very functional for the short term reaction needed due to the crisis of environmental contingency that the city is facing, but I believe that it is not the right answer for the long term, there are other options that need to be taken into account to tackle the problem in a sustainable manner.

Since its beginning 27 years ago (1989) “Hoy No Circula” has proven to not being sufficiently efficient in terms of discouragement of use of private cars in the long term. It works when the problem faced needs a quick response but it does not provide a solution to the number of private cars used in the city and the bad conditions of the public transport and other vehicles that are being used.

Also, preventing or banning the use of the cars in the long term could be counterproductive, as it would result in a blunting congestion with the increase in the vehicle fleet (cars parked without use).


The money obtained by the verification or the test of level of emissions of the vehicle, that gives them a hologram to circulate the city is supposed to be mainly used for the reform and reconstruction of roads and for the improvement of infrastructures in order to reduce traffic jams which is another big issue of the city.

With this, the solutions created or proposed only tackle the issue of use of old cars (more pollutant) and the reduction of traffic jams in peak hours. But it does not tackle the issue of pollution in the long term; it does not encourage the use of other alternative options of transportation.

This is why I think that the answer is not in banning the use of private cars but in the improvement of the quality of public transport and the creation of new alternatives to the usual way of mobility of the citizens. So in my opinion we should be focusing in measures that make more attractive to use public transport and less attractive the private one. 

What kind of measures could help?

I know that this sounds as an Utopia but we have to start doing something now in order to prevent bigger costs in the future, and most of these measures are already on track or in the plans for the city so we need to cooperate and make them a priority, action is needed in order for change to occur.

So, is banning the use of private cars the right answer? My answer is no. Don’t prohibit the use of private cars… Discourage it!



“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” Gustavo Petro.



Mariana Viesca García de Alba



What if a well-implemented CSR is the perfect strategy for your company?


I was talking about CSR and its importance in the actual businesses with a friend in the train on my way to Cádiz when a man interrupted me saying that what I was talking about it was not completely correct. He was a telecommunication’s engineer that had been in charge of a company for 15 years, until his retire. The perfect businessman.

His main argument was that generally, people need such a long time to be able to start a new business and their main objective is to be profitable as soon as possible. Invest in being eco-friendly or in being empathic with the community beside your company is something that comes (if comes) with the maturity of the enterprise. Invest in CSR is something that you will be able to do when you will be earning enough money.

The paragraph above relates what most of the people think in our days. And it is a fact that when you decide to invest in a new business you will want your money back soon. But, is not enough for a company to be efficient in the relations between suppliers and clients in order to maximize the profit. So, what if a well-implemented CSR is more than related with being successful within your company?

A lot of companies look to the CSR as a way of have a good reputation and as philanthropy, but CSR its more than that. As Jamsetji Tata said “ In a free enterprise the community is not just another stakeholder to business, but is in fact the very purpose of its existence”. It is about earning money while serving the wider interest. A company depends on the environment where it is performing. So, it is necessary to take it into account in order to ensure the future of the company. But is not all about the actions that a company is doing in order to serve a wider interest. When companies implement strategic CSR they can find there are many benefits, including strengthened corporate and brand reputations and enhanced trust with key stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers or investors), improved risk management, increased revenues from innovation to identify new business opportunities, and reduced costs.

Marta Barahona

When the fact of being small does not mean small impact

Back in High School and during my degree, I have been taught that the main aim of every business is to make profit. Of course, there is no doubt that making money is necessary to sustain businesses in the short and in the long term. However, I consider this premise a very basic one, one with lack of ambition and aspirations. Maybe it seems contradictory having in the same phrase profit and lack of ambition, but bearing in mind a phrase of Peter Drucker, life is more than breathing, and doing business must go beyond making profit.

Nowadays, humans are creating and living a new global environment characterized by rapid change. Flexibility and adaptability into this changing world are the key challenges but also the solutions for companies to “manage” their stakeholders: attract talented people, satisfy customers and shareholders, and choose the most suitable suppliers according to the business preferences.

Big companies have a big impact on employment, wealth and investment, but also pollution for a country. Though, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are as well, impact generators. In a worldwide basis, these small pieces of the big economic puzzle, the SMEs, account for around the 90% of the total firms. So, they cannot be avoided when talking about both positive and negative impacts locally, nationally and globally.

SMEs have become “micro-multinationals”, driven by the need for speed and flexibility in a worldwide job and consumer markets. This international atmosphere together with the Internet, make companies more vulnerable in terms of public information availability, but this fact opens a window for opportunities in order to build and spread trust among their stakeholders. Already created SMEs and also new ones, must take an advantage of this new reality.

Having in mind the word “manage” that I used at the beginning and looking at its definition “to be ​responsible for ​controlling or ​organizing someone or something, ​especially a ​business or ​employees”, is fair to reconsider the connotation it has as an unilateral approach. When it comes to taking into account your employees, the monologue must change into a conversation. Something that grows thank to both parts and helps companies’ culture to be more consistent and trustful.

Despite the fact that being responsible and taking care of employees or local communities is not something new, the increasing level of expectations from stakeholders in relation with companies’ behaviour, is the key factor that oblige firms to accomplish the promises they make. Nevertheless, if you want to build trust, be coherent and walk the talk, the first thing you have to do is to focus inside your company. In every company, employees are the pillars but also the façade of the firm, but in SMEs few people become the key players for the sustainability of the business. Having worked in an SME I have understood that if you want to succeed, there is no space for a clash of driving values between employees and the company. This example of coherency makes easy for the business to grow aligned in one unique direction. Moreover, in many cases, SMEs born to solve a problem or a need located in an specific area or that occur to the founders. Is because of this that, in many cases, mission, vision and values came before the birth of the firm itself, and they are the main drivers from the beginning of the SME.

Employees lives go beyond the need of oxygen to survive, so in terms of their career their expectations and needs go further profit generation. So, what they want from their job? They want to create an impact by doing good. And it is exactly the path that SMEs must want to follow.

Fátima Enríquez Lago, student of the International Master in Sustainable Development and Corporate Responsibility.

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