The Quiet Evolution of Water Planning

Erik Porse is a Ph.D. candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Davis. His research focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to analysis and modeling of innovative water management designs in cities. Eric is the newest addition to the SCI Affiliated Researcher Program.

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A quiet evolution is taking place in how we use and move water within cities throughout the world. In Los Cabos, Mexico, where I am working this summer, we are planning for this evolution.

Traditionally, cities have built infrastructure that supplied residents with water from distant sources and quickly removed rainfall and sewage. Cities acquire water from more pristine sources in rural areas or deep underground. Sewer pipes remove water used in homes, businesses, and industries, while storm drains collect and move water to prevent floods. Treatment plants, which were installed throughout the twentieth century, prevent diseases and environmental pollution.

Today, many cities are developing and deploying a new set of strategies that emphasize conservation and reuse of water, while also trying to reduce contamination in local watersheds.

The evolution is driven by stricter environmental regulations, higher costs for acquiring and treating water, and changing social attitudes. The tools to promote this evolution are numerous, including landscape measures such as bioswales and green roofs, low-flow showerheads and efficient toilets, permeable pavements, and new water treatment technologies.

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“Social Sustainability”: Clarity is in the Context

Freya Kristensen is a PhD candidate in the department Geography at Simon Fraser University and a researcher with the SFU Centre for Sustainable Community Development. Her work examines how international municipal sustainability networks influence policy learning around sustainability. She is currently participating in the SCI Affiliated Researcher Program.

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What is social sustainability anyway? This is the question I inevitably get when I tell people that the main subject area of my research is how cities understand and operationalize social sustainability.

Most people are genuinely curious but some people, usually academics, say it more with a sneer, as if to say ‘good luck with that’.

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Video: Urban Agriculture in Dar es Salaam

We are pleased to feature a wonderful video written and produced by Tanya Hubbard, one of our recent SCI interns.  Filmed, directed and edited by Shaine Jones, this is a visual story that highlights the impact and importance of urban agriculture in Dar es Salaam, and also looks at the work facilitated by the SCI interns.

A key achievement for us in Dar was that Morgen Zivhave (SCI’s Local Program Coordinator) and our team of interns essentially led the process of protecting space for urban agriculture in the city through the formal Master Planning process (and then facilitated establishing a group of local farmers in one of the new protected areas) as a pilot for the other municipalities to follow. They also helped set up a network for local farmers to exchange info and expertise, modeled after similar networks in Nairobi and Durban, whose work we were able to share with each other through our SCI Peer Exchanges.


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Finding a New Perspective on Urban Resilience

A final blog post from Clara Ganemtoré, one of the first participants in SCIs Affiliated Researcher Program (ARP). Clara recently completed her Master’s degree in regional and urban planning at the London School of Economics. Below is the second of two posts covering the results and insights that came out of her research into Dakar, Senegal. The first post in the series can be found here.

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During the time I spent in Pikine I witnessed a wide variety of individual and collective strategies for dealing with the everpresent risk of flooding. Looking back at that experience, it is clear to me that “local knowledge, local action” does lead to resilience — social resilience that is.

But it does not appear enough to transform the institutions that govern people’s lives.

The residents I encountered do not wish for a tougher skin to be all they have gained from a decade of “self-learning” and local organizing. They want better; they want a permanent solution to the floods. And for that to happen, appropriate government intervention in the form of the construction of a drainage system, with provision for proper sanitation in the suburbs, and transparent allocation of housing to flood victims is urgently needed. Integrating local initiatives into the provision of those long term solutions is a complex endeavour, one for which I could not find any definitive models. I leave you however with these reflections.

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From Household Actions to Community Strategies: Managing Flood Risk in Dakar, Senegal

Clara Ganemtoré, one of the first participants in SCI’s Affiliated Researcher Program (ARP), recently completed her Master’s degree in regional and urban planning at the London School of Economics. Below is the first of two posts covering the results and insights that came out of her research into Dakar, Senegal.

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I set out to Dakar in July 2012, motivated by the idea of witnessing, first hand, what “local knowledge, local action” amounts to in the context of urban disasters. Here is a short summary of my main findings, based on three weeks of meeting with community leaders, interviewing residents and attending conferences.

Residents of Pikine, a suburb of Dakar, live with the near constant threat of inundation from both annual floods and ever rising ground water levels (see “Surviving in a Floodplain” for more on the situation). To deal with this, households have developed a variety of strategies.

Some are simple, if time consuming: the daily evacuation of water using buckets or motor pumps, building walkways with sand bags or large rocks, building rudimentary open air drainage, or simply using rooftops for household chores (cooking or laundry),  for storage and as a social space.

Others require more investment of time and resources: the elevation of septic tanks, installing internal drainage systems, purchasing of motor pumps.

Then there is the temporary or permanent relocation of children or whole families when the waters prove too persistent to fight any longer.

Open air canals dug by residents, 16/07/2012

Open air canals dug by residents, 16/07/2012

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Cycling infrastructure in Cabo San Lucas: strategy, challenges and opportunities

By Simon L’Allier

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The majority of my time working with IMPLAN Los Cabos has been spent planning a network of bicycle infrastructure for the city of Cabo San Lucas. This blog entry outlines the general strategy that I took to accomplish this task and examines some of the main challenges and opportunities related to the planning and implementation of cycling infrastructure in Mexico.

Planning process

The planning process followed the general steps of bicycle infrastructure planning, as outlined in a resourceful publication of the Mexican arm of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP Mexico) known as Ciclociudades . Adapted to the local context, this process can be divided into four main stages:

  1. Diagnostic: The first step of the process is a diagnostic of the current situation of the city of Cabo San Lucas. Painting an accurate picture of the current situation from different angles is crucial in understanding the reality in which the project is being developed. Of course, mobility is a crucial aspect of the analysis as it reflects people’s travel preferences, which are based on people’s origins, destinations and mode of travel. Origins are usually homes and destinations are locations where people work, study, recreate and shop. Based on this information and on other relevant considerations (timeline, resources, political and social acceptability) a study area is identified.
  2. Route analysis and design options: Next, an analysis of land uses, demographics, street characteristics, and key destinations as variables is performed for the study area. These factors are used to compare different route options with the most appropriate design for each case.
  3. Route selection: Based on this comparative analysis, the best routes are selected to create a bicycle infrastructure network. The overall architecture of the network influences the route selection. This means that each route is chosen not on an individual basis, but rather in relation to the overall “fit” with the network. The basic criteria that should define cycling infrastructure, as mentioned in the Ciclociudades publications, are directness, safety, coherence, attractiveness and practicality.
  4. Design options selection: Lastly, design options for each section of the network are proposed based on the above mentioned criteria.

The general approach taken in this study was to try to only use segregated bicycle lanes (Image 1) when on-site conditions required their use, and to try to use the concept of a “shared street”, also known as bicycle boulevards (Image 2), whenever possible. This general strategy ensures the best use of the limited financial resources, given segregated bicycle lanes are more expensive to build than shared streets. The shared street concept implies traffic calming and design measures that create conditions in which cyclists have the priority over vehicles and can ride safely with minimal infrastructure investment.

Image 1: Segregated bicycle lanes (Source: ITDP. Ciclociudades. 2011).

Image 1: Segregated bicycle lanes (Source: ITDP. Ciclociudades. 2011).

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Planting the Seeds for Community Engagement in Los Cabos: A Comprehensive Approach to Urban Development

By Daniel Ross


One of the most fundamental concepts to any multi-stakeholder process is the enormous contribution that citizens can have. The people who live, work, and play in and around public spaces possess expert knowledge as to how these places function as a whole, and often can inform and assist planners in the design and restoration of urban parks, plazas, gardens, and sports fields. By including the neighbour’s of urban parks in their redesign, the participatory approach to planning simultaneously improves public gathering places within a community and fosters greater interaction between people. This approach not only incorporates the physical, material aspects of development, but also incorporates interiority, the emotional, cultural, and spiritual values that we all share. Participatory planning facilitates the creation of vital public destinations where people feel a strong stake in their communities, and make life better for the community as a whole.

In Los Cabos, Mexico, community participation in public space design is a relatively new concept. Famous for it’s warm weather, sandy beaches, and 4-star golf courses, “Cabo” is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. Traditionally based on fishing, the southern tip of Baja California Sur’s economy now thrives on the tourist dollars that flow in waves from mostly Canadian and American “snow-birds”. Luxurious resorts dot the coastline in between Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, and development is increasing exponentially. Unfortunately these gigantic hotels and exuberant getaways seem to take precedent over local development projects, and the hearts of both cities have become abandoned and their public spaces left in states of depreciation.

The project

El instituto municipal de planeación (IMPLAN) has partnered with Sustainable Cities International and began a pilot project that considers participatory planning as a tool for public space re-design. SCI intern Daniel Ross developed, and implemented a community engagement process for the restoration of an urban park located on the border between the communities Pablo L. Martínez and Ampliación Guaymitas. The engagement initiatives began with a qualitative diagnostic investigation of the community, introductory meetings with park neighbours, community leaders, and different municipal stakeholders. The following phases involved facilitating formal dialogue, group visioning, community asset mapping, and developing a community vision. Daniel worked closely with members of the community from the project’s inception to the end of the internship on discussing common needs and visions, as well as to collaborate in responding to the community’s pertinent concerns.

The Phases

I.      Make a presence in the community through frequent visits and informal interviews (establish a relationship based on trust)

II.    Identify and establish working relationships with local stakeholders

III.   Format and distribute surveys of space use and perception

IV.    Implement qualitative observations; behaviour mapping and entrance tracking

V.     Organize and promote community participation (posters, flyers, social media and word of mouth)

VI.    Organize the community meetings, workshops, and mapping activities

VII.   Implement and lead the meetings, workshops and mapping activities in the community

VIII.   Interpret and analyze the findings and results

IX. Use the findings and results to influence the technical architectural design and concepts

X. Maintain presence in the community with updates and a final event to present the final design and to celebrate the successes of the participatory process

Phases I-IV

The initial stages of the process consisted of qualitative and quantitative research in the community of study through the use of informal interviews, behaviour mapping and entrance tracking within the park itself, stakeholder meetings, and finally surveying. Interviews with interested community members laid a solid foundation for a relationship based on trust and mutual understanding, and also was an opportunity to learn about community values and dynamics.

Phases V-X

The first workshops held in the park were values-based, community-asset mapping activities. Instead of directly focusing on problems and necessities, concentrating on positive areas and characteristics of the community fosters the creation of a newfound community identity.


Participants sharing their very own asset-maps with the entire group during the first round of asset-mapping workshops (Image Source: Daniel Ross)


Two young girls thinking about what physical, natural, and social aspects they value within their community (Image Source: Daniel Ross)

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Sustainable Cities launches a paper on indicators for sustainability

How cities are monitoring and evaluating their success

The call for cities to engage in best practices for sustainable planning has increased. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword but a reality that must be addressed by cities all over the world.

Sustainable city planning is a relatively new concept that many cities have embraced. However, many still struggle combining or adapting their strategic plans to incorporate the sustainability aspects. Some cities have opted for having a new department for sustainability, whereas many others have decided to take a more holistic approach and integrate a strategic, sustainable plan for their cities.

Whatever the approach taken by a city is, the challenge still remains in translating those plans into tangible actions and setting up indicators that will reflect their progress towards success, considering the specific conditions and socio-cultural environment of the city.

With that in mind, we have done research in 12 cities across the globe to examine how they have established sustainability indicators to monitor the success of their sustainability plans. The paper reviews the methodologies or frameworks that these cities are using, outlines the indicators that each city is using and provides an analysis looking for commonalities and key findings that can support other cities that are in the same path.

In summary, we found that GHG emissions and the environmental aspects of sustainability are top priorities for most cities, on the other hand we found that indicators related to food issues (food security, access and use) were hardly addressed at all. We also found that projects that are more “visible” to the public take precedence, meaning infrastructure projects such as green space areas, roads, green buildings and bike paths. The paper also identifies that actions such as using backcasting in the planning process, creating public/private partnerships, institutionalizing the process and the plan, and engaging stakeholders were key success factors to advance and measure their sustainability planning efforts.

SCI would like to thank all the volunteers that were involved in producing this paper. We hope it will be a useful resource for your city. If you want to learn more about what SCI offers to support cities in their planning process or indicator setting process visit our website or contact Edna Aguiñaga ( or Pat Gordon (

This paper was made possible with financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).


Click here to download the document




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It’s a wrap! The SCI Network Africa Program comes to an end

Sustainable Cities wishes to express our sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed to the remarkable success of our SCI Network Africa Program!

At the end of October 2012, our contract and funding provided by the Canadian International Development Agency came to an end. Since then, we have spent some time taking stock of achievements, assessing progress and discussing future opportunities.

We can confidently and proudly say that the success of this project exceeded all of our expectations. Active in Dakar, Senegal, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Durban, South Africa, many dedicated people worked together to develop stronger processes and outcomes for improving the quality of life for local citizens.

Focusing on the promotion of good governance, environmental sustainability and the transfer of knowledge gained, this project brought cities from around the world together in an alliance that formed lasting bonds and friendships, ignited potent cross-cultural exchanges, and affected all of those involved for the better.

We wish to thank all of our staff and interns, our partner agencies, which include all the local government authorities, Kesho Trust, MILE, Imagine Durban, and the Institut Africain de Gestion Urbaine (IAGU).

Well done, everyone!

cardboard recycling project in Durban ((with local NGO Asiye eTafuleni)

cardboard recycling project in Durban (with local NGO Asiye eTafuleni)


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