How can community-based tourism provide meaningful experience to both visitors and residents?

To many developing countries, tourism is one major economic growth drivers due to their pristine beaches and natural wonders. Tourism generates jobs and improves the living standards of many residents of their local communities.

In 2016, the World Travel and Tourism Council reported that tourism sector created 68 million jobs (3.7 percent of total employment representing 2.8 percent of total GDP) in Asia Pacific region. It supported a total of over 150 million jobs, equivalent to one in every 11 jobs.

Despite its benefits, tourism has been causing detrimental effects in many places where it is mismanaged. Over the years, large-scale mass tourism, where quantity of visitors becomes the priority, has contributed to the degradation of the local environment. For example, hotels and resorts that are poorly-designed and built on a natural habitat may cause more harm than good.

Mass tourism has also increased the dependence on external market with tourism industries in developing countries and least developed countries being largely run by companies based in foreign countries. In most cases, its revenue has not been equally distributed to communities, as its big share still goes back to international and national offices of tourism operators.

To counter these negative effects, community-based tourism (CBT) offers an alternative view to mass tourism promising a more meaningful impact to both visitors’ experience and community.

By concept, Community Based Tourism (CBT) is any tourism-related activity that is community owned and managed or coordinated at the community level that focuses both on showcasing the local’s tourist areas and improving the well-being of its residents. The program can support sustainable livelihoods and protection of local people’s cultural identity.

CBT can bring about several economic, environmental, and social benefits:

  • Economic benefits

Community-based tourism encourages community’s stakeholders to co-develop and implement relevant projects. This process ensures creation of local jobs and revenue retention in the community itself. This also helps them cope with problems generated by mass tourism by easing economic dependence on external markets.

  • Environmental benefits

Community-based tourism seeks to build on its natural ecosystem. This lessens the risk of causing more danger to the local environment in the long-run.

  • Social benefits

Community-based tourism empowers local citizens bringing about a sense of ownership and cooperation to reach common goals which results to enhancing social cohesion.

Kinabatangan’s Model Ecologically Sustainable Community Tourism (MESCOT) Project in Malaysia offers a good case as to how a well-managed CBT can provide lasting impacts to both local residents and tourists. This project was initially planned to ensure stable income for the indigent villagers who had heavily relied on natural resources to support their living.

Kinabatangan town is located in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia. It is the large area with 7,800 hectare with a population of 147,000.

The MESCOT project is run under the strict criteria set by Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The criteria include optimum standards for security and cleanliness and a minimum of 10 houses for each homestay cluster with three rooms per houses.

The Homestay program offers different activities for tourists which include traditional games like village boat service, building traditional fish traps and cultural dancing performance. All these programs and activities are evaluated and monitored based on service quality, activity packages, homestay management and promotion by Sabah Homestay Association.

There are four key factors which contributed to the MESCOT’s success:

  • Capacity building for the community

Hosts of the homestays undergo the required training on the homestay management. For the first four years of its operation, residents ranging from 18 to 35 years old were trained in ecotourism planning, business skills, English language, and natural and cultural resources research. This ensures all Homestay Programs have the same scheme and structure that will provide visitors with minimum standard quality of service.

  • Planning, implementation, and monitoring agencies

National government has provided full support for participating homestay houses. The Ministry of Tourism provides directions, policies and guidelines for registration and development of the program. It is also in charge of marketing and promotion. The Ministry of Rural and Regional Development provides infrastructure for rural development and training and capacity building for their communities. The Sabah Homestay Association monitors the program management, development and promotions.

  • Promotion of Green economy

MESCOT project has adopted the Green Economy strategy by creating new alternative income sources for local residents who obtained seasonal income by working in the nearby timber camps. With the project introduced, villagers no longer have to depend on natural resources which prevent them from further degrading ecosystem and causing loss of biodiversity.

  • Active involvement of the local community

The success of CBT relies on the goodwill and cooperation of residents. The villagers were involved from the initial project stage, engaging their assistance in forest fire fighting and restoration activities and training their skills in managing visitors.

After 10 years of implementation, MESCOT has created jobs for more than 128 people on a rotation system. Homestay providers earned up to RM 2,000 monthly (USD 467). This project contributes to the improvement of the city residents’ housing condition and living standards.

The case of Kinabatangan provides guiding principles for other local governments that may have yet to reach their tourism potential but must minimize the environmental cost at the same time.

Local residents must co-develop and implement their own programs that can support both their livelihood and protect their natural environment as well. It is essential that national governments can supervise other aspects of CBT management that are beyond the scope of the local governments. This includes extensive, capacity-building programs and facilitation in building consensus in many of its different community discussions. Most importantly, the key success to CBT depends on how residents can take pride and care of their home.


Community-Based Tourism in Developing Countries: A Case Study, 2011, an International Multidisciplinary Journal of Tourism (

Community Based Tourism: Group Report and Recommendations, UNWTO (

Tourism and Poverty Alleviation, 2010, WTO (

By Sion Kang

Sion Kang recently completed her dual bachelor’s programs of International Studies and European Union Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul, Republic of Korea. Her interest lies in the field of sustainable development and macro-economic policy in developing countries. She has a work experience at an NGO in Lao PDR, and was mainly in charge of devising and implementing educational activity and fundraising program and researching capacity building and knowledge exchange.


Migrants and Cities: Recognizing the Roles of Cities to Promote Social Inclusion

Currently, there is unprecedented human mobility across the world, caused by various factors including lack of employment, motivation to pursue better education & living, security, and even environmental issues pushing migrants to flee from their home regions. Whether it is cross-border migration or rural-urban migration, cities globally has been increasingly known to be the popular destination for migrants to settle in. Whether is related to the current global phenomena of Syrian Refugees, uprising climate refugees, the mobility of women caregivers in Southeast Asia, migrant workers in Gulf region, up to day to day migration, flagging the cross-sectorial discussion between urban and city development with migration is necessary to further seek solutions in related problems. With the increasing phenomenon of human mobility, migration has brought both positive and negative consequences for the destination cities where they migrate to. However, the 2015 World Migration Report from IOM states that the issue of migration is overlooked in the discussion of urban and city development and to some extent, is often perceived negatively (IOM, 2015).

The issue of migration is inseparable with the efforts to manage migrants, particularly on the integration aspect. It is argued that migrants bring positive impacts to the hosting community by bringing new knowledge and culture, manpower resources, agent of diversity, and even essential economic and social contribution to their home community, among others. However, these contributions that migrants bring to the hosting cities and communities are again, still under-discussed. However, diverse sectors of society may not always have the sufficient conditions to keep a cohesive social inclusion into a populated city. The problems where ‘your migrant neighbors’ are sources of community problems that lead to discrimination, social conflict, differential treatment, and to some extent, social disintegration are no longer new problems globally.

Regardless of the overlooked positive contribution from migrants, cities can play a role to promote the contribution from new members to the society and to remove the negative stigma of migrants by promoting social inclusion among both incoming and hosting society. The efforts of cities in improving social cohesion and inclusion lies at the core of social policies of education, health, as well as the promotion of social mobility, all this managed under the city, provincial, and national governments.

When it comes to managing social inclusion at the community level, there are countless interactions among individuals and community groups that take place that may perpetuate the social disintegration among migrant and hosting communities. In this regard, it is the role of city governments to further seek local solutions to manage the community diversity by reaching out to both migrant and host communities as well as to mitigate the potential social exclusion and disintegration that may take place in communities or neighborhoods (MPI, 2013).

Participation can also become an element to promote social relations between newcomers and locals in which city governments can play a role as facilitators. There have been initiatives between public sectors (city governments) and non-governmental organizations, private sectors, urban practitioners, civil society representatives, migrant and diaspora groups to further discuss and cooperate on urban governance issues which are seen as the ‘opportunity structures’ among migrants and hosting society (IOM, 2015). Another example that is recently gaining popularity in homogenous society such as the Republic of Korea, is where localized policies and activities conducted by non-governmental organizations and migrant shelters provide spaces and programs where migrants and locals can interact together to increase the understanding between the two groups (Fitriana, 2016).

There are and there will be more countless examples where cities play roles to manage issues of incoming migrants and bridging them with hosting society. However, when it comes to managing incoming migrants, the discussion goes beyond the provision of housing, education, or income sources for the newcomers. It also deals with the social cohesion among members of community groups that include migrants and hosting community. In reducing the social disintegration and foster the social inclusion, it takes the political commitment from city governments and relevant partners to further recognize and acknowledge the connection between migrants and cities within their urban governance priorities considering the countless human mobility across the world.


Fitriana, C. E. 2016. Social Integration of Migrant Workers in Hosting Society: The Case of Indonesian EPS Workers in Ansan, South Korea. Unpublished Thesis: Graduate School of International and Area Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

International Organization for Migration (IOM). 2015. World Migration Report 2015. Available at:

Migration Policy Institute (MPI). 2013. The Roles of Cities in Immigrant Integration. Available at:

By Cresti Eka Fitriana

Cresti is from Indonesia and she holds Master of Arts in International Development Studies from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul, Republic of Korea. She is a former awardee of Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP) and is specialized in areas including migration & development, social policy & inclusion, and ASEAN region. She served as a Program Intern in the CityNet Secretariat from August to November 2016.

The 10th Seoul ODA International Conference

On August 31st to September 1st 2016, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Korea in collaboration with the Korea International Cooperation Agency ( KOICA) successfully organized The 10th Seoul ODA International Conference in The Lotte Hotel, Seoul, Republic of Korea. For years, the Seoul ODA Conference has been a platform in the field of international development cooperation in Korea.


In the landscape of international development, last year marks an important time for the global agenda with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement 2015 under the UNFCCC, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA). The global agenda serves as an international consensus to advance development efforts globally, as well as to provide new approaches on the way development intervention is practiced.

The new framework of SDGs has brought more inclusive approaches in sustainable development including the economic, social, and environmental aspect altogether. Official Development Assistance (ODA) has always been an essential part of the global and national practice of development. Therefore, the shift in development approaches would also influence how ODA is carried and utilized across development actors globally.

In this regard, the 10th Seoul ODA international Conference serves to facilitate the reflection of past efforts during the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as well as the projection of development interventions under the era of SDGs. The conference was divided into three sessions with each session serves as a platform to discuss related topics regarding the role of ODA under the SDGs framework.

The first day was started with two topics including Lessons Learned from the Past, and Means of Implementation of SDGs. Speakers were not only from the public and international organizations, but also from private sector, academics, and civil society organizations.

The first session, ‘Lesson Learned from the Past’ covered different topics on the achievements, pitfalls, and challenges of MDGs as well as what MDGs contributed to the development interventions globally. Speakers representing different development organizations including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), Ministry of Foreign Affairs Republic of Korea, USAID, and Vietnam Institute for Development Strategies were present. Among them, the topic of Goal Number 3 MDGs (Gender Equality and Women Empowerment) was agreed to be one of the most successful efforts across the globe. However, the issue of inequality still remains as a pitfall of different ranges of development interventions. Hence, taking this as a point of consideration and lesson learned, the issue of tackling inequality came up within the new framework of SDGs.

The session ‘Means of Implementation’ covered different topics on diversifying resources in supporting the SDGs. The session is moderated by Kilaparti Ramakrishna, the Director of UN ESCAP East and North-East Asia office. Different speakers from various backgrounds including UNCDF, Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation, KOICA, and Impact Investment Exchange Asia were present discussing the positioning of ODA as well as other resources to finance the implementation of SDGs. It was agreed that, although ODA has been an essential part of the discussion of financing development globally, financing the SDGs which are much more ambitious and universal also needs more ambitious sources to achieve the goals by 2030. Among all speakers in this session, Durreen Shahnaz, who has been working in impact investing in Southeast Asia, introduced the concept of impact investing, the concept of investments intended to create positive social impact beyond financial return, as additional sources in the diversification of SDGs funding.

The two days conference was closed by the discussion of ‘New Approach of Inclusiveness in the Era of SDGs’. As a more ambitious global agenda, the SDGs were seen to be more inclusive globally. Unlike MDGs that were focusing in developing countries, SDGs targets a universal coverage including developed countries. In addition, the sense of participatory and ownership are also two important parts in the SDGs implementation which countries could adopt in the process of designing their own development priorities.

Seoul ODA conference has been conducted annually for 10 years and will be serving as a place of development practitioners to share their insights and knowledge on development efforts in the upcoming years.


By Cresti Eka Fitriana

Cresti is from Indonesia and she holds Master of Arts in International Development from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul, Republic of Korea. She is a former awardee of Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP) and is specialized in areas including migration & development, social policy & inclusion, and ASEAN region.

The 7th ASEAN-ROK Transport Cooperation Forum


The 7th ASEAN-ROK Transport Cooperation Forum (June 1st– 3rd , 2016) was held at The Plaza Hotel, Seoul, Republic of Korea. It was hosted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The forum opened its door with introductory speeches of Jeong Ho Choi (Vice-Minister of MOLIT), Bonifacio, Sherielysse (Chairperson of ASEAN STOM) and Chang Woon Lee (President of KOTI).

The forum was divided up into following sessions:

  1. Convergence of Cities and Transport
  2. Convergence of Information, Energy, and Transport
  3. Convergence of New Technology and Transport
  4. ASEAN-ROK Cooperation in the Transport Sector.

The sessions touched on interesting topics regarding transport, such as the autonomous vehicles and efficient urban transportation system through utilization and dissemination of smart technologies. Overall, the bigger picture of the forum was to underscore the importance of city-to-city connectivity and mobility, sustainable development and international cooperation, which altogether addresses the common issue of over-densification of urban areas within the ASEAN member states. The forum on Day 1 was followed by company and country reports, as well as technical tour and culture experiences during the remaining two days.


Youngmin Chang, CityNet’s Director of Programs, represented CityNet during Session D by giving a presentation about “CityNet’s Current Situation and Plan of International Cooperation in ASEAN Countries”.  CityNet’s organizational focus tied in with the theme of the forum in that they both stress international cooperation through partnerships, sustainable development, and development of Asian-Pacific cities. CityNet not only actively cooperates with the local authorities such as the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), but also engages in exchanges between its international members through organizing platforms such as the CityNet Services.

However, CityNet goes a step further to address various factors other than transportation that shape the urban fabric: affordable housing (Affordable Housing KLRTC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. March 2016.), climate change (Cities and Climate Change, Jakarta, Indonesia. May 2016.) and waterworks (Waterworks ARISU, Seoul, Republic of Korea, planned for September and November 2016.). Some of the notable achievements of CityNet include co-development of the Urban SDG Knowledge Sharing Platform with UN-ESCAP and SMG, as well as development and launching of CityApp Sidoarjo with Microsoft and Sidoarjo Regency.

Concluding with recapping of one of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 targets – By 2030, provide safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all-, Youngmin Chang reinstated the common goal of CityNet and the attendees of the 7th ASEAN-ROK Transport Cooperation Forum: to construct a better transport system for Asia-Pacific cities through convergence strategies, hence addressing the urban challenges as well as providing ‘opportunities-for-all’ to enjoy sustainable, smart, and efficient urban transportation.

By Jiyoung Jo

Jiyoung Jo is a rising Senior at New York University majoring in Metropolitan Studies and Environmental Studies. Her interest lies in the field of sustainable city planning and urban design, and she has a wide range of work experiences at both public and private sector in New York.

Public Private Partnership in Asia

According to the World Bank, Asia, along with Africa, is urbanizing faster than the other regions in the world and is expected to become 64% urban in 2050 (World Urbanization Prospects, 2014). This fast rate of urban growth means unprecedented need for urban investment in Asia.

In Asia nowadays, several public infrastructures including roads, tunnels and buildings are built in support of private sectors, and the role of private side has become critical in public field. According to UNESCAP’s finding, in 2011-2016, private sector contribution on infrastructure investment is second largest funding source, next to government budget. Government alone may lack of financial resources, and if private resources can be mobilized, government budget can be used in more urgent sectors such as healthcare and poverty.

Since private participation in public infrastructures businesses has gained popularity in Asia Pacific region, it is very interesting to discuss how private corporations can jointly work with governments to create a synergy to improve our society and public lives.

The history of private participation in public services can be traced back to early 1980s starting from the United States and the United Kingdom. In Asia Pacific region, private participation began to sprawl in 1990s to 2000s. To give brief snapshot of what PPP (Public-Private Partnership) is (please note that the definition of PPP is tailored in each country depending on the institutional and legal conditions), generally speaking, it means projects that a local authority can engage private partners to develop urban infrastructure and related services (CDIA PPP Guide for Municipalities, 2010).

By engaging in PPPs, municipal governments and private corporates share risks and financial burdens, and significant risks are transferred to the private side. Usually private side pays for construction costs and gets return on their investment often by project’s revenues. Right after concession, ownership is transferred to municipal governments, private side receives a right to operate facility for several years and when their term ends, facility is returned to public. This type of PPP is called BTO, Build-Transfer-Operate PPP.

There is another type of PPP which is commonly implemented in South Korea, called BTL, Build-Transfer-Lease, where private side operates for certain period and within that period, municipal government lease that facility for operation. There are pros and cons for PPPs and each PPP project bears different risks. PPP projects can, however, be more cost-efficient, facilitates the construction and operation process, and risks and liabilities are reduced for governments.


Figure 1 Partnership and cooperation in PPP (Source: CDIA Guide)

In South Korea, since the late 1990s, government began to support private sector participation actively, and nowadays PPPs cover most of city infrastructures ranging from roads, tunnels, bridges, water management systems, airports, to streams (cheonggye stream). Compared to the late 1990s, in the 2000s, number of PPP projects assigned almost quadrupled in South Korea. Currently there are 46 infrastructure facility types (including road, rail, port, communications facilities etc.) in 15 sectors that are eligible for public-private partnership procurement (Public-Private Partnership Infrastructure Projects: Case Studies from the Republic of Korea, 2011).

“Woomyunsan Tunnel” which passes under Mount Woomyun and connects Seocho, suburb of Seoul to Gwachon and Anyang in Gyeonggi province, is one of the country’s major infrastructures based on BTO type PPP. This tunnel is the first infrastructure project of Seoul Metropolitan Government leveraging private investment.
Private investors paid KRW179 billion for operational control of the tunnel from 2004-2034 with no fee and gets the full rights of all profits. The ownership will be returned to Seoul Metropolitan Government in 2034, after 30 years of operation under Woomyunsan Infraway co.

Woomyunsan Infraway Corporation is owned by multiple investors/shareholders, one of the largest shareholders being Korean Teacher’s Credit Union. Previously, Macquarie was the largest shareholder, but with recent elimination of Minimum Revenue Guarantee (MRG), which basically benefitted private investors at the expense of expensive toll fees, Korean Teacher’s Credit Union became the largest investor. With the elimination of MRG, toll fee has continued to remain at KRW2,50, which is KRW500 lower than the original contract.


Figure 2 Woomyunsan Tunnel (Source: CityNet)


Figure 3 Woomyunsan Tunnel Site Visit (Source: CityNet)

It took about 4.5 years to build this tunnel, and it began operating in January 2004. The aim of Seoul Metropolitan Government when signing a contract with private partners to build this tunnel was to distribute heavy traffic between Seoul and Satellite cities and to encourage private investment for social infrastructures.

Nowadays, approximately 35,000 cars pass through Woomyunsan tunnel each day and this is expected to increase to approximately 50,000 cars daily after 2023. Although the current volume is not as high as initially expected (only 70% expected at the plan stage), it will continue to increase and this tunnel is expected to operate soundly as a gateway linking Seoul and Satellite cities in Gyeonggi province to make commuting faster and more efficient.


By Taekyung Koh
Taekyung received Bachelor’s at Emory University in the United States and currently studying International Commerce at Seoul National University Graduate School of International Studies. Her interest area is economic development and sustainability. Taekyung has work experience as a market researcher at global market research firm before starting her master’s program, and was mainly in charge of international market research and overseas partner development.


Infrastructure Financing, Public-private Partnerships, and Developmnet in the Asia-Pacific Region, 2015, United Nations ESCAP
World Urbanization Prospects, 2014, World Bank
CDIA PPP Guide for Municipalities, 2010, CDIA
Public-Private Partnership Infrastructure Projects: Case Studies from the Republic of Korea, 2011, J.H. Kim, J.W. Kim & Choi
Public-Private Partnerships in China’s Urban Water Sector, 2008, Zhang, Mol & Fu

Planting the Energy in Buildings and City




COP21 Poster, Courtesy of Ron Made, (

Climate change and green growth are key issues in a rapid urbanizing world. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 80% of greenhouse gas emission is from urban areas. Last year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held its 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris, France. The Paris Agreement is the global agreement to tackle climate change that resulted from the negotiations during this conference.

One of the key elements of the agreement is Article 2.1.a of the Adoption of the Paris Agreement; “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (2015, p 21).

To strengthen the practical implementation of the agreement, Seoul Metropolitan Government held the policy discussion event ‘Planting Energy in Buildings and City’ on December 15th, 2015. According to Mayor Park, the purpose of this discussion was to enhance Seoul’s self-reliant urban energy policies, to hear about various opinions from experts and citizens, to reconstruct pre-existed regulations, and to find solutions for a long-term development through the green energy. The main topic of the discussion was the energy efficiency of buildings and cities, and the invited experts and academics presented their opinions and suggestions. I will share some remarks from the experts that were interesting for me in this post.


Mayor Park is giving an opening speech at the policy discussion event, ‘Planting Energy in Buildings and City’

Ms. Yang Yi Wonyoung, administrator of the Federation for Environment Movement, discussed about urban rehabilitation. Urban rehabilitation is important because old buildings have high energy consumption in heating, air conditioning, and lighting. According to Ms. Yang, the private sector led urban rehabilitation project, also known as New Town Development Strategy, is limited since it usually works for its profit only, and it can have a financial deficit.

In the past, there were many cases when a private sector without enough funds stopped the redevelopment project before finishing and left it on hold for a long time. Therefore, the public sector should systematically implement the planning and management of the project as it’s for the public’s interest, such as the increased quality of housing and the urban improvement. To do this, government intervention, in terms of policy advisory, regulation, financial support, and after-care services, is essential. Moreover, government should carefully design the incentive structure to equally distribute the benefits to different classes and actors.

Lastly, Ms. Yang emphasized on the importance of the citizen’s involvement in urban rehabilitation projects from the beginning to the end. Citizen should actively communicate with decision makers about their needs and interests, so the project can be well directed to a common goal.


The Expert’s presentation at the event ‘Planting Energy in Buildings and City’

Ms. Jaehee Jung, professor of Hongik University, talked about the building design and energy. Her main argument was to create a building design for people that save energy. Her key point was not only to focus on environment sustainability, but also on the social sustainability. She believes a real positive impact of energy efficiency comes from user-focused planning. A famous example is the integrated daylighting design with glass wall provides both environmental and aesthetic value. While it significantly reduces energy consumption, it also increases human comfort. Thus, urban designers and policy makers should consider a creative design and technology that respects social, cultural, and environmental aspects in order to build an environmentally friendly and sustainable city.

Professor Lee Jung Hyung from Chung-Ang University also put an importance on citizen’s participation. He pointed out that a little bit of personal inconvenience is required for energy efficiency, so people need to adapt themselves to a less convenient lifestyle and build consensus on it. The examples of the lifestyle can be riding bicycles instead of riding personal cars, and decreasing the temperature of a heater at home.

On the ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom-up’ approach debate, both methods should be applied together with trust in between top and bottom to make an urban area sustainable. Government and decision makers should strategically implement big projects such as urban rehabilitation and city planning with given fund, infrastructure, human resources, and a fair incentive structure. In addition, it should cooperate with private sectors to develop and adapt renewable energy in the buildings and housings. Meanwhile, citizens should actively participate in a government project to support and reflect their opinions. Implementing green energy in buildings and developing sustainable urban areas are important challenges. However, with government’s and citizen’s contribution, consensus and trust can make a successful model of energy efficient living condition.

CityNet Intern Jamie Lee

Jamie (Jisoo) Lee, CityNet Intern
Jamie is a recent graduate from University of Washington with Political Economy major interested in foreign aid, SDGs, and comparative politics.

Our City, Our Future

Thriving, harmonious, efficient, safe, resilient & green: words that we dream of when planning our cities of the future. Across Asia, governments, communities and businesses are moving to realise the dreams of people with many eco-city projects under development. This gives us an insight into Asian models for sustainable development.

Cities are currently responsible for more than 70 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, and opportunistically also represent a key force in reducing emissions and resource consumption. Sustainable development requires bold action, while also strengthening the local economy and creating a better place to live.

Courtesy of WiNG via Wikipedia

Courtesy of WiNG via Wikipedia

In identifying a unique Asian model of sustainable development, the Tianjin Eco-city a Sino-Singapore flagship project is a good case study to explore. Not yet fully constructed and recovering from the deadly August industrial explosion, the vision of Tianjin was defined to be “A thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development”. This vision is brought together by the concepts of the Three Harmonies and the Three Abilities.

The Three Harmonies involves creating an eco-city where:

  1. People living in harmony with other people;
  2. People living in harmony with economic activities;
  3. People living in harmony with the environment.

Three Abilities requires an eco-city to be:

  1. Practicable – the technologies adopted in the Eco-city must be affordable and commercially viable;
  2. Replicable – the principles and models of the Eco-city could be applied to other cities in China and even in other countries;
  3. Scalable – the principles and models could be adapted for another project or development of a different scale.
Courtesy of Blick vom Fernsehturm Richtung via

Courtesy of Blick vom Fernsehturm Richtung via

Another case for achieving sustainable development from government was shown in the city of Sanya in China. Along China’s southern cost of tropical beaches and tourism resorts, Sanya took an ambitious plan to do a stock measurement of the value of its ecosystem services in 2005. After 15 years of immense economic development, the city leaders decided on a new green growth plan which would incorporate natural capital accounting alongside their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A famous quote by US President Robert Kennedy says that the standard measure of our economies GDP “…measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. Natural capital accounting is a prominent step in sustainable development, and it involves measuring a range of ecosystem services in a city or town that we would not usually measure in our GDP.

Natural capital is the land, air, water, living organisms, and ecosystem goods and services that we rely on for survival and wellbeing. Our cities, businesses and communities receive some immense economic benefits from ecosystem services, such as New York City’s water supply. Manhattan, in New York, gets its primary source of drinking water from an update source, which was threatened by urban sprawl. The city decided to spend $1.5 billion to preserve 80,000 acres of natural landscapes to avoid paying $8 billion for a water filtration plant costing more than $300 million per year to run. Forests for example, play a role in stabilising sediment and excess nutrients from waterways. A forest wetland can filter water at approximately one-seventh of the cost with basic maintenance per thousand gallons than conventional wastewater treatment systems.

By considering these vital services from nature, Sanyo was able to make some important decisions on how they plan infrastructure and industry growth to ensure community wellbeing and sustainable development. This led to the creation of the below map where red zones represent areas decreasing in natural value, orange slightly declining and green zones increasing. Sanya valued their natural capital at approximately $40 billion (USD), 5.6 times their local GDP in 2013.

Since it’s first ecosystem measurement in 2005, Sanya has been growing its economy and the value of their natural capital stocks and their provided services (eco-tourism from coral reefs). Since tracking the change in natural capital, Sanya has been able to demonstrate the growth in its economy shown as GDP in red, natural resources shown in blue and ecosystem services shown in green from 2005 to 2013. Sanyo is able to holistically develop its quality of life in real terms beyond income measures.

Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon describes in his work the five ‘tectonic stresses’ which are bearing down on civilization: climate change; energy scarcity; environmental degradation; and intense conflict from urbanised megacities; and the extreme economic imbalance throughout the world. The enormity of these issues I know overwhelms many people still today and we struggle with how to begin to set our cities on the path to sustainable development.

Pushing beyond these enormous challenges of the world, my eternal optimism re-imagines sustainable development as going back to the basics and recultivating new approaches for empowering communities towards sustainable development. It is essential that we connect and communicate stories with people to inspire them to act and motivate change–stories about local communities and initiatives, which are green and bold. Communication is the key and the catalyst for broad social change.

I identify with this sustainability movement that is focussed on creativity, family, community, fun and reflection. Through innovative and decisive initiatives, vision and a sense of community, we can realise much success with sustainable development.


By Grant Duthie
Grant is from Australia who has lived and worked in Asia studying the cultural drivers, new social perspectives and trends in Asia-Pacific urban communities. Through his experience in social living environments, Grant writes on regional urban themes on his blog Urban Billion