The roadmap to build urban resilience, social wellbeing, and attract investment in future cities of developing countries

Update time:2023-05-05Reading times:1162

The roadmap to build urban resilience, social wellbeing, and attract investment in future cities of developing countries

Lead: I received the request from India G20-Think20 (Task Force 3: LiFE, Resilience, and Values for Wellbeing) commentary on urban resilience, social wellbeing, and investment in future cities of developing countries. I propose this straightforward, pragmatic and systematic approach and it shows potentials to lead Asian development.


Challenges: a straightforward, pragmatic and systematic approach needed

Urban resilience normally refers to the urban capability of recovery from disasters or sudden events, including rain-floods, epidemics, production accidents, terrorism, electricity shutdowns or frequent traffic jams. The processes of improving urban resilience correspond to the social wellbeing of citizens; for example, urban and country parks to facilitate the sponge city; city brain and ubiquitous sensing systems to facilitate fast-response to emergencies and commanding systems; and convenient mobility systems connecting satellite cities to the metropolitans.


Currently, the problems are not about if we need urban resilience but how to facilitate it in a straightforward, pragmatic, and systematic manner, avoiding both purely theoretical or academic discussions and the large number of duplicated or isolated projects that are conducted in the name of urban resilience. For instance, even the World Bank-led transportation corridor plan by Global Infrastructure Connectivity Alliance (GICA) lacks a practical action map.



Approaches: the integration of the multiple infrastructure

Traditional infrastructure mainly refers to urban businesses, such as rail transit, energy, public health, and emergency management. These businesses guarantee our daily life and urban operations. Digital infrastructure includes wireless and wired communication networks or ubiquitous sensing networks as well as the various applications to connect people and things. These technologies provide high-quality living and efficient urban management. Institutional infrastructure mainly indicates the governing system involving supervision of digital giants and MSMEs, intellectual properties and their protection and arbitration, and reasonable data flows. Institutional infrastructure activates the coupling of traditional and digital infrastructure. Afterwards, the onshore or offshore financial infrastructure guarantees capital flows to meet market demands or to fund relevant infrastructures.


In some cases, cross-border solutions beyond a single city are explored. A bigger market scale via integrating isolated islands or far away hinterland is attractive for global suppliers and catalyse capital markets. In the other cases, the over-emphasised macro-level corridor development has been abandoned with the adoption of a “node-cities first and followed by the corridor” principle.


Whatever the strategies adopted, in order to avoid the scattered and overlapping functions’ sensors or systems at city-level or region-level, a series of plan principles have to be followed including “centralised construction and sharing of infrastructure”, “coordination of urban business, ICT (information and communication technology), and operation mechanism”, and “all life-cycles supervision of planning, investment, construction and operation”.


Either approach needs to be done by a high-quality top-level smart city design. The ideas and methods outlined and proposed in this piece can be substantiated by case studies in the 
Asia Smart City Quarterly Review-West Asia and
Asia Smart City Quarterly Review Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Great Bay Area


Case Study

For the coming decades, the global economy will be boosted by Asia, and here we discuss two scenarios taking this into account.


For the cities in West Asia, the strategy is the corridor first; for instance, the paths of Riyadh-Manama/Doha/Abu  Dhabi-Muscat-Duqm, or the roads of Beirut/Tripoli/Haifa-Damascus-Amman-Aqaba-Jeddah-Jazan. Rail transit is the key to connect isolated cities in the Arabian Peninsula. Global capital will flow into the systematic planning regions rather than to scattered projects due to their interests being guaranteed for the long term with relatively less resource wastage.


As per the practical roadmap, the multi-infrastructures will be constructed from the Hindu Kush Mountain to the Arabian Sea. Huge rail transit and fiber optical communication networks as well as the corresponding operation mechanisms will create a bigger market to hedge the risks of the de-globalisation process. The projects in node-cities can start earlier, and then be expanded to a bigger area. Basically, any kind of technological planning or construction are not the challenges in front of us.


If the Gulf Economies, Iran or Central Asia cannot be integrated due the security concerns; as a consequence, it affects the whole of Asia. On the one hand, we need the willingness of the major economies in this region-this is the key. On the other hand, fortunately, Asia has powerful and insightful members and leaders.


For the cities in South Asia, which the main concerns are the growing demographic density and employment in large cities, the strategy of “node-cities first and followed by the corridor” is suggested. For example, with the regional textile centres of Chattogram (population: more than 6.6 million, in 2021) and Kolkata (population: expected more than 18 million, estimated in ongoing 2021 census), a skyrocketing population exacerbates concerns on urban diseases and employment.


First, the traditional pillar industries need to be revitalised. E-commerce and digital logistics should be applied to marketing and manufacturing processes of textile products in Chattogram and Kolkata. The logistics centers could be planned and constructed in sub-urban areas to reallocate the people to work and live there while connecting them to commercial downtowns via suburban railways or intercity rail networks.


Second, increase digital literacy. The agricultural productions or sales data in village clusters can be collected to increase their bargaining powers with local and international buyers. Electronic medical records are the joints between hospitals and grassroots healthcare institutions in sub-urban or rural communities. Basic facilities including optic-fiber or 4G communication in agriculture or health are used to share information on zoonotic diseases and nature reserves inspection. These digitalised health, food and ecosystems not only create a decent life outside the downtown areas by relocating dense populations, but also bridge the digital divide.


Third, create the digital setups to nurture MSMEs (Micro- Small- Medium Enterprises). As a museum city, Kolkata could set up venture capital funds to nurture remote human-machine-interaction systems to stimulate tourism. Further, it is encouraged to jointly set up digital most-favorued principles to cities in Bangladesh- China- India- Myanmar (BCIM) corridor including reasonable digital flow, referencing DEPA (Digital Economy Partnership Agreement), CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) or even higher standards.


Finally, it creates the opportunities for inancial departments. The data produced by digitalised health, crops, and trading ecosystems could forge a preliminary data-based policy-making system and can form the basis for the capitalisation of data resources. As result, a credit system will emerge, which could be used for the mortgage of small loans. Besides, soaring digital literacy is the prerequisite of high-quality jobs. International multilateral and private banks, including Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), New Development Bank for BRICS, or the medium or small banks globally, could be attracted to this region due to this open market.



We present an integrated action roadmap to guide urban resilience, social wellbeing and global capital. A guidance panel under G20 could be needed to serve this purpose. All decision-makers in Asia must clearly realize that there is a long path yet to be travelled. If we cannot work together, it is hard to imagine when the Asia Century will truly come.


English version is published in Think20 (T20) of G20 India, on 12th April, 2023: