Sustainable Urban Regions: Synthesizing Current Research Endeavours In East And South-East Asia

Panel organizer

Katharina Borgmann (Hafencity University Hamburg)

Chairs & discussants

Katharina Borgmann (Hafencity University Hamburg)
Lisa Reudenbach (Hafencity University Hamburg)
Anika Slawski (University of Applied Sciences Lübeck)


Frauke Kraas (University of Cologne) & Sophie Heinkel, Toe Aung, Tin Tin Kyi, Win Lei Mar, Win Maung, Christian Miller, Stefan Martini, Marlene Willkomm, Benni Thiebes, Jonas Stoffels, Zin Mar Thane
Fabian Stolpe (Independent Institute for Environmental Issues – UfU)
Stefan Greiving (TU Dortmund)
Michael Waibel (University of Hamburg)
Matthias Falke (University Bochum) & Harald Zepp (University Bochum)
Bernd Gutterer (Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association e.V)
David Meschede (University of Cologne)
Oliver Assmann & Dieter Steinbach (AT-Verband – Association for the promotion of adapted, socially and environmentally compatible technologies, Stuttgart)

Panel abstract

It is one of the most pressing issue across all disciplines and requires holistic approaches with cross-disciplinary perspectives and expertise.

The undersigned team from the Hafencity University Hamburg (HCU) and the Technische Hochschule Lübeck (THL) of the BMBF-funded research project ‘Sustainable Urban Regions’ is excited to present this double panel under the Title: “Sustainable Urban Regions: Synthesizing Current Research Endeavours In East And South-East Asia” for the 2021 edition of the biannual DGA conference (Duisburg/online).

The development of urban areas in emerging and developing countries has faced challenges in the recent years that stem from growing dynamism, complexity, and pressure to act. Areas such as decreasing living and environmental conditions, insufficient resilience, or poor controllability by decision-makers and institutions have re-iterated themselves as being problematic. These circumstances put civil and public actors in the position of necessity to offer intelligent, feasible strategies for improving local conditions, opening economic perspectives, and fitting cities and regions with sustainable processes and systems. The proposed double panel will be held in English and is conceptualized around the project Sustainable Urban Regions, which is designed to oversee and synthesize over a dozen of individual projects across East and South-East Asia to produce added scientific value on the topics of regional and contextual approaches for sustainable development of rural-urban regions. The expected contributions (of around ten to twelve presenters) in these two panels would discuss the transnational projects between German research institutions and local partners from China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand with a focus on bettering of ecological factors (emissions, energy, and resource efficiency) and improving the resilience of cities in South-East Asia, without sacrificing the social and economic dimensions of sustainability. Furthermore, the described project collection has the ambition to create impetus for a permanent implementation of the developed strategies today and in the future.

Frauke Kraas & Sophie Heinkel, Toe Aung, Tin Tin Kyi, Win Lei Mar, Win Maung, Christian Miller, Stefan Martini, Marlene Willkomm, Benni Thiebes, Jonas Stoffels, Zin Mar Thane: Multiple Risks Management in fast growing megacities – impacts of the pandemic and strategies for combating COVID-19 in Yangon, Myanmar

With more than five million inhabitants, megacity Yangon is the largest city of Myanmar. The country’s capital until 2005, it is today’s leading economic hub and destination for tens of thousands of migrants. Since the country’s opening-policy after 2011, Yangon is undergoing deep transformation processes; globalisation further accelerates urbanisation and industrialisation. International investors support building and manufacturing industries, targeting most of the country’s largest industrial zones located in and around Yangon. Industrialisation, urbanisation and migration processes reinforce each other in a dynamic upward spiral.

Since early 2020, Myanmar is affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Government institutions, educational and private organization are obliged to work at home and have reduced working times. Private businesses were either completely closed (29%) or reduced operations and customers (48%) (Chau 2020), which is highly impacting the Myanmar economy and peoples’ livelihoods. The impacts of the pandemic within different sectors, townships and population groups have been analysed and different strategies for combating COVID-19 investigated over time as part of an inter- and transdisciplinary joint German Myanmar research project, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Lessons learnt and policy recommendations are summarised and discussed against the background of improved multiple risks management in a fast growing megacity.

Fabian Stolpe: GreenCityLabHuế: Strengthening climate resilience of urban regions in Central Vietnam through nature-based solutions for heat adaptation and air quality improvement

The project GreenCityLabHuế aims to strengthen the climate resilience of the city of Hue (Thua Thien Hue Province, Central Vietnam) through nature-based solutions (NBS) with a focus on heat adaptation and air quality improvement. It will create a multidisciplinary research and experimental space to develop, test, visualise, discuss and implement ideas and concepts on the restoration and expansion of green-blue infrastructure (GBI), and thus for the promotion and implementation of NBS, in the urban area of Hue. In cooperation with stakeholders from science, politics, administration, and civil society, the international project consortium will generate joint knowledge for stakeholders and decision-makers on NBS, resulting in a city-wide vision – a strategy containing guiding principles and best-practice recommendations for a greener, more resilient, and sustainable urban development of Hue, including proposals for specific measures of GBI implementation.

By providing information and scenarios based on qualitative research, multilayer GIS modelling, impact assessment, and the Urban Learning Lab (ULL) approach via the Green City Lab Hue (GCLH), and the project website, the project will inspire stakeholders, and decision-makers in Hue and other Vietnamese cities to mainstream GBI development into their urban planning processes. Thereby, knowledge transfer, and participation of stakeholders and the public in scenario development and planning processes will create co-learning opportunities and build up capacities for co-creation among administration, science, and the public.

During its definition phase, the GreenCityLabHuế project compiled a typology on GBI elements and, based on this, first narratives and scenarios for GBI development in Hue, and conducted initial research on the current situation and preconditions for future developments of GBI in Hue, which were summarised in the project’s status quo report. The R&D-phase will prioritise the revision of land-use change models, carry out an impact assessment, implement participatory co-design and co-learning processes combined with practical NBS showcases, and develop the Green City Vision Hue for future GBI development in the city. The integration of NBS and GBI into Hue’s urban development will protect a wide range of ecosystem services, while strengthening the city’s social and ecological resilience to the increasing effects of climate change. With its co-creation and co-learning approaches, the project will serve as a blueprint for inclusive and participatory urban planning, that will inspire Vietnamese cities to take a greener and more inclusive path of urban development.

Stefan Greiving: LIRLAP – Linking disaster risk governance and land-use planning: the case of informal settlements in hazard prone areas in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam

The past decades saw the Global South experiencing only a few locality-based resilience planning efforts which would have generated problem-solving practice models. While focusing on global city competition and urban economy efficiency, extremely marginalised urban poor have been often excluded from national planning agendas, including those in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries as Thailand and Vietnam. Despite the enactment of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121), urban risk governance and risk-based land use planning to reduce inhabitants’ socio-economic vulnerability and enhance community adaptive capacity for resilience has not gained wide efficacy. Metro Manila and its large proportion of inhabitants in disaster-prone informal settlements critically challenge resilience planning. Based on back-to-back workshops in 2018 and 2020, LIRLAP further advances and pursues its research agenda for the R&D phase, including five work packages: WP 1 Risk trends and resettlement options with urban growth, WP 2 Resilient upgrading, WP 3 Resilient retreat, WP 4 Mainstreaming upgrading and retreat strategies, WP 5 Capacity building, and WP 6 Project coordination. As outreach pro-gramme, LIRLAP outputs are to be tested in Thailand and Vietnam.

The five WPs use the consortium’s problem-solving expertise on: embedding the LIRLAP approach of relocation and upgrading in urban development with pilot projects in Metro Manila; co-producing climate-adapted upgrading and retreat with inhabitants to elevate livelihoods; mainstreaming locally viable strategies for up-grading and retreat and integrating resilience planning via stakeholder capacity building training and a joint PhD between Dortmund and SURP. LIRLAP integrates sustainable spatial development and risk management. With primacy of urban risk governance, the project seeks long-standing strategies on: sustaining re-settlement sites via urban livelihood strategies; balancing spatial structure of Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces as a chance to accommodate future resettlement; preparing for peripheral mid-size cities’ growth; diverging urban growth into other regional metro-areas so as to augment growth absorption.

Michael Waibel: Build4People: Enhancing Quality of Life through Sustainable Urban Transformation

In Cambodia, dynamic economic growth is leading to an urbanisation and construction boom with Phnom Penh as its epicentre. However, the new buildings and neighbourhoods are frequently not erected in a sustainable way and have direct and indirect negative environmental impacts that are externalised to the general public impacting urban quality of life. Issues of sustainability are rarely addressed by decision-makers in the construction sector, related ministries, city administrations, educational institutions or by building users.

The overall aim of the multi-disciplinary Build4People project (B4P) is to support and analyse a transformative shift in Phnom Penh’s current business-as-usual urban development pathway towards a pathway with higher sustainability and liveability levels, with the building sector as the entrance point of our research. Urban transition scholars have recently highlighted that such a sustainable urban transformation creates not only technological, but also a social, cultural, economic and political challenges. In order to improve understanding and address these challenges, B4P will combine societal and scientific problem-based analytical research with transdisciplinary action research approaches with the aim to (i) understand possible transition pathways, barriers and drivers and to (ii) align support of transformational change in the behavioural, environmental, technical and policy dimensions. To achieve this, we facilitate collaborative planning workshops (e.g. Eco City Transition Lab), strategic niche management approaches (e.g. Sustainable Building Incubator), transitional management approaches (e.g. Sustainable Building Arena) and subsequent experimental implementation. All of these steps will generate actionable knowledge for local stakeholders and a basis for data-driven evidence-based decision-making. Finally, the application within action research processes shall also lead to (re-)integration of created knowledge and subsequent refinement of theory.

The integrating link of our scientific-conceptional, analytical and normative dimension is the urban quality of life, which we consider to be the general foundation for our people-driven approach. As part of our research, we will jointly conceptualize, measure, and model urban quality of life and consider its political dimension and relationship to sustainability.

We will finally co-design urban sustainability criteria and strategies based on an identified case study site at the urban-rural fringe of Phnom Penh. The transdisciplinary research process will be connected to (a) national-level policymaking processes through B4P’s membership in the inter-ministerial sector Technical Working Groups on Green Buildings and Sustainable Cities, (b) transnational initiatives through a regional technical roadmap as a localized part of UNEP‘s global road-mapping activities, and (c) the local start-up scene through the Sustainable Building Incubator. Our results will be further disseminated through tangible knowledge products such as a toolbox, a handbook or several exhibitions reaching out to different target groups via locally established multipliers.

Matthias Falke & Harald Zepp: Green Infrastructure Planning in Shanghai and the role of Ecosystem Services. Insights from the BMBF research project IMECOGIP

Cities worldwide not only have to ensure access to basic services (water, food, housing, energy, security, recreation …), to mitigate current environmental challenges (water, air, soil, and noise pollution), but also have to cope with geo-hazards, extreme events, and climate change impacts while facing pressure from growing populations in a globalized economy. Thus, there is an increasing reception of the Ecosystem Service (ES) framework in urban planning: Germany actively fosters Green Infrastructure (GI) introducing ES terminology on all levels of spatial planning. In China, the central government now streamlines an ES-based approach of environmental governance accompanied by major institutional reforms. Despite the political mainstreaming of sustainable urban development, there are still substantial research gaps concerning the ‘potential ecosystem services provided and the interaction between vegetation and urban metabolism’ (WBGU 2016: 426). State of the Art research (Tomscha & Gergel 2016; Cord et al. 2017; Cortinovis & Geneletti 2018; Turkelboom et al. 2018) stresses the importance of multidisciplinary and integrated in-situ assessments on ES trade-offs including the biophysical constraints of landscapes, stakeholder relationships, opportunity costs for land-use change and the time lag of ES trade-offs. Studies addressing the science-policy interface revealed the need for more practice-oriented approaches, which pay attention to local geographies (Sutherland et al. 2018), governance cultures and institutional path dependencies (Kabisch 2015; Albert & von Haaren 2017; Lam & Conway 2018). Another obstacle identified in current urban GI-assessment and research is the lack of access to high-resolution land use data as well as the labor-intensive acquisition and processing of data (Grêt-Regamey et al. 2017; Roussel et al. 2017; Cortinovis & Geneletti 2019).

This presentation focuses on Shanghai and gives insights into our research design. Together with our Chinese research partners (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences; College of Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture, Tongji University; Department of Sociology of Shanghai University), IMECOGIP develops an innovative and ready to use method to evaluate GI development in spatial planning. This includes a spatially explicit GIS-based toolbox to evaluate ES trade-offs for different urban development scenarios on a high-resolution scale (< 1 m). Our framework adapts to differing planning cultures and considers national, regional, and local conditions. In cooperation with our partners from planning institutions, regional and local administrations, consulting agencies, and based on open data as well as on acquired data, we will shape the toolbox and adapt it to the needs of the intended users.

Bernd Gutterer: Polycentric Approaches to the Management of Urban Water Resources in Southeast Asia – A Localization of the Sustainability Goals of Agenda 2030 and the New Urban Agenda at the City/Municipality Level

Cities in Southeast-Asia (SEA) are exceedingly diverse, ranging from hubs of the global economy to small market places in remote areas. Many secondary and tertiary cities and towns in SEA are experiencing rapid but quite often insufficiently planned and managed developments which result in major challenges: the sustainable protection of water resources; the mitigation of vulnerability to climate change and disaster risks; and the effective provision of water related public services for all the citizens. There is an increasing agreement among decision makers in the field of urban development, scholars and practitioners that classical models of urban planning and water related infrastructure development alone cannot meet the development challenges of these cities. They no longer reflect the realities, needs and capacities of the cities. Current planning approaches and implementation schemes for these cities should be rethought. The management of urban water resources should be removed from a solely sector-focused approach and understood as a cross-cutting issue of overall urban development. Infrastructure development should rely on flexible, integrated and financially sustainable modular approaches that can adapt to the development and needs of the cities over time. New governance structures at city and neighbourhood level involving city administrations, communities, citizens, the private sector, civil society institutions and academia should allow a polycentric management of water resources. The respective comprehensive urban transformation may be guided by concepts such as “water sensitive cities” or “water wise cities”. Although multiple approaches, instruments and experiences for the development of water-sensitive cities are already available worldwide, these are either completely lacking for secondary and tertiary cities in the SEA region or only exist in isolated cases. This need is addressed by the practice-oriented, interdisciplinary research project “Polycentric approaches to the management of urban water resources in Southeast Asia”. Cities, academic institutions and civil society organizations from Cambodia, Germany, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are working together with the aim of developing approaches and instruments for the establishment of water-sensitive secondary and tertiary cities in the region. The paper will present the approaches in their technical, economic, social, ecological and financial dimensions and discuss first results of the project.

David Meschede: Hopes for economic development, fears of ecological devastation: Indonesia’s new, “green” capital and its influence on the East Kalimantan hinterland

In August 2019, Indonesian president Joko Widodo announced his government’s formal plan to move the republic’s administrative capital from Jakarta in North-western Java to a new location in East Kalimantan. The new capital is planned to be situated in an area between the two cities of Samarinda and Balikpapan. Following a multi-year assessment process, the selection of East Kalimantan over its competitors was justified, among others, by the pre-existing good infrastructure thanks to the proximity to Samarinda and Balikpapan, as well as the general safety of East Kalimantan from natural disaster such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcano eruptions, compared to other regions of fire-ring nation Indonesia. Despite concerns raised by environmental activists and the media, the Indonesian government insists that the new capital will not cause further environmental destruction, instead touting the future city as Indonesia’s new, “green” capital, claiming that it will actually revitalize the existing forest areas. East Kalimantan so far has rarely been considered as central to Indonesia’s cultural or economic makeup. The coastal oil industry has been a source of steady income for the province and the two aforementioned cities have become significant regional hubs, while rural life in many parts of the province has been transformed through extractive industries such as coal mining and logging, or the creation of cash cropping, such as palm oil plantations. Yet, large swathes of the rural East Kalimantan hinterland, home to some of the few remaining large tracts of intact rainforest on the island, have seen fairly little economic development. The promise of a soon-to-be realized capital city in their own home province provides the rural population with an entirely new perspective on future opportunities and may spur hopes and aspirations as yet unseen, as well as nurture additional fears of both continued environmental devastation as well as being left-out of the economic development. This paper aims to show that the promise of the new capital may have a significant effect on the future-planning and future-making activities in rural East Kalimantan. Equally affected are local decision makers on the district level, clamouring not to be left out from the expected economic development. In moving their capital to East Kalimantan, the Indonesian government has more to consider than technical challenges of construction and infrastructure but has to anticipate and accommodate the wider ramifications on the rest of the province.

Oliver Assmann & Dieter Steinbach: Empowering urban regions for practical implementation of sustainability and resilience strategies – the emplement! project

Before the end of this century, the majority of the world’s population will live in cities. Human well-being in cities is based on complex networks of interconnected institutions, infrastructure, resources and information of interconnected institutions, infrastructures, resources and information which often can hardly keep pace with the rapid urbanisation. The challenges arising from these dynamics and complexities are immense. There is already a current need not only to design strategies to improve living and environmental conditions, to strengthen resilience and to provide urban regions with sustainable processes and infrastructure systems, but also to implement them by means of appropriate measures. This applies especially also for Vietnam, where urbanisation is taking place particularly rapid – also in comparison to other Southeast Asian countries. In order to meet the challenges resulting from this, such as resource scarcity, environmental degradation, declining biodiversity, emissions, etc., numerous very ambitious strategies, framework and master plans have already been developed, most of which are hardly feasible or affordable. (Vietnam National Report 2016). However, with regard to practical implementation and the prerequisites for this (technologies, financial resources, know-how, organisational structures, etc.), these usually remain unspecific.

The emplement! project aims to support urban regions in their implementation processes and to develop appropriate methods and instruments for this. Particularly in the project area in Central Vietnam, the city of Da Nang and the neighbouring province of Quang Nam, the administrations and relevant actors are to be empowered to transfer and implement their partly already existing strategies and plans into practical, efficient, sustainable and resilient measures. For this purpose, the necessary methods, capacity development measures, development concepts, programmes, etc. will be developed, provided and applied. Within the emplement! project also very practical implementation activities (pilot projects) in four fields of action that are very important for the region (tourism, agriculture, industry, built environment) are foreseen, which will be carried out together with local stakeholders. The pilot projects will be scientifically accompanied and analysed using the developed or adapted methods, taking into account the conceptual and technical as well as the transsectoral synergies between the four fields of action and in the city-regional context. Based on the results, a comprehensive, transferable methodology will be developed and provided for the application in further Asian cities and contexts.