How will we finance the city infrastructure of the future?

New road tunnels under construction in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2013. Image: AFP/Getty.

What are the biggest financial priorities for cities in our rapidly urbanising world? Who are the key players to invest in urban infrastructure? What are the most effective, innovative financing mechanisms that cities can adopt?

These are urgent questions that global cities are asking as they face a huge infrastructure funding gap. To find solutions to this major 21st century challenge, the New Cities Foundation has launched the Financing Urban Infrastructure Initiative. Its mission is to produce actionable research and pragmatic recommendations for key urban decision-makers, including mayors, institutional investors and real estate developers, on how we can use innovative financing models that can address this gap.

The Initiative will be led by Dr. Julie Kim who joins us from the Stanford Global Projects Center as a New Cities Foundation Senior Fellow. We caught up with Dr. Kim, to find out more about her planned research.

NCF: How has infrastructure financing changed over the past few decades?

In the past 50 years, we went from infrastructure financing being largely in public hands to increased private sector participation – starting in the mid-80s for emerging economies and mid-90s for advanced economies.

More recently, it came back into the public hands with “remunicipalisation”, especially for the water sector.

Today, there is an unprecedented investor appetite for infrastructure globally and there are more financing options available for cities. As the market becomes more complex with increased demand, a more sophisticated approach is required.

NCF: What are the most pressing priorities in financing cities in the 21st century?

JK: Firstly, cities must strive to be more independent financially. They need to seek local financing capacity while capitalising on all resources available from multilaterals, bilaterals, central and provincial governments.

Secondly, they need to become smarter. The money is there, but packaging bankable projects is difficult. It takes sophistication and financial knowledge to reach well-balanced financing structures, which requires better education, networking and capacity building. This is one of the areas where the New Cities Foundation can play an important role.

Thirdly, cities need to be balanced in their development approach, especially big cities facing rapid growth and globalisation. They must balance the desire to grow economically with the need to address critical environmental and social equity concerns, whilst being sensitive to local needs and promoting inclusivity.

For small to medium-sized cities, it’s important to tap into all external resources – including grants, subsidies, credit guarantees and more.

NCF: It is well documented that cities in the Middle East and Asia face the toughest challenges when it comes to meeting investment resources with demand. How will you go about researching solutions specific to these zones?

JK: These cities need credible institutions and rule of law to attract financing: political instability presents a big challenge. In the short to mid-term, these cities must work closely with multilaterals and other development-oriented institutions to tap into their resources on technical assistance, capacity building and political risk insurance programs. Then, with multilateral backing, they must engage institutional investors for the long haul, in order for economic growth to catch up with the repayment needs.

In particular, they should explore opportunities with sovereign development funds and other impact investors who are interested in socially responsible investments with long-term positive impacts.

NCF: Do you have some standout examples of effective urban financing models that you’ve worked on or witnessed, that you can share with us?

JK: One example related to the local financial independence I mentioned earlier is the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD) model in California.

EIFD allows local and regional agencies new taxing powers – benefits assessment and Tax Increment Financing, for example – as well as multi-agency collaboration across multiple sectors, including transportation, water, waste management, and more. Urban infrastructure projects should not be developed in isolation, but in conjunction with land development that helps to trigger economic growth.

I was also involved in Pusan Centum City in South Korea where a 300-acre former air force base was converted into a major “economic incubator”. This was initially entitled “DMZ” – digital media zone – mixing technology, media and entertainment with education and residential land uses. This was a successful development that succeeded in drawing $2bn in outside investment.

NCF: This June, you’ll be coming to our New Cities Summit in Jakarta: a city that encapsulates many of the issues faced by rapidly urbanising zones in Asia. What interests you most about this city and its neighbouring areas?

JK: I’ll be fascinated to observe how this booming megacity plans to address economic, environmental and social equity challenges within a context of rapid urbanisation and growth. On a personal level I’m fascinated by Jakarta’s incredibly rich culture: its multi-layered, multiethnic population, peaceful and functioning effectively in all aspects.

I think Jakarta can emerge into one of the most unique metropolises in the world, on a par with global cities such as Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai – growing to symbolise South East Asia beyond what’s being offered by Singapore.

Dr Julie Kim is a senior fellow at the New Cities Foundation (NCF), an international non-profit organisation. This Q&A was originally posted on the foundation’s blog.

The Financing Urban Infrastructure Initiative is supported by Cisco and Citi.

 
 
 
 

Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

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With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

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While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

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Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).