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IDJ English – Editorial report

Urban Development in Post Corona Era and ODA

An Open and Dynamic Urban Model is Necessary for Future Urbanization

Dr. Tsuyoshi Hashimoto

Chief Executive Director, RECS International Inc.


As urbanization progresses around the world, cities now face various crises such as natural disasters, poverty, terrorism and infectious diseases. Under such circumstances, discussions are afoot about many types of cities including smart cities and eco-cities. What do people need from their cities in the Post-COVID-19 Era? Dr. Tsuyoshi Hashimoto, Chief Executive Director of RECS International Inc., and an editorial writer for the “International Development Journal”, discusses. He has been long involved in urban and regional development in developing countries.


Is urbanization inevitable?

Historically, cities developed as venues to exchange products from neighboring villages.  The main functions of cities, therefore, are trade and related services including financial and administrative services.  Most other economic activities tend to be located in rural areas such as agriculture and mining depending largely on land, water and other resources and tourism capitalizing on natural resources.  Manufacturing activities tend to be located in rural areas as well, if they are of resource processing type, while other types may locate close to urban markets.

However, economic and financial globalization and development of the ICT industry are changing the economic structure and relationships between urban and rural areas.  For instance, factory-type agriculture that do not depend on endowments of land, water and other resources has been promoted in recent years.  Tourism may not be totally constrained by access to natural resources if it is combined with virtual reality to promote virtual tourism just like the world of the movie “Total Recall” (1990). Virtual tourism may be commercialized earlier induced by the recent COVID-19 crisis. In mining, exploration and extraction of mineral resources by AI-operated machines reduce the need for human workers in mining fields. These tendencies will be accelerated by the introduction of 5G and further 6G communication systems.

The service-oriented economy tends to promote further concentration of population in urban areas having various service functions. In fact, the acceleration of urbanization has been increasing the needs for further development of urban infrastructure responding to the needs. Such responsive development of urban infrastructure encourages further urbanization resulting in increased needs for urban infrastructure.  This “vicious circle” is a main issue to be addressed for urbanization.

Another issue is what type of urbanization is to be pursued in the globalizing economy.  Over-concentration of population in capital cities is considered undesirable in both developing and developed countries.  Then, the question is what kind of urbanization is to be pursued in local areas in the globalizing world. The issue is how to avoid over-concentration of population and economic activities in capital cities while enhancing urban functions effectively by both of the capital and local cities to meet the needs of globalization.


“Regional cities” hold a key for developing countries

For a developing country to achieve self-reliant development in the economic globalization, cities that are directly linked to the global market are necessary. They may be called “regional cities”. First, they are multi-functional cities with a population of 500,000~1,000,000.  Second, economic transaction costs should be reduced to realize a regional city by proper development of urban infrastructure as well as better urban management.

For a regional city to develop by effectively utilizing direct links with the global market, it must have industries producing exportable goods in its hinterland so that products of exportable quality and quantity are easily accessible at an appropriate price to compete in the global market. Having a surrounding region with viable indigenous industries producing exportable goods and services would ensure a robust economic structure for the regional city.

An example will clarify the relationships between export industries and a regional city. Tsubame City of Niigata Prefecture is famous for its metal works producing high quality kitchen utensils and other products.  Some products are highly competitive in the export market, but the city itself with a population of only 80,000 cannot be a regional city. On the other hand, Niigata City, some 30km away, with a population of 800,000 is qualified as a regional city, having major port facilities and an international airport.  This allows Niigata City to export the products from Tsubame City to the global market.

To be qualified as a viable regional city, it is necessary that primary and secondary industries in the hinterland of the regional city are linked to the tertiary industry in the city by effective transport and communications infrastructure. Conversely, introduction and application of advanced technology and creation of innovative design by the tertiary industry in the regional city support primary and secondary industries in its neighborhood.


Concepts and conditions of a “resilient city”

Of many models for urban development, smart cities and compact cities aim at efficient provision of public infrastructure services.  To realize them, not only hard infrastructure such as various facilities but also soft infrastructure of social capital including proper administration is required.  For instance, in case of a smart city, rather than a centrally control system for efficiency, a self-reliant governance structure should be built from buildings and houses, through districts and towns to cities and regions in hierarchical structure.  A compact city should not be a self-contained stationary city, but rather mutually complementary relationships with other cities for functional division would be a key to realize self-reliant development together.

Future cities should pursue the urban model with dynamic and open characteristics spatially and temporally.  Spatially, these cities would naturally encompass rural and agricultural areas and may extend as necessary beyond national boundaries.  Temporally, they should accommodate not only growth and expansion of urbanized areas, but also metabolism and changes in urban morphology, and encompass relationships with rural areas.  In designing such an urban model, city networking and the concept of a “resilient city” are important.

A basic form of city networking is a city alliance between small and medium-sized cities for more efficient joint provision of public services such as water supply and solid waste management.  An international city networking by large cities may allow complementary development of member cities each specializing in a high-grade urban service, respectively. Possible service functions include storage and supply of basic food products in preparation for food crisis, rescue and restoration from disasters such as earthquakes and flooding, international mechanism for various insurance schemes related to trade and logistics to compensate for economic losses by wars, internal conflicts and disasters, common ownership and use of development fund and funding methods, information sharing for various purposes and property rights.

A resilient city means a city with high capability to adapt to changes in external and internal conditions and to recover quickly from the effects of such changes including natural disasters.  It is clear that city networking for mutual development, as mentioned above, is indeed a method to realize a resilient city.


Suggestions for ODA in urban sectors

Based on the discussions above, directions of development cooperation in the urban sector by official development assistance (ODA) may be indicated.  As a starting point, advantages of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in the urban sector are noted as: 1) broad perspective and regional development approach, 2) practice of a participatory approach for community development and capacity development, and 3) possibilities of cooperation beyond national boundaries.  Against these advantages are the most significant challenge in the urban sector regarding how to train the human resources in developing countries not only for urban planning but encompassing also urban development and management altogether.  The only way is to muster efforts of both private firms and public organizations for planning and implementing urban development projects.

Particularly for urban development, the private sector should take the initiative, but in order to enhance profitability as well as development effects, urban infrastructure development and legal and institutional measures by ODA should be combined with private businesses.  Urban development projects should be promoted by collaborative efforts of private entities including financial institutes, ICT firms and thinktanks among others. Moreover, a mechanism to reflect voices and needs of residents should be built into the projects.  At the same time, development assistance by ODA including cooperation with other donors should be sought for urban infrastructure development and legal and institutional measures.  The organization of implementing arrangements with private entities, reflection of the voices and needs of residents, and facilitation of donors’ assistance are indeed expected functions of development consultants. These increasingly important functions of development consultants would be performed by linking stakeholders from planning through implementation to operation with software as well as hardware supported by human ware.


International Development Journal  2020 July edition


Supplement: This manuscript was first requested in February, when outline contents were conceived.  Due partly to limited space, an important aspect was not discussed, which has become more important with the proliferation of COVID-19.

An open model of urbanization is a prerequisite for city networking to achieve functional division as discussed above.  Also, to deal with rapid urbanization and changes in relationships between urban and rural areas, habitation patterns and spatial perceptions, a dynamic urbanization model would be required.  Such an open and dynamic city is in the opposite of city lockdowns recently taken as countermeasures against the COVID-19 crisis. The city lockdowns were undertaken by strong national authority, which is against the universal trend of localization of development administration for city networking, local autonomy and city alliances.

Another condition for a new urbanization model is, in fact, urban governance to cover areas much larger than the city itself.  This may be called “region-based urban governance” as a form of localization of development administration.  In the network society supported by 5G and 6G communication systems, urban residents may perceive surrounding rural areas as a new form of “satoyama” or home countryside, and rural residents may work for service industries in the nearby city, receiving remote education and health services. These possibilities may be effectively promoted by region-based urban governance.  New urban governance covering enlarged urban area encompassing urbanized area and surrounding rural area may facilitate fundamental solutions to various urban problems.



視点 ポスト・コロナの都市開発とODA



(株)レックス・インターナショナル 代表取締役

橋本 強司氏






























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