Filed under: Central Asia Development Environment Governance

Given the rate of urbanization globally, what lies in store for cities in Central Asia? (See: What do you need to start building a city?)

This was the focus of an online discussion held in August with a leading economist from the Asian Development Bank, Guanghua Wan.

Mr. Wan co-authored a chapter of the Asian Development Bank’s Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2012 on “Green Urbanization in Asia.”

This chapter examines recent urban growth in Asia and the associated challenges and opportunities. A number of measures are recommended that would help transform cities into environmentally sustainable inclusive growth centres.

Since the Center for Economic Research where I work is developing a large project to analyse urbanization policies in Central Asia, I asked the Mr. Wan what are the key urbanization challenges in our region and what policies should governments adopt to manage them?

“Central Asian countries typically have smaller populations and larger proportions of people in the capital city, so it is quite crucial to manage public transport,” he said.

His chapter mentioned above notes:

“The growth of cities can have many advantages, including critical masses of people in relatively small areas, making it easier and more cost effective to supply essential services like piped water and sanitation. Rising education levels, factories leaving cities, the growth of middle classes and declining birth rates typically associated with urbanization also have a broadly beneficial impact on resource use and the environment.”

Our research, however, argues for a more prominent government-management role.

“At least in Uzbekistan, we must focus on enhancing the absorptive capacities of small- and medium-sized towns. This would reduce the pressure on major urban centres and contribute to more balanced economic development between urban areas and the countryside.”

Welfare and Urbanization in Uzbekistan, 2009

Mr. Wan has a different view. In Central Asia small cities might very well not survive in the long run, he believes. It is important, therefore, to pursue a balance between economic growth and environmental considerations.

These are two different views on urbanization policies in Central Asia.

What policies do you think make the most sense for Uzbekistan and other countries in Central Asia?