Category Archives: Blog posts

Addis Ababa: ‘New Flower’ in an Old Vase

4 October 2019

Reflections on the city following the Urban Age Conference in Ethiopia

By Biruk Terrefe, PhD Candidate, University of Oxford

©Charlie Rosser

Nowhere is the concept of ‘path-dependence’ – the idea that a set of outstanding decisions are constrained by decisions made in the past – more tangible than in the urban bricolage that has emerged in Addis Ababa over the last fifty years. Addis Ababa’s façade blends across time and space, ranging from the century-old Imperial palaces and Italian modern architecture of the 1930s, to Soviet-influenced office buildings as well as the Chinese-backed Light-Rail transit system and skyscrapers.

The Urban Age Conference in 2018 hosted at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa provided a platform not only to engage with international academics and current and former mayors from across the world, but also offered the space for much-needed internal reflection among Ethiopia’s urban thinkers.

Ethiopia has had the highest expenditure rate on infrastructure in Africa, investing heavily in road networks, railways, dams, and housing.[i] While this has contributed to the rapid economic growth of the country in the last decade, it has also led to the demise of central tenets of urban planning. New roads and a city-wide rail system have been planned, built and constructed on the basis of engineering principles, where questions of social integration and connectivity with existing systems were of secondary importance.  It is important to remember that roads are built for cars, streets, on the other hand, are built to maintain the vibrant interactions between vendors, pedestrians, shop owners, and vehicles. Unfortunately, Addis Ababa has lost sight of this vital distinction.

©Charlie Rosser

Central to the dynamic of rapid urban growth is the political question of multi-layered governance. Cities like London and Paris have extremely powerful city administrations that can singlehandedly enact large swaths of policies that shape the urban fabric. In Ethiopia, there is a fundamental question about the independence, authority, and capacity of city governments to shape urban life. Historically, the federal government has dominated the urban agenda, often sidelining local administrations in the decision-making process or imposing projects on the city, such as the Light-Rail Transit System (LRT). The LRT’s disconnection to existing transport modes and its impact on vehicular traffic are not incidental consequences, but a result of failed coordination in the planning process.

The latest mega-infrastructure project announced in late 2018 by the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seems to have also largely blind-sighted the officials of the city government. The new Dubai-sponsored, 36-hectare real estate complex La Gare in the geographic center of Addis Ababa raises numerous questions about how this project fits into the existing structure plan of the city. The developer Eagle Hills has been criticized for its failed endeavors in Belgrade. Prof. Edgar Pieterse in his keynote at the Urban Age argued insightfully that “pro-urban policy approaches that foreground the resolution of land markets are simply creating smooth landing pads for the wrong kind of capital”. In his view, it should not just be about “markets and trade, it’s about spatial justice”.

Addis Ababa is a city that is in desperate need of affordable housing and, as an urban-late comer, it can learn from the mistakes of others. However, as Prof. Fasil Giorghis based at EiABC said, “we are still attracted to these flashy images”. Protecting and shaping the growth of the Addis Ababa in the next decade, he added, is not just “about saving a few old buildings,” but rather “about maintaining the vibrant, multi-layered street life that exists”.

The conference session titled Ethiopia’s urban transformation highlighted many of the challenges that Ethiopian cities will face in the coming decades. While only 22% of Ethiopia’s population currently lives in cities, 70% of the country’s total economic output happens in these urban centres. In search of these jobs, young people in rural areas tired of “waithood” are heading to Addis Ababa as well as flocking to Adama, Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa, Hawassa and Mekelle. These secondary cities are rapidly increasing in size, partly due to an explicit strategy by the Ethiopian government to ease the growing pressures on Addis Ababa.

©Charlie Rosser

Addis Ababa is also home to a number of different administrations, in addition to the city administration, Addis Ababa hosts a continental, national and regional administration: the African Union; the federal government of Ethiopia; and the Oromia regional government. This creates a vibrant political environment at different scales within the city but also causes tension. Due to the complex political dynamics between the city government and the Oromia regional government, there are very defined planning boundaries within which the city must stay and beyond which the city has little influence.[ii]

Local political dynamics like this are often not understood by international actors. Maheder Gebremedhin, lead architect at YEMA Architecture at the Urban Age Conference rightly asked: “Who sets the urban agenda in Ethiopia?” The city faces an onslaught of foreign policy advisors, international NGOs, researchers and self-proclaimed experts that are engaged financially and technically across the city. NACTO, Bloomberg, ITDP, GIZ, and UN-Habitat among others are working with different actors at the city administration on issues ranging from non-motorized transport, road safety, and road design standards to the introduction of bike lanes. This creates a cocktail of well-intentioned policy reports, workshops, capacity-building exercises and the like that in fact are sometimes competing, often distracting and very seldom coordinated. While learning from the experience of other cities is both encouraged and essential, Addis Ababa needs to set its own urban policy by being strategic and deliberate in its engagement with external partners.

Ethiopia’s architects and urban planners have long acknowledged that the city’s growth is no longer controlled. Rahel Shawl, founder of RAAS Architects, admitted during the conference that “when the growth is so fast, you’re not in control of the urban fabric and the way you build.” Ethiopia is at a critical juncture not just in terms of its political reform process, but also the future of its cities. As the density and compactness of Addis Ababa increases and as housing and transport shortages become ever more apparent, we need to regain control of this rapid expansion. There needs to be a move away from building houses to developing housing, from making roads to creating streets, from construction in sectoral silos to connecting with the plethora of urban actors. The new flower needs a new vase.

[i] Sennoga, E., Zerihun, A., Wakiaga, J., & Kibret, H. (2016). Ethiopia 2016 – African Economic Outlook. Retrieved from

[ii] Lavers, Tom. 2018. Responding to land-based conflict in Ethiopia: The land rights of ethnic minorities under federalism. African Affairs 117(468): 462-484.

Efficiency by Design: Comparing 4 Cities

21 August 2019

The Resource Urbanisms project that LSE Cities led, between 2015 and 2017, focused on two natural resources, land and energy, and explored their relationships with urban form, transport and housing. It analysed these relationships through a comparative case study approach focusing on the city of Kuwait and Abu Dhabi in the GCC, and Hong Kong and Singapore in East Asia. 

The key findings of this research were:

1. The shape of cities has a considerable impact on resource efficiency, making it a critical factor for global sustainability.

2. There are fundamental differences between the city models examined in the Gulf States compared to those in East Asia.

3. All cities displayed considerable intra-urban differences that exceed initial expectations.

4. All four cities have become denser since 2000, but historically have been going through phases of densification and de-densification.

5. All four cities rely on active state intervention and have been shaped by intentional policy, planning and infrastructure development.

6. Natural resources, above all land, play a central role in determining urban form at the macro and micro scale.

7. Energy prices have a more nuanced and indirect impact on the nature of urban growth.

8. Non-resource factors impacting urban development were found to be critical, complex and often interrelated.

9. In terms of energy consumption, the study confirms that high-density, compact, mixed-use and public transport-oriented cities are more efficient than low density cities that are dependent on private vehicles.

10. Cooling energy efficiency is centrally driven by compact urban morphologies and building designs.

11. Transport energy efficiency is closely related to density, mixed-use and public transport availability.

Executive MSc in Cities Graduate: Ciarán Cuffe’s Story

12 August 2019

Written by Ciarán Cuffe, who graduated from the LSE Cities Executive MSc in Cities in 2019 and is the Green Party Member of the European Parliament for Dublin.

What a trip it has been! It has been a whirlwind since I kicked off on the Executive MSc in Cities at the LSE two years ago. I realised at some point that I’m one of those ‘boutique career’ people. I’m trained as an urban planner and architect, but I’ve spent a lot of my life in elected office as a city councillor in my home city of Dublin, Ireland and served two terms in the Irish Parliament. In one of those stints I was a Minister of State with responsibility for climate action as well as sustainable transport and travel. In more recent years I lectured at the Technical University of Dublin and set up an MSc Programme in Urban Regeneration.

However, in 2017 I wanted to broaden my knowledge, and find out more about global cities. I had been to China, teaching at the Gengdan Institute in Beijing and was fascinated by the dizzy growth of Asian cities in recent years. Undertaking an Executive MSc at the LSE seemed like the right choice to improve my understanding of contemporary urban issues. The Programme consisted of five intensive weeks on campus and plenty of reading and assignments in between sessions. Each week consisted of lectures from the core staff as well as guest lectures and workshops. Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies at the LSE and Course Director gave us wonderful presentations of contemporary cities around the world, while Philipp Rode introduced us to ways in which the green economy is reshaping cities. Professor Saskia Sassen explored the seismic shifts that globalisation brings to cities, and Suzanne Hall introduced us to the issues of global migration and urban marginalisation. Lecturers such as Henk Ovink the Netherlands ‘Water Ambassador’ showed us how Hurricane Sandy is reshaping the New York region, and the Mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa discussed issues of development in the Global South.

My fellow students on the Programme came from five continents to participate, and brought unique insights from their own cities such as Sydney, Oakland and Johannesburg. They brought different skills with them; property development and urban management; innovation expertise and urban design. Most of them were mid-career, and brought a wealth of life experience to the table. Debates were often heated as we worked together on group projects that tackled climate adaptation and infrastructure finance. Ultimately the course took me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to think differently about how urban regions develop and change.

Graduate Class 2017-19

For my final project I explored how my own city could decarbonise the transport sector. This tied into my role as chair of the City of Dublin’s Transport Committee, and involved interviewing senior experts in mobility and planning. Shortly after I submitted my consultancy report I kicked off my campaign for election as a Member of the European Parliament for Dublin. I ran on a platform of tackling climate change through focusing on transport and housing investment. I was elected in late May, and since July I have been a member of the Transport and Energy Committees of the European Parliament. I’m already applying some of the lessons learnt from the Programme in my work, and look forward to bringing my new qualification to bear on the urban challenges that the European Union faces in the years ahead.


31 July 2019

Europe, North America and South America are the most urbanised continents on the globe, with 74 per cent, 82 per cent and 84 per cent of people respectively living in cities, towns and other urban settlements; while Africa is around 42 per cent and Asia 49 percent urbanised. Each continent displays very different patterns of urbanisation, reflecting diverse histories, cultures and geographic constraints. However, these figures reflect differences in what types of settlements and density levels are considered urban by the public authorities in the different nations and regions of the world. For example,while the density threshold for urban areas in Europe is relatively low at 314 people per square kilometre (pp/km2), in Africa the threshold is much higher at 1,019 pp/km2. In rapidly urbanising countries in Asia, density thresholds are even higher: 1,433 pp/km2 in China and 4,128 pp/km2 in India.

To more accurately compare settlement structures globally, the following maps compare density levels between four regions – Africa, South and East Asia, Europe and South America – highlighting in red areas with densities over 1,000 pp/km2, rather than applying regional thresholds. In these maps, land is coloured on a spectrum based on population density, where light grey represents areas of the lowest densities and red the highest, up to 170,000 pp/km2. In addition to the maps, bar charts illustrate the density range inhabited by proportions of the population in each of the global regions.


Africa, the largest of the four regions, is experiencing a period of intense growth. While the urbanisation level is the lowest of the four at 42 per cent, this is set to rise dramatically. Despite low urbanisation levels, the percentage of the population living at the highest densities (over 10,000pp/km2) is 16 per cent – not far behind South and East Asia (18.3 per cent) and over three times that of Europe (4.9 per cent).Though the largest share of the population in Africa lives at high density (35.1 percent at 1,000–10,000 pp/km2), this is low in comparison to the other world regions, where nearly half of the population lives at an equivalent density (with South and East Asia at 45.2 per cent; Europe at 46.2 per cent; South America at 49.4 per cent). In Africa, there are fewer higher-density areas, with concentrations around major cities such as Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg, Khartoum, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. The percentage of the population living at low densities is the highest in Africa, with 18.6 per cent living at levels under 100 pp/km2, compared to 6.9 percent in South and East Asia, 14.2 per cent in Europe and 13.8 per cent in South America.


South and East Asia feature far higher population densities across vast territories, as well as the emerging presence of large urban agglomerations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Kolkata in addition to the established mega-cities of Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, Delhi and Seoul. There are extensive concentrations of higher-density areas that are transforming from agricultural to urban economies in the regions stretching from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in the Pearl River Delta and along the River Ganges from Lahore in Pakistan to Dhaka in Bangladesh. Over 90 per cent of the population live above 100 pp/km2, as indicated by dark grey areas. Rapid demographic and economic growth account for South and East Asia’s high density levels, with the smallest proportion of the population living at the lowest densities and less than half the share of the population than in Europe living at densities under 10 pp/km2 (6.9 per cent vs 14.2 percent). South and East Asia’s urbanisation level of 44 per cent does not reflect the reality of high-density living in the region, as much of South and East Asia is considered rural where equivalent densities would be considered urban in Europe (314 pp/km2).


In Europe, there is a more decentralised form of urbanisation, with over half (51.1 per cent) of Europe’s residents occupying densities over 1,000 pp/km2, but only 4.9 percent of the population living at the highest levels of density (over 10,000 pp/km2) – a third of that in Africa. Europe also contains a greater concentration of cities with over 500,000 people and a large number of highly connected smaller cities and towns across parts of western Europe, reflecting its unique history founded on the power and autonomy of relatively small city-states,regions and nations.


South America features the largest proportion of the population at the highest density levels, with 74.4 per cent of the population living at densities over 1,000 pp/km2, including the largest global share of densities over 10,000 pp/km2 (25.0per cent). High-density areas are clustered around large cities such as São Paulo, Lima, Buenos Aires and Bogotá, located along continental edges known as the ‘populated rim’. Though the Andes mountains and the Amazon in central parts of South America limit urbanisation, the expansion of slums into valleys and along steep slopes, followed by waves of incremental upgrading and formal service provision, has seen cities overcome topographic constraints. South America features significantly fewer people living at the mid-range density of 100–1,000pp/km2 (11.89 per cent), nearly a third of the proportion seen in the other world regions.

Africa’s Core Challenges

24 July 2019

Since the 17th Urban Age conference was hosted in Addis Ababa, the Urban Age focused on urban transformation in Africa. 2.5 billion more people will be living in cities by 2050, the vast majority in Africa and Asia. Yet, much of the infrastructure to support this urban expansion is yet to be built. To contribute to the exploration, the Urban Age has carried out new research on African cities. The dynamics of growth and change of sub-Saharan African cities – their size, population, density and social and economic profiles – are presented alongside those of emerging cities in Asia and more mature urban centres of developed nations. The aim is not to create a ranking of urban performance or ‘success’ but to better inform the decisions that are taken today that will shape urban lives for generations to come.


The essays in this publication provide context and perspective on the challenges faced by developing cities: from fragmented urbanisation and economic inefficiency, to environmental damage and limited democratic accountability.


Africa, along with Asia, is the epicentre of global urbanisation. This transition will undoubtedly result in considerable challenges including demand for employment, services and infrastructure. At the same time, it presents significant opportunities to enable structural transformation, if well planned and managed. READ ON


Africa’s past is rural. Africa’s future is urban. The growth of Africa’s cities offers tremendous economic, social and political upsides. Urban agglomerations have generated industrialisation, cultural breakthroughs and democratisation, but there are also downsides of urbanisation. READ ON


Hear from the

Challenges for young Africa: Alcinda Honwana

Africa’s economic potential: Abebaw Alemayehu

Defining African urbanism: Edgar Pieterse

Core Challenges for African cities: Panel discussion


Africa’s exports are dominated by fuels and primary commodities (71%). Manufactured goods account for a much smaller share of exports (18%) and are the largest share of Africa’s imports (63%). However, growth in manufactured goods for export suggests urbanisation is weaning Africa off extraction-based wealth, through industry only employs about 9 per cent of the female and 16 per cent of the male workforce, with approximately half of Africa’s workforce employed in agriculture. African countries have experienced significant poverty reduction, with the fastest reductions in urban areas. Through recent growth in African cities has led to increases in per capita incomes, reduced poverty and improved living standards, many African countries experience high levels of income inequality.





(GINI coefficient)


(per cent of urban population living in informal settlements, 2010)



Delivering Housing for All: Sessions from 2018 Urban Age Conference

14 June 2019

Rapid urbanisation raises huge questions for policymakers about housing new urban dwellers. Delivering Housing for All was one of the eight sessions at the Urban Age Conference, Developing Urban Futures, jointly organised by LSE Cities at the London School of Economics and the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft that took place in Addis Ababa in November 2018.

The session explored national housing programmes in Mexico, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Singapore that have delivered mass housing in recent decades and asked what lessons can be drawn in terms of funding, planning and participatory design for African cities rushing to deliver much-needed shelter?


Gautam Bhan, Lead, Academics and Research, Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore.
Jose Castillo, Principal, a911, Mexico City.

Mass Housing Models

Elias Yitbarek Alemayehu, Architect and Urban Planner, EiABC, Addis Ababa University.

Community-Led Initiatives

Taibat Lawanson, Associate Professor of Urban Planning, University of Lagos

Panel Discussion

Delivering housing for all – Arif Hasan Belinda Yuen Elias Yitbarek Alemayehu Gautam Bhan Jose Castillo Joseph Muturi Kecia Rust Ricky Burdett Taibat Lawanson Tau Tavengwa



by David Satterthwaite | November 2018
Upgrading is a term given to government measures to improve housing and community-related infrastructure and services (such as piped water, sewers, drains, household waste collection and healthcare) to settlements considered (or officially designated as) ‘slums’ or illegally developed. Many include measures to provide inhabitants with secure tenure. Some also support improvements to housing. READ FULL ARTICLE


by AbdouMaliq Simone| November 2018
Every afternoon two dozen middle-aged men huddle at one of the several coffee shops in the underground mall of one of the most infamous vertical housing developments in Jakarta, Kalibata City. A pervasive air of melancholy is punctured only by passing security guards, or when everyone proceeds to the outdoor smoking area a few metres away. READ FULL ARTICLE


by Marco Di Nunzio | November 2018
We arrived late at the lekso (funeral) and everybody was there. The cemetery was on a small hill facing the blocks of the Summit condominium site on the eastern outskirts of Addis Ababa. Jonas1 helped me find our spot. There were hundreds of people. ‘Trust me,’ Jonas said, gesturing at the crowd, ‘this is not just because this old man was respected. It is because of Arat Kilo.’ Arat Kilo was among the oldest neighbourhoods in the heart of Addis. READ THE FULL ARTICLE


by Yeraswork Admassie | November 2018
Having followed a historical trajectory different from that of developed and some developing countries, Ethiopia’s urban growth has acquired a number of peculiar characteristics. One of these characteristics is the mixed distribution of its population, activities and services. READ FULL ARTICLE



These maps illustrate the horizontal growth of cities since the early 1990s. They also document the relationship between the city’s administrative boundary and the built-up area in which people live. The darker orange areas highlight the variety of ways cities have expanded since 1990 in response to diverse planning regimes, geographic constraints, competing economic drivers and traditions of building form and culture. As cities grow, governing them becomes more complex and less efficient when their administrations have limited power and where urban footprints extend beyond administrative boundaries.


Behind the basic parameters that define how cities perform lie very different patterns of urban development, with diverse spatial, social and economic characteristics. In this city data matrix, LSE Cities has assembled information from a range of official sources for nine selected cities, revealing their social, governance, planning, transport and environmental patterns.

Reflections on the 2019 International Transport Forum Summit

12 June 2019

LSE Cities launches new paper at International Transport Forum Summit in Leipzig – but urban accessibility and bigger challenges of environmental sustainability remain largely absent from the high-level discussions.

By Catarina Heeckt, Policy Fellow at LSE Cities

Last month we formally launched our new paper , ‘National Transport Policy and Cities: Key policy interventions to drive compact and connected urban growth’ at the International Transport Forum Summit in Leipzig, Germany. The paper, written for the Coalition for Urban Transitions, highlights the five priority transport policy interventions that national governments can implement to make cities more accessible – either by leapfrogging car-centric development pathways, or by transitioning towards a more compact and connected future. While the event provided us with a fantastic platform to discuss our research on the key actions national governments should take to foster more low-carbon, compact and connected cities, it also highlighted that accessibility as an indispensable precondition for sustainable urban development has still not arrived in the ‘mainstream’ of national transport policy-making.

Overview of the most important national transport policy instruments and reforms for promoting compact and connected urban growth.

The International Transport Forum (ITF) Summit brings together government ministers from around the world to share policy perspectives with the private sector, the media, heads of international organisations, and thought leaders from civil society and academia. While calling it “the Davos of Transport” may be slightly hyperbolic, the event is nevertheless one of the largest gatherings of transport ministers globally. This year, around forty ministers along with more than 1000 delegates from 70 countries gathered in Leipzig to discuss how better transport connectivity can help integrate regions while enabling the achievement of economic, social, and environmental goals.

Creating dialogue between academia and policy-makers

Catarina Heeckt (Policy Fellow, LSE Cities) speaks about “Better Cities: The Role of National Transport Policy”, hosted by the LSE, at the Open Stage Café taking place during the International Transport Forums 2019 Summit in Leipzig, Germany, on 23 May 2019.

Ahead of the formal launch event, I was invited to discuss the findings of our new paper at the ITF Pre-Summit Research Day during a panel on Sustainable Transport Solutions. The objective of the Pre-Summit Research Day is to create dialogue between researchers and practitioners and ensure that important new findings in academia shape the policy debates taking place at the Summit. Researchers from around the world presented work ranging from the economic viability of electrifying old diesel buses in Latvia to the use of blockchain technology in new Mobility-as-a-Service offerings in Korea.

While the intention of linking research findings into high-level policy dialogues is laudable, I am not sure to what extent the conversations from that first day carried over into the main Summit. There were certainly some interested policy-makers that attended the event but I didn’t hear the more interesting or controversial debates from the pre-Summit Research Day resurface in a meaningful way during the events I attended during the main Summit.  

Connectivity for economic prosperity – but at what cost?

Philipp Rode (Executive Director of LSE Cities) makes a speech on “Better Cities: The Role of National Transport Policy”, hosted by the LSE, at the Open Stage Café during the International Transport Forum 2019 Summit in Leipzig, Germany, on 23 May 2019.

The three days of the official Summit consisted of more than 80 events around a wide range of topics linking to the official theme ‘Transport Connectivity for Regional Integration’. Alongside the public programme of panel discussions and presentations there were also many closed-door ministerial meetings and roundtables. Most of the more high-level public events, where transport ministers and other national officials took to the stage, were unsurprisingly dominated by soundbites and pre-prepared statements, although even these can at times be very telling. During the opening Plenary, for example, China’s Transport Minister Xiaopeng Li concluded that, “if you want to get rich, you need to build roads, and other types of infrastructure first.”

Closed Ministerial meeting of ITF member country ministers on Thursday, 23 May 2019

Throughout the Summit, the idea of connectivity as a key driver of economic prosperity was very much at the forefront of discussions, with wider questions of environmental sustainability often seemingly an afterthought. Even in dedicated sessions on decarbonising the transport sector, which accounts for a staggering 23% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, techno-optimism prevailed. This contrasted starkly with the findings in the new ITF Transport Outlook Report launched at the Summit, which warned that transport CO2 emissions are projected to increase 60% by 2050 and only a dramatic shift to shared mobility will be able to curb this trend in urban areas.

Nevertheless, electrification, fleet optimisation, automation and other ‘tech-fixes’ dominated the conversation, with only occasional acknowledgements that these advances may be too little too late. In this context it was refreshing to hear voices such as Chilean Transport Minister Gloria Hutt Hesse reminding the audience and her fellow panellists that on a planet soon approaching 10 billion people, we have no choice but to reduce our use of space and learn to share – in transport and beyond.

Watch the Launch of “Better Cities: The Role of National Transport Policy” 

Urban mobility still not a clear national priority

Philipp Rode (Executive Director of LSE Cities and Associate Professorial Research Fellow, The London School of Economics and Political Science) at the ITF in Focus session on “Improving access in cities: Findings from Europe and Latin America.”

The other theme that was conspicuously underrepresented in the main programme was a focus on issues around urban mobility, which was only tackled centrally in a handful of sessions. Tellingly, the official Ministerial Declaration published at the end of the Summit, does not explicitly mention urban mobility and in fact the word ‘city’ and ‘urban’ only appear once in the entire document, even though the negative consequences of excessive movement are felt most acutely in urban areas. This aligns with a finding from our paper which shows that of the 189 transport policy interventions reviewed more than half are merely ‘urban-influencing’, meaning they do not specifically consider the unique context and needs of urban areas (e.g. fuel subsidies, national highway codes etc.). It also confirms yet again that despite much talk about the importance of integrated decision-making and a focus on national urban policies, the remit of most transport ministries remains very narrow and may inadvertently lead to policy choices that actually reduce accessibility in cities.

One session that did very concretely tackle the challenges of urban mobility was ‘Improving Access in Cities: findings from Europe and Latin America’ where Philipp Rode, Executive Director of LSE Cities, joined a panel to discuss the importance of establishing accessibility metrics as a central criterion in the decision-making processes around urban transport. 

“Improving access in cities: Findings from Europe and Latin America” panel at the International Transport Forum 2019 Summit.

Urban mobility challenges were also enthusiastically discussed during a range of engaging presentations at the Open Stage Café, which ran alongside the official programme and provided an opportunity for slightly more informal and innovative discussion and presentation formats. It was in this space that Philipp Rode and I formally launched our new paper on Thursday, 23 May.

Watch the panel on Improving access in cities Findings from Europe and Latin America

Confronting an inconvenient truth

What remained untouched throughout the Summit were the increasingly urgent questions around the viability of our prevailing economic model of endless growth; excessive resource consumption on a finite planet; and the glamorising of hypermobility as the ultimate symbol of advanced societies, all of which are fuelling the dramatic increase in freight and passenger transport demand we are witnessing around the world. Perhaps these tough conversations were inevitably going to be a tall order for the ‘Davos of Transport’. Nevertheless, a much stronger acknowledgment that the climate and ecological crisis we are confronting requires a complete rethink of transport policy and a frank acknowledgement of the price we pay for connectivity would have been welcome and timely.

As informative and engaging as the ITF Summit was in many respects, it still feels demoralising to attend an event of this calibre, and discover that the most pressing challenges are routinely sidestepped by global transport leaders. During the opening plenary, Young Tae Kim, Secretary-General of the ITF, stressed that “connecting people with each other is important for prosperity and peace.”  It’s a basic premise that is hard to argue with, and yet such statements ring a bit hollow given the existential threat climate change poses to both of these desirable global goods.

Online #ITF19 Conversations


23 May 2019 | Forbes | ‘Davos of Transport’ Convenes In Leipzig, Germany

“During a presentation by LSE Cities, an international center at the London School of Economics and Political Science, researchers Philipp Rode and Catarina Heeckt provided examples of how great disparities in integration  – or access  – can be in major cities. Maps of Atlanta and Berlin showed that less than 10 % of Atlanta’s residents take public transport, walk or cycle compared to more than 70 % of Berlin’s residents.

The findings were from a new paper launched at the summit that aims to provide a foundation for conversations about actions that cities can take to make them more accessible.”

03 June 2019 | Singapore Business Review | What Singapore got right in urban mobility

“So in some ways, it can roll out policies, or national policies that from the beginning are open policies. Most states really need to differentiate between urban policies, and then policies that concern their wider territory,” he [Dr. Philipp Rode] explained. The LSE Cities paper presented by Rode and Heeckt proposes that a smart transport policy plays a vital role to play in laying the foundation for better urban structures, boosting public transport use, making it safe and easy to walk or cycle, and discouraging private car use.

Transportation and Technology: Urban Age Conference 2018

22 May 2019

Transportation and technology was a main theme at the Urban Age Developing Urban Futures conference, in Addis Ababa, from 29 – 30 November 2018. With the help of over 60 experts and policymakers from 26 cities in Africa, Asia, Europe, South and North America, the Urban Age conference in Addis Ababa was designed to create common ground to take the debate about Developing Urban Futures further. The Urban Age brings together essays that provide context and perspective on the challenges faced by developing countries, with comparative data and evidence collected by LSE Cities on contemporary urbanisation.


Jacqueline M. Klopp on the future of popular transit.

Across Africa, high-capacity transit systems are complemented by popular transit and taxi services enabled by digital technology. How can new policy measures and investments ensure that the smart mobility transition is aligned with broader strategic goals of urban development?

Urban Age Developing Urban Futures: Transport transitions and technology – Panel discussion with Elleni Ashebir Jacqueline M. Klopp Jean-Louis Missika Justin Coetzee Kate Meagher Ladi Lawanson Philipp Rode Solomon Kidane Yolisa Kani



by Jacqueline M. Klopp | November 2018
From Cape Town to Cairo most people rely on walking, motorcycles, bicycles and minibuses to get around. These forms of popular transport move large numbers of people and goods and employ a plethora of workers. While imperfect, this makes urban life possible and productive. READ FULL ARTICLE


by Philipp Rode | November 2018
The office of Ethiopia’s Minister for Urban Development displays a beautiful artwork. The woodcarving captures the country’s transformation, depicting a farmer surrounded by new industries, urban housing estates and roads. Prominently situated, a twenty-first-century high-speed train emerges out of a tunnel, offering a glimpse of the importance and powerful symbolism of railways as a catalyst for the country’s urbanisation. READ FULL ARTICLE



Public Transport has become a major policy agenda for established and emerging cities worldwide. The need for greater access to employment, reduced commuting times and congestion and better control of carbon emissions has informed the ways in which cities have either consolidated or initiated investment in high-capacity transport.

Click here for more information.


A mix of informal, semi-formal and regulated popular transit systems exist in cities across the world, increasing accessibility to jobs, services and amenities where mass transit systems don’t reach. Popular transport networks often includes a mix of modes, including formalised buses, shared minibuses, taxis and motorcycle taxis, with many providers – often operating fleets of fewer than three vehicles – leading to fragmented routes and schedules. Through advances in digital technology, popular transit information has been collected and distributed to make routes more transparent and accessible.

For more research from the 2018 Urban Age Developing Urban Futures Conference, visit the Urban Age website here.

New working paper highlights disconnect between national policies and building more compact cities

14 December 2017

A new working paper on Integrating national policies to deliver compact, connected cities: a horizon scan into transport and housing has been released by the Coalition for Urban Transitions. The paper, authored by LSE Cities and the OECD, explores the ways in which urban policy sectors are integrated—or fragmented—in ten case study countries: China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States. A central finding is that a lack of coordination between national economic policy, and housing and transport policy, undermines both the economic potential and environmental sustainability of cities.