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Nations prosperity is closely associated to the development of their cities and globally account for more than 80% of the world GDP. Cities play a vital role as hubs for employment, especially youth, innovation and peace in a country like Afghanistan, which has extremely affected by prevailing conflict and has resulted a large numbers of internally displaced persons and returning refugees. Many countries utilized the opportunity provided by urbanization to prosper and transform their economy and livelihood of their people. Urban is future for Afghanistan’s economic growth.
According to United Nations 2017, the Afghan population is expected to double within the next 15 years with the urban population reaching 50% of the total population, one of two Afghans will be living in the cities. This transition has already become a challenge and if continue with the same pace it will put an enormous pressure on government in terms of management and services for citizens. However, it is also an opportunity for private sector, the Government and its international partners and most prominently for households themselves to deliver adequate housing for all Afghans. Additionally, urbanization will also be an opportunity for peace and stability in the country if the housing challenges meet the current and future demand. Rural-urban migration, internally displaced persons and refugee returnees has resulted cities and towns to expand rapidly across the country in particular the capital city Kabul. Since the last twelve years, there has been significant rural-urban migration largely attracted by relative security in cities, access to services, livelihood opportunities and education as a strong pulling factor, but mostly settled informally and economic growth and industrialization remain slow compare to migration toward cities. Afghanistan’s urbanization has been characterized by various development, sluggishness and regression. However, for a spatially balanced and inclusive regional development approach, the current very low level of urbanization provides the opportunity to guide the urban growth in an environmentally sensitive manner. The role of proper planning and designing of cities can be vital for economic development and employment opportunities, as well as in prevention of informal settlements and climate-proofing and future-proofing cities. To overcome the current urban slum condition and a changing climate in the future, building urban resiliency and infrastructure is important for the urban population. In addition, inclusive and orderly urban growth through well-planned city extensions, concentration and infill new urban centers can facilitate to limit the informal and unplanned urban sprawl of Afghan cities.
Besides, insufficient provision of housing, infrastructure and basic services, other potential constrains of Afghan cities to fully realize the advantages of agglomeration are pollution, unplanned urban public spaces and increasing unbalanced development, not only within the cities, but also between the regions as well. Further, lack of a long-term spatial plan and strategy to meet the current and future demand of the increasing citizens and the link inter departments to well organize their future plans. Even though the fragile situations in the country, Afghan government has taken some systematic actions to comprehensively implement the fundamentals of urbanization through the Urban National Priority Program. In the face of anticipated continued relatively rapid urban population growth, the government is working together with World Bank and the technical assistance and design from Korean Research Institute for Human Settlement (KRIHS) on a National Spatial Strategy (NSS) as part of a National Urban Policy (NUP) and in alignment with the Urban National Priority Program (U-NPP). NSS will help to achieve ‘Balanced Sustainable Development’, in among other ways, by increasing economic opportunities; promoting regional balance; promoting compact urban growth; strengthening rural-urban linkages and increasing connectivity; protecting agricultural and fragile ecological zones; and creating resilient and inclusive cities and settlements. It has been a tremendous and fruitful series of seminars since the beginning and I learned much about all the successful cases of Korean experience which has discussed in the lectures both regional development and local governance.
One of the key lessons I have learned from Korean experience is the prioritization of power distribution locally and keeping regional balance for development and this idea has been supported by people and politicians. The economic discrepancy that occurred between Capital city Seoul and other regions during the early stages of economic development led by centralized industrial policy, which later after year 2000 become top priority of Korean government and established a law for decentralization. Interestingly, Korean government came up with an innovative idea of putting local government in competition to maintain regional development and accomplish balanced and well-distributed prosperous society. Even though, with the implementation of such policy and law on balanced development and construction of new administrative city like Sejong, decentralization remains still a debating issue in Korea.
Another lesson from the lecture series which I have noticed and understood is that the stages of development in Korea was much focused initially to maximize the growth potential with limited resources and developed large industrial estates and metropolitan regions by investing in high priority Infrastructure (expressways, ports) and link to major industrial estates, later followed by revitalization of the depressed regions and conducted the Saemaul Undong movement. Such imbalance development policy and regional development disparity triggered the government’s attention toward decentralization and balanced development to spread the growth effect across the nation by developing multiple growth poles to foster metropolitan regions as growth engines.
The next more appealing experience and lesson for me was the capital region readjustment planning to reduce the concentration of population and industry into the capital region. Rapid and continued urbanization and overconcentration of Seoul city in the early 80’s has brought various forms of dis-agglomeration such as overcrowding, pollution, and spatial mismatches in providing basic urban services like housing supply, tax policy (tax collection) and transportation. In response to reduce over-concentration, government applied special policies in the capital region and established new small towns in the vicinity of Seoul city to meet the housing shortages in Seoul Metropolitan area and lower the burden of overcrowding from central business district. The transportation problems of Seoul city have managed intelligently through Seoul Bus Reform and smart subway system, currently Seoul city transport system has become a model for other developing countries and copying it. For Kabul, where public transport has been a severe issue since years, need at least to learn from the Korean case and implement such policy as Seoul Bus Reform.
Finally, intra-regional imbalances are also a pressing issue for many big cities while growing, but it was much intensified in the case of Seoul due to home prices, education, district finance, and other factors. Such spatial imbalances that some districts developed more than the others brought spatial imbalances within the city and the same issue has been emerging in Kabul city as well.
For consolidation intra-and inter-urban connectivity in Afghanistan, planners and decision-makers need to adopt progressive planning approached to guide expansions on urban peripheries where it is most rapid and needed. To permit better variation in land uses and enhance livability of citizens through utilization of integrated spatial planning approaches and better public urban spaces investment is required.
Private sector engagement through Public Private Partnership is needed for better service delivery, the current public sector is under capacity both technically and lack of resources to meet the demand of citizens.
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