Category Archives: urban planning

What if an Irma-like hurricane hit New York?

It sounds like a Hollywood disaster movie.

A Category 5 hurricane churning in the mid-Atlantic suddenly veers northwest — and heads straight for New York City.

The good news is that, for now, experts agree a Cat 5-sized deluge appears to be a meteorological impossibility in the U.S. Northeast, given today’s sea temperatures and weather patterns.

The bad news: A storm doesn’t need to pack the wallop of a Harvey or an Irma to knock out the region. Superstorm Sandy, whose wind speed was a relatively tame 80 miles per hour when it reached New Jersey, did $70 billion of damage in October 2012. Irma made landfall in Puerto Rico at 185 mph.

But if there’s anything we know about climate change, it’s that the boundaries of what’s possible keep shifting. As yet another hurricane, Jose, grinds up the Eastern Seaboard, the black-swan scenarios offer alarming perspective. Imagine what the Great Hurricane of New York might look like:

Winds of 100 mph and 12 inches of rain at high tide push a 16-foot storm surge through the funnel-like entrance of New York Harbor. It wouldn’t take Irma’s killer gusts or Houston’s torrential 50 inches of rain to create a wall of water swamping 500 miles of New York City coastline. The Hudson and East rivers would cascade into Manhattan, overwhelming subways, sewers and roads. Corrosive seawater would fill the aging Lincoln and Holland tunnels to New Jersey, as well as the vulnerable railway tubes beneath the Hudson.

Crazy? Climate change means meteorologists and emergency managers must now consider scenarios they never confronted before. That’s especially true given the rising sea. The water level around New York is 1.1 feet higher today than in 1900 and could increase as much as 2 feet more by 2050.

Global Warming
“With global warming and sea-level rise, what we’re seeing is the effects of these storms amplified,” Ernest Moniz, energy secretary for President Barack Obama, told Bloomberg TV.

The potential risks, however remote for now, are enormous for the New York metro area. Sandy, which hit New Jersey as a “post-tropical” storm, flooded almost 90,000 buildings, with 443,000 New Yorkers living in inundated areas. In one part of Staten Island, floodwaters reached 14 feet. Bridges reopened quickly, but close to 2 million people lost power, and cell service for more than 1 million people was reduced or lost. Rebuilding is still going on five years later.

One of the legacies of Sandy was a change in the number of evacuation zones, which the city doubled to six. Roughly 3 million New Yorkers now live in one of those zones.

Megan Pribram, assistant commissioner for planning and preparedness at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, said for a storm on the scale of Harvey, the city would evacuate some low-lying coastal areas.

Unprecedented Rain
Harvey-sized rains would be unprecedented in the U.S. Northeast, according to Allan Frei, chairman of the geography department at Hunter College in Manhattan. The most serious flooding in the region was Hurricane Irene in 2011, when 15 or so inches of rain left parts of Vermont underwater.

A Category 3 hurricane — with winds up to 129 mph — hit the New York area in 1938, when “The Long Island Express” caused 18-foot surges. Another Cat 3, Hurricane Hazel, produced wind gusts of 113 mph in Battery Park in 1954, according to Nassau County’s Office of Emergency Management.

Still, Frei said climate change increases the odds that severe rainstorms like the one in Houston could strike New York City. And if New York ever got that much rain, “it would be absolutely devastating.”

“If a storm causes a big storm surge at the same time as it’s raining, and if it hits during high tide, that would be — I can’t even imagine,” Frei said. The sewer system would probably be blocked with debris, diminishing its capacity to drain the city, he said.

New York City is updating preparedness plans to incorporate the lessons of Harvey, said Daniel Zarrilli, senior director of climate policy and chief resilience officer for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Part of that includes the tens of billions of dollars spent since Sandy.

Billions Spent
Hospitals and public-housing complexes have been refitted to offer more flood protection at a U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency expense of more than $10 billion. Utility Consolidated Edison Inc. has spent $1 billion for upgrades to its underground steam, electric and gas infrastructure. A $340 million boardwalk in the Rockaways has been redesigned as a sea wall protecting beaches and homes. The city has planted trees and other vegetation in flood-prone neighborhoods to soak up runoff and ease the burden on the city’s sewer system.

The NY-NJ Metropolitan Storm Surge Working Group is pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve a $30 billion system of retractable sea barriers at the mouth of New York Harbor and in the Throgs Neck narrows north of the East River. Similar engineering projects now protect cities including New Orleans; Rotterdam, Holland, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

The system could protect about 800 miles of coast from Elizabeth, New Jersey, to the Bronx, and as much as $1 trillion in assets, said Robert Yaro, former executive director of the Regional Plan Association, a policy-research group.

“We in New York are far behind, and among the cities on Earth we have the most to lose,” Yaro said.

Source: Bloomberg 20 Sep 2017
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Commentary: Supply not the main factor in Toronto’s housing woes

Commentary: Supply not the main factor in Toronto’s housing woes

While various quarters have cited supply scarcity as a central driver in Toronto’s long-running housing affordability issues, latest census data actually belies that notion, according to a Bloomberg analyst duo.

In their latest piece, markets observers Erik Hertzberg and Theophilos Argitis argued that “the most important question remains the extent to which speculation is driving demand.”

“Ideally, fundamentals such as demographics and employment are at play, and the price gains reflect natural household growth getting ahead of supply. If that’s true, the market should eventually stabilize once new supply kicks in,” Hertzberg and Argitis wrote. “A situation where speculators are bidding up prices would be much more problematic.”

“Canada’s 2016 census, which the statistics agency is releasing piecemeal this year, is providing some insight into the debate. The results: supply may not be the big problem many people thought it was.”

The data revealed that between 2011 and 2016, the total number of Toronto households increased by 146,200 (up to 2.14 million). To compare, the number of newly completed homes stood at 175,825 projects.

“In other words, supply of new houses exceeded real household demand by almost 30,000 over those five years,” the duo stated. “That throws cold water on the argument — voiced particularly by the industry — that the city’s affordability crisis won’t be resolved unless the government introduces measures to help increase supply.”

More importantly, Toronto is rapidly running out of buildable space, “evident in census data that show its population density has surpassed 1,000 people per square kilometre for the first time ever, another factor that should continue supporting prices for detached homes.”

Source: Mortgage Broker News – by Ephraim Vecina15 Aug 2017

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Census 2016: Canada’s population surpasses 35 million

Canada’s population increased to 35,151,728 last year largely driven by growth in the West, according to 2016 census data released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.

The country’s population has grown five per cent since the last census in 2011, when it was at 33.5 million, the highest rate of growth among G7 countries. However, the growth rate declined from the 5.9 per cent increase recorded in 2011.

About two-thirds of the increase recorded in 2016 was due to net immigration into the country, while the rest was from new births.

The majority, or 66 per cent, of Canadians still live within 100 kilometres of the southern border with the U.S.

The number of private dwellings grew nationwide by 5.6 per cent to 14.1 million.

The population continued to boom in Western Canada. The quickest pace of growth was recorded in Alberta (11.6 per cent), Saskatchewan (6.3 per cent) and Manitoba (5.8 per cent). The three prairie provinces recorded the most growth in the country for the first time since Confederation, according to Statistics Canada.

Alberta had been the fastest-growing province in the 2006 and 2011 censuses as well.

The rate of growth was higher than in 2011 in both Alberta and Manitoba, the only two provinces that registered an increased rate of growth from the last census.

It is important to note that the census was collected in May 2016, so does not fully take into account the recent economic slump in Alberta.

“The census compares 2011 to 2016, and we’ve seen 15 strong years of growth in Alberta,” says Karen Mihorean, director general of the education, labour and income statistics branch of Statistics Canada.

Mihorean said Alberta is unique among Canadian provinces for having strong numbers in all three factors that contribute to population growth: immigration, interprovincial migration and new births.

British Columbia also grew faster than the national average, by 5.6 per cent. Just under 32 per cent of Canadians now live in the four western provinces, compared to 38.3 per cent in Ontario, 23.2 per cent in Quebec and 6.6 per cent in Atlantic Canada.

Low growth in Atlantic Canada

The four Atlantic provinces recorded the lowest growth in the country: 1.9 per cent in Prince Edward Island, one per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador (where more deaths than births occurred in some years) and 0.2 per cent in Nova Scotia. New Brunswick’s population decreased by 0.5 per cent, the only province with a decline since 2011.

“From East to West, population growth gets stronger and that’s a trend we’ve seen for the last few censuses,” says Mihorean. “In Atlantic Canada, it’s a case of seeing people leaving these provinces for other parts of the country.”

– 2011: Canada census shows people moving west

Ontario remained Canada’s most populous province at 13.4 million, an increase of 4.6 per cent from 2011. But Ontario’s growth rate was lower than the national average for the second consecutive census period, the first time that has happened in more than half a century.

Quebec’s population grew 3.3 per cent to 8.2 million, followed by British Columbia at 4.6 million, Alberta at 4.1 million, Manitoba at 1.3 million and Saskatchewan at 1.1 million. The population in Atlantic Canada was 2.3 million, with just under 924,000 residing in Nova Scotia.

The North was home to nearly 114,000, led by the Northwest Territories. The population of Nunavut, which at 12.7 per cent had the highest growth rate of any province or territory due to its high fertility rate, moved ahead of Yukon.

Western cities record greatest growth

While the rate of growth slowed in Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas, 35.5 per cent of Canadians now call Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver home.

Toronto remains the country’s largest metropolitan area at 5.9 million, increasing by 6.2 per cent since 2011. Montreal’s population has surged past the four million mark to 4.1 million, while Vancouver’s population now stands at 2.5 million, up 6.5 per cent.

With growth of 14.6 per cent, the highest of any metropolitan area in the country, Calgary is now Canada’s fourth largest city at 1.4 million, moving ahead of Ottawa-Gatineau (1.3 million). Also at 1.3 million, Edmonton is the only other Canadian city with more than a million residents.

The six fastest metropolitan areas were all in Western Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Lethbridge, Alta., and Kelowna, B.C., with all but the last posting growth of more than 10 per cent.

At the other end of the country, however, all of Atlantic Canada’s metropolitan areas recorded a slower rate of growth than in 2011, while the population of Saint John fell by 2.2 per cent — largely due to residents moving to other parts of Canada.

Sylvan Lake, Alta., was the fastest-growing census agglomeration, growing by 19.6 per cent since 2011, while Campbellton (mostly in New Brunswick but partly in Quebec) had the greatest decrease at 9.3 per cent.

Among municipalities with at least 5,000 residents, Warman, Sask., had the highest rate of growth since 2011 at 55.1 per cent, followed by the Alberta communities of Blackfalds (48.1 per cent) and Cochrane (47.1 per cent). Bonnyville, Alta., had the fastest rate of decrease at 12.9 per cent.

The population and dwelling counts mark the first set of data from the mandatory short-form 2016 census to be released by Statistics Canada. Further releases, including those related to gender, language, immigration and labour, will follow throughout 2017.

The data will assist decision-making across all levels of government and provide sociologists, demographers, urban planners and businesses with a wealth of information.

Source: CBC.ca – Éric Grenier

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Toronto explores laneway homes as a solution to the housing crunch

Laneway homes could be a solution to Toronto's housing crisis, advocates say. The city is holding public consultations about this.

Laneway homes could be a solution to Toronto’s housing crisis, advocates say. The city is holding public consultations about this. (CBC News)

The solution to Toronto’s housing affordability crisis could be found in your own backyard.

In response to skyrocketing home prices, the city’s looking to loosen the bylaws around developing one of its few sources of underused land: laneways.

A proposal went to public consultation Monday, exploring the possibility of letting homeowners build a secondary suite on the edge of a property leading into a laneway.

But don’t call your realtor just yet.

Those smaller homes wouldn’t be for sale, said Alex Sharpe, one of the co-founders of the policy groups co-ordinating the public discussion.

“It’s not going to create a whole new crop of cheap houses that people can buy,” said Sharpe, who lives in one of the city’s few legal laneway homes and runs a group called Lanescape.

Laneway Toronto house

Alex Sharpe lives in a laneway home in Toronto and is the co-founder of Lanescape, which looks at the development of laneways. (CBC News)

Instead, it would build on the idea of a basement apartment. A laneway home would have more natural light, but unlike a basement apartment there would be more privacy because the backyard acts as a buffer between the main home and secondary suite, Sharpe said.

In theory, the move could benefit both Toronto’s renters and homeowners.

For property owners, it translates into an extra unit to cover the mortgage and house adult children or relatives. But it’s also a way to cool down the long-term rental market, which has seen supply shrink alongside the rise of AirBNB, studies have found.

“We view laneways as an opportunity to expand the supply of units in existing residential neighbourhoods,” Sharpe said. “They have the services, [they] have the infrastructure, the transit and they’re well-connected.

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Toronto laneway home owner1:06

“We’ve had a shortage of housing in Toronto in the last number of years and it’s growing in intensity because we’ve run out of land.”

Tiny home fever

Laneway homes may be new to Toronto, but Vancouver’s city council gave landowners the green light to start building them in 2009. Regina and Ottawa have also followed suit.

In fact, Vancouver actually provides a how-to guide to residents that includes potential floor plans for the tiny homes.

Toronto city councillors Ana Bailao and Mary-Margaret McMahon say laneways could be critical to the future of the city’s development.

Laneway Toronto

Sharpe lives in a laneway home with two bedrooms and a streamlined design. (CBC News)

McMahon represents Ward 32, Beaches-East York, where she said there’s a concern about the effect that high-rises would have on streetscapes.

“So this is a very measured approach to density,” she said of the laneway discussions. “We have concerns about privacy creep and what-not so you’re not going to see the Taj Mahal of four-storey laneway home; it’s going to be in keeping with the character of the neighbourhoods.”

Laneways rejected before

Toronto city staff cited privacy concerns — that secondary homes might overlook their neighbour’s backyards or cast shadows — among their reasons in a 2006 report that recommended against allowing laneway housing.

Uncertainty about how to deliver public services like garbage pick-up, barriers to emergency access and the possibility that residential properties would be subdivided also killed the idea from going ahead at the time.

Ana Bailao

Coun. Ana Bailao says that laneway homes are no different than allowing a property owner to rent out a basement suite. (CBC News)

But the current plan at the public debate would see all public services delivered from the front of the property, in the same way that it’s done for rental suites, Coun. Bailao said.

“We already have basement apartments in the city of Toronto,” said the Ward 18, Davenport councillor. “All we’re saying is maybe we should allow it at the back of the houses as well.”

Consultations are also happening within the planning departments about those changes and there’s a push to name the city’s laneways so that first responders would be able to navigate them more easily, she said.

Province supports laneways

And, unlike in 2006, laneway advocates now have the support of Ontario law.

The province made changes to its Planning Act in 2011, when it introduced new legislation that requires municipalities to “establish official plan policies and zoning bylaw provisions” for secondary units — including those for laneways.

“The policy at the province level is disjointed from the local level,” Sharpe said, something he said he hopes the public consultations will change.

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Road tolls: Will they actually reduce congestion?

HOT lanes that allow single-occupant vehicles to pay a toll to use carpool lanes are a popular alternative to HOV lanes. (J.P. MOCZULSKI for The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are among the most congested cities on the continent – ranking second, sixth and ninth, respectively, according to TomTom data.

The average person living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) spends about 65 minutes commuting each day, and all that gridlock costs the region up to $11 billion per year, according to a C.D. Howe Institute study.

Road tolls a ‘fair’ way to fund transit according to Toronto mayor (CP Video)

The most common cure thrown around is road tolls, but a new study suggests they may not be the answer.

The report, Congestion Costs, Road Capacity and Implications for Policy-Makers, issued Friday by the Conference Board of Canada and commissioned by the Canadian Automobile Association South Central Ontario (CAA SCO), warns that governments should examine other options before moving forward with more road tolls.

However, economists at the C.D. Howe Institute argue road tolls are the best solution to reducing congestion and the additional revenue is a bonus that can be used to improve transit and other infrastructure.

The Conference Board of Canada report states there is a difference between policies designed to raise revenue and those designed to change driving behaviour.

“We have to be very clear about what we’re trying to achieve,” says Teresa Di Felice, director of government and community relations, CAA SCO. “If we want to achieve reductions, there are various tools, land use planning, ride sharing transit. When you move the conversation to road pricing there has to be a clear objective … If you want to change behaviour, that is a different pricing strategy.”

She says if tolls push too many people out of their cars, government won’t achieve its revenue goals.

The report examines other tools that policymakers can use to reduce congestion – highway ramp metering, variable speed limits, access controls such as time-of-day restrictions, ride-sharing support, biking facilities and public transit investment.

A previous Conference Board of Canada report showed Ontario drivers pay between 70 to 90 per cent of the cost to maintain roads through registration fees, gas taxes, parking tickets and other revenue tools. In the GTA, it’s more than 100 per cent.

“Motorists are frustrated, they are paying a fair chunk of the maintenance costs,” says Di Felice. With these reports, CAA wanted to see if drivers are getting the benefit of what they are paying and if motorists are going to pay more, what does that look like?

Tolls are the best solution, extra revenue is a bonus

“Even if on average, road users cover 100 per cent of spending money on roads, road pricing is still really important,” says Benjamin Dachis, associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute. “It is still the best solution for dealing with congestion.”

An example from London, England, supports this. A congestion charge there in 2003 cut traffic by about 15 per cent.

A 2007 study from C.D. Howe says, “Neither fuel taxes nor parking fees are effective in dealing with traffic congestion. Appropriately designed road-pricing schemes are the best instrument. Road pricing’s usefulness in charging for road damage, insurance, and so on, are a bonus.”

Dachis says his research shows that, on average, drivers pay less than 70 per cent of roadway expenses. There is a lot of confusion because there is good data on how much governments collect, but the money largely goes into general revenue, so there isn’t good data on how it is being spent.

Regardless, he says that tolls are effective to reduce congestion and to put a value on roads.

“When you have roads that aren’t tolled, there is something called the fundamental law of congestion, you build new roads and they fill up pretty quickly,” he says.

But the way to toll roads isn’t like what Ontario drivers currently see.

In September, 1,000 Ontario drivers received permits to use the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on the Queen Elizabeth Way west of Toronto. It was part of a pilot project that allows those drivers to have a faster commute at a cost of $180 for three months. The project will last two-to-four years and the government will be adding HOT lanes to Highway 427 in 2021. Highway 407, just north of Toronto, is also a toll road.

“It (HOT lanes) is probably the most rudimentary form of road pricing I’ve ever seen,” says Dachis. “The bottom line is what the (Ontario) government has put in place right now is barely only training wheels.”

Dachis cites metered high-occupancy toll lanes in Seattle, Miami, Minnesota, Georgia and southern California as examples of what works, is not mentioned in the Conference Board of Canada report. The price to enter HOT lanes as a solo occupant is constantly changing based on how much time it saves the driver. Billing is controlled through either a smartphone app or a windshield pass. A sign indicates how much time it will take to get to designated interchanges, guaranteeing the travel time through the pricing scheme.

“We’re trying to guess the dollar value people put on roads,” says Dachis. “Road pricing makes it very clear what people will pay for roads.”

Dachis worries that because current HOT lanes are so basic, they will fail and people will reject any further conversation.

One major criticism of HOT lanes is that they are for the rich – hence the moniker, Lexus lanes. But Dachis says variable pricing will do away with that because there won’t be a monthly subscription. Rather everyone, regardless of income, can make a decision right then and there if using the lane will benefit them financially or socially. One of the biggest users of these lanes will be buses.

Cost is a factor, but a study by the University of Minnesota found that when Minneapolis converted some of its HOV lanes to dynamic HOT, the economic benefits were more than double the operating and capital costs.

Toll highways

“Tolling the whole freeway is totally doable. It would even be the best option, from an economists perspective,” says Dachis. “But that’s a hard sell when there are few examples of working toll roads in Canada.”

He adds that tolling the entire highway would allocate the scarce road space most effectively and should lower taxes for everyone.

Dachis and Di Felice agree that road tolls aren’t the only method governments should consider to reduce congestion. They also agree there has to be better data collected on how money is being spent on roads at all levels of government.

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These figures suggest just how much immigration drives Canadian housing demand

canadian-housing-immigration

Canadian immigration is set to reach its highest annual rate in a century this year as at least 300,000 newcomers are expected, a fact Scotiabank says is a tailwind for Canada’s housing market.

While those new to Canada don’t generally make the leap into homeownership right away, notes Scotiabank Economist Adrienne Warner, sooner or later most do.

“New immigrants typically first choose rental accommodations, but eventually have homeownership rates similar to Canadian-born residents,” Warren explains in the bank’s latest Global Real Estate Trends Report.

The Canadian homeownership rate was 69 per cent in 2011, the most recent year Statistics Canada provides this census data for.

Canada’s hottest major housing market is also the country’s leading migrant destination, according to the Conference Board of Canada, a non-for-profit research organization.

Nearly a third of those 300,000 expected to settle in Canada are Toronto bound, notes Alan Arcand, the associate director of the board’s Centre for Municipal Studies.

“Toronto is the main… destination for immigrants in Canada and immigrants are the biggest driver of population growth today in Canada,” says Arcand.

“It’s important to realize that Toronto adds about 90,000 people a year to its population. So the whole CMA (census metro area) of Toronto grows by a city every year, a mid-size major city,” he continues, adding, “All those people coming need places to live, so that drives the housing market.”

This is why the Conference Board forecasts housing starts (a measure of how many units construction begins on in a given period) will waver between around 38,000 to 41,000 through the 2016-2020 period. Arcand says this is around the 10-year average.

Population age demographics also fosters housing demand, says Scotiabank’s Warren.

“The number of Canadians in their prime homebuying years is projected to continue to grow through the end of the decade, though at a slower pace than in recent years,” she explains.

Source: BuzzBuzzNewscanada – 

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UN: Higher-density cities key to better urban life

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The United Nations has advice for city planners around the world: Move people closer together.

Designing more compact, higher-density cities is key to improving the well-being of the world’s burgeoning urban population, said Under-Secretary General Joan Cloas, the executive director of UN Habitat and a former mayor of Barcelona.

He said too many cities are characterized by urban sprawl that make it harder for people to get around and get access to basic services, especially in vast slums where the poor live far away from their jobs, medical services and food stores. Growing suburbs, meanwhile, discourage the use of public transportation, biking and walking, which in turns contributes to pollution through reliance on cars. And mega-cities are encroaching on farm land and environmentally sensitive areas.

Clos said the world’s average urban population density is “extremely low” at an estimated 2,000-3,000 inhabitants per square kilometre. For comparison, he said Manhattan has a population density of 56,000 inhabitants per square kilometre. In the world’s highest-density city, Hong Kong, he said the figure is 96,000.

More than 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a number that is expected to reach 65 per cent within 40 years, Clos said.

“It’s a huge transformation in the life experience of a lot of humans. And this requires, political attention, economic attention, social attention,” he said at a news conference ahead of World Habitat Day on Oct. 7.

Clos acknowledged the difficulties involved in trying to build high-density city centres and offered no easy solutions. In New York and Hong Kong, high-density comes with some of the world’s highest living costs. But Clos said those are extreme examples. In Europe, he said, the average urban population density is more like 15,000 inhabitants per square kilometre. He said offering affordable housing involves difficult political decisions – perhaps replacing subsidize gasoline with more subsidized housing.

Clos said high-density need not be the same as overcrowding.

“What cannot be sustained is spontaneous urbanization. When we have spontaneous urbanization instead of well-designed, high-density cities, we have overcrowding,” he said. “And that is what is happening in the favelas, the slums and other places.

Thomas Elmqvist, a Stockholm University professor, said there is opportunity for planning well-designed cities. Sixty-per cent of the world’s land projected to become urban by 2030 has yet to be built, according to a new study titled Cities and Biodiversity Outlook, which involved more than 200 scientists.

Elmqvist, the scientific editor of the study, said 25 per cent of the world’s protected areas are now within 17 kilometres (11 miles) of urban areas. He said in 10 years, it will be 15 kilometres (9 miles).

Clos is the director of UN-Habitat. He spoke Friday ahead of World Habitat Day on Oct. 7.

Source: Alexandra Olson  © 2013 The Associated Press

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