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Create Urban Centralities in the places where people will be able to transport themselves on trains: Pedro B Ortiz, Senior Consultant, World Bank


Pedro B Ortiz is a senior consultant for the World Bank in New York. He advises various governments and private firms and was a former deputy mayor of the Spanish capital Madrid. As a legendary figure in Metropolitan Planning, he has decades of experience. His book, “The Art of Shaping the Metropolis” has been published few months back. Very recently, he was in Delhi speaking at a conference at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi along Union Housing Minister and officials of the Delhi Government. In an exclusive interview to Optimist, Oriz has discussed the new trends and challenges of building smart cities in a country like India.

  1. How has modern day urban planning evolved since the digital revolution all over the world?

It has evolved on the access to immense amounts of data and the management of it. This provides great possibilities provided you are able to understand all the data you are receiving. Not easy: you must select the relevant one, ask the right questions and get the necessary answers.

This is not the case most of the time. Professionals focus on anecdotal questions, the data provides anecdotical answers, that lead to anecdotal policies, that do not address the essential problems of the cities. That is why the cities are not improving. If that data was adequately managed the cities would have improved. They haven’t.


Pedro B Ortiz is a senior consultant for the World Bank who advises various governments and private firms


Which should be the adequate use of that data? What is necessary to manage that data and to retrieve the best results and policy decision tools form it?

The best approach to that data is intelligence. Not smartness. Not technological gadgets that precondition the result by the methodology inferred on the gadget.

The necessary approach is to understand the complexity of the structure of the city. To understand the DNA (Genoma) of the urban or metropolitan structure, to know the components, the elements of metropolitan phenomena and the interactions among them.

When you hit a ball in a pool table you must be aware of the speed and direction and which is going to be the impact in all the other balls in the pool table. Only if you understand the complexity you will be able to perceive the solution and then, and only then, you will be able to select the data you need and the data you have to process to get the answer you want.

That is intelligence, not smartness. This s the way you control the data. Not the data that controls you.

2. Development on one hand and awareness and restrictions regarding climate change – how do the policy makers across the world need to proceed in this present century?

Climate change is not going to be stopped. For many years we have been trying to establish the policies necessary to prevent it. We are incapable to implement those policies worldwide. We lack the necessary world collective intelligence and the governance to do so.

So, we have to accept our failure and work on the framework that climate change is going inevitably to happen. Paris Agreement wants to stop temperature at 2 degrees above actual level. That will not be possible. That would require stopping ALL gas emissions right now. temperature will probably go from 3 to 4 degrees higher. I have discussed this with MIT Professors.

I suggest you have a look to this short paper I have written on the issue. You will find many threads for discussion there:

3. Is it necessarily important to innovate the metro-matrix method for vast application in densely populated countries like India, Bangladesh and others?

Our metropolises are growing very fast because people are moving from rural to urban. There are many reasons for this. It is unstoppable. Many people would like to stop it and have tried for 40 years already. It is going to happen. We better work accepting it than do in nothing while it happens. The ones that do nothing while proclaiming we should stop it are the ones responsible for the mess of slums we are producing.

The way to address this huge population shift (50.000 people in India every day. A Metropolis of 1.5 million every month. And that is going to go on for the next 40 years…) is to produce the necessary land for their housing. To upgrade a slum afterwards costs 3 to 9 times more than doing it right form start.

How, where, when should that serviced land for this housing needs be? That is what the Metro-Matrix addresses. A very simple way of understanding the metropolitan evolution and the location of green protection, grey infrastructures, housing land, as well as productive land and social facilities.

It is a simple method but a bit difficult to explain in a few lines. It is presented in the book The Art of Shaping the Metropolis, published by McGraw Hill, New York.



The Metro-Matrix approach is different for each metropolis. Each metropolis is different and you have to understand it’s DNA. But the basics are similar. Create Urban Centralities in the places where people will be able to transport themselves not based on cars but on trains. Trains are the skeleton of world developed and efficient metropolises (London, Paris, New York, Germany, etc.). Then expand the road system, not in a radial shape that takes people to the center, but in a reticular shape that provides homogeneous accessibility to polycentric-reticular (decongestive) structure of the metropolis. This will allow you to located land uses according to needs and best location.

Hope it has not been a too complex explanation. It is not easy in a single paragraph. But let me go further. Kolkata has a DNA. A specific Metro-Matrix chart. An acupuncture chart that would allow Kolkata to work and expand in a rational and sustainable way. Do the Kolkata Authorities and professionals know it? May be they should.

Here it is:




4. Is there any ‘magic formula’ for improving ‘quality of life’ in metro cities or depends on the diverse parameters varying from one country to the other?

Yes, there is a “Magic Formula”: It is called Collective Intelligence.

It is the capacity of a set of intelligent individuals to work together intelligently instead of working the ones against the others cheating lying and pursuing their own interest thorough unethical or criminal (corrupt) ways.

Collective intelligence is not only the leaders when they interact that have to have it. It is mainly the population which in fact is the one that elects the leaders. In a democracy we all have the leaders we deserve. Don’t blame the leaders. Blame ourselves.

How to develop collective intelligence? If you want to read a bit more go into this paper and look for the paragraphs that define it and describe their workings:

Let me say however that there are metropolises (and countries) that have collective intelligence and others that don’t. The difference? The capacity to make the right metropolitan decision in the shortest time. If you make that decision in 3 or 4 years, you have it. If you take 20 years (or never do) You haven’t.

5. What has to be the basic approach to cater for basic affordable housing for poorest of the poor in the third world rising economies?

Some people do not need help to buy a house. Some do. Those that do have different needs and capacities.

You have to define, detect and group those that:

  • have just slight need for help (financial), from those that
  • Have more need for help (land), from those
  • that really cannot afford anything they need full help (land and construction)

This is called “structuring the demand”.

Then you calculate how much help will each group need and how are you going to provide it. I must say that public budgets, if well managed can provide for such housing policies. I am going to give you an example: In Sudan housing can be provided for every one just with 5% of the national oil income. Thus, if people do not have housing in Sudan, it is not because they cannot, it is because the Government doesn’t want.

Which is the case for Kolkata, West Bengal and India? I do not know the figures but I am sure a more efficient results can be achieved. This is not an issue that can be solved at municipal level. It is a State or national issue. Does West Bengal want to address the issue seriously? I am sure it can.



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