News Archive

posted 01/24/03

Contact: Jennifer Freeman

Earth Institute Invited to Investigate Urban Challenges of Accra, Ghana
First site in 21st Century Cities initiative

A street scene in downtown Accra. This spring's urban planning studio will look at how issues such as housing, transportation, health, and water relate to each other. Photo credit: Sigurd Grava

In spring, 2003, Earth, social, and life scientists from the Earth Institute at Columbia University will be putting their mission to work—mobilizing the sciences to build a sustainable future—in the west African city of Accra, Ghana. Accra is the first focus of 21st Century Cities, a new Earth Institute initiative that focuses on urban growth challenges.

“The 21st Century Cities project is based on the realization that this century will be heavily influenced by the rapid expansion of cities in developing countries,” says Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs. “Population growth leads to economic growth, technological innovation, and cultural exchange. But these cities also suffer from poverty, environmental pollution, disease, and water issues. Our task at The Earth Institute is to help these cities reach their great potential.”

Professor Sigurd Grava of Columbia’s School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning, who recently returned from an exploratory trip to Accra, says “we will be looking at growth issues including sewers, waste removal, energy supply, housing, public health, and how these things relate to each other.”

Garbage and standing water create public health problems in Accra. Photo credit: Sigurd Grava

Earth Institute activities related to the 21st Century Cities project include:

Seminar series addressing urban challenges such as agriculture, housing, energy, and health. Jeffrey Sachs will kick off this series with a talk called "The Economics of Sustainable Development" on Monday, February 10. [click here for the full semester-long seminar schedule]

Graduate level urban planning studio, led by Professor Grava, to help the government in Accra create a long range plan to design neighborhoods, public infrastructure, and transportation systems.

Earth Institute delegation traveling to Accra in June. Columbia participants include scientists and faculty in economics, health, hydrology, agriculture and food supplies, energy, disaster resistance, governance, and information management.

Accra was chosen because although it has growth challenges, it also has resources and a government ready to try and address those problems. “The capital of Ghana has enjoyed two decades of economic stability and a strong democratic tradition,” says Sachs. “It is in a tremendous location to benefit from tourism, commerce, industry and enormous growth.”

Accra, Ghana

Population growth and transportation are two of Accra's many urban challenges. Photo credit: Sigurd Grava

Over the next few years, while continuing its work in Accra, the 21st Century Cities project will focus its attention on questions that affect growing cities in many developing countries. Another rapidly growing city that will be included in the project is Fortaleza in Northeastern Brazil. Throughout the project, the Earth Institute will be creating a body of knowledge about sustainable development in the rapidly growing cities that is intended to inform decision making among people and governments in such cities.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world’s leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment, and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines — earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences, and health sciences — and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research, training, and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.