Remarks by Dr. Susan Brems, Mission Director, 2016 International Conference on Urban Development: Accelerating Resilience and Inclusive Growth

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

[As Prepared]


Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat. I am honored to join you here today and be part of the exchange of ideas in shaping livable, resilient, and economically vibrant cities.

I am here today representing the U.S. Embassy Manila’s United States Agency for International Development, more commonly known as USAID. USAID is the principal arm of the United States Government that offers technical and financial assistance to partner countries, such as the Philippines, and the citizens of those countries.

I bring you the greetings of the United States Ambassador to the Philippines, the Hon. Philip Goldberg.

Urban development is a key feature of USAID’s work in the Philippines. One of our significant areas of work is the Cities Development Initiative, in which we integrate resources from our various technical sectors — health, education, economic growth, governance, and environment — to support partner cities in fulfilling their potential as engines of inclusive economic growth.

The Cities Development Initiative is part of the broader Partnership for Growth, a partnership between the Governments of the United States and the Philippines aimed at addressing binding constraints to economic growth and development in the Philippines.

The rationale for USAID’s Cities Development Initiative derives from the hypothesis that urban-led growth can accelerate inclusiveness and poverty reduction. Even though the Philippines has averaged six percent GDP growth during 2011-2015, we are all well aware that this growth has not translated into meaningful gains in many parts of the country, where poverty, unemployment, and income inequality have remained at stubbornly high levels. Much of the country’s growth is concentrated in and around Metro Manila. We need to expand and disperse economic opportunity across the country.

Today we generally think of cities in positive terms. The role that cities play in the Philippines’ economy, and in the world, is significant and growing. Cities are magnets of economic activity and prosperity, and are the primary drivers of investments and jobs – crucial elements to achieve broad-based, inclusive, and sustainable growth. In the Philippines, a full 75 percent of economic output is attributed to urban areas, focused particularly in the country’s more than 30 highly urbanized cities.

Today, half of the Philippines’ population lives in cities. It is projected that by 2030, three-quarters of the country will live in urban areas.

Cities can also be powerful tools to address development challenges in rural areas, as cities serve as markets for agriculture and rural output. They are likewise centers of innovation; they typically host universities that conduct cutting-edge research and the latest high-tech devices.

Of course, the opportunities and promises that cities offer are not automatic. While urban agglomeration does have positive effects, as I have mentioned, it has negative effects as well.

I think of the experience of countries in Europe and the United States. In many of those countries, even before the Industrial Revolution and even more so as industrialization took place in the 18 th and 19 th centuries, cities were not synonymous with development. They were by and large dangerous places, where open sewers, rampant disease and unprotected orphans co-existed alongside opulent homes for the rich and exquisite architecture in churches and government buildings. Hospitals were appropriately nicknamed “disease palaces.”

The advent of public health measures, basic education, and other social services helped change that. It is our hope that the Cities Development Initiative will help the participating cities of the Philippines not succumb to the 21 st -century threats that can accompany rapid urbanization. Some of those are congestion, informal settlements, inadequate services, health threats, haphazard land use, and lack of preparedness for climate-induced disasters. Careful planning can help growing cities get on a more optimistic path for development, so that the positive spill-over effects outweigh the negative.

In the next two days, we will learn and exchange ideas on how to make our cities more economically vibrant by developing strategies to achieve the two goals reflected in the themes of this conference: resilience and inclusive growth. Resilience is pivotal because the Philippines is so susceptible to the effects of climate change, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, and storms.

With the diversity of our speakers and delegates who come from different geographical areas, disciplines, professions, orientations and business interests, we hope to enrich everyone’s knowledge and form networks of partners to promote and strengthen public and private sector collaboration.

Let me end by recognizing everyone who has made this event possible. This conference is a joint undertaking of USAID, through its Strengthening Urban Resilience for Growth with Equity, or SURGE, Project, the flagship project of the Cities Development Initiative. SURGE is carried out by the International City and County Management Association, represented among others here by David Grossman, Director for International Programs.

Allow me also to acknowledge our esteemed co-organizers, namely the Department of the Interior and Local Government; the National Competitiveness Council; the United Nations Human Settlements Programme; the World Bank; and partner organizations like the University of the Philippines School of Urban and Regional Planning and the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners. We are also grateful to the sponsors that have generously supported this conference.

I am confident this gathering will inspire all of you to work toward a livable future for generations to come.

Thank you so much. Maraming salamat po!

Issuing Country