USAID Urban Champion: David Mann

David Mann is an Urban Planner currently working with the USAID/Jamaica’s Office of Environment and Health. His hands-on experience in urban development in East Africa, South East Asia, and the United States has helped this office address the urban aspect of clean energy and agriculture programming in Kingston and surrounding communities. Through his work advising urban authorities and community leaders, he has developed a skill for recognizing where USAID programs connect, whether that is environmental protection with health programming or citizen security with disaster risk reduction.

How is urbanization impacting USAID’s work around the world?

Urbanization impacts almost all sectors of the economy and social fabric of society. From health to gender relations and from food security to economic growth – all of the core issues USAID works on are framed and impacted by the context of a rapidly urbanizing world. Ensuring that urbanization occurs sustainably and equitably is crucial for almost all of the Agency’s goals.

With a few notable exceptions, the population of the Caribbean region has been predominantly urban for many decades already. USAID’s efforts to promote good governance, human security, and improved livelihoods (which themselves are dependent on biodiversity preservation, e.g. tourism) are all impacted by the fact that Jamaicans live in cities and towns and are dependent on urban infrastructure and services.

What challenges/opportunities does it present?

Many of the challenges and opportunities in an urban environment relate to density. Any time there is density, there is competition for resources – land, food, jobs, etc. While this can create some tension and inequality, this type of competition can also result in significant innovation, as people are forced to adapt and survive in this competitive environment. This potential for innovation is a resource worth tapping into.

Density also provides opportunities for efficiencies of scale. From the perspective of service delivery, this translates to fewer resources required to reach each citizen. As a result, urbanization brings the opportunity for more people to access vital services, such as roads, health, sanitation, education, etc.

A dense and diverse urban environment can also complicate the process of community consultation in USAID programming. While in a rural setting community consultation may be more manageable, understanding what a whole city, or even one urban neighborhood, sees as pressing needs or primary problems may be all but impossible. Attempting to involve all groups within an urban community that either have a say, or should have a say, can be a very complex. While this doesn’t preclude USAID from receiving stakeholder input, this dynamic reinforces the need for accountable, transparent, and representative local governments. Our programming can then be much more focused on the identified needs.

Tell us about some of USAID’s urban projects in Jamaica.

Access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity is an important component of city life. A project specifically designed to improve this urban service for a low-income neighborhood is the Ready Board Electrification Demonstration (RED) in Majestic Gardens. The neighborhood of Kingston has a long history of illegal and unsafe electrical connections which have led to fires, electrocution and damage to electrical appliances. Built from plywood and iron sheeting, the residential shacks in this area are not up to code, and so cannot be safely wired for a standard grid connection.

By tapping into the innovation of international practice and local university students, USAID was able to design, assemble and deploy self-contained technological solution complete with circuit breakers, meters, light bulbs and outlets – a device called a ready board – to safely connect 400 homes in Majestic Gardens to the grid. The design passed Jamaican code and has now been scaled up and adopted by other communities facing similar challenges. An added benefit of this project is that by becoming paying customers, the residents of Majestic Gardens are now empowered to demand prompt service from the utility company when repairs are necessary.

What do you see as important trends shaping the future of urbanization? What will USAID’s role be moving forward?

Domestic resource mobilization and decentralization are happening simultaneously with local governments becoming much more involved in the planning, implementation, design, operations, and maintenance of urban systems. There is an opportunity to focus on capacity building beyond elections, on the act of local governance itself. The planning and delivery of health services, infrastructure engineering, education, and enabling conditions for economic development all hinge, to a large extent on the efficient functioning of these urban authorities.

USAID has the potential to assist those local governments in providing services and responding to the challenges of urban land development. The Agency can serve as a resource for local government to develop the capacity required to tax and spend effectively and efficiently as well as provide an enabling environment for entrepreneurship. As Administrator Green says, we should be working ourselves out of a job. Strengthening the local governments that will be responsible for ensuring the sustainable development of the next billion urban dwellers seems like a good place to start.

Want to learn more about the RED Project?

Community Engagement Guide (RED)

The broad mission of this community regularization initiative is to increase safe, reliable, and legal electricity access in communities characterized by a high number of illegal connections. This community engagement manual provides the background, resources, and structure for effectively and efficiently engaging with community members and other community engagement stakeholders around this type of programming. The manual will help the reader understand community engagement basics and residential electricity fundamentals, as well as to provide specific information on Jamaican tariff structure and the Readyboard program in Majestic Gardens.


Readyboard Electrical Safety Slide Deck

This presentation helps to identify the hazards created through improper household connections and wiring, and demonstrates the safe use of electricity in the community and home.

USAID’s Land and Urban Office is looking to feature Urban Champions throughout the Agency who recognize the impact urbanization has on global development today and into the future.

You can nominate anyone (or yourself!) who:

  • Has a project with an urban focus in their portfolio
  • Has worked on project design that includes interventions in urban areas
  • Has an academic or research background in urbanization
  • Is passionate about the challenges urbanization presents.

To nominate someone, email and let us briefly know why your nominee deserves to be featured.

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