Global Challenges, Local Solutions: ICMA International's Work Overseas

Susan Cosner
CityLinks Director
International City/County Management Association
Washington, D.C.

Editor's Note: The APWA International Affairs Committee presents this series of articles to assist in the exchange of ideas between our international partners. The following article is presented as part of a Letter of Understanding between APWA and the International City/County Management Association. As mentioned in the Letter of Understanding, "It is natural that APWA and ICMA combine the human resources represented by their membership, to further extend their organizational goals and principles to international local governments."

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the premier local government leadership and management organization, strives to create excellence in local governance by developing and advancing the professional management of local government. It has been doing this since 1914 by providing technical and management assistance, training, and information resources to its members and the local government community.

ICMA International was created in 1989 to further the ICMA mission worldwide. Since then, it has successfully designed, implemented, and evaluated hundreds of international projects, many of them with the help of members of the APWA, with whom it has a Letter of Understanding to collaborate on international initiatives. ICMA International's Academy for International Development has helped many U.S. city officials get involved at the international level.

"Global challenges, local solutions" is the theme of every ICMA International project and the mindset of every local government practitioner and consultant who gives his or her time to it. These experts understand that, while the challenges faced in communities such as Adama, Ethiopia, or Kabul, Afghanistan, may at first glance seem very different from those faced in U.S. cities like Charlottesville, Virginia, or Portland, Oregon, they are actually very similar.

The following are several of ICMA International's most recent public works projects:

Kabul trash dump is transformed into a pedestrian mall
For more than 30 years, the vacant expanse that stretched for more than a mile between the Maleqa Soraiia School for Girls and the Abo-Baker-e Sedique Mosque in the Wazir Abad section of Kabul's District IV served as a garbage dump for local families and businesses. Each day, hundreds of children had to walk through it to get to and from the school, and residents also had to cross it to reach the mosque.

This was a task that was neither pleasant nor easy. A potholed maze of rusted metal, broken glass and raw sewage, the dump was dusty in the summers and so muddy during the rainy winters as to be impassible for the younger children. What's more, it was a breeding ground for the germs that cause typhoid, hepatitis and dysentery—all of which are common childhood diseases in Afghanistan—as well as for malaria-spreading mosquitoes. In addition, vehicles regularly drove off-road through the expanse, posing yet another threat to the children living in the area.

In May 2006, as part of its CityLinks cooperative agreement with USAID, ICMA sent a pro-bono consultant to Kabul from the U.S. to see what could be done about the problem. Ahmad Shah Qayoumi, an Afghan-American engineer who served as Transportation Development Review and Concurrency Manager for the City of Vancouver, Wash., surveyed the scene and came up with detailed plans to convert much of the trash dump into a landscaped pedestrian mall and play area featuring paved walkways and three separate recreational areas—a playground, a soccer field and a basketball court.

Drainage ditches would eliminate the mud and raw sewage, the whole area would be fenced and gated to keep out motor vehicles, and the three roads that intersected the pedestrian mall would be repaved, using three different methods so that the effectiveness of each could be evaluated. Additionally, a second gate would be installed at the nearby school, so that pedestrians and vehicles wouldn't have to share the same entryway into the compound.

ICMA's CityLinks team, which has been working in Kabul since December 2005, brought Qayoumi's vision to life. Phase I of the project, which involved the creation of the playground area, was begun in October 2006 and completed by year's end. The residents are already delighted, as the completed area is clean, pleasant and safe. The final two phases are underway and will be completed by June 2007. The hope is to use this highly successful and cost-effective project as a model for replication in other Kabul neighborhoods as well as in Afghanistan's provinces.

Innovative park to teach traffic safety to Kabul's children
Pedestrian traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death among children in Afghanistan. With few alternatives, they spend much of their time playing or begging in the streets, making them prime targets for motor vehicles that are themselves often driven by young and inexperienced drivers.

To remedy the situation, ICMA has designed and is constructing an innovative park in Kabul where children can learn about traffic safety while they play. Part of ICMA's CityLinks cooperative agreement with USAID, the project is being undertaken in conjunction with the City's mayor and municipal office.

  Workers build a traffic safety park in Kabul

The traffic safety park was designed by two Afghan engineers, Afzal Qayoumi and Amanullah Afghanzoi, who got the idea while on an ICMA-sponsored study tour to India last year. It will be located within the city's Shahr-i-Naw Park, which is one of the few family recreational areas in Kabul.

Constructed in the 1980s, Shahr-i-Naw had fallen into disrepair, with its greenery gone and much of the area filled with trash. In a separate project, ICMA had rehabilitated the entire park to its former state in November 2006, so that it is once again a popular and safe congregating place for children and their families.

When finished in mid-June 2007, the 2,400-square-meter traffic safety park—the first of its kind in Afghanistan—will contain a full complement of recreational facilities for children, including covered slides, jungle gyms, and monkey bars. Stop signs, traffic lights, and pedestrian walkways will be interspersed throughout, so that the children will absorb lessons about traffic safety while they play. One portion of the park will feature small pedal-powered bumper cars the children can ride, so that they learn traffic safety from a driver's perspective.

The site of the traffic safety park has been mapped and graded, and construction began in March 2007. The work is being overseen by an Afghan engineer, a 26-year-old woman named Diana—another first for Afghanistan.

Building community playgrounds in Tamil Nadu
The extensive damage caused by the December 2004 tsunami included the destruction of parks in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam, two municipalities in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The loss of these gathering places created a void for both communities and a desire to rebuild.

  Playground in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, India

ICMA and the CityLinks team of the Ahmedabad, India-based Urban Management Center, the municipalities of Cuddalore and Nagapattinam, and the partner cities of Palm Bay, Port Orange, Oldsmar, and Ponce Inlet, Florida, have been working together to design and build new parks.

A component of the park effort included the development of a playground in each city. The playgrounds were built by hand, by the community, through public-private partnership initiatives that involve the solicitation of community volunteers, materials/tools donations and municipal support. The CityLinks team was guided through the process by the Ithaca, New York-based firm of Leathers & Associates, the originator of the community-built approach for playgrounds and a leader in the community-built custom-design field.

Both parks—based on the designs drawn by local schoolchildren—have been built and have been huge successes. This is the first time a project of this kind has been done in India and represents a new opportunity for community development in the country. It is hoped that the project will serve as a model for other cities and be replicated throughout India.

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