Inclusive Cities

October 29, 2015


Infographic: Making the Cities of Tomorrow More Inclusive


Urbanization has been one of the most significant driving forces of recent global development. More than half the world’s population now lives in cities, and this proportion will continue to increase rapidly to reach 70% by 2050.

When handled properly, urbanization has the potential to create opportunities for a better life, provide a pathway out of poverty and act as an engine of economic growth. Indeed, cities are often focal points for activities that are critical to the development of an entire country, such as trade and commerce, government, transport, etc. Cities currently account for approximately 80% of GDP generated worldwide.

But while urbanization is moving the global economy forward, rising inequality and exclusion within cities can derail development progress. In that context, the international community has acknowledged the need to create more inclusive cities, and to make sure that people can reap the benefits of urbanization. The World Bank’s twin goals – ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity – place the topic of inclusion front and center. Likewise, Sustainable Development Goal 11 calls for “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” cities.

Despite wide recognition and commitment, building inclusive cities remains a challenge. Today, one out of three urban residents in the developing world still lives in slums with inadequate services. In addition, the majority of future urban growth is expected to take place in Asia and Africa, regions that are home to some of the poorest countries in the world.

To make sure that tomorrow’s cities provide opportunities and better living conditions for all, it is essential to understand that the concept of inclusive cities involves a complex web of multiple spatial, social and economic factors:

  • Spatial inclusion: urban inclusion requires providing affordable necessities such as housing, water and sanitation. Lack of access to essential infrastructure and services is a daily struggle for many disadvantaged households;
  • Social inclusion: an inclusive city needs to guarantee equal rights and participation of all, including the most marginalized. Recently, the lack of opportunities for the urban poor, and greater demand for voice from the socially excluded have exacerbated incidents of social upheaval in cities;
  • Economic inclusion: creating jobs and giving urban residents the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of economic growth is a critical component of overall urban inclusion.

The spatial, social and economic dimensions of urban inclusion are tightly intertwined, and tend to reinforce each other. On a negative path, these factors interact to trap people into poverty and marginalization. Working in the opposite direction, they can lift people out of exclusion and improve lives.


While urban inclusion is clearly a multi-faceted issue, traditional interventions have mostly focused on physical improvements such as slum upgrading. In an effort to combat urban poverty and inequality more effectively, the World Bank is instead looking to develop a holistic approach that integrates all three dimensions of urban inclusion – spatial, social, and economic.

Designing innovative, multi-dimensional interventions to create inclusive cities requires:

  • Adopting multi-sector solutions for a multi-dimensional issue: This implies combining spatial approaches (access to land, infrastructure, and housing) with social interventions (inclusion of the marginalized, community-driven development, investment in crime and violence prevention, citizen engagement,) and economic measures (jobs and opportunities for all, education and skill building, pro-poor economic strategies, access to credit and finance).
  • Combining ‘preventive’ and ‘curative’ solutions: Although approaches like slum upgrading have improved living conditions for many, they still remain an ‘after-the-fact’ solution aimed at fixing the existing housing stock. There is a need to combine preventive approaches that allow proactive planning for future growth with upgrading and other curative approaches.
  • Sequencing, prioritizing and scaling up investments: While a multidimensional, integrated approach is recommended, it is not always possible to implement operations that target all aspects of inclusion at once. In some cases, interventions may need to be sequenced and scaled up or down based on context, priorities and needs.
  • Harnessing communities’ potential as drivers of inclusion: Local communities are in an ideal position to plan and prioritize their own needs. Based on the success of community-driven approaches, communities’ participation in planning, implementing and sustaining the benefits of urban interventions is viewed as a key success factor.
  • Strengthening capacity at local level: When it comes to building inclusive cities, higher levels of government and international agencies are only as effective as the local institutions they support. It is important to ensure that local governments have the political backing, devolved powers, necessary tools and sufficient resources to make urban inclusion a reality.
  • Fostering Partnerships: A multi-dimensional approach calls for multi-partner interventions, internally and externally. The World Bank enables collaboration among experts from multiple sectors. Working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the private sector will help complement public sector initiatives, and carry out efficient, cost-effective interventions. Collaborating with other international development organizations and bilateral donors will emphasize the need to promote inclusion globally, and will make it easier to adapt best practices to different local contexts. Partnering with organizations that work closely with local communities, such as Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Asia Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), will help to make sure that the interventions meet the needs and demands of residents, and to identify areas in which communities can take the lead.


The World Bank has been conducting extensive analytical work on inclusive cities to develop a solid knowledge base on the topic of urban inclusion, initiate dialogue with key stakeholders, and mainstream the various aspects of inclusion into its operations.

The Inclusive Cities initiative builds on years of accumulated knowledge, experiences and lessons from past projects that promoted inclusive city development. Some examples include:

  • Vietnam – Vietnam Urban Upgrading Project: In rapidly urbanizing Vietnam, low income areas in Ho Chi Minh City and other secondary cities were often flooded with inadequate sanitation, causing serious health and environmental risks. The Vietnam Urban Upgrading Project helped improve the lives of 7.5 million urban poor with better water and sewerage connections, roads, lakes, canals and bridges. The project combined the provision of infrastructure with strong community engagement. The project introduced a new way of working with the poor--emphasizing in-situ upgrading over resettlement, and giving voice to the marginalized by involving them in the identification of upgrading options, on-site supervision and evaluation of the project's impact. The project also helped ensure that all households in the upgraded areas receive a certificate of tenure or land use certificates. A microcredit program, implemented by the local Women’s Union, also supported low-income households in the bottom 40% of the cities with home improvement or income generation loans to alleviate the pressure due to lack of credit.
  • Tanzania - The Community Infrastructure Upgrading Programme (CIUP): this inclusive, community-driven program aimed to retrofit 31 unplanned settlements in Dar es Salaam to provide essential public infrastructure and services. The project was completed in 2011, reaching approximately 327,980 beneficiaries. While the broad set of interventions was agreed upon from the outset, a tailored plan was developed with local leaders to ensure that the project would meet the specific needs of each settlement. The “hard" infrastructure (roads, toilets, drainage, streetlights, etc.) was complemented by marketing campaigns to promote sanitation improvements in the community, encouraging households to look after and upgrade their toilet facilities for health and social status reasons.
  • Jamaica - Inner City Basic Services for the Poor (ICBSP): The ICBSP targeted 12 urban and peri-urban communities located across Jamaica. These communities are the most vulnerable to crime and violence, and also had very high levels of poverty. The project not only worked on improving access to basic urban infrastructure (transport, solid waste, water, wastewater treatment and sewerage) but also incorporated other dimensions of inclusion, namely, micro-finance for enterprise development and incremental home improvements, land tenure regularization, enhanced community capacity and improvements in public safety through mediation services, skills training and related social services. The project supported a delivery mechanism that engaged with communities for a 3-4 year period to identify key constraints to jobs, livability, safety and inclusion and facilitated a menu of services and infrastructure delivery on vulnerable communities to support the economic and social advancement, achieve their full potential, thereby creating more sustainable communities. Integration of physical, social and economic dimensions of inclusion resulted in significant improvements in the quality of life of the residents.