A New Approach to Cities: Everyone Counts

October 29, 2015

  • With more than 5 million people moving to cities every month, there is rising disparity and inequality in urban areas.
  • While urbanization brings economic and societal benefits when handled well, on a negative path it can trap people into poverty.
  • This World Cities Day, the World Bank looks at solutions to develop cities where everyone has access to the services and opportunities necessary to build a more prosperous future.

What does it mean to make a city inclusive?

For Bui Thi Mai in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam, it means a clean, safe street so her business can grow and prosper.

“The alley was so narrow that only one motorbike could get in,” she said. “There was no drainage so it was often flooded, making garbage float and mosquitos breed. It was unsafe for our health. There were few streetlights, allowing criminals to hide in dark corners. Running my business is much easier because the street is cleaner and safer. Trucks can carry goods to my door. More shops and restaurants are opening along this big street.”

For Esperanza Choquehuanca, it means participating in community-driven development that brought running water, paved roads, street lighting, sports areas and a community house to her neighborhood on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia.

“We used to have to wash clothes in the stream or the wells,” she said. “Women and girls had to go to the river to use the bathroom. Now we all have our own bathrooms with a shower with hot water as well as our own laundry areas.”

Urban trends are making the push for inclusion more important than ever. Cities are growing at historic rates, with 90 percent of urban growth taking place in Asia and Africa. While urbanization has the potential to lift people out of poverty and increase prosperity, rising inequality and exclusion threaten to derail progress.

“When people move to cities they are looking for better jobs and more opportunity, but too often end up trapped in a stigmatized space of poverty and marginalization,” said Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director for the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice at the World Bank Group.

“This is particularly true for the nearly 1 billion urban poor who live in informal settlements around the world. The current levels of urban poverty and inequality, coupled with the projected rates of urbanization, send a clear and unequivocal signal: we need to do more to foster inclusion and we need to do it differently,” he added.

" The current levels of urban poverty and inequality, coupled with the projected rates of urbanization, send a clear and unequivocal signal: we need to do more to foster inclusion. "

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Senior Director Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, World Bank Group

In advance of World Cities Day this October 31st, urban development experts at the World Bank Group are sharing a multi-dimensional approach to cities that extends beyond conventional “bricks and mortar” programs, looking at the multiple spatial, social and economic factors that lead to exclusion and marginalization.

“Improvements in one area have consequences in all,” said Ellen Hamilton, a Lead Urban Specialist at the Bank. “Affordable public transportation provides access to jobs; jobs increase access to housing and basic services; and access to housing and services increase community participation in development and decision making. Working together, these factors can lift people out of exclusion.”

Exclusion makes it difficult for the poor to secure access, rights, land, and opportunities in urban areas, which exacerbates poverty. The development community is uniting behind efforts to make cities more inclusive.

The United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals for the first time include a goal specific to urban development: to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient. Flagship events on social inclusion and sustainable cities took center stage at the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings in Lima, Peru in October. The Discovery Learning Alliance – which uses the power of the media to improve lives in marginalized communities around the world – partnered with the World Bank to produce a video to help students learn how urban planning can lead to productive, inclusive cities.

Many national governments are taking steps to promote inclusive urban development in their plans and policies. Countries including South Africa, Brazil, Chile and Indonesia have launched national programs to make cities slum-free and inclusive. Even in the absence of national policies, some local governments are taking the initiative. Medellin, for example, reduced geographical exclusion by introducing cable cars as public transit for communities in the surrounding hillsides.

At the World Bank, urban experts are building on the success of projects that promote inclusive city development.

  • In Vietnam, where investment in infrastructure was combined with strong community engagement, more than 200 low-income areas now have water, electricity and sanitation services, creating vibrant, attractive and participatory communities.
  • In Tanzania, a community-driven infrastructure upgrading project targeted 31 unplanned settlements in Dar es Salaam, with a participatory plan for each of them to meet their specific needs.
  • In Jamaica, the integration of spatial, social and economic dimensions of inclusion resulted in significant improvements in the quality of life for residents in communities with high crime and poverty levels. The project improved access to basic urban infrastructure and incorporated other initiatives to promote inclusion, like micro-finance for enterprise development, land tenure regularization, and mediation services, skills training and social services to improve public safety.

 While the comprehensive results of more inclusive approaches to urban development are not yet available, the impact on the ground is tangible.

“We had a very difficult childhood, with much poverty,” remembers Bolivia’s Esperanza Choquehuanca. “I don’t want that for my children and grandchildren. I know they are observing and will have much better lives.”