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FEATURE STORY December 2, 2019

Improving infrastructure, services, and livelihoods in low-income urban settlements

The participants of TDD on low-income urban settlements visiting Ameyoko district in Tokyo during site visit

Story highlights

  • Tokyo Development Learning Center hosted a Technical Deep Dive to address the challenges for urban informal settlements, which are projected to increase in coming decades.
  • Global experts stressed the need to engage with and empower communities, while case studies from Japan provided examples for urban upgrading projects.
  • Participants shared experiences from their own countries and discussed ways to improve access to housing and jobs and to enhance urban connectivity.

December 2-6, 2019

Informal communities are a way of life for millions of city dwellers

Globally, an estimated 1 billion people live in informal settlements, and that number is expected to grow to more than 3 billion by 2050. Informal settlements are typically overcrowded, with low-quality housing.

Many people who live in informal settlements also work in the informal sector — as informal vendors or workers in low-skill and low-wage jobs — without social insurance or protections. Addressing living conditions for the urban poor, along with livelihood opportunities, is essential for improving livability and inclusion for all city residents.

Community outreach: a crucial step in improving conditions for the urban poor

Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) convened experts and practitioners from Japan and around the world for a Technical Deep Dive (TDD) on improving infrastructure, services and livelihoods in low-income urban settlements. Held Dec. 2–6, 2019 in Tokyo, the event was attended by delegates from 11 countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Egypt, Djibouti, and Pakistan).

A recurring theme was the need to consider community perspectives (such as technical knowledge, concerns, and willingness) when undertaking urban upgrading projects. Ms. Somsook Boonyabancha, Chair of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, explained that rapid urbanization frequently results in evictions in informal settlements and thus a weakening of these communities. Accordingly, city governments need to actively engage with the urban poor to better understand these issues. Engagement can also empower communities and facilitate local initiatives to upgrade infrastructure and services.

"Strong urban upgrading cases include improved health outcomes, better livelihood opportunities, more private investment in home improvements, better access to transport and jobs, and a reduction in crime and violence."
Judy Baker
Global Lead on Urban Poverty and Housing, World Bank

Dr. Martha Chen, Lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School, discussing the importance of protecting urban informal businesses. Photo: World Bank Group
Dr. Martha Chen, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, stressed the importance of recognizing and supporting informal workers, who make up over 60% of the world’s workforce. When addressing the issue of informal settlements, cities should first seek to understand the struggles unique to the urban poor (whose homes tend to be their workplace), while helping them to secure legal rights, representation, and access to public goods.

Case study Japan: formalizing city street markets and food stalls

During the TDD, representatives from Japan presented examples of local urban upgrading projects. Dr. Kazuro Yahiro, CEO of a Fukuoka-based think tank and a member of the city’s Food Stall Appointment Committee, described the formalization process for food stalls in Fukuoka. He emphasized the need for cities to provide new context and guidance to preserve informal businesses. Fostering new start-up enterprises is also key; to that effect, Fukuoka has undertaken initiatives to improve and diversify its local food stall culture, such as inviting younger chefs to start mobile restaurants.

Participants visited Tokyo’s Ameya Yokocho (Ameyoko), what begin as an informal market after World War II and is today one of the most popular shopping streets in Japan. According to Mr. Isao Hoshino, Chair of the Ameyoko Shopping Street Association, the redevelopment process was accelerated by securing an alternative site for temporary business. The visit to Ameyoko spurred a discussion among participants about the importance of land registration and development that accounts for the flow of foot traffic.

Mr. Isao Hoshino, Chair of the Ameyoko Shopping District Association, presenting on the district’s history to TDD participants. Photo: World Bank Group

Throughout the TDD, participants shared experiences from their home countries. One important takeaway from these discussions was the need to consider housing strategies for the middle class alongside plans to secure affordable housing for the low-income population — as the middle class in developing countries occupies much of the affordable housing. It is also important for housing solutions to ensure access to jobs.

Technical Deep Dive (TDD) is a cohort-based, knowledge acceleration program and the signature project of the Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC). Each week-long session examines an issue pertinent to cities via expert panels, site visits, and peer exchanges, drawing on global and Japanese best practices to generate actionable solutions that can be applied to World Bank projects in developing countries.