Cities of Opportunities

published by Urban Gateway for The International Urban Development Community

We all know that our world is rapidly urbanizing. More and more people are moving to cities in search of a better living. This process is happening fastest in Africa and Asia. The United Nations predicts that urbanization, combined with the overall population growth, could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050.

Housing has turned into a profound concern not just in Lagos or Mumbai, but London, Paris or New York. Affordability, income gap and lack of appropriate housing are looming large globally. In both the developing and the developed world, housing projects are increasingly serving private interests. Governments are struggling with shrinking budgets and cutting social housing projects. The connection between the private and public sectors and ordinary citizens is broken.

Architects, developers, government, non-profits are here to ensure that we create affordable residential spaces which restore the connection with the people.

Market and social planning are two dominant formal systems for dealing with housing. However, neither fully addresses the needs of ordinary people. Developing ways to bridge the gap between the two by introducing elements of planning and soft regulations into the market will develop and stimulate the market while insuring that profits and finances do not determine everything.

This means introducing standards for the construction industry, monitoring of construction practices or support for innovative construction start-ups. The international housing charity Habitat for Humanity is a leading housing nonprofit who is engaging with both the private and public sector. It works with authorities and companies to stimulate local markets, developing local construction initiatives with young entrepreneurs and innovators in Mexico, India and Kenya, connecting them with social impact investors.

In our hyper-technological age, there are increased opportunities and possibilities to learn and adopt new practices. More mobile technology has led to a proliferation of flexible working hours and movable offices. With better infrastructure between cities and the countryside, people will be more able to live and work where they feel comfortable.

In Africa, Asia and Latin America, allowing secondary cities to develop, and dispersing infrastructure, would reduce the strain on the mega-cities, which are too chaotic and difficult to reorganize. Smaller cities can be planned and structured better.

The task of managing global urbanization is not as daunting as it might look. But we must embrace simple concepts: connecting and involving the people we are building for, taking advantage of new technology, and bring some regulation and support to the market system. Then we could see real progress in our cities.

The change is already beginning to happen. Cities attract people but they also create solutions.