Inclusive Cities

Curated by The World Bank

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, urbanisation has the potential to create opportunities for a better life, provide a pathway out of poverty and act as an engine of economic growth. 

But while urbanisation 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 urbanisation.  

The World Bank’s twin goals – ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity – place the topic of inclusion front and centre. 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 marginalised. 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 marginalisation. 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. 

The [World Bank’s] 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 urbanising 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–emphasising in-situ upgrading over resettlement, and giving voice to the marginalised 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. 

Metropolitan Buenos Aires Urban Transformation Project
It’s estimated that 18 percent of the Argentine population lives in informal settlements, known as “villas”, where poverty levels can reach as high as 55%. The Metropolitan Buenos Aires Urban Transformation Project is supporting the improvement of living conditions for around 48,000 residents in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (both in the City of Buenos Aires and the Province of Buenos Aires), integrating them into the wider urban fabric. Specifically, the project finances the improvement of housing and basic urban services and infrastructure. The flagship initiative within this Project is the urbanisation of Villa 31 in the City of Buenos Aires. One of the largest, and most visible, informal settlements in the country, Villa 31 is literally in the heart of the City, within walking distance from the busiest urban neighbourhoods.  Transforming Villa 31 into Barrio 31 will change the face of Buenos Aires and lead the way for housing and urban transformation throughout Argentina.