Introduction Introduction Chapter 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Chapter 6 Chapter 6
Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Notes for Indicators Notes
Chapter 3 Chapter 3 Notes for boxes Notes for boxes
Chapter 4 Chapter 4 Indicators Indicators
CHAPTER 6 Printer Friendly printer friendly version
Chapter 1 A Vision for a Sustainable Urban Future: Policy, Information and Governance

What Can We Do?

A Vision for the Urban Future

A Win/Win Approach: Social Development and Urban Growth

A Better Information Base for Decision-making

Preparing the Urban Transition: A Last Word

A Better Information Base for Decision-making(12)

Effective governance and management in the changing social and environmental context of expanding urban areas call for reliable and updated information and analysis. Inputs from the population field can play a key role here.

Sociodemographic information can be used to address two complementary agendas: a) improvement of social policy aimed at poverty reduction; and b) generating a broader vision for the sustainable use of space and the provision of land for the shelter needs of the poor. In the hands of the right people—which in many cases will be groups of the urban poor themselves—good information can help drive both of these agendas.


Poor people lack power to make their voices heard by policymakers. Many are effectively invisible to urban policymakers: Official information systems do not accurately register their existence or where they live, and many municipal governments lack information on irregular areas of settlement. Invisibility means less investment, inaccessible schools and health posts, high absentee rates for doctors and teachers assigned to poor districts and a significant social distance between service providers and their clients.(13)

Sociodemographic data must be spatially disaggregated (organized by district) in order to have any real impact. Sex-disaggregated data, gender analysis and gender-responsive budgeting are also critical to meet women’s needs and enable all members of society to realize their potential. Gender-based constraints, as well as opportu­nities, influence access to income and assets, housing, transport and basic services; yet urban planning often ignores this differentiation, reducing the social and economic benefits cities could offer to both men and women.

Public officials need good, clearly presented and disaggregated information to fill gaps in services, especially in fast-growing neighbourhoods. Civil society, the media and the general public need the same information to understand their rights, formulate their demands, keep pressure on planners and politicians and monitor their response.

Participatory approaches are designed to generate community involvement in development and give people some control over different types of development projects. Fortunately, recognition is rising, especially in poor urban areas, that the participation of poor men and women in the decisions that affect them is critical.(14)Women among the urban poor have often been the pioneers of grassroots organi­zations to address community needs and push for change; these have developed into effective social movements.(15)

Knowledge empowers people and has long-term implications for planning. “Participatory mapping” and budgeting can improve awareness, show communities what public services are available and who uses them, and improve local control.(16)Community surveying and mapping is most important for organizations of the urban poor (see Box 25).



Communities of the urban poor and supporting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are documenting their own living conditions, assets and needs.  In the process, they are building knowledge among and about the community and strengthening community groups. They are also building relationships amongst community residents and establishing the community as a formal stakeholder in the city’s political and planning processes.(1)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Starting out as a savings group in 1994, the Solidarity and Urban Poor Federation in Phnom Penh has carried out a number of surveys to gather and analyse community data, including population size and density; occupations and incomes; shelter location and risk; tenancy; availability and method of securing water and power and sanitation.(2)

Nairobi, Kenya
A federation of the urban poor in Kenya, Muungano wa Wanvijiji, works closely with a supporting NGO, Pamoja Trust, to develop their own plans to obtain basic services and security of tenure. In the settlement of Huruma, Pamoja and federation members from the Huruma villages of Kambi Moto, Mahiira, Redeemed, Ghetto, and Gitathuru carried out a community survey and mapping exercise with the Nairobi City Council. Residents of Huruma themselves collected all the data, which included information on population figures and household size; tenancy; income strategies and household expenditures, as well as water and sanitation access and use. The survey and mapping were the first step in the process of regularizing of these settlements.(3)

Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania
The Manzese Ward and UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities Programme worked with women to identify what elements of the city rendered it hostile to their safety and free movement. Following a two-day consultation and exploratory walk, a violence map was drawn up, specific recommendations were made to upgrade the entire settlement, from better lighting and pathway access, to monitoring local bars, guest-houses and other small businesses. They also identified the need for local-level recourse for domestic violence and petty crimes.(4)

Policymakers also need disaggregated intra-urban information to address the needs of the poor more efficiently. This can help to ensure a balanced and equitable distribution of resources; build indicators for quality control; select whom to include or exclude from a programme; and allow adjustments in the location of agencies, distribution of employees and communication strategies.

Demographic dynamics, such as patterns of growth and age structure, vary widely within cities and may challenge social policy management. Correctly identified, these variations can improve decisions on the allocation of health and education policies, as well as help to develop more general urban intervention initiatives. However, there are several obstacles that require new approaches.

Urban administrations frequently make decisions on very short notice, without time to develop sophisticated analyses. Institutional instability often undermines informational or research projects.

High levels of irregular land occupation limit local governments’ ability to obtain sound data. Shantytowns and informal settlements frequently change shape as the result of invasions and evictions. Records are incomplete precisely because of inadequate public services.

Most developing-country planners and managers do not yet have access to fine resolution intra-urban data and indicators, though there has been some progress using geographic information system (GIS) techniques for the mapping of census enumeration areas.

Spatially-disaggregated information allows policymakers to deal with one of the most complex issues of urban administration—choosing where to act: areas with the greatest distortions between supply and demand and those which present cumulative negative social indicators. This kind of analysis is even more necessary as decentralization proceeds.

Every stakeholder recognizes the importance of information for decision-making. Donor countries, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), however, have not yet given priority to the practical aspects of understanding the actual and potential demand for information, organizing information systems that can respond to these demands and forming groups to manage these information systems.(17)

Social policymakers in countries constrained by lack of resources sometimes perceive rational decision-making based on good information as a luxury. International institutions can help convince them that this is not the case; they can also support the generation of data, tools and analyses to clarify needs and suggest choices. Box 26 provides a good example of this kind of contribution.



In 1990, facing decentralization, the municipal Government of San Pedro Sula in Honduras requested UNFPA’s help in setting up a research and statistics unit. At the time, authorities knew very little about the city’s population dynamics except that it was growing quickly.

UNFPA supported training of local staff and helped officials to understand the role of population dynamics in local and regional development. A base map showing land use down to the individual housing unit was prepared and used as basis for a low-cost household census, as well as a detailed survey of population and social indicators. A system for monitoring fertility, infant mortality and reproductive health risks was established. A multi-disciplinary database was created and shared with a variety of municipal, national and international groups, including the Inter-American Development Bank.

The telecommunications giant AT&T cooperated with the project to expand telephone service to 32 towns and cities. As a quid pro quo for using project data, AT&T financed two international HIV/AIDS and reproductive health workers and agreed that all information generated with their support would remain in the public domain.

This type of collaboration enabled the project to improve the quality of its base maps, digitizing “island” maps and eventually creating a single geo-referenced base map for the whole city. The city’s own bureaux of land management, water management and sanitation used these base maps for their own operations.

The success of the project drew other municipalities facing decentralization to emulate it. The project successfully cooperated with a range of central and local government bodies, the private sector, NGOs, academia, bilateral donors and international agencies. Activities were extended at the local level into HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as other aspects of reproductive health, gender and environment. Most important, information was shared with the local communities, allowing them to participate more actively and with better information in political processes.

The argument that information is essential for improving social services supports a worldwide trend to evidence-based policymaking. However, much effort is still needed to understand the growing complexity of the urban arena in developing countries and the information systems required to support decentralized social policies.

The challenges are considerable. Urban administrations in developing countries frequently make decisions on very short notice, without time to develop sophisticated analyses. Institutional instability often undermines informational or research projects.(18)There are technical problems, such as inconsistencies between the units of analysis used in demographic censuses or surveys and those required by potential users. Technical teams tend to be small, ill-trained and ill-equipped. Better-equipped teams often create information systems for which there is no demand.

Information systems vary a great deal from project to project. There are no common standards, and national and international agencies sometimes fail to exchange resources and information with one another. Donor packages sometimes do not respond to local needs or to specific management problems, which leads to duplication and misuse of information. As a result, long-term impact and project sustainability can be a major problem.

In order to perform effectively, social policy managers need access to demographic information systems that not only include data on supply distribution—such as equipment, allocated professionals and existing services—but also enable the comparison of such distribution structures with the needs of local men and women.

Meeting needs stemming from decentralization will also require capacity-building at the local level. Professionals who work on decentralized planning now have to be prepared to analyse demographic phenomena (fertility, mortality, migration, age and sex composition) in spatial terms, using such tools as GIS and satellite imagery. Moreover, they need to be prepared to engage with civil society and to help local groups gain access to information and information systems.

Over the years, UNFPA has consistently supported data gathering. The Fund could further strengthen decentralized planning by reinforcing local capacity to generate, analyse and use population data for local development. This training should go beyond the mere manipulation of data and involve a technical understanding and capacity to develop policy proposals regarding major local planning issues, such as land use and territorial planning, housing, transportation and basic social service provision.


The population field can play a key role in drawing attention to the bigger picture of demographic changes over the longer term and in preparing for considerable urban growth in developing countries. Policy steps to help reduce the social and environmental costs of urban expansion include:

  • Orienting future urban expansion. Using demographic data together with satellite images and other spatial data in a GIS can help orient urban expansion of a given locality or group of localities in more favourable directions. Projections of demographic growth trends, used in conjunction with other data—for example, on elevation, slope, soils, land cover, critical ecosystems and hazard risks—can help policymakers identify areas in which future settlement should be promoted or avoided. To be useful in a GIS, census data need to be available at the scale of the smallest spatial unit possible (in many cases, the census tract).

  • Generating early-warning indicators. Early-warning indicators can be used to alert planners to unexpected urban expansions. Updated information on the broader dynamics of urban expansion and environmental protection needs is critical for responsible urban governance. Precarious and informal settlements need to be identified as they spring up. Aerial photos and satellite images are increasingly used to complement intercensus population estimates.

  • Planning infrastructure and housing policies. The presence of roads, public transport, power and water supplies helps determine the direction in which cities grow. Their development should be oriented in accordance with environmental and demographic criteria. Information on demographic trends and commuting patterns can help predict increased pressure on housing, as well as on the road and street system.

  • Identifying populations at risk. Information on the location, gravity and frequency of environmental risks is a basic planning tool for any city. Informal urban settlements face heightened risks from events such as floods, earthquakes and landslides. Health hazards also abound, because of overcrowding and poor infrastructure, but also because settlements grow up in unhealthy places near polluted bodies of water, solid waste landfills or polluting industries. Specific risks depend not only on location, but also on residents’ level of information and on the building materials and overall quality of their housing.

  • Planning for parks and walkways. Urban public parks and walkways are sometimes considered a luxury that cities in poor countries can ill afford, but open spaces contribute to individual well-being and physical fitness. They can help promote equity in important domains of city life (see Box 27). Urban trees have important environmental benefits such as filtering air pollutants, attenuating the urban heat-island effect and improving water quality. The same GIS tools mentioned above can identify areas for green space preservation, either before they are developed or as part of comprehensive urban renewal.



Doubling the urban population of developing countries in a few decades can be an opportunity to imagine new designs and organizational schemes to make cities more humane and more equitable. When elected Mayor of Bogotá in 1998, Enrique Peñalosa acknowledged that income inequality is endemic to market economies. However, he believed that “quality of life equality” could be en­hanced by making public interests prevail over private interests in urban areas.

Peñalosa held that a city’s transport system is critical to equality. Public transport must take priority over private cars for democracy and the public good to prevail. He considered highways to be monuments to inequality, built with funds diverted from the more important needs of the poor, only to cater to a small minority of the affluent. The city thus rejected a plan for a system of expressways in favour of mass transit, pedestrian access and bicycle paths. A chaotic system of private buses was replaced by a spider-web system in which local buses feed dedicated express lines and move passengers at a rapid pace. Barriers along the streets restored sidewalks to pedes­trians, and restrictions removed 40 per cent of cars from the streets during peak hours. Several hundred kilometres of dedicated bicycle paths were also built.

The Mayor observed that income differences are most acutely felt during leisure time: While upper income citizens have access to large homes, gardens and country clubs, lower-income people and their children live in cramped homes and have public spaces as their only leisure option. Believing that quality public pedestrian space at least begins to redress inequality, Peñalosa improved access to green spaces, waterfronts and public walking spaces.

Predictably, these and other equity-generating initiatives spawned powerful opposition. But in the end, Bogotá has shown that much can be done for the promotion of equity through the strategic use of public space. As their urban population doubles, policymakers in developing countries also have a window of opportunity to use public space as the great equalizer. It is the only place where all citizens meet as equals in cities.