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 Vision for the Urban Future

Dealing effectively with expected urban growth will require an open mind. The evidence overwhelmingly points to the need for policymakers at all levels in developing countries to accept urbanization as a potential ally in development efforts. Evidence-based policy dialogue is needed to help convince them that urbanization is not only inevitable, but that it can be a positive force. Key arguments include the following:

Cities have important advantages:

  • Although urban concentration increases the visibility and political volatility of poverty, it has definite advantages over dispersion. These advantages are economic, social and environmental as well as demographic.

  • Economic competition is increasingly globalized; cities are better able to take advantage of globalization’s opportunities and to generate jobs and income for a larger number of people.

  • Cities are in a better position to provide education and health care—as well as other services and amenities—simply because of their advantages of scale and proximity. Poor governance, and decisions prompted by a negative attitude to urbanization and urban growth, explain why these advantages do not always materialize.

  • Urbanization helps to hold back environmental degradation by offering an outlet for rural population growth that would otherwise encroach upon natural habitats and areas of biodiversity. Cities are worse polluters than rural areas, simply because they generate most of a country’s economic growth and concentrate its most affluent consumers. But many environmental problems could be minimized with better urban management.

  • From a demographic standpoint, urbanization accelerates the decline of fertility by facilitating the exercise of reproductive health rights. In urban areas, new social aspirations, the empowerment of women, changes in gender relations, the improvement of social conditions, higher-quality reproductive health services and better access to them, all favour rapid fertility reduction.

Getting policies right in curbing urban growth:

  • Most urban growth is occurring in small and medium-sized cities. This trend will continue into the foreseeable future. As noted above, governance issues in these cities are critical. Small and medium-sized cities have greater flexibility in dealing with rapid growth but fewer resources. More emphasis thus needs to be placed on helping these cities grow sustainably.

  • The primary component of urban growth is usually not migration but natural increase in the cities themselves. The most effective way to decrease rates of urban growth is to reduce unwanted fertility in both urban and rural areas. Poverty, coupled with gender discrimination and sociocultural constraints, shapes the fertility preferences of the urban poor and limits their access to quality reproductive health services.

  • Neither history nor recent experience gives any support to the notion that urban migration can be stopped or even significantly slowed. Opposing migration and refusing to help the urban poor for fear of attracting additional migrants merely increases poverty and environmental degradation.

  • A large proportion of urban growth, whether from migration or natural increase, is made up of the poor. But poor people have both a right to be in the city and an important contribution to make. This has to be a clear point of reference for urban policymakers.

  • It is critical to support the individual and collective efforts of low-income residents to secure better homes and livelihoods in urban areas, and to give them the opportunity to participate in policy processes, as well as to negotiate solutions to their problems.

Poverty, sustainability and land use:

  • Many cities could reduce social problems by planning ahead for the needs of the poor. In particular, poor people need serviced land to build and improve their own housing. In this, greater attention must be given to securing the property rights of women. Having a secure home and a legal address is essential for people to tap into what the city has to offer. The most effective way to achieve this is to provide land and services for the poor before the fact. This requires learning to live with inevitable growth and planning for it.

  • Planning for the land needs of the poor is only one aspect of the broader issue of land use, which will become more urgent as the urban population grows. The aim should be to minimize the urban footprint by regulating and orienting expansion before it happens.

  • The interactions between urban growth and sustainability will be particularly critical for humankind’s future. Cities influence global environmental change and will be increasingly affected by it. This calls for a proactive approach, aimed at preventing environ­mental degradation and reducing the environmental vulnerability of the poor. It is particularly critical in developing countries, whose urban population will soon double, and in low-elevation coastal zones.(5)

The critical importance of a proactive approach:

  • Given the prospects of urban growth, only proactive approaches to inevitable urban growth are likely to be effective. Minimizing the negative and enhancing the positive in urbanization requires both vision and a permanent concern for poverty reduction, gender equality and equity and environmental sustainability. It also requires good information and analysis, as the last section of this chapter shows.


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