In countries around the world, urban areas form the engines of economic growth and provide spaces for social transformation and political inclusion. As a result of the economic and social opportunities that urban areas offer, Africa’s urban population is expected to increase from 414 million to over 1.2 billion by 2050, while the urban population of Asia is project to soar from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion people. While in the past urbanization was largely seen as giving rise to congestion and the concentration of poverty in urban slums, the trend towards urban areas is increasingly being seen as an opportunity to improve education and public services in Africa and Asia and to achieve more sustainable development, as more concentrated populations become easier to reach.
Why is urbanization important? Given the importance of cities as centers of economic, social and political development, the success of most low-income countries to achieve sustainable economic growth and achieve middle-income status is often closely tied to the success of their urban areas. As such, the degree of success with which countries harness the power of urbanization serves as an important bell-weather for sustainable development.
What is our unique experience? When the public sector is not managed well and urban areas are politically neglected or deprived of the freedom to manage their own affairs in an inclusive and accountable manner, or when cities are deprived of the finance resources necessary to provide for their own infrastructure needs, cities can become centers for concentrated poverty, traffic congestion, decaying infrastructure, urban blight, and hotbeds for social tension. In fact, The Urban Institute was founded in 1968 to analyze and come up with policy solutions to reverse the trends of urban decay, inner-city poverty, and urban unrest facing the United States in the 1960s.
In our experience, two factors provide the institutional context within which successful urbanization takes place: first, a sound intergovernmental institutional framework that provides the political, administrative and fiscal foundation for urban success, and second, dynamic, inclusive and responsive local leadership. In other words, harnessing the power of urbanization requires good intergovernmental systems and good local governance.
What does the Urban Institute do? How does The Urban Institute help countries and development partners to harness the power of urbanization?
- Conceptualizing smart and sustainable cities - How can urban areas organize their space and infrastructure in order to take advantage of their higher densities to increase economic opportunities for businesses and residents, improve access, secure adequate residential space, deliver effective public services, and achieve sustainable growth
- Supporting intergovernmental reforms - removing intergovernmental obstacles to urban success and urban service delivery effectiveness
- Performance-based municipal grant systems – improving the finance and governance of municipalities
- Strengthening urban own source revenue mobilization - strengthening urban local governments in mobilizing own revenues, not only by improving local revenue administration practices, but also by increasing taxpayers' willingness to pay local revenues by improving improving transparency and local services
- Strengthening the management of urban assets – supporting urban local authorities to recognize the value of –and manage- their most valuable asset: urban land.
- Promoting higher-performing local government organizations - transforming local governments from entities that are responsive to instructions from the top into organizations which are capable of proactively identifying and responding to local needs from the bottom up