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close this bookBasic Facts on Urbanization (HABITAT, 2001, 21 p.)
View the documentAbout
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentGeneral Demographic Trends
View the documentThe Growth of Large Cities
View the documentThe Economics of Cities
View the documentUrbanization and Feminization of Poverty
View the documentThe Challenge of Adequate Housing
View the documentHomelessness
View the documentUrban Violence
View the documentEnvironmental Deterioration
View the documentAccess to Services and Basic Infrastructure
View the documentChildren in the Urban World
View the documentSustainable Urban Development
View the documentGlobal Campaigns on Security of Tenure and Urban Governance
View the documentNotes
View the documentList of References

Sustainable Urban Development

The sheer magnitude of the problems associated with urbanization have significant implications for the way cities are managed and governed. Conventional urban development practices have tended to channel public resources towards 'formal' areas: manufacturing and commercial zones, and regularized (often affluent) residential areas. Municipal investments in informal settlements and peripheral zones are far fewer, as is the provision of shelter and basic services by local authorities. With the advent of privatization, municipal authorities have increasingly turned the delivery of basic services over to private companies. Privatized municipal service delivery, coupled with the elimination of public subsidies, has largely excluded the residents of informal settlements. Low-income groups and the homeless do not represent an effective economic demand as they cannot afford instalments and service charges. Most shelter, basic services, productive enterprises, and social organization is therefore undertaken by low-income families and their organizations. People's development processes, rather than public interventions or private investment, are the primary engines of growth of the 'informal city'.

The absence of inclusive urban management strategies that adequately address the needs of low-income and informal settlements is particularly alarming given current demographic trends. As mentioned earlier, people living (and often working) in informal settlements constitute the majority of the urban population in developing countries. This proportion is likely to increase in the future. Simply put, urban managers are pursuing strategies that cater to a smaller and smaller portion of the city.

Recent UNCHS (Habitat) research concludes that systematic support by governments to people's development processes is an effective strategy for urban development.(54) This confirms the importance of the concept of 'government enablement' as outlined in the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 and the Habitat Agenda.(55)

The research further indicates that municipal authorities utilize scarce public resources and mobilize private investment better when they collaborate with neighbourhood organizations, women's groups, and community organizations and their associations. Partnerships between local authorities, popular groups and nongovernmental organizations build upon existing neighbourhood initiatives. In so doing they lower the cost of service provision and maintenance.

Collaboration between public and popular sectors also greatly enhances municipal planning and development. Municipal authorities which draw upon neighbourhood plans and systematically consult with local initiatives in informal settlements are able to formulate citywide plans better and to ensure their implementation. They are also in a more informed position to allocate scarce public resources towards investments in infrastructure, services and facilities that can address the diverse needs of urban residents.