Getting Cities Right

WASHINGTON, DC – The developing world is experiencing rapid urbanization, with the number of city dwellers set to reach four billion in 2030 – double its 2000 level. But unplanned and uncoordinated urban development is risky, threatening to replace migrants’ hopes for a better life with unsanitary living conditions, joblessness, and high exposure to natural disasters.

In many respects, urbanization is rational. After all, cities are the hubs of prosperity, where more than 80% of global economic activity is concentrated. And their density facilitates the delivery of public services, including education, health care, and basic services. Indeed, it costs $0.70-0.80 per cubic meter to provide piped water in urban areas, compared to $2 in sparsely populated areas.

But the high concentration of assets and people, especially in coastal areas, is an economic liability, with around $3 trillion in assets at risk from natural hazards. Vulnerability will increase further over the next two decades, as cities triple their built-up land, to 600,000 square kilometers, often without basic infrastructure or policies to prevent construction and settlement on disaster-prone and vulnerable sites.

To get urbanization right, policymakers must take urgent action to build sustainable cities. Through effective land-use management, they can provide reliable and affordable access to basic services, education, housing, transport, and health care to growing urban populations, while minimizing the carbon footprint.