PS [In Depth]: Deconstructing the Urbanization Challenge

Urbanization is one of the defining trends of our time, and like most transformations, it presents both challenges and opportunities. From its relationship to inequality to its health impacts, the complexities of urbanization must be understood if countries are to maximize its benefits – and limit its fallout.

By 2030, the global labor force will number some 3.5 billion workers, up from 2.9 billion today. Creating enough jobs that fast would be hard enough in the best of times; when so many of them must be concentrated in fast-growing urban hubs in developing countries, the potential for lapses is high, with serious implications for poverty reduction, economic development, and even social stability.


The stakes of failure to meet the jobs challenge are high, not least because it would mean continued increase in urban poverty. Higher poverty rates exacerbate – and are exacerbated by – virtually every other urbanization-related problem, beginning with housing.

The infrastructure imperative does not end with housing, either. The inability to access electricity has become a defining feature of urban poverty, with just 58% of city dwellers in Africa having reliable supplies in 2012. And in view of the urgent need to fight climate change, Africa needs to invest in clean energy sources.

The challenges facing city-dwellers are disproportionately borne by the poor. Health is no exception: people living in wealthy neighborhoods have a much higher life expectancy than those living in slum conditions. With high levels of inequality already disrupting politics in many countries, the risks of creating a vicious cycle of poverty and poor health are all the more acute.

This column is part of a new series, PS [In Depth]. Follow the link to view the first installment, Women's Economic Empowerment, here.

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