A visitor uses a tablet dispalyed past the model of a smart city Josep Lago/Getty Images

Planning Better Cities

Cities have long been portrayed as the best way to organize human life. But to capitalize on urban areas' potential to drive economic growth and ensure that prosperity is sustainable, governments must introduce a user-centered approach to how cities are designed and managed.

NAIROBI AND DUBAI – Cities, the American-Canadian author Jane Jacobs once observed, are engines for national prosperity and economic growth. But in their current form, modern cities are also catalysts of inequality and environmental degradation. Today, the share of city dwellers in poverty is growing; 33% live in slums; and 75% of global carbon dioxide emissions originate in metropolitan areas. Statistics like these should give us pause: Are cities really the best way to organize human life?

They can be, but only with significant adjustments to how they are planned, built, and managed. For city-led growth to empower a sustainable, prosperous future, governments and developers must reintroduce a user-centered approach to urbanization.

Today, most cities fail to include key stakeholders in the planning process, leading to exclusionary development. Consider the ubiquitous housing project on the edge of town, a characteristic of many poorly planned cities. Built in the middle of nowhere, these multi-unit eyesores are often cut off from public transportation and other services, compounding residents’ isolation from the urban core.

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