New series launch on urban development

Hashim Zaidi Governance, New Urbanism

Hashim Zaidi, Global Urban Work Lead, introduces a new blog series on urban development and why it is important to Oxfam.

Cities today are home to 3.9 billion people accounting for 54% of the total world’s population. UN-Habitat estimates that an additional 2.5 billion people will live in cities by 2050 with almost 90% of this increase happening in Asia and Africa.

Cities generate approximately 80% of the global GDP and by 2030 60% of its residents will be under the age of 18. The dynamism and vibrancy of cities stems from the concentration of government, communities, businesses and information that creates unparalleled opportunities for growth and innovation.

A better life

The prospect of a better life with access to essential services, infrastructure and jobs has driven internal migration rates across low and middle-income countries. Cities are under immense pressure to deliver on the ‘urban dream’ with limited capacity and resources.

In the coming years and decades, the rise of secondary cities which will drive the urbanization growth and many of them are not prepared. Cities are unable to meet demand for affordable housing, offer essential services, create jobs, and ensure law and order. It is estimated that over half of the population residing cities in Asia and Africa can be classified as poor since they use cash for all their transactions and tend to be substantially under reported by income-based poverty metrics.

The sharp rise in the number of informal settlements and size of the informal economy are reflective of this trend. Most African and Asian cities have over two-thirds of their labour force working within the informal economy where they have no contracts, social protection and job security. Women tend to be over represented within the informal economy and have low-paid jobs as domestic workers, waste pickers or home-based workers. They have the additional burden of unpaid care work and face greater challenges in cities terms of their safety, mobility and harassment.

Shaping the future

Despite these challenges, the rise of secondary cities offers all stakeholders – government, private sector, communities, academia, media – an opportunity to shape the urban future before it is overtaken by unregulated and unsustainable sprawl. The past few years have seen global commitments from multi-stakeholders on promoting an inclusive urban future.

Sustainable Development Goal 11  affirms that we need to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and the New Urban Agenda provides guidance on how cities can achieve that goal by ensuring service provision to all, promoting cleaner cities, respecting migrant rights, and mitigating climate and disaster risk. The realisation that stakeholders on every level– international, national, sub-national, local – need to work together to manage this unprecedented urban growth is a step in the right direction. However, it is going to take serious commitment and resources from all involved to ensure that we are able to achieve our goal.

Oxfam and new urbanism

As a humanitarian and development agency, Oxfam is committed to contributing towards a better urban future for all.

Our work in cities across different regions focuses on empowering citizens and making them realize their rights while advocating for equitable access to opportunity and support services. We focus on building resilience of poor urban communities through improved access to sustainable livelihood opportunities, water and sanitation, safety of women, climate change, and mitigating disaster risk. Our Global Work Strategy has a dedicated urban strand striving towards achieving sustainable institutional change in urban economies by recognising and empowering women and youth working in the informal sector to enable them to step out of poverty.

The ‘New urbanism’ blog channel is an effort to bring voices of different stakeholders – policy makers, academics, thought leaders, and young people – about how to shape our urban future. We will feature two entries from our Young Urban Bloggers competition that was launched through the Asia Development Dialogue platform.

The purpose of the series is to highlight some of the urban development challenges confronting especially Asian cities and to suggest innovative solutions to deal with them. It is not intended to be an in-depth analytical research piece but rather an exploration of questions and highlighting of different perspectives. We would like to sincerely thank all our contributors and editorial team for all their support in making this possible.

Happy Reading!

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Franziska Mager