Informal City Dialogues


The informal city is alive and flourishing in nearly all cities in the Global South, deeply interwoven with the formal city but often separated by exclusionary policies, lack of services and investments, and marked out in large areas of inadequate infrastructure. Yet the formal city cannot exist without the informal city. Many residents living in informal settlements work in the formal economy and many living in the formal districts find their livelihoods in the informal economy. The OECD estimates that half the workers of the world—close to 1.8 billion people—hail from the informal sector, contributing to an informal economy estimated to account for as much as 40% of of metropolitan or city GDP.

Paraphrasing the late C.K. Prahalad, the informal city is the bottom of the pyramid that holds up the formal city. The Foundation believes that the informal city will play an essential role in transforming our cities into engines of opportunity and social and economic mobility.

As part of our centennial activities, we are launching The Rockefeller Foundation’s Informal City Dialogues in the cities of Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Metro Manila and Nairobi –cities we chose because of their rich and ongoing discussion about informality and urbanization. 

Created by Still Life Projects

In each city, the Dialogues will involve a diverse group of citizens representing public, private, civic, industry, non-profits, local philanthropies, workers, street vendors, urban poor groups, academics, women and youth who will:

  1. Begin a local and international conversation on the role of informality in building
    inclusive and resilient cities.
  2. Foster understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the formal and informal city.
  3. Understand the forces that are driving change in each city and in cities in general, focusing on how these forces will interact with formality and informality to shape the future of the city.
  4. Imagine and create narratives of the future of each city in 2040.
  5. Foster a wider conversation around the narratives so as to inspire positive change
    in communities and institutions; in policies and practice.
  6. Surface and encourage innovations that will help cities build on the strengths
    of the informal city to achieve a more inclusive and resilient future.

The stories will be taken to a broader audience, engaging the whole city in a conversation about the shared future. They will also come together to identify, build or propose an innovation that will help their city achieve a more inclusive and resilient future.

The Dialogues will launch separately in each city, beginning with Metro Manila in February 2013.  The process will conclude in September with a convening at the Foundation’s Bellagio Conference Center to discuss the findings from the six cities and develop a shared agenda for informality and cities. The Foundation’s partners for this work are Forum for the FutureNext City and respected local institutions in each city.

View Next City's  Informal City Dialogues 


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Our focus to Transform Cities embraces urbanization to catalyze equity.