The Excluded Urban Poor
Bethany Martin-Breen

Bethany Martin-Breen Senior Program Associate, The Rockefeller Foundation

September 10, 2013

The Excluded Urban Poor

Bethany Martin-Breen

Bethany Martin-Breen Senior Program Associate, The Rockefeller Foundation

September 10, 2013

What hinders low-income or newly migrant urban citizens from reaping the benefits of cities?

People all over the world, and particularly in developing countries, are migrating to cities because they are dynamic places of opportunity and possibility—places that potentially contain all the elements for a person to make a better life. But, many cities that are experiencing rapid urban expansion are struggling to understand and respond to the needs of their populations, and particularly the poor.

Recently the Rockefeller Foundation teamed up with Accenture Development Partnerships to look at the challenges and opportunities of cities to meet the needs of their inhabitants. For us a central question was: What hinders low-income or newly migrant urban citizens from reaping the benefits of cities, namely greater social mobility and an improved quality of life? After talking to experts all over the world and scanning the latest research on urban issues, a set of barriers emerged as the most pressing, a selection of which is highlighted in a new report from Accenture:

The size and number of slums in cities creates a parallel growth in the size of the informal economy.

An Excluded Informal Majority

Something we heard loud and clear is that for many of the world’s urban poor, the informal is normal. With rapid urbanization, the size and number of slums in cities creates a parallel growth in the size of the informal economy. Informal slum settlements are often the only places the poor can afford to live, and working as informal labor is often their best source of livelihood. Informal activity is a vital component of the social and economic life of the city, yet the urban poor who drive this activity often have no political voice and little access to basic services.

Inequitable Urban Planning

Without political voice, the urban poor frequently have little leverage to influence urban planning decisions, particularly for mass transit, water, and sanitation systems. Many cities are not being built to be inclusive and equitable places where all citizens can thrive, and the result is too often social unrest and increased corruption.

Toxic Urban Environments

For all city dwellers, increased population drives increased congestion, pollution, and waste, often to the point of making them acute public health issues. Municipal governments in cities often lack the capacity to deal with environmental hazards, and these hazards tend to be at their worst in the places where the urban poor live and work.

Toxic Urban
Photo credit: Patrick de Noirmont/AsiaWorks

These are some of the most pressing urban challenges that emerged through our research and interviews—of course there are many others. By sharing our work, we want to contribute to a much larger global conversation about urban growth and what’s needed to address the needs of existing urban poor, as well as guide the creation of more inclusive and equitable cities. To access the full report, click here.

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