Washington: A first-of-its-kind World Bank analysis, of the shape and growth of nearly 10,000 cities between 1990 and 2015, finds that the most successful urban areas are those that connect their growth to economic demand and then support this with comprehensive plans, policies and investments that help avoid uncontrolled sprawl.
The new report, Pancakes to Pyramids – City Form for Sustainable Growth, analyzes the dynamic, two-way relationship between a city’s economic growth and the floor space available to residents and businesses.
It finds that a city is most likely to be its best version when its shape is driven by economic fundamentals and a conducive policy environment – namely, a robust job market, flexible building regulations, dependable public transit and access to essential services, public spaces, and cultural amenities.
Ultimately, getting livable space right, hinges on how a city manages its growth as populations and incomes increase, factoring in three dimensions of expansion – horizontal, vertical or within existing spaces (known as infill), the report finds.
This will be key as cities, on the frontlines of the covid-19 crisis, begin planning for a long-term, resilient, and inclusive recovery.
"Cities are at the frontier of development; they are where people go to chase their dreams of a better life for themselves and their families," said Juergen Voegele, World Bank's Vice President for Sustainable Development, in a press release issued on Tuesday.
"This report helps us understand why a city grows outward, inward or up. As we support countries with their covid-19 recovery efforts, this will also help us reflect on what makes a city livable and remind us that well-planned urban growth is good for both people and planet," he added.
In the average Sub-Saharan African city, 60 percent of the population lives in slums—a much larger share than the 34 percent average in cities in developing countries.
The lack of floor space takes a severe toll on livability—with major consequences in times of pandemics like covid-19.
Many South Asian cities face similar issues.
Today, around 55 percent of the world lives in urban areas.
By 2050, this number is projected to surpass two-thirds of the global population, with much of the new urbanization happening in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
While such growth signals opportunities and better livelihoods for millions of people, it also puts immense strain on cities, especially in countries that contend with low incomes and weak institutional and fiscal capabilities.