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How can we help cities provide the building blocks for future growth?

Sameh Wahba's picture
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Photo: Ngoc Tran / Shutterstock

Basic infrastructure makes all the difference in the lives of people. Sometimes a road is all it takes…

Access to clean drinking water and sanitation can improve children’s health, reduce waterborne disease, and lower the risk of stunting.

Street lighting can improve the safety of a community, reduce gender-based violence, and add productive hours for shops and economic activities, which can help people escape poverty.

A paved road can lead to a world of possibilities for small business owners, increasing access to additional markets and suppliers, as well as opportunities to grow their businesses.

The urban infrastructure finance gap

Cities already account for approximately 70-80 percent of the world’s economic growth, and this will only increase as cities continue to grow. In the next 35 years, the population in cities is estimated to expand by an additional 2.5 billion people, almost double the population of China. As a vital component for connectivity, public health, social welfare, and economic development, infrastructure in all its forms – basic, social, and economic – is critical for the anticipated urban growth.

Globally, the annual investment required to cover the gap for resilient infrastructure is estimated at $4.5-$5.4 trillion. Cities will need partners to help them provide these building blocks for the future. The public sector cannot address these crucial needs alone, and overall official development assistance barely totals three percent of this amount. Cities should begin looking toward innovative financing options and to the private sector.

Spatially awhere: Bridging the gap between leading and lagging regions

Sameh Wahba's picture


As the world urbanizes rapidly, international experience has shown that economic activities concentrate in a relatively small number of places – it is estimated that only 1.5% of the world’s land is home to about half of global production.

Such economic concentration is a built-in feature of human settlement development and a key driver of growth. However, while some countries have succeeded in spreading economic benefits to most of their citizens, many other countries have not.

Especially outside the economic centers that concentrate production, there are “lagging areas” with persistent disparities in living standards and a lack of access to basic services and economic opportunities.

Today, over two billion people live in such lagging areas. Over one billion people live in underserved slums with many disparities from the rest of the city in terms of access to infrastructure and services, tenure security, and vulnerability to disaster risk. A further one billion people live in underdeveloped areas with few job opportunities and public services.

How can countries address the division between the leading and lagging regions?

As discussed at the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we at the World Bank Group are taking an integrated territorial approach through a “spatially awhere” lens to tackle the land, social, and economic challenges altogether.

[Download: World Bank publications on urban development]