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Jeremy Suggs
Jeremy Suggs

The Urbanization Revolution: Planning A New Age...

It is likely to be more important to plan for and adapt to increasing urbanization, which has typically not been done enough, than to attempt to prevent it. The reality is that city planning is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Investment in infrastructure is vital if cities are to avoid health and environmental problems and make the most of the economic opportunities cities present. This will not be cheap. The Asian Development Bank estimates that, in Asia alone, trillions of dollars of investment will be needed to develop urban infrastructure to keep up with urbanization rates.

The Urbanization Revolution: Planning a New Age...

Whom should we count on to do the needed urban planning? UN-HABITAT has argued that it is vital to decentralize power. Central governments too often focus solely on the capital cities in which they are based, ignoring the urbanization process in smaller cities. Vernon Henderson (2002) has noted that in the initial stages of urbanization, it may be economically efficient for industries to congregate in one urban area, because that encourages the creation of appropriate institutions, infrastructure, and a pool of skilled labor. However, at later stages, investment in intercity transport and telecommunications, decentralization of tax-raising power to regional authorities, and measures that aim to boost employment opportunities in other cities may help spread the burden of urbanization from the primary city and make the process more manageable. Of course, there is a need both for capacity building at the regional level to make such devolution productive and for appropriate checks and balances on central and regional authorities.

Continued urbanization in developing countries is inevitable, as demonstrated perhaps best by the futile efforts of governments that have attempted to bring it to a halt. Failing to plan for the growth of urban populations will leave cities vulnerable to its negative effects, including environmental degradation, poor health, and extreme crowding. Active planning, on the other hand, may allow cities to benefit from burgeoning populations of ambitious young workers, with a positive impact on those already living in cities, on new migrants, and on rural communities. The participation of a diverse range of stakeholders is vital for sustainable city planning, and central governments should not delay opening up the decision-making process to at least consultation with, if not direct action by, these stakeholders.

A widespread belief of the development community is that a well-planned urban center is one that can anticipate and withstand natural disasters. Several years ago, inadequate urban planning was identified as a risk factor in the developing world. When rapid urbanization is poorly planned and occurs in the context of existing widespread poverty, developing countries increase their risk and deplete their resilience. Proper urban planning can be a valuable source of achieving sustainable economic growth. City planners can advise policymakers on balancing investments in services and infrastructure with growing demand and threats of exposure. They can offer a specialized assessment of smart land-use reforms based on density changes in a city-specific context. Under the duress of existing financial constraints, efforts to control the consequences of urbanization are often mismanaged, and rarely incorporate urban planning expertise. Their involvement, from the initial design of a project to the regulatory laws and maintenance procedures, is critical to withstanding urbanization risks. Further, there are very few institutions that support training in urban or city planning in the developing world, depleting future sources of expertise. Thus, capacity strengthening and training for local city planners is a critical tool.

City officials must be given more autonomy to control urbanization efforts unique to their cities, and urban planners must be integrated in the planning process. An emphasized prioritization on strengthening local institutions will make SSA cities both competitive and sustainable amid immense changes. However, in doing so, developing countries must not isolate other important actors. The central government and its private-sector counterparts can help drive the reform conceptualized by urban planners. Many cities will continue to rely on the central government for resources and assistance regarding taxation and regulations. Total decentralization puts developing countries at risk of political divide, as cities have established opposition strongholds in many SSA countries. In 2016 , Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni undermined opposition-controlled Kampala to maintain control of a hotly contested election. In 2017 , former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero was accused by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta of looting county funds to finance an opposition campaign. Some African leaders have used decentralization to weaken opposition by imposing new costs on the state. This includes building costs associated with establishing new assemblies and political meeting places. 041b061a72


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