Reflections on a lecture by Professor Tony Venables (University of Manchester) and panel discussion with Dr Joseph Macarthy (Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre), Professor Ya Ping Wang (University of Glasgow), Dr Paolo Veneri (OECD) and Dr Vijay Jagannathan (World Resources Institute). Watch the webinar here.
By 2050, there will 2.4 billion new urban dwellers. To put that into context, that’s 1.4 million every week. 2 billion of these people will be in the developing world. This will create, and is creating, significant challenges around urban infrastructure, housing, capital and jobs, as was discussed by Professor Tony Venables and the panellists in this Future of Cities event.
Professor Tony Venables made the case that the two greatest challenges faced today are climate change and urbanisation. Increased urbanisation places pressure on already limited housing supply and urban infrastructure (such as sewage systems, internet access, public transport etc). He suggested that if a country’s urban population was to increase by 3%, this would require spending around 25-30% of GDP on housing – an unaffordable and unrealistic figure for many ‘developing’ countries. Furthermore, traditional patterns of urbanisation (where industrialisation increases as urbanisation increases) are not playing out in Africa. This has a subsequent impact on urban productivity levels and employment. The panellists discussed poor urban governance, lack of capital, the challenges associated with increasing density and the changing nature of the economy as major challenges.
This is a multi-faceted, complex problem and the webinar really reflected that. The panellists discussed a variety of solutions including policy-based, systems-based approaches and neighbourhood level analysis. Dr Vijay suggested utilising the digital revolution to rethink how we make decisions at a city level, arguing for greater transparency and access to urban data. He also discussed the need and potential for youth action and involvement, giving examples of successful hackathons in Nepal and Indonesia. Macarthy argued that tackling inequality and ensuring that solutions benefit those who are most affected by the challenges and questioning who policy decisions benefit is vital to tackling the challenges caused by increased urbanisation.
Will the changes brought about by Covid impact the role of cities, or have an impact on urbanisation? The panellists discussed this question briefly, arguing on the whole that Covid won’t have an impact on urbanisation rates, despite the increased number of people working remotely. Veneri discussed research on access to remote work: whilst there are large differences between cities, the biggest difference was between urban and rural areas. In urban areas, a greater proportion of jobs are accessible to remote workers.