Challenges and consequences of the increasing urbanization are something that everyone should be aware of because of their implications – either positive or negative – for our lives. The intermittent prosperity of the countryside has long been a root cause of the rural urban migration phenomenon, ending up with urban areas to grow at a fast rate. And resulting in densely populated areas that have mushroomed in and around major cities. Effects of this human concentration are influencing our existence in two different ways.

On one side, in fact, cities have become the centre for social and economic interactions that can be translated into innovations, new ideas, investments, etc. We could say that today everything happens in cities. Their importance is often expressed in economic terms saying that cities generate 80 percent of global GDP. This is true, however the opportunities that urban areas hold are to be found in their social implications even when they do not necessarily lead to make a profit. Quality of life, respect for the environment are also important and should be one of the top priorities of every citizen. And therefore, if properly driven, cities could become a catalyst for sustainability.

On the other side, the growing urban concentrations are also home of inequalities resulting in violence and asymmetric conflicts while increasing mass poverty. In fact, according to a report issued by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the number of people living in poverty in Sub-Saharan countries has grown over the past twenty years contrary to the global trend that has registered a drop from 40% to 21%.

Cities have always been considered as centres of opportunities and economic growth, however, if the urban population and the poverty rate in Sub-Saharan countries are both increasing, this might be due to the fact that urban areas are not properly managed. The precarious balance between opportunities and risks provided by cities and their important consequences on our lives are a fact that has already been acknowledged by many influential institutions and professionals worldwide. Nearly two months ago, the World Bank published an interesting report ‘Planning, Connecting &Financing Cities-Now. Priorities for City Leaders’. Despite being specifically addressed to those operating on the field, this document should be seen as an useful tool for everyone.

Moving from the assumption that ’Cities are where development, challenges and solutions meet’, this report aims to provide a framework to help city leaders, especially those operating in the developing world. My last article, published nearly one month ago, already mentioned the current trend according to which today the rapid urbanization is mainly concentrated in emerging economies and this was put in relation with the problem of deforestation. Here this report offers a wider view on urbanization with a focus on past experiences as a lesson to be learnt for a more sustainable growth of urban areas. In particular, three key elements are identified:

  1. Planning: managing the use of land through appropriate policies able to guarantee the required services
  2. Connecting: providing an efficient network in order to facilitate exchanges of goods, jobs and services across city boundaries
  3. Financing: finding and properly managing the economic resources to achieve points 1) and 2)

The reports end up with a few case studies, like Colombia and Brazil among the others, where important lessons can be learnt. Learning to know other realities, facing challenges that might be different or similar to ours, is certainly a mean to reflect on the living conditions in our cities and it is what that makes this document worth reading.