3 Ways to Make Cities More Inclusive

Globalization has helped interconnect different regions of the world but has also exacerbated global inequality. People now migrate from one place to another in search of better living conditions. This diaspora of people leads to a growth in the economic base of the place they move to. How can cities better accommodate their citizens economically, socially, and spatially?

In 2015, The United Nations, released a blue print with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. These goals are guidelines for cities to follow to help reduce poverty, tackle climate change, bolster innovation, and more. Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG 11), sheds light on making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. According to the World Bank, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban cities and this percentage is projected to rise to 70% by 2050. Additionally, metropolitan regions contribute to 60% of world GDP, but also account for 60% of resources use and 70% of global carbon emissions. This gap between the haves and have-nots must be bridged before it’s too late.

So who are the “have-nots”? People who are thought of as “have-nots” typically work in  the informal sector, working at activities which are not taxed and could add value to a country’s GDP. The have-nots work as street vendors, casual laborers in construction, landless laborers in agriculture, etc. The informal economy in developing nations accounts for about a third of its economic activity. People who work within this sector tend to be poor as they have less formal education, don’t have social protection or formal contracts. Workers in the informal sector have been encountering challenges since the dawn of time and assistance from local governments can help increase household savings,  which can reduce inequality and wealth gaps.



Cities can overcome hurdles related to SDG 11 by innovating responses and appropriately executing them. For example, in New Zealand, there are several multi-cultural playgroups in which refugee parents can learn English and information about child-care as they integrate into a new community.

So, how can governments, with the help of the private sector, make their cities more inclusive for people who do not have equal and convenient access to basic education, public transportation, or even clean sanitation due to their social or economic conditions? Three steps below can help cities be more inclusive:

1. Building and Maintaining Partnerships: A local government cannot do everything by itself. It must collaborate with the private sector to execute certain plans. Non-profit organizations and the academic community can help raise awareness, and help shine a light on the demands of residents and identify areas that need help the most. This can help harness a community’s potential while scaling up investment.

  • Let’s take India as an example. SHG’s (Self Help Groups) have helped in the alleviation of poverty for women. The mission is simple: to provide financial support to women in rural India. The government works with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to distribute around Rs 15,000 ($200) among these groups and participants can borrow money from the group for several purposes. Members of SHG’s can take loans from banks up to a certain amount without any collateral. There are also hidden advantages to these groups, social ties are strengthened as members of the group get together to exchange news and inform each other about technology (i.e. use of smart phones, etc.).

2. Informal sector employees must be included in budgets and need proper representation: Lack of representatives has always been a problem for minorities. If citizens have the right representation, governments can successfully identify which groups need assistance. Additionally, making the process of budget allocation more transparent can help raise concerns with elected officials and help them further understand how diverse the informal economy really is.

  • In Argentina, it is estimated that 18% of the residents live in informal settlements known as “Villas” and this number can reach as high as 55%. The Metropolitan Buenos Aires Urban Transformation Project supports the improvement of living conditions for around 48,000 residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, providing them with proximity to the urban parts of the city. The project helps finance the improvement of housing and basic urban services and infrastructure. The main goal of this project is to urbanize Villa 31 which is one of the largest informal settlements in the country. Transforming this area and connecting it to the heart of the city will lead the way for a resilient and sustainable environment for the citizens of Buenos Aires.

3. Develop participatory platforms so everyone has a seat at the table: The decision makers should ensure that everyone has an equal access to information and can voice their opinions about their culture, tradition, etc. No person should be socially excluded and every problem must be acknowledged. Policies that support inclusion are vital to ensure that everyone is included.

  • For example, the city council in Barcelona wanted to hear and include every citizen’s voice in the city’s decision-making process. Hence, it created a system that collaborates with 600 civil associations. Each is focused on a different subject such as housing, education, and transportation. By cooperating and sharing knowledge and resources with the citizens, the government can make more robust decisions.


Shaum Arora is a Drexel University Co-Op and Marketing Assistant with ESI. Shaum is currently majoring in Economics and minoring in Philosophy.

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