Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation

Africa’s rapid urbanisation represents an immense opportunity, not just for Africa’s urban dwellers but also for rural development. As two-thirds of the investments in urban infrastructure to 2050 have yet to be made, the scope is large for new, wide-ranging urban policies to turn African cities and towns into engines of sustainable structural transformation. Those new urban policies, at national and local levels, have a key role to play in

  1. economic development, through higher agricultural productivity, industrialisation and service growth;
  2. social development, targeting safer and inclusive urban housing and robust social safety nets; and
  3. sound environmental management, by addressing effects of climate change, scarcity of water and other natural resources, controlling air pollution, developing clean public transportation systems, improved waste collection and increased access to energy.

Although policy priorities and sequencing will depend on each country’s specific context, new and ambitious national urban strategies will need to tackle three broad challenges: (i) how to better manage the country’s economic and social spaces in the context of rapid urbanisation; (ii) what governance structures should frame the design and implementation of those strategies; and (iii) how to finance the necessary investment?

Participate, multi-sector and place-based national urban strategies can catalyses citizen-led urban development to increase well-being in cities and in their catchment areas. While strategies will necessarily be context-specific, countries will likely have three overarching priorities: accelerating and improving the provision of infrastructure and services; managing the growth of intermediary cities; and clarifying land rights. National and local governments also can draw from a wide range of financial instruments to support urban development. In 2016, the common African position on urban development and the emerging international New Urban Agenda offer opportunities to discuss options and start articulating those new urbanization policies around strategies for Africa’s structural transformation.