Tokyo from train in motion, not digitally altered ©Gavin Hellier/ALAMY

In 1950 New York and Tokyo were the only urban agglomerations on the planet with populations in excess of 10 million. By 2030, the number of megacities is projected to surpass 40, with seven of the world’s top ten megacities in Asia. Cities of around 2-5 million are also becoming far more commonplace, and will present challenges and opportunities for policy makers. 

Land-use and spatial planning is important for growing modern cities, but to be truly effective coherent public policies are also needed.

©Damir Sagolj/Reuters

For Thailand’s capital of Bangkok, and its surrounding five provinces, green cities are a matter of survival. And with extreme rainfall and summer heatwaves becoming the norm, Bangkok must adapt and develop climate resilience, or risk disappearing.

A city’s metropolitan governance structure has a critical influence on the quality of life and economic outcomes of its inhabitants. Administrative fragmentation complicates policy coordination, whereas good governance in well-designed metropolitan authorities brings benefits for transport, the environment and more.

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Income inequality between China’s rural and urban areas has surged in recent years. The per capita income of urban households in 2012 was about three times that of the rural households, whereas in 1978 it was about two and half times higher.

The ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro once wrote, “Divine Nature gave the fields, human art built the cities.” The adage is still very relevant at the turn of the 21st century. Nowadays, nearly two-thirds of the population of the OECD area lives in cities. Ten years from now there are expected to be about 500 “megacities”, each one home to over 1 million inhabitants. How do cities govern themselves as they expand beyond their boundaries?


"We want to step out of the vicious circle of an economy which is an increasing drain on resources, and enter another circle… Paris is fully committed to combating climate change and determined to move forward as quickly as possible."  –Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris 

Sea change for the Moroccan port of Tangier ©Alamy

Tangier in 2000 was a sleepy coastal city in the north of Morocco. Fifteen years later, Tangier’s population has exploded three-fold into a vibrant metropolitan area of 1.5 million inhabitants. The city’s free-zones have attracted new industries, such as automobile producers. A new business district called Tangier City Center and new satellite cities arise around Tangier’s old town, providing local inhabitants with modern infrastructure and amenities that have been sorely lacking. A new high-speed train is being built to connect people with the state-of-the-art Ibn Batouta International Airport.

Joan Clos ©UN-Habitat

If urbanisation is one of the most important global trends of the 21st century, with some 70% of the world’s population forecasted to live in cities by 2050, then urbanisation in Africa–and the ways in which that growth occurs–marks one of the most significant opportunities for achieving global sustainable development.

African nations are exploring how best to harness the potential of cities as agents of change to achieve progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The current African Economic Outlook (AEO), jointly produced by the African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Programme, warns that policy makers and donors too often are blind to the territorial realities of the economies they are trying to help develop. Economies are seen as sectors rather than places. And thus sectoral lenses tend to limit policy action to a few specific tools, regardless of the complexity of problems that demand a place-based, multi-sectoral and participatory approach.

© Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Innovative business models are creating new dynamics between formal companies and informal micro-entrepreneurs.

Africa is the least urbanised continent in the world but an urban transition is very much underway. This is particularly visible in West Africa where the number of urban agglomerations increased from 152 in 1950 to almost 2,000 in 2010. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, the urban population grew by over 40 million people, making towns and cities home to 41% of the region’s total population.

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Africa’s urban population growth rate was the world’s fastest at 4% between 1960 and 2010, and it is clear that urbanisation across its 54 countries will continue to pose policy challenge in the years ahead. But unlike in many other regions of the world, people quitting the countryside to settle in cities will not be the main driver of that growth.

©Peter Treanor/Alamy Stock Photo

Air pollution in African cities is a major health and environmental challenge that must become a focus of urban policies. 

© Joe Penney / Reuters

We don’t know the name, or the place and exact date of birth, of the baby who changed world history. My guess is that she was born somewhere in Africa in 2007. Not that she cared as she lay there all wrinkled and raging at the disagreeable turn her life had just taken, but it was thanks to her that for the first time ever, the world had more urban dwellers than country folk.

In October, world leaders will gather in Quito for the Habitat III summit to launch the New Urban Agenda. This is on top of the start this year of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

©Tom Gilks / Alamy

Stephan-Noël looks anxiously about the hut at the computer terminals. Through the walls of thatch drifts the faint, pervasive scent of vanilla. A girl saunters in, her face painted with the saffron used by Malagasy women both as make-up and protection against the sun. Stephan-Noël exchanges a few words with her, but his mind is on the eventuality of a connection break.

2015 has been a challenging year for Africa. Average growth of African economies weakened in 2015 to 3.6%, down from an average annual 5% enjoyed since 2000.

The world’s oceans, seas and rivers are a major source of wealth, creating trillions of dollars’ worth in goods and services as well as employing billions of people. […] Yet Africa’s blue potential remains untapped.

Though mobile technology is making waves in Africa, airwaves still count.

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The Paris Agreement on climate change signals the end of business as usual for energy industries. For the first time in history more than 150 developed and developing countries have promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But how binding are these agreements? And do they provide impetus for local action in Africa?

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Korean trade with Africa has more than quadrupled since the late 1990s.

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  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
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