The story of the world is the story of cities. According to the National Geographic, in eighteen years two out of three people in the world will live in urban areas. Much of this is due to rural-urban migration as people look for better economic opportunities and social connections. For cities to be sustainable, they need economic vitality, environmental health, and social equity. Are cities up to the challenge of being sustainable by committing to social equity? As more and more people choose cities as the most likely places to succeed, will the number of urban poor increase or are cities equipped to offer widespread opportunities?
Different societal systems in different locations make urban poverty oppressive. In most high cost urban areas, like Manilla, most new housing that is built is priced for the wealthy. Due to high land and construction costs, there is not a sufficient return on investment (ROI) for building affordable housing. The new narrative non-fiction Behind the Beautiful Forevers about garbage collectors in Mumbai demonstrates how rampant municipal and police corruption makes escaping poverty nearly impossible. Also, here in the United States, according to No Slack: the Financial Lives of Low-Income Americans, the financial services system does not help low-income Americans, putting them at even greater risk when financial crises occur.
Thankfully, some societal systems are changing, learning from mistakes made in the past, and at times even empowering the urban poor. Outside of Mumbai in the city of Pune, the informal settlement upgrading process is enabling residents to plan and implement a solid waste management program, better water connections, and sanitation access. Historically and tragically, urban redevelopment typically involved top down decisions to evict, demolish, and relocate poor residents to less desirable locations. In addition to improved infrastructure, the Rockefeller Foundation is investing in information technology to make cities more inclusive. By increasing access to information, urban residents could improve their skills and literacy to make use of that access. Maybe sustained strategic investments like these could have a multiplier effect, increasing opportunities not only for the urban poor but also citywide.