In 2007, and for the first time in human history, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. That year, GDN decided to support research studies looking at this issue, recognizing that urban concentration has historically enabled the flow of knowledge, the division of labor and the movement of goods, capital and services to help transform poor societies into rich ones. The research studies examined the development challenges posed by urbanization including disease, congestion, crime and more. Key research questions centered on the broad question: what makes a sustainable city?
GDN supported a number of research projects on urbanization and development, which resulted in a core group of researchers investigating the topic. These studies were later showcased in GDN’s 13 Annual Global Development Conference in Budapest, Hungary which allowed the exchange of views between researchers, policymakers and other key development stakeholders. The Global Development Awards and Medals Competition 2011 also focused on different issues of urbanization. See the research section of this website.
Saskia Sassen, a leading scholar on globalization, took center stage as the keynote speaker at GDN’s 13th Annual Global Development Conference in Budapest in 2011. She was of the opinion that most cities are not global cities, and that national economic development policies are in fact a reflection of a particular global city policy – such as Silicon Valley or Bangalore. This means that while particular spaces are privileged, others are sorely neglected. She believed that the powerless can and should become more visible, and that civic features in cities should have the capacity to transform hatred and conflict into something positive, such as the “good slums” which are thriving sub-economies with homes, schools and other facilities to nurture its residents.
About 350 participants, the majority from developing and transition countries around the world, benefited from listening to Sassen’s ideas. Widely known for her analyses on globalization and human migration, Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, New York and Co-Chair of The Committee on Global Thought. She was ranked 43 on Foreign Policy magazine’s 2011 list of Top 100 Global Thinkers.