Research Themes


Urbanization and Development

Development Finance

Agriculture, Development and Natural Resources

Inequality, Poverty, Social Protection and Social Policy

Rule of Law, Governance, Institutions and Development

Human Capital Formation, Education and Development

Labor Markets, Employment and International Migration

Urbanization and Development

[Johannesburg, the economic capital of South Africa.]

In 2007, and for the first time in human history, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2030, various projections suggest that this will increase to almost 60 percent of total population, and to about 80 percent by 2050. With urban areas becoming the source of livelihoods for a majority of the population around the globe, a huge toll on resources is undertaken. Planning of urban areas, and their impact on the environment become extremely important issues of consideration. Development, in other words, becomes synonymous to Urbanization.

The most important things in developing countries are currently happening in cities, and the most important things that are currently happening in urban development are currently happening in developing countries. Yet, we have far too little economic research on developing world cities. At the same time, the urbanization experience (and the policy challenges faced by policymakers) of the various regions in the developing world varies substantially. In South Asia, one of the central questions today is whether the urban model of East Asia can be replicated i.e. cities investing not only in traditional infrastructure but also in social infrastructure. Violence and conflict have also been associated in recent work with the engine of growth thesis regarding urbanization, a distinct feature of the urbanization process in many cities in Latin America. Furthermore, globalization has resulted in growing competition amongst cities in South Asia as compared to nation-states i.e. Bombay and Bangalore are more relevant to business than India as a country. Finally, for Africa, although urbanization is a rather recent phenomenon, the prospect of Africa’s urban population doubling over the next two decades presents various challenges but also opportunities for the region.

Urban concentration has historically enabled the flows of knowledge, the division of labor, the movement of goods and the combination of labor and capital that help transform poor places into rich ones. But urbanization also creates enormous challenges and externalities, including contagious disease, congestion and crime that often seem like to be far beyond the capacities of many governments in the developing world. Urban poverty is also emerging as a central challenge in this important research and policy area. Reducing the costs of these externalities will improve the quality of life in poor cities and also enable those cities to expand and live up to their full economic potential. The mismatch between the paucity of research on developing world cities and the enormous importance of their issues creates great opportunities for valuable research on which important policy lessons can be drawn.

Key research questions include: (non-exhaustive list)

  • What are the factors that make cities economically productive?
  • What are the policy interventions that alleviate crime, congestion and contagious disease in developing world cities?
  • What do we need to know about the enabling environment (i.e. housing, clean water provision and transportation inter alia) in the cities of the developing world?
  • What are the determinants of urban poverty and policies to deal with the issue?
  • What are the factors that foment urban entrepreneurship in poorer countries?
  • What makes a successful and sustainable city?
Related GDN Activities

The urbanization experience (and the policy challenges faced by policymakers) of the various regions in the developing world varies substantially. GDN’s 13th Annual Global Development Conference held on 16-18 June, 2012 targeted this theme and brought perspectives from researchers and policymakers of different regions onto one platform. Also, the Global Development Awards and Medals Competition 2011 focused on different issues of urbanization.