WRI made the case that improving urban services for the under-served – including affordable housing and safe and sustainable mobility – can generate economic, environmental and social benefits for all city residents. WRI’s research and meetings helped inform the New Urban Agenda, a UN declaration signed by 167 nations that lays out a 20-year roadmap for sustainable urban development.
As many as 70 percent of urban dwellers in the Global South lack access to one or more core city services, including housing, water and sanitation, energy and transportation. This problem is poised to worsen as 2.5 billion more people take up residence in cities by 2050. The decisions taken by policymakers today will determine whether cities can grow while improving citizens’ quality of life, or perpetuate a cycle of low productivity, poverty and environmental degradation for the rest of the century and beyond.
In 2015, WRI launched the first installment of its latest World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City, finding that meeting the needs of the urban under-served can help make cities more economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable and socially equitable. In the two years leading up to the landmark UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development (Habitat III) in Quito, WRI brought together leaders and experts to explore the opportunities and challenges of prioritizing core services and policies related to affordable housing, water and sanitation, safe and sustainable transportation, sustainable land use, low-carbon energy, accessible green spaces and parks, transparent data and governance practices, and climate resilient infrastructure. WRI worked with partners including the UN-Habitat Secretariat, NGOs, and ministries from Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK to include these priorities in the New Urban Agenda, a UN declaration setting a vision for urban development for the next two decades.
In October 2016, the New Urban Agenda, adopted by 167 countries, explicitly included safe and sustainable mobility and affordable housing as elements in making cities more sustainable and equitable. This Agenda sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development, providing a roadmap for building cities that can serve as engines of prosperity and cultural and social well-being while protecting the environment. WRI will now engage with national and subnational governments as they implement the New Urban Agenda and, through the World Resources Report, will continue to research sustainable and equitable urban development strategies.
WRI worked with the Brazilian government and others to shape new standards for social housing which discourage developments that are isolated from urban centers. A new law now drives implementation of compact, connected and coordinated (3C) development, potentially benefitting 1.8 million people through improved access to public transport and higher rates of walking and cycling.
The Brazilian social housing program Minha Casa, Minha Vida (MCMV or My House, My Life) aimed to tackle Brazil’s urban housing deficit by building more than 3 million houses for low-income families in the last six years. But MCMV’s building boom exacerbated urban sprawl. Many projects were located far from urban centers, where land prices were lower, hindering access to jobs, education, healthcare, public transportation and safe areas for walking and cycling.
In 2013, Caixa, Brazil’s federal funding agency, invited WRI Brasil to help improve the design of a MCMV project of 1,300 homes in the southern city of Rio Grande, making the development more compact, connected and coordinated by integrating it with public transportation, improving public spaces, making pedestrians and cyclists a priority and promoting mixed-use areas that include businesses and housing. Using this pilot, WRI worked with the ministries of Cities, Health, Education, Social Development and Culture, as well as the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the Federal University of ABC in the state of São Paulo to create new federal social housing standards for the next phase of MCMV. This was the first time that these ministries worked together to improve the MCMV program. WRI conducted a countrywide study that found that providing essential services is costlier when creating distant communities that contribute to sprawl than when creating developments that are compact, connected and coordinated (3C).
In March 2017, the Brazilian government enacted a new law with standards which will drive implementation of the 3C model in MCMV’s next stage. The law discourages gated communities, requires connection to public transport and promotes walking and cycling. In the next two years, the new law and standards aim to guide the construction of 600,000 houses, potentially benefiting more than 1.8 million low-income people. Brazilian cities will benefit from reduced greenhouse gas emissions from transport and lower costs for urban services and infrastructure. WRI Brasil will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Cities and municipal governments to make social housing more sustainable and intends to evaluate the results of the law. Lessons from this experience could help other countries apply similar standards.
Diagnosed in the U.S., "winner-take-all urbanism" also afflicts cities in the fast-growing global south in noxious ways that demand unique solutions—starting with participatory development that prioritizes improvements where people already live.
According to a new report from World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, 330 million households in cities around the world, equivalent to 1.2 billion people, do not have access to affordable and secure housing.
This working paper on urban housing is the latest installment of WRI’s flagship World Resources Report (WRR), “Towards a More Equal City.” The report examines if more equitable access to core urban services improves the economy and the environment.