Urbanization is happening differently today than in the past and occurring most rapidly in places with the fewest resources. Traditional approaches are not able to keep up, leaving billions of people with poor access to basic necessities, dragging down economies and damaging the environment.

This synthesis report of the Towards a More Equal City series proposes a new way of thinking about urban development, where the metrics for a functional and thriving city are defined by the quality, reliability and affordability of essential services. 

The report brings together the best thinking from over six years of research and more than 160 authors and reviewers. It acts as a roadmap for how to break through sectoral silos and the status quo to make cities more equal, which will in turn create prosperity, reduce environmental damage and improve livelihoods. The report documents breakthrough innovations from numerous cities, revealing real solutions and the outcomes of investing in equitable service provision. It also offers a clear path to recovery now and resilience in the future. 

Human development challenges are increasingly urban development challenges, including the ways in which they relate to climate change. These findings can help cities, countries and the global community make progress on critical global objectives, from the Sustainable Development Goals and UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda to the Paris Agreement and COVID-19 recovery. 

Key Findings

  • More than 1.2 billion city dwellers — one in three globally, and two in three in low-income countries — are “under-served,” lacking access to one or more core urban services. 
  • Some traditional measures of poverty no longer fit the changing urban context. For example, almost half of the population in 15 major cities in the global south lack access to reliable piped water, and 62% of the sewage and fecal sludge is unsafely managed. 
  • In low-income countries, 42% of the urban population lacks access to electricity, with as many as 25 power outages per month in some South Asian cities and every day in some African cities.
  • Low-income commuters overwhelmingly depend on walking, cycling and public transport, yet upwards of 95% of road space is typically allocated to cars and trucks.
  • Two billion workers, 50-80% of employment across Global South cities, operate in the “informal” economy. 
  • Informal and alternative service providers can help meet basic needs and partnering with them to deliver services may be more appropriate than extending municipal infrastructure in some places. 
  • Seven crucial urban transformations are needed in infrastructure design and delivery, service provision, data collection, urban employment, finance, land management and governance.
  • Key actions by governments, businesses and civil society can lead to transformative change. The report outlines what has worked from cities around the world to reimagine urban service provision, include the excluded and create the right enabling conditions for change.

Launch the Digital Report