Concept Note

Urbanization is a critical issue that has significant implications for sustainable development. The world is rapidly urbanizing, with over half of the global population living in urban areas. The Global South, which includes countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, has been experiencing rapid urbanization over the past few decades. The United Nations estimate that by 2050, over two-thirds of the world's population will live in urban areas, with much of this growth expected to occur in the Global South. The nature of urbanization in the South has its own specificities as well as similarities with the growth of cites in the Global North. ‘Urbanization without industrialization’ and informality in housing, economy and employment have been important features of this process. Historically, urbanization accompanied rural-urban migration, where people move from rural areas to urban areas for better economic opportunities. While migration in the North witnessed a permanent shift of population to the cities, it remained largely intransient in many countries including India in the South, manifested in rural-urban labor circulation. This form of migration is often a result of factors such as poverty, lack of access to essential services, and environmental degradation.

The rapid pace of urbanization in the Global South presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, urbanization can contribute to economic growth, job creation, and improved access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and sanitation. On the other hand, rapid urbanization can also lead to urban poverty, informal settlements, environmental degradation, and social inequality. Overcoming this ‘urban dilemma’ and harnessing the potential of cities to expand opportunities and improve the quality of life is imperative.

A critical challenge of urbanization in the Global South is the need for adequate infrastructure and services to support the growing population. This includes clean water, sanitation, electricity, transportation, and housing access. In many cases, unplanned urbanization has resulted in the growth of informal settlements, where people live in substandard housing and lack of basic services. To address these challenges, policymakers and urban planners in the Global South need to promote sustainable and inclusive urbanization for the wellbeing of all sections of urban citizens. There are several good examples from both North and South, which can provide rich insights for evolving strategies in this context.

In 2015, the Institute for Human Development (IHD) and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of the University of Florida in partnership with NITI Aayog, Government of India, had organized an international conference on this theme. This conference had successfully provided an opportunity for deliberating policy and academic issues relevant for promoting sustainable urban development, with the participation of around 300 experts including academics, urban planners, policymakers and other stakeholders. It also had the benefit of government’s participation and patronage. It was inaugurated and addressed by the then Urban Development Minister of India, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu and the Vice-Chairman of the NITI Aayog, Professor Arvind Panagariya.

The second edition of this conference, Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Development in Global South, was conceived to take these deliberations forward and bring together evidence and perspectives on the latest developments in urban landscapes, and policy and planning strategies globally. More specifically, it provided a platform and opportunity for experts and practitioners to share regional urban experiences and case studies of projects to help in setting the agenda for inclusive urbanization, concurrent with the efforts in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (in particular, Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable).

The conference delved deeper into some of the recent urbanization trends and the urban policy and planning. The emergence of Megacities in the Global South presents a host of opportunities for planners. By 2030, the South is expected to have 34 out of 41 Megacities. With the growing urban population, appropriate economic growth strategy is urgently needed. The massive rural-urban migration has created some of the largest informal settlements in the world. The inhabitants in such settlements lack citizenship rights, including basic services, and infrastructure. According to the UN, approximately one billion people live in informal settlements, with the majority located in the Global South. The unplanned and massive urbanization is putting pressure on the environment. As cities grow, they often encroach on natural habitats, leading to the loss of habitat and biodiversity. In addition, urbanization contributes to air and water pollution and waste management issues. However, in recent years, the advancement of technology has helped urban service delivery, such as using data and analytics to optimize transportation and energy use. The use and adoption of technology are on the rise, but their spread has been very limited. Addressing these challenges will require a coordinated effort from policymakers, urban planners, and civil society, and learning from the best global practices can contribute to this process.

One of the primary objectives of this conference was to bring together urban experts and practitioners from different sectors and countries to discuss and explore strategies for achieving sustainable and inclusive development. The conference contributed to the global efforts towards SDG 11 of making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, through the exchange of ideas, sharing of best practices, and building partnerships.

Like several countries in the Global South, India is also experiencing rapid urbanization which is likely to exacerbate in future. The experts and policymakers in the country are devising several policies to address the associated challenges mentioned above. Several papers and sessions in the conference also focused on India which shed light on the new urban issues and initiatives and insights for devising appropriate policies.

Themes of the Conference
The broad themes discussed at the conference revolved around the following issues -

  • International experiences of urbanization
  • Urban governance and planning
  • Creating decent employment and green jobs
  • Cities, small and medium towns
  • Migration and urbanisation
  • Strengthening rural-urban linkages
  • Social and economic inclusion; urban poverty and slums
  • Urban spaces and gender equality
  • Equitable, accessible and safe transportation
  • Public safety and security
  • Planning for just cities
  • Climate change, risks and resilience
  • Climate finance, green and sustainable urban development
  • Trunk infrastructure (water and waste management)
  • Affordable housing and rental housing
  • Technology and innovation
Organisation, Structure and Participants

The conference was organised during 10-12 August 2023 at at India International Centre, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi. It was organised by The Institute for Human Development (IHD), NITI Aayog, Government of India and University of Florida in partnership with Centre for the Regional Development (CSRD), JNU and National Institute of Urban Affairs. Dr. Abhinav Alakshendra, Associate Professor University of Florida ; Ms. Kanak Tiwari, Programme Director - Urban Strategy Unit Head-Urban 20 (U20) Technical Secretariat, National Institute of Urban Affairs ; Dr. Bhim Reddy, Senior Fellow, Institute for Human Development were the Conference coordinators.

Well-known scholars working in this area presented their papers. Around 191 papers were selected through a process of competitive call for papers. Apart from paper presentations, three plenary panels including a round table conference was organised on ‘Beyond Infrastructure Development: The Role of Regulatory Changes in Fostering Sustainable Urban Development in Small Cities.’ Experts from various fields, organisations and academics were invited to contribute in these panels.

Altogether more than 350 scholars participated in the conference from diverse fields ranging from policymaking, civil society, industry, worker’s organisations and international organisations as well as academics.

Conference Outputs

The conference aimed to contribute to the global efforts to achieve sustainable and inclusive development by generating new knowledge, identifying best practices, and fostering partnerships. The conference resulted in a number of outcomes, including:

  1. A better understanding of the challenges and opportunities for sustainable and inclusive urban development.
  2. A shared vision and commitment to sustainable and inclusive urban development.
  3. New partnerships and collaborations among stakeholders in the field of sustainable and inclusive urban development.
  4. Recommendations for policy and practice that could be used to promote sustainable and inclusive urban development.
  5. A set of research questions that could guide future research on sustainable and inclusive development.

Proceedings of the conference and key conclusions and recommendations will be brought out shortly. The selected revised papers will be brought out as one/two edited books through a leading publisher.