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Of Megacities and Developing Countries: Exclusion and Rising Inequality

As part of our series in response to the UN’s 2016 World Cities Report, we’re exploring the opportunities and challenges presented by the rapid growth of developing countries.

So far we’ve considered a wide range of economic and social challenges—from the dearth of efficient housing and professional services to adverse environmental consequences—that accompany rapid urban growth. In part five of our series, we explore an issue common to every economy, no matter the level of development: the stark divide between the haves and the have nots.

Social and economic inequality exists everywhere. It is particularly troubling in societies where opportunities for wealth creation are increasingly available, but only to those who already have the tools and resources to utilize them. Think Silicon Valley. Here is a region where the wealthy are exponentially wealthier than the average resident. It’s not uncommon to spot a rudimentary shelter made from delivery boxes bearing the labels of San Francisco’s most prosperous companies, run by its wealthiest citizens. The city is in a major housing crisis—there simply aren’t enough homes that the average resident can afford on their income. This crisis exists throughout the developing world as well, especially in rapidly growing urban centers.

Solutions that we’ve already mentioned include modular, space-efficient homes like the Kasita, technologies that enable telecommuting and improved infrastructure. And if you’ve kept up with this series, you’ll probably have noticed that all of these issues are related in a systemic way.

Solving the problems of growth in emerging market cities will require a systems thinking approach. This means recognizing that to address infrastructure issues is to address energy issues is to address transportation issues is to address social structure issues, ad infinitum.

The only way to address all of these issues is to do creatively and inclusively as possible, with input, insight and effort from all stakeholders and community members from the local farmer and community organizers to business leaders and government officials.

One example of such an inclusive approach: the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. The goal: to help each member develop a resilience plan for solving the emotional, social and economic challenges of the 21st century. It is no coincidence that many emerging megacities are involved—as these cities continue to develop at projected rates, their residents must collaborate to manage the strains of growth. And as history has shown us again and again, the most effective way for residents to weather such stress is through economic empowerment.

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