Geographies in Depth

Smart cities are inclusive cities

Jonathan Hursh
Founding Partner, Utopia
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Up to one-third of the world’s population will soon live in a migrant slum. It’s the greatest issue of our century, changing life as we know it.

When migrants move to a city, they are looking for the same things as you and me. A better life for their children and a chance to work and study hard.

But what they find is often far from what they imagined. As they arrive in a city, they bounce back and land on the edges of its borders and on the edges of our society. This is because of two main barriers: informality and instability.

Informality says they don’t belong here. It means they have informal jobs, education, healthcare and housing.

Informality says they aren’t included.

Instability says their gains are easily wiped out. It reduces their motivation to invest and build.

Instability says this isn’t their home.

This is a loss for their families, for their slums, and for the cities they live in. It’s an economic and social loss for our shared future.

If nothing is done, migrant slums could become places of unrest and deep poverty. These slum dwellers risk becoming a disenfranchised majority-minority – a fringe group who are regarded as second-class citizens, competing for resources outside the rules of the city.

We need a shift in perspective. What if smart cities were also inclusive cities? Leaders of smart cities recognize that migrants are an asset. They build the cities, grow the economies, provide the diversity. Migrants do well with opportunity because that is what brought them to the city.

Smart cities give migrants opportunities for safe employment, formal education, stable accommodation, reliable transportation and basic healthcare. They provide an environment where migrants can flourish and integrate, becoming a part of the city’s social fabric.

If one-third of humanity is really going to live in an informal migrant slum on the edges of cities, we need to inspire and mobilize an entire new generation of urban planners, architects, product designers and strategists. It’s been left to chance for too long and we now need a clear strategy to integrate these communities into our cities, to take full advantage of what they have to offer.

As Doug Saunders wrote in Arrival City, migrant slums have become places “where some of the most important and surprising changes of the twenty-first century are taking place.” These arrival cities are an inflection point, a generational crossroads where a family’s trajectory can be significantly improved within a few short decades.

Cities have become the living rooms of humanity. It’s where we live, breathe and trade ideas. At the turn of the century, most of us now live in one. Let’s make cities right, let’s make them good and just. Let’s make them inclusive.

Author: Jonathan Hursh is Executive Director and Founder of INCLUDED

Image: High rise buildings are seen behind slum dwellings in The Philippines REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthFinancial and Monetary Systems
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