World Cities Report 2016



In an increasingly urbanised world where urban populations and the challenges of urban areas continue to grow, longstanding models of urbanisation need to adapt to new social, economic and environmental realities.  The World Cities Report 2016 explores persistent issues and emerging trends in urbanisation, highlighting the much-needed role of good urban governance to harness the positive potential of cities and to address urbanisation challenges. This new agenda should seek to create a harmonious relationship between urbanisation and development, be linked to other global agreements and agendas and steered towards bringing about transformative change.

Urban growth, changes in family patterns, growing number of urban residents living in slums and informal settlements, and the challenge of providing urban services are persistent issues that will need to be addressed, while emerging trends of climate change, exclusion and rising inequality, insecurity and an upsurge in international migration are presenting new challenges.

When well-managed, urbanisation has the potential to foster social and economic advancement and improve quality of life for all through leveraging economies of scale and agglomeration. The rapid deployment of ICTs has, in part, facilitated this, although even distribution is necessary for benefits to reach all. The causal connection between issues, such as expanding informal settlements and increases in poverty and inequality, to the process of urbanisation is superficial. Rather, the current model has been largely unsustainable – underpinned by the transformation of cities into sources of private gain, declining attention to the public space and community benefits, and rapid technological change that has increased connectivity but diminished accountability:

  • Environmentally, it engenders low-density suburbanisation – largely steered by private rather than public interest – which is energy-intensive and contributes to climate change.
  • Socially, it generates multiple forms of inequality, exclusion and deprivation, which creates spatial inequalities and divided cities characterised by gated communities and slums.
  • Economically, widespread unemployment especially among youth and the existence of unstable and low-paying jobs create economic hardship, unequal access to urban services and a poorer quality of life.

A lack of institutional and legal structures to promote a more sustainable urbanisation has further intensified these issues, with poorly planned and managed urbanisation translating into a mismatch between infrastructure provision and residential concentration, a separation of land use and inadequate public space and street networks, among others. Good governance for cities that are sustainable, resilient and inclusive encompasses: strong effective leadership; land-use planning; jurisdictional coordination; inclusive citizen participation in the design of infrastructure; and efficient financing that helps to foster urban responses to climate change.

Levers which have the potential to drive transformative change in the New Urban Agenda include: planned city infills; land readjustment; public space planning and regulations; a re-focus on housing that counters the contemporary narrative of housing as a speculative asset and address the continuing challenge of informal settlements and affordable housing; expanding basic services; and a global monitoring framework.

The report recommends 5 guiding principles for the New Urban Agenda: ensuring that the new model includes mechanisms and procedures that protect and promote human rights and the rule of law, and equitable urban development and inclusive growth; empowering civil society, expanding democratic participation and reinforcing collaboration; promoting environmental sustainability and innovations that facilitate learning and knowledge-sharing. A city-wide approach to development will need to include: the adoption and implementation of national urban policies; the strengthening of urban legislation and systems of governance; a re-invigoration of territorial planning and urban design; and ensuring the urban economy works in a way that creates decent employment opportunities.


UN HABITAT. (2016). World Cities Report 2016: Urbanization and development. Emerging futures. Nairobi, Kenya: UN HABITAT.