Political economy constraints for urban development


What are the principal political economy constraints to promoting more functional, inclusive and economically viable urban areas? What are the main gaps in evidence and knowledge on the extent of these constraints and how they should be best tackled?


Experts highlight evidence gaps in particular on the political economy of urban service delivery; social and political participation by urban poor people; the relationship between urbanisation, urban poverty and urban violence; the relationship between state fragility, state legitimacy and the national political settlement; and what works and what does not in tackling political economy constraints to urban development.

Key findings on the principal political economy constraints to urban development are:

  • Wider political economy context: constraints include when “the growth, complexity and density of urban areas outpaces the development of governance and institutional structures to manage them” (expert comment); combined pressures such as the rate of urbanisation and environmental changes; the relationship with the country’s broader political settlement; and national contexts of conflict and fragility.
  • Governance framework: constraints include policy incoherence and institutional fragmentation, incomplete decentralisation, and the proliferation of service providers; effects of city politics; the role of informal political incentives.
  • Urban poor people’s political agency: constraints include electoral dynamics; clientelism; and elite capture of services and decision-making processes.
  • Collective action: constraints include social and political polarisation; transient poor populations living in informality; and exploitation by community organisations.
  • Service delivery dynamics: significant research on political economy constraints of the water and sanitation sector, as well as some analysis on housing and transport sectors.
  • Conflict and violence: risk factors include the rapidity of urban growth, social and income inequalities, and legacies of conflict (Muggah 2012); impacts include the effect of insecurity and violence on urban social capital and social cohesion; and analysis of the political economy of “fragile” cities.
  • Vulnerable groups: how processes of exclusion and adverse incorporation in cities are differently experienced by, in particular, women and girls, youth, rural migrants, foreign immigrants and slum dwellers.