Harnessing the Power of Urbanization

Urban areas form the engines of economic growth and provide spaces for social transformation and political inclusion. Millions of individuals recognize this: Africa’s urban population is expected to increase from 414 million to over 1.2 billion by 2050, while the urban population of Asia is projected to soar from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion people. In the past, urbanization was largely seen as giving rise to congestion and the concentration of poverty in urban slums. It is also, however, an opportunity to improve education and other public services for the poor who see a better future in urban areas. The degree of success with which countries harness the power of urbanization serves as an important bellweather for sustainable development. 

In our experience, two factors provide the institutional context within which successful urbanization takes place: first, a sound intergovernmental institutional framework that provides the political, administrative and fiscal foundation for urban success; and second, dynamic, inclusive, and responsive local leadership. In other words, harnessing the power of urbanization requires good intergovernmental systems and good local governance.

Technical Expertise

The Urban Institute helps countries and development partners harness the power of urbanization:

  • Conceptualizing smart and sustainable cities: How urban areas organize their space and infrastructure to take advantage of their higher densities to increase economic opportunities for businesses and residents, improve access, secure adequate residential space, deliver effective public services, and achieve sustainable growth.
  • Supporting intergovernmental reforms: Removing intergovernmental obstacles to urban success and urban service delivery effectiveness.
  • Performance-based municipal grant systems: Improving the finance and governance of municipalities.
  • Understanding constraints to urban service delivery.
  • Strengthening urban own source revenue mobilization: Improving local revenue administration practices and increasing taxpayers' willingness to pay local revenues by improving transparency and local services.
  • Strengthening the management of urban assets: Supporting urban local authorities to manage their most valuable asset—urban land.
  • Promoting higher-performing local government organizations: Transforming local governments from entities that are responsive to instructions from the top into organizations that are capable of proactively identifying and responding to local needs from the bottom up



Recent Urban research efforts within our Urbanization Thematic Area include


Contact IDG info for more information about IDG's project activities and research on harnessing urbanization.