PROJECTOpen Cities: From Economic Exclusion to Urban Inclusion


city skyline with highway

Cities drive economic growth in high-income countries, creating hubs of innovation and generating an outsized share of national wealth. But, increasingly, we see signs that the benefits of urban economies are not broadly shared among city residents. Income inequalities are on the rise, especially in our largest cities—but such disparities only tell part of the story. Poverty persists despite gains in productivity, and economic mobility appears blocked for many urban residents. Recent protests in cities across high-income countries have drawn attention to these problems, highlighting the structural barriers vulnerable groups face and the instability of the status quo.

Underlying these protests is a sense that a growing share of the urban population does not have a fair chance to succeed—that vulnerable groups are being kept out of the jobs, schools, and opportunities they need to move up, leaving them stuck in poverty for years or even for generations.

This is more than economic inequality—it’s economic exclusion. And it not only jeopardizes an individual’s chance for success, it also threatens the health, stability, and cohesion of cities and undermines national prosperity.

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Urban Institute explored trends and differences in economic exclusion in cities across high-income countries, as well as strategies that cities have put in place to combat it. We found that city leaders are responding with well-known solutions and innovative new approaches, and they are rethinking the ways they govern around issues of exclusion. We also found that information technologies are opening up new possibilities that could spark innovation and drive new approaches to exclusion.  We summarize our findings in our framing brief, "Open Cities: From Economic Exclusion to Urban Inclusion," which defines economic exclusion and discusses city-level trends across high-income countries.

In a series of “What If?” essays, we also suggest bold and innovative solutions to economic exclusion in cities. These are intended to spark debate on how cities might harness new technologies, rising momentum, and new approaches to governance in order to create more inclusive and open urban economies. 

The research team for this project included  Hamutal Bernstein, Eric Burnstein, Joshua Choper, Erwin de Leon, Liza Getsinger, Tracy Gordon, Solomon Greene, Reed Jordan, Pamela Loprest, John McGinty, Rolf Pendall, Erika Poethig, Molly Scott, and Jasmine Simington.

Read the Framing Brief

Open Cities: From Economic Exclusion to Urban Inclusion

Read the What If Essays

What if Cities Challenged Local Businesses to Reinvent Social Responsibility?

What if Cities Used Data to Drive Inclusive Neighborhood Change?

What if Cities Combined Car-Based Solutions with Transit to Improve Access to Opportunity?

What if Cities Could Create a Truly Inclusive Local Sharing Economy?

Urban Wire Posts

Cities can drive good jobs with better information 

Can we get ahead of neighborhood change in DC?

Transportation options are expanding, but can they reach the urban poor?

Five things cities can do to make the sharing economy work for everyone

Photo via Shutterstock.

Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Economic mobility and inequality
Tags Inequality and mobility
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center