Managing Diversity and Affordability to Make Cities More Livable

With urbanization increasing in developing countries, cities should work to accommodate society’s most vulnerable citizens. Photo by NACTO/Flickr

How livable a community is depends on many factors like affordability, health, safety, connectivity, infrastructure and services. As cities around the world grow, urbanization can often threaten a city’s livability by causing land prices and housing costs to rise. Moreover, as individuals migrate to cities from rural areas (or from different countries), many find themselves alienated from the fabric of the city—many struggle to find work, while others are discriminated against or experience violence. To improve the well-being of citizens, cities should focus on making their communities more inclusive for some of their most vulnerable residents: migrants and the poor.

Increasing Community Tolerance for Migrants and Minorities

A large component of urbanization is migration; for example, in China, it is expected that nearly 245 million people will move from rural areas to cities within the next 10 years. In India today, an estimated 40 percent (about 58 million) of the agrarian workforce is looking for jobs in urban regions. Thus, many urban areas are witnessing large demographic shifts, often leading to an increase in diversity. Diversity can refer to a variety of things, such as the coexistence of people practicing different religions, speaking different languages or living on different income levels. Especially in developing countries, along with social diversity, there is a greater need for cities to accommodate different income groups. Cities that fail to properly manage diversity may see an increase in conflicts, hatred and violence between communities.

One study of various metropolises across the United States revealed a few general characteristics of diverse cities:

  • A high number of rental homes, which facilitates migration
  • A range of occupations, including both entry and high-level positions
  • An abundance of public services

These elements of a city help to ease the transition for migrants, and account for their varying needs. However, experiences from cities like Bogota in Colombia and Bangalore in India have shown that if these elements are not properly planned for, migrants often have to live in informal settlements under difficult conditions; for example, they may experience limited access to public services and violence at the community level.

Also crucial to integrating diverse populations are accessible public and communal spaces. For example, parks and cultural venues act as locations where different communities can interact and be visible. Mixed-use areas are also opportunities to ensure that communities not only have access to goods and services, but are connected to the city.

In sum, as cities grow in diversity, city planners must respond accordingly to accommodate the needs of various communities.

Making Cities Affordable for All

A city’s cost of living is not only crucial for residents’ quality of life, but also but also affects investments from expatriates and businesses. Rising prices in cities often outpace living wages, making a city less affordable for people to live in. When there are other cities that provide them the same quality of life at a much lower price, a city can lose the talent pool on which it depends for a healthy economy. Vishnu Varathan, an economist from Mizuho Corporate Bank, also warns that  increasing costs of living may discourage talented individuals from moving into to the city.

Furthermore, as cost of living increases, the lower income groups suffer the most, either displacing them or harming their quality of life. Local economies play an important role in providing for the needs of the low income population and affordable housing is key for their survival in the city. In fact, there is evidence that affordable housing and local economies (including informal economies) are very much interdependent on each other. In South Africa for example, affordable housing has been used as a strategy for development at a local level.

To protect low income groups, public policy can play a large role in managing the price of land and commodities in a city. The TOD (transit-oriented development) policy of Delhi for example, mandates that the city provide housing for lower income groups. Rather than purchasing expensive land while building homes, cities can manage public landholdings, for example, as an effective way to regulate land prices in cities where government landholdings are extensive. Another model is the MetroVivienda in Colombia, which integrated transit and land-use to increase their affordable housing stock. Government-subsidized housing is another strategy that can address market scarcity and make housing affordable. Finally, cities can also mandate that new housing projects include options for low-income families in return for construction incentives and development rights.

Planning for Diversity

Migration rates show no trend of slowing down anytime soon. Cities that fail to plan for diversity are in danger of not only missing out on the many benefits of diversity, but of straining tensions between different communities. Further, an unaffordable city can drive down investment and push entrepreneurs and the working poor away. It’s also important to note that affordability and diversity are connected, since marginalized groups are often disproportionately affected by high costs of living. As rural-to-urban migration continues, it’s critical to create the tools to monitor affordability and diversity now to improve the quality of life for future urban populations.

Right Menu Icon