Inclusive cities? A blog by Supervisory Board Member Annelies Zoomers

Annelies Zoomers is a Professor of International Development Studies at Utrecht University, Chair of the Netherlands Land Academy, and HCC’s newest Supervisory Board Member.

Inclusive development has become the latest buzzword in international development policies and practice. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which came into effect in 2016 as a follow-up of the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), emphasise that sustainable development should ‘leave no one behind’. But what does this type of inclusivity actually mean? Achieving zero-poverty cannot be realized in a vacuum or by one actor. Instead it can only be achieved by taking into account the various trade-offs between various SDGs and their subsequent effects.

In efforts to contribute to the SDGs, donor-investor communities are increasingly adopting inclusive growth, inclusive cities, inclusive business models, and inclusive land governance systems as new targets. What these inclusive models share is that they should ensure the participation of vulnerable and marginalised groups in the core businesses of governments and the private sector.

Yet, degrees and scopes of inclusivity have remained elusive: Who includes whom in sustainable development? How are decisions made and followed-up upon? The larger and more complex the development and investment project is, the question of what inclusive development actually looks like becomes more elusive.

Human Cities Coalition has taken up the challenge of contributing towards solving large-scale urban challenges in two megacities: Jakarta and Manila. Dutch firms of various types are currently playing important roles in designing new masterplans and/or the realisation of plans for urban development and infrastructural expansion in these cities. The issues these cities face are complex and cannot be solved with traditional sectoral solutions.

For example, in both cities – as a consequence of rapid economic growth alongside land subsidence and rising sea levels – urban land is increasingly under pressure in terms of rapidly increasing densities and in the form of rapidly rising land prices. Large portions of the population are excluded from urban services like electricity and sanitation in both cities. In practice, finding a solution for one problem (or solving issues faced by particular groups) often results in the creation of new problems and/or displacement or resettlement of others.

HCC, in contributing to the creation of inclusive cities, can play a double role. First, to the extent that Dutch companies play a direct role in the design and/or implementation of infrastructural projects, HCC can help foster governmental and private sector engagement with local communities (partnerships which go much further than simple consultation). Too often projects are designed in far-away places, without the engagement of local people, and use superficial environmental impact studies. HCC plays an important role in facilitating community engagement, and making sure that sufficient attention is given to the local context beginning with the project design.

Second, while making sure that projects ‘do not harm’, HCC’s main ambition is ‘doing good’: Making Jakarta and Manilla more inclusive by asking the private enterprises and other actors to come with new (business) solutions that help vulnerable groups to improve their lives and deal with the shocks and stresses of living in today’s megacities. Given the diversity (and mix) of urban problems, HCC does work to provide a platform for encouraging the design of new ‘bottom of the pyramid’ solutions – as well as helping to bring together demand and supply.

Achieving the mission of HCC – and contributing to bottom-up community based development – cannot happen overnight. It will require persistence and flexibility and long-term commitment. In the context of LANDac, one of HCC’s core coalition partners, thus far we learned that large-scale investment flows can and have caused social and environmental conflicts, and that the promised benefits in forms of employment or improved services have not been equally distributed even when the express purpose of the investment was to enhance sustainability.

Thus, in order to make Jakarta and Manilla more inclusive, it is important to find ways to help capital flows move straight into cities and in the direction of vulnerable groups by providing them with a secure ‘place to stay’ – but also access to income, goods and services. As I see it, achieving these things, achieving the goal of inclusivity, is HCC’s mission.

– Annelies Zoomers*

*Periodically HCC asks its Board Members and others active in its coalition to author a think piece. While these blogs touch upon core themes of HCC’s work, they do not necessary represent the official stance of Human Cities Coalition or its partners.


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