Towns and cities in the world’s developing countries are growing on an unprecedented scale. Ten years ago, an estimated 40 percent of the developing world’s population - or 2 billion people - lived in urban areas. Since then, their numbers have expanded almost twice as fast as total population growth, to more than 2.5 billion. That is the equivalent to almost five new cities the size of Beijing, every 12 months. By 2025, more than half the developing world’s population - 3.5 billion people - will be urban.
Urbanization in low-income countries is accompanied by high levels of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. Worldwide, an estimated one billion people live in crowded slums, without access to basic health, water and sanitation services. Around 30 percent of the developing world’s urban population - 770 million people - are unemployed or “working poor”, with incomes below official poverty lines.
Those urban poor spend most of their income just to feed themselves. Yet their children suffer levels of malnutrition that are often as high as those found in rural areas. To survive, millions of slum dwellers have resorted to growing their own food on every piece of available land: in backyards, along rivers, roads and railways, and under power lines.
A brighter future for the world’s developing cities is both imperative and possible. Historically, cities have been places not of misery and despair but of opportunity - for economies of scale, employment and improved living standards, especially for rural people seeking a better life. They have served as engines of social progress and national economic development.
Creating the conditions to realize that potential - in Kinshasa, Dhaka and other growing towns and cities across the developing world - is crucial now and will be more so in the decades ahead. The challenge is to steer urbanization from its current, unsustainable path, towards sustainable, greener cities that offer their inhabitants choice, opportunity and hope.
A starting point for growing greener cities is to recognize and integrate into urban policy and planning many of the creative solutions that the urban poor themselves have developed to strengthen their communities and improve their lives. One of those solutions - and an essential feature of green city planning in developed, and a growing number of developing, countries - is urban and peri-urban horticulture.
For more, see our new Growing Greener Cities website ...