Sustainable Urban Growth: The Key Lies in Linking Spatial Growth to its Economic Drivers

Through the analysis of nearly 10,000 cities, the World Bank’s new report “Pancakes to Pyramids: City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth” offers key insights into the interconnectedness of urban physical growth and its economic activities and development.

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What do pancakes and pyramids have to do with sustainable urban growth?
The World Bank’s answer is: much more than you think.

Rapid urbanisation is currently one of the main global challenges and it is set to intensify as urban land areas are projected to grow by 29% between 2015 and 2050 and world population living in urban areas is predicted to increase from 55% to 68% until 2050. Cities’ spatial growth is largely shaped by the interactions of their inhabitants and their economic activities. Taking data covering 9,500 cities between 1990 and 2015, the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Practice Group set out to understand the relationship between these factors to build efficient predictive models for sustainable urban growth.

Considering the predicted rapid spatial and population growth, which are mostly projected to happen in Sub-Saharan-Africa and South Asian lower-income countries, the World Bank encourages cities to address urbanisation challenges through a different lense than before.  While density might be the key indicator to measure livability as linked to urban spatial growth, all actors concerned with urban development should strive to understand key drivers and impacts of their physical evolution and thus see density from other perspectives. This can allow them to plan and implement short-, middle- and long-term sustainable economic and spatial growth. In the report urban spatial development from 1990 until 2015 is analysed through satellite data and then crossed with economic data and econometric analysis. This combination enables them to analyse drivers of urban physical growth in three directions (horizontal spread, infill development and vertical layering) and ultimately to measure the amount of floor space. Based onthis analytical framework, the understanding of evolutions of space in different cities can guide decision makers in predicting consequences of certain policies and plans for urban growth.

With this report, the World Bank provides urban planners, policy- and decision-makers at local and national level with tools and models to understand and address the mechanisms that ensure sustainable urban development, thus supporting the inversion of inequalities’ trends, wellbeing as well as reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

To access the report as well as other resources linked to it, please follow this link.