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Inclusive Services and Planning

Cities are evolving to have inclusive services and approaches, fighting inequalities by providing access to housing and infrastructure, equal rights and participation, and jobs and opportunities.

“At the end of the day if you have a city that is liveable, sustainable, resilient, and competitive, but which is not inclusive, then something is fundamentally wrong in that city”, Sameh Wahba of the World Bank states in an interview for this study. It is now more important than ever to emphasise the importance of social inclusion across cities by celebrating and supporting the heart of the community ecosystem – its people.

Cities are not only centres of economic development; they are the confluence of equality, healthy communal coexistence, and prosperity for all. Public space is used by residents differently, and the differences must be taken into account when planning a city. Social inclusion should be a key pillar of urban growth and development for the cities of the future, bearing in mind the three building blocks identified by the World Bank: spatial inclusion (proving affordable housing, water and sanitation), social inclusion (equal rights and participation), and economic inclusion (creating jobs and offering citizens opportunities for economic development).

Cities should be planned and designed to generate social and economic outcomes for everyone, avoiding the costs that occur when people are excluded. Although the poor are usually the most affected, cities will also remove the barriers caused by differences in gender, age, race, nationality, disability or religion. Inclusive design could mean building gender-inclusive urban centres to provide safe and secure spaces for carers and installing wheelchair accessible features for those with mobility difficulties. Inclusive design may mean building greener and safer neighbourhoods for all citizens and investing to create secure and joyful spaces for children to play and accessible places for the elderly, making cities pleasurable for the silver generation. An inclusive social care system will embrace migrants and offer them tailored services that address their particular needs and context, and opportunities as everyone else. An inclusive city fights gentrification. These inclusion initiatives, among many others, are supported by one of the criteria in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: “By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities”.

There are already some signs of cities prioritising inclusion. A survey of 167 cities worldwide found that 40 to 47 per cent of cities use metrics to track progress towards inclusion goals, even though the majority are in advanced economies. The same source indicates that 80 per cent of Cities 4.0 (those that are ahead in smart city initiatives, have superior infrastructure and made great progress towards SDGs) ensure that the disadvantaged are involved, while only 45 per cent of others have it is a concern, which shows the discrepancies among cities in this particular aspect.1

Both technology and mass participation are needed to accelerate the trend towards social inclusion. Digitalisation enables governments to facilitate access to a range of services, accelerate business opportunities, analyse societal gaps, educate mass audiences, collect real-time data, boost data-driven decision-making, facilitate predictive and proactive governance, and engage larger audiences in social activity. It also frees up government capacity to re-direct finite administrative and case management resources to those who need it most.

Although it is a fundamental requirement for social inclusion, technology may also create disparities. Currently, half the world’s population is offline, which reinforces “the need to look at connectivity and communication as a public good”, as stated by the Executive Director of UN-Habitat. In some regions, lack of affordability for technology solutions and the societal digital divide have been identified as hurdles to progress. City planners should remain aware of the large numbers of ’digitally invisible’ citizens, to avoid skewing the results of city analysis, compromising urban planning efforts, and even contributing to a widening of the inequality gap. Solutions such as government-funded mobile phones or internet access, or community centres, could potentially mitigate the adverse effects of technology.

In addition to technology, mass participation is a second catalyst for social inclusion. Cities have traditionally been planned by male architects from formal backgrounds. Bringing diversity to the creation process is a critical measure to avoid inequalities and create inclusive and equity-centred cities by design.

“We need to understand that inclusion and equity is not simply ‘good to have’: it is essential. It is a foundation that we build on and it is an enabler of thriving communities. A thriving community is good for the economy, a thriving community is good for culture and good for art, it is good for creativity and it is good for innovation.”

-Jeff Merritt, Head of IoT and Urban Transformation at the World Economic Forum

In the future, a city’s prosperity is likely to depend more on social inclusion levels. Improves liveability and cohesion: Inclusive cities eliminate spatial fragmentation, embrace mix-development, respect differences, and create the right environment supported by infrastructure for everyone to thrive. It is the foundation for a vibrant, safe and innovative city, leveraging agglomeration and diversity. For example, to make the London public transport network convenient and more accessible, the Royal London Society for Blind People created a Wayfindr to enable visually-impaired people to move independently through their various environments – whether completing day-to-day tasks or exploring new places– by giving them access to reliable directions from their smart phones and other devices.2

Enhances economic competitiveness and productivity of cities: In a more inclusive and well-integrated city there is frequent interactivity between stakeholders, which results in enhanced productivity and economic growth for all communities. Analysis by Deloitte in Australia has estimated that the economic dividend to the country from a more inclusive society would be EUR 10.4 billion annually,3 close to one per cent of Australia’s GDP. The same is evident in US cities, as the following graph shows4.

Improves resilience: By creating a connected and inclusive physical and digital infrastructure, cities can give their residents access to an improved range of shared services, achieving joint economies of scale and accelerating prosperity. Inclusive cities also provide opportunities to expand knowledge sharing, promoting collaboration across the entire population, which in turn builds a more resilient society.

Implement proactive multi-sector solutions, both preventative and curative: To address multi-dimensional issues, while building an integrated approach to urban and inclusive city planning, measures for inclusion should be prioritised, such as combining access to land, citizen engagement, violence prevention and measures to support skill-building in localities.

Promote an integrated planning approach instead of a fragmented one: A lack of inclusivity when planning housing and public infrastructure is typically the starting point for inequality. High population density is a driver of economic growth in a city, but it also makes residents vulnerable to health risk. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, some neighbourhoods could not provide social distancing arrangements; and a project developed by the World Bank to map COVID-19 hotspots found that they were locations of public infrastructure (such as water fountains and public toilets).5

Follow an equity-centred by design approach: For decades, local and national governments have been employing inclusive design, also known as universal design, primarily in the form of infrastructure improvements that accommodate physical disabilities—such as audible walk signals and wheelchair ramps. Moving a step further, equity-centred processes and policies can help reduce systemic barriers faced by historically marginalised and excluded groups, elderly, children or others. When rethinking programme structures, communication platforms, and digital algorithms, cities should try to move towards inclusive and equity-centred design. It means considering the outcomes and not only intentions, and also embedding equity of access and process in the design, transformation and delivery of services.

Improve technology solutions, their adoption and digital skills, supported by adjusted regulation: To boost participation, inclusion and interaction within a city’s ecosystem, city leaders could launch digital literacy programmes, improve the broadband infrastructure and develop policies for affordability. Additionally, leaders should invest in promoting digital skills to ensure that everyone can participate in the digital transition.

Pursue data equity: Data collected and analysed for decision-making must accurately represent the entire underlying population and minimises bias. The use of AI and algorithms introduces a risk of using potentially distorted datasets in the design of services and programmes. Improper use, handling and interpretation of data could exacerbate social inequalities and bias.

Establish inclusive living labs: Create and foster dedicated public spaces and environments where city planners can test solutions, assess their desirability, acceptance and impact, and evaluate whether to scale them up to the whole city,6 in a co-creation process involving everyone.

Use agile methods to respond rapidly and anticipate citizens’ needs: With increasing amounts of data collected and processed to meet citizens’ needs, many governments have moved to the cloud to scale up their services. For instance, Rhode Island modernised its unemployment insurance contact centre during the pandemic using cloud technology, going from a capacity of just 75 to 2,000 concurrent calls.7 Governments can follow the Netflix model, and use algorithms to anticipate people’s needs and organically adapt their services to the individual. An agile approach is critical for adjusting quickly.

Medellín, Colombia

Two decades ago, the city of Medellín was infamous for its high homicide rates, economic inequality and social exclusion: in 2012 over 6,000 people were killed. However the city started transforming into an urban inclusive community through an integrated planning approach to improving connectivity, education and public facilities, with a special focus on the poor.

The initial stages of transformation began in the 1990s, when the focus was on restructuring public spaces and the landscape through targeted territorial regeneration initiatives that involved connectivity enhancement and community participation, with a special focus on increasing the competences of excluded citizens.8 Initiatives such Medellín Metrocable, the world’s first cable car system for public transport, connected the city’s poor neighbourhoods with the city centre, subways and bus networks. San Javier outdoor escalators, public outdoor escalators connecting one of the poorest and most violent neighbourhoods (Comuna 13) on steep hills to the city centre, was another key project in 2011 that contributed to the development of an inclusive city.

An important focus of the strategy was on education. The local government created public facilities including of libraries and schools across all neighbourhoods, many located near to subway stations to promote accessibility. Likewise, parks and sports facilities were also built in areas surrounding the cable car stations.

There was also investment in the programme “Medellín, the most educated” for educating people - especially in early childhood and primary education – as a powerful way of reducing poverty and improving society.

There are other initiatives that make Medellín a global case study in social inclusion. More recently, programmes such as the adoption of open government policies (accessibility of data and public information) investments in ICT (free internet access zones)9 and social co-creation practices (like Mi-Medellín for mass participation) have contributed to the creation of a smart Medellín.

Quito, Ecuador

Some years ago, sexual harassment on public transport was increasing at an alarming rate in Quito. In 2014, 81 per cent of women travellers reported being a victim of sexual violence in public.11

As a social inclusion initiative, the Bájale al Acoso campaign was launched in 2017 to fight sexual harassment in the public transport bus system through instant reporting via SMS text messages. A victim can send a message to the authorities with the word ’harassment’ and the bus ID: a response mechanism is activated immediately, notifying the driver, setting off an alarm inside the bus, and sending an alert to a Brigade that gets in touch with the victim within three minutes.12 The initiative is ongoing and has helped to protect thousands of women and build a safer city. As a result, in the first two years of implementation 2,800 cases of sexual harassment were reported, and 73 perpetrators were prosecuted.

The Bájale al Acoso strategy has raised broader public awareness and is contributing to the building of a more equal and inclusive society. Similar initiatives against sexual violence were introduced into schools to support children (3,607 cases were registered between 2014 and May 2020).13 Buenos Aires in Argentina and other cities are replicating the Bájale al Acoso project. The strategy will also be replicated in the metro system in Quito.14

Nagareyama, Japan 15

With a population of 200,300 inhabitants (as of March 2021), Nagareyama has aimed to be the best Japanese city for raising children. Under the motto “Think Motherhood, Think Nagareyama”, the city has evolved since 2009, when the programme was launched.

The problem of an ageing population and low birth rates is not exclusive to this city, and is common to all Japan. Nagareyama, in Chiba Prefecture, developed a marketing strategy to attract younger people. Among the objectives were to develop organised urban green spaces, increase public services and infrastructure to support parenting and children’s education, and promote family activities and tourism events to attract non-residents. The programme targeted women as the individuals most likely to be attracted by a liveable city.

Listening to the priorities of women, the city implemented changes to its public transport system, with a child drop-off and pick-up point in day care centres to alleviate the daily burden of mothers working in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The strategy has also created entrepreneurship programmes for mothers and co-working facilities to balance their work and personal lives. Green spaces have been improved, and Nagareyama is now seen as the forest city nearest to metropolitan Tokyo.

The population of the city has recovered: the average number of children per family rose from 1.16 in 2007 to 1.53 in 2017.

“Technology can play a major role in fighting exclusion: by strengthening land administration systems and geospatial infrastructure, hence ensuring the protection of land rights, especially for poor and most vulnerable households; by fostering engagement by citizens in urban policy making - which is critical; and by enabling people to access jobs and to match the skills with the needs of the labour market.”

-Sameh Wahba, Global Director of Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice at the World Bank

  1. ESI ThoughtLab: Smart City solutions in a riskier world. (2021)
  2. Zero Project: Innovative Practices 2016 on Education and ICT; Wayfindr: Empowering vision impaired people to travel independently. (2016)
  3. Deloitte: The economic benefits of improving social inclusion. (2019)
  4. Deloitte Insights: Inclusive smart cities. (2019)
  5. Inter-American Development Bank: Inclusive Cities; Urban productivity through gender equality. (2018)
  6. Deloitte Insights: Inclusive smart cities. (2019)
  7. Deloitte Center for Government Insights: Beyond the pandemic: how the government’s digital future looks like. (2021)
  8. IESE Cities in Motion: Medellín: A story of transformation. (2018)
  9. Tomorrow City: Medellín: data and infrastructures in contrast to its troubled past. (2019)
  10. Association Québécoise des Transports: Medellin - Smart City. (2017)
  11. Inter-American Development Bank: The fight against sexual harassment runs smoothly in Ecuador. (2018)
  12. Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo: Bájale al Acoso: Quito's initiative for public transport without gender violence. (2019)
  13. Human Rights Watch: "It’s a constant fight"; School-Related Sexual Violence and Young Survivors’ Struggle for Justice in Ecuador. (2020)
  14. Empresa Pública Metropolitana de Transporte de Pasajeros de Quito: Bájale al Acoso Strategy will be replicated to Metro. (2020)
  15. Inter-American Development Bank: Inclusive Cities; Urban productivity through gender equality. (2018)

You may access the links to these sources, where available, on page 148 of the Urban Future with a Purpose study.

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