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Urbanization and Demographics,  the Coordination Problem - Robert Buckley

robert Buckley1BIOGRAPHY

Robert Buckley is the Studley Fellow at the New School in New York City. Prior to that he was a lead economist and advisor at the World Bank and Managing Director at the Rockefeller Foundation. He contributed to the Growth Commission work on developing a new development perspective in Urbanization and Economic Growth, a book he co-edited with Michael Spence and Patricia Annez. He has written widely on urbanization and housing policy in both the academic and popular press. During the past few years has focused on urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa.


The lecture is based on the realization that little attention is being paid to the inexorable increase in urban populations, particularly in very low income countries. Almost all of the world’s next 2 billion people will live in these already slum-invested cities, with likely adverse effects on economic development as well as increased social exclusion. Instead of focusing on the issues involved with coordinating a coherent policy response to this demographic trend, the development agenda has focused on how coordination problems in supporting industry can be overcome. Michael Cohen argues that these industrial coordination problems are no doubt important, but so too is the avoidance of increasingly dysfunctional cities.  

Analysis of the evidence indicates that urban development in many places is not following the traditional perspective that the “bright lights” of cities are drawing migrants. In many places, it is troubled countrysides that is inducing what some have called a “pathological urbanization” pattern. It is also the case that cities are now being planned after their occupants have arrived rather than in anticipation of growth – as did the grids in New York and Barcelona. The result is chaotic cities without sufficient public space to realize agglomeration economies with dense, fetid slums. Finally, in many low income countries enormous cities are emerging populated by families with income levels lower than those that characterized early industrial cities. In those places it is difficult to afford the kinds of large scale investments that produced the “modern” cities of the mid 19th and early 20th century with their transport, water, sanitation, and electricity. Business as usual in these cities could have catastrophic outcomes. There are many practical steps that could be taken to improve this situation, but constraining them is the lack of realization of how important this demographic trend is likely to be, and how little capacity exists to deal with it.

Propositions for addressing the issue:

First, slums are a form of social exclusion. But, they may be much than that. They may be undermining the foundations for development;

Second, if the first is true we need to rethink the approach to urban development. Cities in the developing world have become “homes of desperation” for millions of people;

Third, the accepted development agenda – “the binding constraints to growth” – has not recognized cities’ role.


Commission On Growth And Development Created By The World Bank.