Inclusive Cities and Policy Perspectives

The application of inclusiveness in development matters is related to the application of governance which was promoted in the 1990s by the World Bank and other development partners as a solution to the crisis of underdevelopment.  Inclusive governance means ‘’ensuring that the people at large and especially the poor, tangibly benefit from the growth process (Aiyar, 2015).  Inclusiveness is a complex, multi-level and multidimensional governance attribute that relates to all and requires responsibility from all.  Inclusiveness gives identity, care, relevance, recognition, dignity and sense of worth to all. Inclusive city is a city for all. It functions to enhance wellbeing, generate wealth, maintain high quality urban environment and achieve peace and safety. Inclusive city requires governments to frame urban policies to achieve inclusiveness. Urban policies are deliberate or even accidental choices, in principles and practice, pursued by governments to advance urban development. Policies have different levels of application and subjects of concern. Although many African countries have national policy on urban development, the policies are characterized by poor implementation (Lazer, 2018) and limited sensitivity to inclusiveness.  The city is naturally driven towards inclusiveness. This is seen in the central place theory, the inward-outward role of cities and the concepts of generative city and parasitic city. The central place theory shows that a city renders central services within a convenient range for a desired population threshold. The hexagonal nesting of cities ensures that all residents have access to the central places and enjoy the central goods and services rendered by the cities. Therefore, a policy focusing on polycentric urbanization is a foundation for any inclusive city system.  

The last two decades have been phenomenal in African urbanization. The UN-Habitat (2020a) shows that the African urban population rose from 286 million people in 2000 to 588 million in 2020. Within this period, the proportion of urban population in the continent rose from 35% in 2020 to 43.5% in 2020. The average urban rate of change rose from 3.52% between 2000-2005, to 3.61% between 2005-2010 and to 3.7% between 2010-2015. Large urban centres with 300 000 inhabitants and above constitute a significant proportion of African urban population. In 2020, Africa had 235 metropolises with a combined population of 300.6 million people (UN-Habitat, 2020b).

There are reasons for having inclusive cities. First is the evidence of exclusion in many urban centres (UN-Habitat, 2020a) thus, inflicting ‘’spatial violence’ on the cities (Urban Synergies Group, 2016).  Urban inequalities in African countries come next to Latin American countries with many African cities having inequality index above the 0.40 mark. For example, inequality is 0.63 in Johannesburg, 0.51 in Kigali and 0.50 in Blantyre. In 2010, 64% of the African population lived in slums, and 55% in 2014, 2016 and 2018 (UN-Habitat, 2020a). Furthermore, in 2019, only 3% of the urban population have access to a high capacity transport system while 33% of the population have access to public transport. Majority of the African cities allocate less than 5% of their land area to open space while less than 30% of the urban population live within convenient distance to public open space. Most urban households walk for 30minites or more to get water; 8.2% in Kumasi and 43.3% in Yaoundé while on the average, only about 32.4% of the urban population in Africa have access to improved sanitation (Hopewell and Graham, 2014).

The second reason is to contain observed threats to inclusiveness. These risks are associated with increasing levels of forced migration resulting from conflicts, climate change, urban development activities and economic destabilization. Cities are the easy and often safe abode of the displaced people. By 2018, there were 16.8 million people in internally displaced camps across Africa and there were 2.6 million others displaced by disaster relating to hydro meteorological events(Andre, et al, 2019).   Development is capable of generating exclusion. Some urban spaces are officially neglected and schemed out of improvement and service provision while certain forms of development are seen as exclusive. Certain approaches in space planning and development also raise the risk of exclusion for people on account of age, ability and other forms of differences.

The third reason is that inclusive city is the appropriate settlement goal to pursue because of its benefits. Inclusive city will generate loyalty from the urban residents, integrate all components of the city into the general frame of the city and create the desired functioning city system.  Inclusion will broaden peace and reduce the occurrence of conflicts and violence within the city, improve urban competitiveness and generate the right image on which credible branding can be made for the city. Inclusive approach to city development also has an ethical dimension. Exclusion violates the collective sensibility and communality of the people. A non-inclusive city raises a moral judgment. Hence reframing inclusiveness around the ethical interpretation revalidates moral commitment to policy formulation and to urban development initiatives.  The ethical framing is not necessarily in favour or against any actor. All urban actors have a responsibility to answer the moral question in a way that enhances the role of the city and contributes to wellbeing.

The justification for inclusive city is prompted by specific drivers. To many, inclusiveness is an attribute of democracy. So, the universalization of democratic governance encourages inclusiveness and allows it to flourish. The right to the city has sometimes been advanced by the UN and its agencies. The overall goal is to assert that the right to the city should be seen as human right and should be protected by governments (Purcell, 2013). The case for the right to the city started with Henri Lefevbre. Its current popularity is related to a broadly shared representation whereby the city is considered to be the preferred location and scale for building a more just society (Morange and Spire, 2015). Global stressors that undermine the prosperity of urban centres and threaten the quality of urban peace and health also constitute a driver for inclusive city system. The stressors include climate change and health risk from infectious diseases especially SARS with the latest being the Covid-19; an infection that rose from a local concern to national and finally a global health challenge of monumental proportion. The cities are the major victims of epidemics and pandemics. The stressors provide a guide to build resilience in cities. 

The are global push factors that also drive inclusive cities.  Two components of this driver are the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda.  Goal  11 of the SDGs is to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. To achieve this, the Goal targets housing, urban health, transport system, participation, the urban environment, green spaces, urban services, slum upgrading, peri-urban and rural area integration. The New Urban Agenda,  adopted  by the UN General Assembly on 23 December, 2016 recognises   social exclusion and spatial segregation as an irrefutable reality in cities and human settlements. Article 14 of the Agenda provides a commitment for cities to leave no one behind by ending poverty in all forms and dimensions, achieving sustainable and inclusive urban economies and ensuring environmental sustainability.

There is no doubt that an inclusive city is a complex objective and subject. However, it is also achievable. In order to hasten this achievement, concerted policy action is required. The policy drive should look towards the following directions.

  1. Making inclusiveness as part of the State agenda
  2. Incorporate inclusive principles into the urban development plans.
  3. Enhance accessibility in all forms and dimensions. Accessibility stands at the core of inclusive cities. Its many attributes that must be fulfilled are provision, openness to users, affordability, even distribution and meeting needs.
  4. Adopt universal design principles of equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive, perceptive information, tolerance for error, low physical efforts and size and space for approach and use (Burgstahler, 2015) in urban planning.  
  5. Public ownership of the city: This includes demand for inclusiveness by all, a city branding system that takes the city to the people, corporate care, appropriate  civic behaviour, people-focused service delivery system,  practical and public participatory system, financing system that is contributory.   
  6. Capacity building: This is for all urban actors to enhance capacity for delivery, to participate in the growing capitalist economy and to control the complex system of the city.
  7. Decentralised municipal government. The right autonomy in both administrative and financial terms must exist for the cities to sufficiently interact with the urban population, take decisions on behalf of the cities and drive the inclusion to the logical end.
  8. Urban digitization:  Urban policy should allow e-governance to operate at all aspects of the urban life; administration, service delivery and participation ( UNDP, 2010) and use the same to eliminate digital divide where they exist.
  9. Safety. This is an envelope for all the policy options.

In implementing the policy options, an Inclusiveness Code that draws strengths from relevant standards, global and national inclusive protocols should be provided. Compliance should be achieved through Inclusive Certification that places the burden of compliance on developers, public and private, and the burden of satisfactory monitoring on the approving authority.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs provides a global proof for this in its work titled: Good Practices of accessible urban development: making the urban environment inclusive and fully accessible. The cases show courage by the respective cities, true meanings of inclusiveness, that inclusiveness can target a subject or be comprehensive, that sensitive urban policies are important and that countries can collaborate around common interest to achieve inclusive cities.


Aiyar, M. S. (2015), Inclusive governance for inclusive development: the history, politics and economics of Panchayat Raj;  in Faquet, J. P. and Poschi, C. (eds)  Is decentralisation  good for development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Andre C. (2019), Africa report on internal displacement. UNHCR/John Wessels.

Burgstahler, S. (2015) Universal design; process, principles and application. University of Washington.

Hopewell, M.R. and Graham, P. (2014), Trends in access to water supply and sanitation in 31 major Sub-Saharan African countries: an analysis of DHS from 2000-2012. MBC Public Health, 14 (208), 1-12.

Lazer, L (2018) Africa’s Urban Future: The Policy Agenda for National Governments.

 Accessed 24-04-2021

Purcell, M. (2013), Possible worlds: Henri Lefevbre and the Right to the City. Journal of Urban Affairs. 36 (1), 141-154.

United Nations (2017), The New Urban Agenda: Quito Declaration.

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2016), Good Practices of accessible urban development: making the urban environment inclusive and fully accessible.

UNDP (2010) E-governance and Citizen Participation in West Africa: Challenges and Opportunities The Panos Institute West Africa & The United Nations Development Programme. New York,

UN-Habitat (2020b), Global state of metropolis population data booklet.

UN-Habitat (2020a); World cities report 2020.

Urban Synergies Group, (2016).  Perspective Statement: Right to the City


Yekeen A. Sanusi is a professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Technology Minna, Nigeria. Prof. Sanusi has many years of teaching experience at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. His research interests cover human settlement analysis, issues of green economy (climate change, water and sanitation, energy and urban poverty), urban dynamics, urban governance and environmental management including solid waste and urban housing quality . Prof Sanusi has experience of teaching in other universities both within and outside Nigeria. On the administrative front, he was Deputy Dean, School of Environmental Technology of the Federal University of Technology, Minna between 2006 and 2008 and   the Head of Department, Urban and Regional Planning between 2008 and 2012. He is a Registered Town Planner (RTP), member of Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP),   and a member many of many research networks.

Prof. Yekeen A. Sanusi (PhD)
Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Federal University of Technology, Minna. Nigeria.