Topic Guide: Planning for sustainable and inclusive cities in the global South

This guide summarises the potential and limitations of urban planning as a tool for urban management and governance


Managing urban growth has become one of the most important challenges of the 21st century. In cities with transparent governance and effective legislation, urban planning can be a creative tool for fostering regeneration or directing urban growth. However, some of the most acute challenges of rapid growth – poverty, environmental pollution and risk – occur in the poorest and most fragile states, especially in sub- Saharan Africa and South Asia, where innovative problem-solving is required.

The philosophy of planning sustainable and inclusive cities integrates the principles of sustainable development (e.g. resource and energy conservation and environmental improvement) with those of social inclusion (e.g. reducing poverty and improving access to housing and urban services). Urban planning interventions need to be fit for purpose, based on a sound understanding of the local environment, politics and economics, with a recognition of contextual and capacity limitations, and the degree of political willingness to intervene. A central problem is that, in many countries, planning legislation is inherited or outdated and is no longer fit to deal with 21st century challenges of growth, poverty or climate change.

Drawing on a wide review of practice and academic literature, this Topic Guide summarises key debates to provide an understanding of the potential and limitations of urban planning as a tool for urban management and governance. The report has seven chapters.

Following the introduction in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 examines the context of urban planning, emphasising the importance of history and legacy, the role of local government as a key delivery agency of urban planning, and limitations of planning under different paradigms of land ownership. The implications for practice suggest the need for reliable population and urban statistics and effective local governance.

Chapter 3 outlines the complex challenges of informal urban development, now the norm in many cities of the global South. The chapter looks at informal settlements and housing (considering housing as both a service and an asset), evolving approaches to housing policy and the informal economies, which form the main source of livelihoods for the urban poor. The implications for practice are that understanding the complexity of informal cities is a crucial role for urban planners.

Chapter 4 discusses spatial planning approaches typical of formal planning systems, including the genesis of urban planning, principles of participation and the challenge of working in poorly developed administrations. Techniques of strategic planning, development management, action planning and common planning tools are also explored. The implications for practice suggest the need for locally-appropriate and pro-poor solutions to urban challenges that integrate physical and institutional change.

Chapter 5 examines the potential for intervention where informal development is the norm, examining issues of inclusion/exclusion in cities that necessitate innovative use of urban planning tools. The chapter explores drivers of exclusion, including gender and ethnicity, before examining the potential of rights-based approaches to development, and the right to the city agenda, to frame new planning paradigms and inform slum upgrading and community-led development initiatives. Finally, the challenge of working in fragile states is explored.

Chapter 6 examines concepts of sustainable development and sustainable cities. It first explores the role of urban planning in conserving urban food, energy and water resources, before examining concepts of resilience and climate change adaptation in responding to urban hazards. The chapter examines urban planning as a key delivery mechanism for fostering sustainable cities through compact city design and public transport-led growth. Finally, the role of technology in improving data access and responsive urban design is examined.

Overall, the guide argues that urban planning has huge potential to address the major threats to cities of the 21st century – poverty, inequity and environmental risk – but its potential is undermined by the dominant market paradigms, and a stronger social-justice approach is needed to address challenges posed by dominant market paradigms.

This Topic Guide has been produced by Evidence on Demand with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by DAI (which incorporates HTSPE Limited) and IMC Worldwide Limited.


Brown, A. Topic Guide: Planning for sustainable and inclusive cities in the global South. Evidence on Demand, UK (2015) v + 63 pp. [DOI: 10.12774/eod_tg.march2015.browna]

Topic Guide: Planning for sustainable and inclusive cities in the global South

Published 1 January 2015