With more than half of the global population living in cities, it is critically important that they serve all of their citizens, including the most vulnerable of whom about 1 billion live in slums.  IHC Global believes that urban poverty is corrosive to the overall well-being of a city and works to make cities better for everyone, identifying pathways to increased equality and inclusion.

IHC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit global coalition that gives voice to the most pressing issues standing in the way of shared prosperity and sustainability in cities.  It advances knowledge and awareness of practical policies and programs to address urban challenges and inequities.

The members of IHC Global are a constituency of concerned and action-oriented people, businesses and organizations who understand:

  • That rapid and increasing urbanization is one of the key global challenges in the 21st century;
  • The great opportunities for innovation, productivity, economic growth and quality of life improvements that cities offer their citizens;
  • The many barriers that stand in the way of greater equality; and
  • That much can be accomplished to strengthen cities and make them better places for all by working together, and keeping sight of the “big picture” while focusing on specific, local issues.

Differences and Commonalities

Each city is different with different advantages and challenges.  But each city also has a common responsibility of ensuring that its economic, social, cultural and spatial dimensions embrace everyone.  The numbers and challenges can be daunting.  The successes are encouraging.

Increasing urbanization is inevitable.  Urban poverty is not. 

Growth that supports greater equity and equality is in everyone’s interest

Mission:  To be a leading voice and catalyst for more equitable urban development worldwide

Global Context:  In September 2015, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was adopted at the United Nations, endorsed by 193 countries including the United States.  This ambitious, 17 goal Agenda sets out “. . . a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.  It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom . . .  [and recognizes] that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development”[1]   The 2030 Agenda envisions a global transformation and sees this transformation occurring through partnership and collaboration.

The eleventh of the 17 Global Goals is focused on cities.  Global Goal 11[2] calls for cities to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030.

IHC Global’s Approach:  IHC Global believes the issues with which cities and their residents grapple are universal.  We advocate for inclusiveness stressing the importance of comprehensive planning that takes into account all communities and people and is used actively to drive equitable investment (both government and private sector), guide environmentally sensitive growth and ensure equitable service delivery.  All of these are the ingredients necessary for vibrant communities in inclusive, sustainable cities.

IHC was an advocate for Global Goal 11, prior to its inclusion in the 2030 Agenda.  Committed to supporting its achievement, IHC carries out practically oriented research, education and knowledge sharing among its members and evidence based advocacy of policy change and resource allocation for inclusive urban development.  IHC’s work is focused on six key aspects of urban life that can drive or impede urban equality and equity.

Barriers and Opportunities:  IHC is focusing on important pathways to inclusiveness and economic and environmental sustainability in cities:

  • Clean water and good sanitation which impacts health and productivity of individuals and the environment of cities.
  • Affordable, decent housing (often manifested as slums or informal settlements) which impacts the economic and social well-being of poor families, and the environment, safety and health of the cities.
  • Adaptation strategies for the effects of climate change and the increasing frequency of natural disasters, which disproportionately affect poor families. Such events also affect cities in their entirety through their economic and physical costs and degradation of the environment.
  • Land rights and secure housing, the lack of which is evidenced in proliferation of informal settlements and slums, eviction and displacement. These issues are related to access to housing but are disproportionately problems facing poor families, particularly those headed by women, who not only are relegated to substandard conditions but as a result of insecure and unpredictable tenure also lack stability, safety and opportunity to climb the economic ladder.
  • Social and economic inclusion is often impeded by a city’s spatial, service and policy characteristics as well as its economy. Exclusion is a multi-dimensional concept and impacts the poor, the physically challenged, minority groups, newly-arrived citizens (migrants, whether from the countryside or from other countries fleeing strife or economic deprivation).  It often has a disproportionate negative impact on women.
  • Food and Nutrition deficits impact poor families living in cities worldwide, whether through “food deserts,” inadequate agricultural production to feed fast-growing cities, mal-adapted distribution systems, high costs or some combination.

While specific actions on specific problems are important, it is also important that these not occur in isolation.  A comprehensive vision of the city reflected in a people-oriented spatial and financial plan is important to break down silos that can perpetuate inequality.  Such a plan engages all citizens, incentivizes investment for job creation, provides for more equitable development and service delivery, and addresses sustainability and climate resilience.  Then, such a plan is implemented through and by partnerships with all stakeholders.

IHC Activities:  IHC Global identifies and illuminates the issues, shares information about steps being taken globally and makes available locally actionable information to all its stakeholders.  IHC works through various means, including:

  • Informing its members through regular communications about innovative practice and policies and enabling them to join the conversations and participate;
  • Sharing of practice and experience across communities, cities and countries;
  • Analyzing information and presenting it to policy makers as well as private sector, communities and non-profits so that it is actionable;
  • Keeping its members informed of the global conversations related to Agenda 2030 and the upcoming Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda which will guide future city development;
  • Convening member meetings and policy briefings;
  • Carrying out practice-oriented research designed to find solutions; and
  • Advocacy for inclusive urban development practices and policies.

Some Examples:  Each city has its own unique characteristics.  So, each city must start from where it is.  The examples provided here contain either (1) specific cases with a successful program or (2) policy and principles that can be generalized for application in other places.  Some examples are from IHC members; other examples are in the public domain.

Clean Water and Sanitation:  Social Enterprise

  • In unplanned communities that arise outside of city limits in many developing countries, one of the major issues is garbage control. These settlements are outside the city but exist because the city is there with its employment and services.  Sadly, they do not always benefit from these opportunities.  In the case of garbage control, city services are usually not available but there are successful examples in Africa and Asia where city government agrees with the community to link to city collection and disposal system, with local residents usually working within the framework of a community-based organization, are paid by modest fees from residents to collect and transport waste to city collection sites, thereby benefiting the physical environment as well as the livelihoods of the workers.
  • In Haiti, a small business has stepped in to train and employ unskilled workers to collect recyclable solid waste. It pays the workers a wage for this work and recycles the plastics and other materials for other uses, thereby also earning a return on their investment in sophisticated re-cycling equipment.
  • Affordable, Decent Housing: Inclusive Policies, Varied Approaches and Practical Examples:
  • Through an innovative mandatory inclusionary-zoning law providing a density bonus allowance to builders for providing affordable housing, Montgomery County, Maryland[3] successfully incentivized private investment while encouraging greater economic integration across the county. The program has been modified in various ways since it began in 1976 and has developed over 11,000 units for renters and first-time homebuyers with moderate incomes. Initially, the legislation required that 15% of the total number of dwellings in every subdivision containing 50 or more units be affordable to moderate-income households. The total density of the subdivision could be increased by 20%. A provision gave the County’s public housing authority the right to purchase. Other provisions also provide for sustaining the supply of affordable housing in the county.
  • A recent inclusionary housing policy in New York City[4] promotes economic integration in areas of the City undergoing substantial new residential development by offering an optional floor area bonus in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable housing, on-site or off-site, principally for low-income households. The units may be rental or for sale.
  • In Morocco, the city of Montfleuri [5] successfully integrated outlying informal settlements through a process of mutual compromise, which brought the unplanned settlement into acceptable relation with the planning norms. The process that occurred over a period of 10 years, resulted in the regularization of title in exchange for adherence to agreed urban planning guidelines and plan and installation by the city of infrastructure and other urban improvements in exchange for significant cash and in-kind contribution by residents and private developers.
  • IHC commissioned a study on rental housing as a key element in affordable housing strategies as well as ensuring that people have access to secure places in which to live. The series of four papers provides suggested guidelines for the formulation of a rental housing policy as a component of affordable housing.[6]
  • As described recently in The Atlantic Monthly[7], small towns across the United States are enjoying some unnoticed success in transforming their economies and environments through inclusionary policies, place-based strategies, and other ways. Among the characteristics critical to bringing about such change are a vision for the city, leadership, an identifiable “downtown,” and a shared city narrative among residents.
  • Climate Adaptation Strategies: Sharing of Practice across Country Borders (US and South Africa); Regional Approaches
  • IHC Member ICMA worked with the city of Durban and Fort Lauderdale and Broward County in Southeast Florida on strategies to address shared climate change challenges, such as rising sea levels, storm water management and community engagement. Each learned from each other: The Florida group learned from and signed on to the eco-based climate adaptation system known as the Durban Adaptation Charter (DAC) which contemplates climate adaptation and management fostering communities where people can work and play, businesses will be attracted to invest, and at the same time contribute to strengthening the resilience of the physical environment.  The DAC commits local government signatories to focus 10 principles to reduce on communities’ vulnerability. At the same time, Durban was seeking a more regional approach to building climate resilience and found answers in the Southeast Regional Climate Change Compact that among other things commits to annual progress review based on results measurement.
  • There are many replicable examples of[8] climate adapted investment that have varied benefits. Such examples, as those from Portland, Oregon and Japan described below illustrate how “green” infrastructure investments can help to.
    • Portland changed its reliance mostly on large storage tunnels and pipe systems in favor of investing in what are known as “Green Streets” which retain water runoff. Portland has been recognized as “a leader in using strategies that manage storm-water runoff, enhance community and neighborhood livability, and strengthen the local economy. A street that uses vegetated facilities to manage storm-water runoff at its source is referred to as a Green Street. A Green Street is a sustainable storm-water strategy that meets regulatory compliance and resource protection goals by using a natural systems approach to manage storm-water, reduce flows, improve water quality and enhance watershed health.”[9]  Moreover, the city of Portland is able to demonstrate savings from this strategy by the elimination of the need for more costly systems.
  • In Japan, the Maruyama River Project near Toyooka city, was implemented after severe flooding in 2004 following a deadly typhoon (hurricane) season. The human, economic and environmental effects were made worse by nearby residential development having denuded forests in combination with the characteristics of the river’s short length and steep banks. [10]   The plan for restoration had as a key component the revival of its surrounding wetlands thereby improving the natural habitat of the Oriental white stork and other endangered species, such as the giant salamander, which then attracted greater number of visitors, which in turn helped to revive the local economy.
  • Reducing Vulnerability to Climate Change through Appropriate Building Codes and Regulation: With an estimated 4 million people moving into urban areas every week, the pressure on the built environment in many cities is enormous where construction often cannot keep pace with demand and certainly not with need. The increasing severity of climate related disasters has placed a spotlight on the need for effective and appropriate building codes and land use planning.  For example, the city of Nairobi has grown from 350,000 in the 1960’s to 3.1 million today.  Similar growth characterizes many cities around the globe, and the news of a building collapse or fast-spreading fires killing hundreds of people are common from Bangladesh to India to Kenya to the United States due to inadequate building codes or inspection.  Buildings and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable when subjected to severe weather.  In countries where there is prevalent unplanned urbanization, lack of effective building regulations are major drivers of natural disaster losses, which have more than quadrupled since 1980. Disasters also disproportionately impact the poor, with low- and middle-income countries suffering nearly 90 percent of all disaster-related fatalities since 1990, despite experiencing less than half of the disasters.[11]  Practical steps include land use planning and systemic overhaul of building codes and their systems of oversight and enforcement, as well as drawing lessons for practical tools from post-disaster reconstruction experience in which modest and affordable adjustments in construction methods (e.g., hurricane straps, re-bar for seismic resistance) can dramatically reduce vulnerability and damage.
  • Land Rights and Secure Housing: Original Research,  Joining Voices in Common Advocacy
  • IHC carried out a research study on Gender and Property Rights: A Critical Issue in Urban Economic Development[12] in order to bring to the attention of policy-makers the disparities in women’s ability to hold land title and acquire adequate housing and to recommend areas where policies should focus.  This study reported on the positive impact of secure tenure on investment in housing as well as its contribution to the overall local economy, with the accompanying increased motivation to save, increased consumer spending for house-related purposes, and better environmental and community planning.  Secure tenure gives the residents the confidence to invest.
  • IHC joins many others who see security of tenure and availability of land as a key to greater equity in cities. Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), one of IHC’s founding sponsors, has launched an advocacy campaign, “Solid Ground,” which IHC has joined as a partner in order to amplify the voices being raised on this vital issue.  The campaign is being carried out globally as well as in specific countries where HFHI local affiliates are located.
  • Social and Economic Inclusion: Positive City-level examples,  Global Campaign of Mayors, Research Dissemination 
  • The example of Medellin, Colombia provides an effective example of a city that has found physical and social means to draw the residents of informal settlements on the surrounding hills (mostly poor people) into the life of the city. They have done so by extending a network of transportation to the settlements, together with social and economic services and community engagement.  Art and cultural activities and investments have also been made, as has a significant investment in sustainability.  The strategy enables a mixing of the city in a way not previously possible, including importantly greater accessibility of employment in the formal sector.[13]  To reinforce the sense of inclusion – that the city belongs to everyone – Medellin also shares a narrative that focuses upon the net gains that accrue based on the fostering of bio-diversity through their inclusionary policies. 
  • Social cohesion (includes diversity and migration): Evidence from the US, suggests that migration does not negatively impact social cohesion, but evidence from the UK and Europe reflects a more mixed outcome.[14]  Social cohesion is affected by communities living in isolation from each other within the physical space of the cities for reasons of ethnicity and income.  Social inclusion requires multi-dimensional strategies and although education (including language) and employment are two important tools for inclusion which have been emphasized in Britain, they have been found to be an insufficient response. 
  • The recently launched (April 2016) New York Proposal for Inclusive Growth of Cities is supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Ford Foundation, is championed by mayors from 43 cities across the globe, ranging from Ashaiman, Ghana; Athens, Greece; Merida, Mexico; Los Angeles, California; to Santa Fe, New Mexico; Seoul, South Korea; to Stockholm, Sweden; Warsaw, Poland and Yokohama, Japan. These mayors have embraced a set of principles that support inclusiveness emphasizing greater income equality.  The principles include: 
  • Education systems that enable people of all ages and backgrounds to improve their life chances.
  • Labor markets that promote entrepreneurship, access to quality jobs, and policies that make the most of women, youth, retirees, and foreign-born populations in the workforce.
  • Housing markets and urban environments that provide quality, affordable housing, in safe and healthy neighborhoods and avoid trapping people in segregated areas with few or no opportunities.
  • Transport networks that provide access to jobs, services and consumption opportunities for all, as well as affordable and reliable public services, such as water, energy, waste management and high speed internet.[15]

Their aim is to shape the policy roadmap to foster inclusive growth in cities and to provide tools that will help cities achieve inclusive growth.  As these emerge, IHC will analyze, convene discussions, and share with members and others.

  • Hunger and Nutrition:  Policy Research Dissemination,  Practical Examples
  • Historically thought of as a rural problem and also a developing country problem, food security has increasingly become an important element for cities and urban residents around the world. Food security is premised on the accessibility, availability, adequacy and acceptability of food.  The rapid growth of urban populations, the uneven accessibility of food, the challenges of the food supply chain to meet the changing nature of demand, and the commodification of agri-food industry are all reasons why urban food security is a crucial issue.[16]  Solutions range from urban agriculture to local food systems to food banks to encouraging food distribution (e.g., supermarket locations) throughout the city.
  • In Africa, some success has been found in peri-urban vegetable growing. The agriculture is aimed both for the local markets as well as to supplement nutrition of the growers.
  • Practical steps in increasing food security include:
    • ensuring at the national level that there is an urban dimension in food security planning;
    • increasing the supply of nutritious foods from local producers in both rural and peri-urban areas by sending the right market signals to rural farmers
    • Improving distribution networks from farm to urban market
    • Including food distribution points (supermarkets, markets, food pantries) in planning systems.

[1] “Transforming our World:  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,”  United Nations:  New York, 2015,

  1. 3.. Also, A/Res/70/1. www.sustainabledevelopment.un.org

[2] The Global Goals are sometimes also referred to as SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

[3] http://montgomerycountymd.gov

[4] http://nyc.gov/site/planning/zoning

[5] Judith Hermanson, Montfleuri: A Case Of Accommodation Between The Informal & Formal Sectors In Urban Development, Cooperative Housing Foundation, for U.S. Agency for International Development, August 6, 1990.

[6][6] Ira Peppercorn, “Rental Housing,” IHC, Washington, DC, 2015.  www.intlhc.org

[7] James Fallows, “How America is Putting Itself Back Together Again,” The Atlantic Monthly, March 2016.  Also, http://www.TheAtlantic.com

[8] www.worldbank.org

[9] https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes

[10] M. Takezawa, et. al., “Restoration Projects And Mitigation Of Post-Flood Hazards – A Case Study On The

Maruyama River In Japan, WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, Vol 118, © 2008 WIT Press.  Also, www.witpress.com, ISSN 1743-3541 (on-line)

[11]World Bank, “Building Regulation for Resilience,” Washington, DC.  Also at www.gfdrr.org

[12] Carol Rabenhorst, et. al., IHC, Washington, D.C., July 2011.

[13] www.medellin.gov

[14] Nelli Demivera, “Immigration, Diversity and Social Cohesion,” The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, July 2015.  Also at http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk  Note:  This research pre-dates the recent phenomenon of migration to Europe, mostly from migrants transiting through Turkey, but originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and various countries West Africa.

[15] New York Proposal for Inclusive Growth in Cities, Campaign and Roadmap for Action.  http://www.oecd.org/inclusivegrowth

[16] Mustafa Koc, et. al., eds., For Hunger-Proof Cities:  Sustainable Urban Food Systems, International Development Research Center, Ottawa, Canada, 1999.  Also at https://books.google.com