The Challenge of an Urban World: An Opportunity for U.S. Foreign Assistance

Resource Library | Author Raymond J. Struyk and Stephen Giddings | Date September 2009

The urban age is upon us. For the first time in history, more people now live in cities than in the countryside. Virtually all world population growth for at least the next fifty years will be in cities, and the cities of the developing world will absorb most of this increase. This phenomenon should be viewed positively because there is general agreement that urbanization is fundamental to sustained national economic growth — indeed no country has achieved higher income status without greater urbanization. However, rapid urbanization is often an overwhelming management and financial challenge for developing country governments. The increasingly concentrated poverty in urban slums is a consequence of urbanization. One billion people now live in slums in the developing world and that number is sure to increase. The promise and challenges of 21st century urbanization combine to offer an unprecedented opportunity to leverage U.S. foreign assistance in order to alleviate poverty and generate economic growth. To do so adequately, the U.S. will need a better foreign assistance structure with an increased urban development focus. Urban programs are a proven, effective, and efficient use of limited foreign assistance resources.