Seven Transformations for More Equitable and Sustainable Cities

Image: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Image: WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

World Resources Report

Chapter 6

Infrastructure Design and Delivery – Prioritizing the Vulnerable

Municipal infrastructure must be designed and delivered to prioritize neglected populations, address backlogs, minimize carbon lock-in, and anticipate future risks. Public infrastructure for housing, water, sanitation, transport, and energy has long fallen short of meeting the needs of the majority of urban populations in the struggling and emerging cities of the global South. Cities have a huge opportunity to build this infrastructure differently to not only improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable but also respond to threats that are exacerbating inequalities, such as climate change.


6.1 What Must Change and Why

Infrastructure design and service delivery fall short, leaving many under-served

Urban infrastructure design and development have long ignored the stark reality that unprecedented numbers of people are crowding into informal settlements devoid of basic services or moving to the disconnected urban periphery. This has trapped many urban dwellers in places where their most fundamental needs are not being met. Coverage is inadequate, service is often poor and costs prohibitively high, and investments are skewed to benefit more well-off populations. Without purposeful change, the fast-growing cities of the global South will find it increasingly difficult to escape this trajectory. They risk continuing to expand in ways that embed poverty and inequality and harm all residents’ quality of life.

The gulf between what is needed and what typically happens stretches across all sectors. In transport, the majority of urban residents in the global South rely on walking, cycling, and public and informal transport; yet practically everywhere, transport infrastructure, plans, and policies have favored private vehicle users.195 Upwards of 95 percent of road space is typically allocated to cars and trucks (including on-street parking).196 More and more private vehicles are clogging streets—with few, if any, controls—and disproportionate investment in constructing additional roads and highways serves the needs of the vehicle-owning classes, not the poor.197 As a result, formal public transport is deficient or nonexistent, and planning often excludes or neglects the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Similarly, making electricity available, reliable, and affordable remains a vexing and overlooked urban problem in much of the global South. In recent years, millions of people have gained access to electricity; yet in low-income countries, the average levels of access to electricity in urban areas hovered around 70 percent in 2018. Less than half the urban population in countries such as Sierra Leone, Chad, Liberia, and Niger had access.198 National-level data on energy access masks much worse conditions in individual cities and the fact that infrastructure is inefficient and electricity supply is often unreliable. Power outages are common, occurring as often as 25 times per month in South Asian cities and every day in African cities.199 Outages burden informal enterprises and settlements the most. Unreliable electricity supplies force businesses and critical facilities with grid connections, such as hospitals and schools, to use dirty and expensive diesel generators to supplement their power. Likewise, billions of people around the world continue to cook with polluting solid fuels.200

Levels of access to piped city water and sewer systems vary widely across regions of the global South. Primary surveys conducted for the Towards a More Equal City series in 15 cities found that, on average, 58 percent of households had access to piped water citywide, and 46 percent had access to public sewer systems. These access levels fall dramatically to about half the citywide average in an informal settlement in the same cities.201 In the 15 cities studied, almost two-thirds of sewage and human waste are unsafely managed. This problem is most acute in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.202 Even where safer sanitation infrastructure exists in these regions, the up-front costs of installing or connecting to it are often unaffordable for many households.

In some cases, privatizing these public goods in an effort to attract investment and shore up failing infrastructure has made matters worse. It has led to institutional structures, plans, and policies that routinely leave low-income households behind with no consideration of what they can actually afford to pay (further discussed in Transformation 5). For instance, alternative informal or private water services cost 18 times more in Cebu, Philippines, and 13 times more in Maputo, Mozambique, than publicly provided water, and safely emptying a pit latrine in Kampala can cost as much as 8 percent of an average household’s income, incentivizing many to dump directly into drainage channels or rivers instead. Market-based approaches often allow private companies to decide which neighborhoods to serve and which are too risky to recover costs. This explains why they rarely cover low-income areas and informal settlements.

Another reason for exclusionary water and sanitation policies is the legacy of colonialism. This is particularly acute in African cities, where transport, water, and sanitation systems that exist today were introduced during colonial regimes. Coverage was limited to majority-white neighborhoods and excluded the large majority of Africans in surrounding neighborhoods.203 For example, in cities such as Johannesburg, racial inequities in municipal water and sanitation service charges, financing, and levels of investments are well documented.204

In some cases, the lack of coverage is intentional. Manipulating essential services such as water for temporary, short-term political gain is common in cities across Africa and South Asia.205 In one case, parliament members seeking votes in an informal settlement in Cairo, Egypt promised to provide residents with running water. After the election, the city did install water lines, but it failed to ensure that water ran into them, leaving residents in a limbo of having formal access but without available water.206 Politicians also fear that extending services to neighborhoods without tenure security would bolster claims that tenants have a right to be on the land. Often urban residents in informal settlements have no formal proof that they own their property. Thus, utilities deny them basic services as well, compounding their woes. For instance, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, received a large loan from the World Bank to expand its sewer network, yet the utility would only extend sewer lines to households with documents proving land tenure, such as ownership or lease agreements. With almost half the city being tenure insecure, most households were left unsafely disposing of human waste instead.207

The affordable housing gap is growing

By 2025, the affordable housing gap will affect 1.6 billion people.208 The rising number of people who lack adequate, secure, and affordable shelter demonstrates that existing housing and past policies have been insufficient. As informal settlements have proliferated, cities have often implemented harmful policy approaches, such as slum clearing or relocation to isolated areas. Cities have historically tried to become “slum free” by pushing out slum dwellers and obliterating their communities. Government policies towards informal settlements have evolved over time, and some have ended this practice.

Cities, however, still show a strong bias towards supply-driven, large-scale housing development that caters to higher-income populations. It is clear that this does not work.209 It has failed to provide the quantity and quality of housing needed to adequately shelter and service low-income residents. The application procedures for housing often exclude the poorest, who do not meet income requirements, lack required documentation, or may be the wrong gender to qualify.210 Many countries have national policies and subsidies that continue to incentivize mass private sector housing development. Examples include Angola’s My Dream, My Home program; Brazil’s My House, My Life (Minha Casa, Minha Vida); and Ethiopia’s Integrated Housing Development Program.

Even incentives for building affordable housing can misfire, especially if they focus on the price of land and housing, not on the cost—both personal and economic—of commuting long distances to work. Subsidies for housing construction in South Africa and Chile spurred public housing construction in the periphery of cities such as Johannesburg and Santiago, but they discouraged building closer in because they did not cover the expenses of building at higher densities.211 In cities such as Cape Town, South Africa, and Mexico City, formally built, government-subsidized housing in distant, unserviced locations has created higher costs for households. Ambitious quantitative targets for social housing that are insensitive to location have been an important driver of unserviced urban expansion and have created a mismatch between where houses are built, where people want to live, and where services are available.

Governments have also overemphasized homeownership, which is simply not an option for the very poor or those who cannot qualify for mortgages or subsidies and lack access to credit.212 Subsidies benefit people with regular, documented incomes, not the under-served or those who work in informal markets. The overemphasis on ownership also causes other policies to go unconsidered, ones that might promote more housing at all price levels that better meets the needs of the poor.213 People who cannot afford a home or need more flexible housing should have other options, but rental housing is often scarce, especially in the formal housing market, which tends to focus on individual private homes for the highest income brackets.214

Although lawmakers in some countries voice support for the right to adequate housing, governments lack the resources, capacity, or political will to meet this glaring need. The problem can be especially severe for ethnic minorities, women, or those without a legal address. Women in many countries face severe discrimination and high barriers when it comes to access to housing and property rights. Laws may bar them from acquiring and owning a house, plot, or flat, and/or getting a loan to build, extend, or improve their housing. Their rights are often inextricably linked to male family members and marital status. All of these barriers rob poor and marginalized people of the chance to live in decent housing near jobs and other opportunities.

Carbon lock-in and vulnerabilities to climate hazards have reached dangerous levels

Global energy use is expected to shoot up by roughly 50 percent by 2050.215 The vast majority of this new demand will come from rapidly urbanizing countries, especially in Asia. Urban areas are already responsible for the majority of global final energy use and the associated GHG emissions. For now, GHG emissions from cities in the global South remain far lower than in the global North, but in terms of absolute emissions, the picture is rapidly changing. In 2010, China and developing Africa, Asia, India, and Latin America contributed to about one-quarter of total urban CO2 emissions from the core sectors of buildings, transport, and waste disposal.216 In a business-as-usual scenario, their share of these emissions would more than double to about 56 percent by 2050 (see Figure 16). Business as usual would be catastrophic for human health, the environment, and the planet. For today’s rapidly urbanizing nations, following the global North’s fossil fuel–intensive model of development is not tenable. The risks this would pose are too great (see Chapter 2). Because the life cycle of built infrastructure spans decades, national and local governments must make decisions now about how to build the infrastructure they need without locking in inefficient, carbon-intensive urban development.

Figure 16 | Steep increase expected in CO2 emissions in developing regions will drive pollution, energy insecurity, and climate risks

Note: CO2 = carbon dioxide.

Source: Westphal et al. (2017), based on Erickson and Tempest (2014).

Climate change will put people and urban infrastructure in greater jeopardy, and today’s development patterns are making rapidly growing cities more and more vulnerable. Often decision-makers are turning a blind eye.217 The dangers loom larger every year. Poorly constructed shelters succumb to heat stress. Droughts deplete drinking water. Floods and sea level rise engulf low-lying areas crowded with informal settlements. Recent research shows that a 2°C increase in global temperature in 2050 will expose 2.7 billion people, or 29 percent of the global population, to moderate or high climate-related risks, with 91 to 98 percent of the exposed and vulnerable population living in Asia and Africa.218

Sea level rise and storm surges alone could cost coastal cities $1 trillion each year by midcentury, affecting more than 800 million people.219 The hardest hit will be populations with little or no access to core urban services, secure jobs, emergency reserves, or credit.220 Migrants and people without tenure security, who are crowded into risk-prone informal settlements, may be especially vulnerable. These impacts not only threaten physical infrastructure and people’s livelihoods but also the social networks that foster resilience and quality of life, especially for those living in poverty.

Failing to address backlogs, meet current needs, and plan for looming challenges will have grave consequences. City decision-makers will need to prioritize solutions that can both address the backlog and safeguard infrastructure, especially for the urban under-served.

6.2 Priority Actions

A. Design, improve, and maintain municipal infrastructure to ensure access to services for the under-served

Targeting improvements in quality, coverage, and affordability of municipal services to meet the needs of the under-served can act as a positive multiplier, catalyzing broader changes and cascading benefits.

Our research on each urban sector highlights a number of infrastructure design and delivery recommendations that can bridge the urban services divide. These are discussed below.

In pursuing sectoral priorities, cities that work across sectors in an integrated manner can do more with scarce resources, avoid costly mistakes, and harness synergies across different sectors to deliver services in a more efficient, inclusive way.221 Cross-sectoral collaboration across agencies and integrated planning can help generate the cascading benefits we described earlier. (This is discussed further under Transformation 7.) For instance, investing in improved sanitation services for the under-served can result in citywide improvements in water quality. Planning housing or public transit in a way that reduces commute times for low-income residents can improve productivity, health and safety, and business opportunities. Building on a solid set of sectoral priorities while reaching across silos to address related challenges has helped cities do more with less resources.

Figure 17 | Priority actions for the transport sector

Source: Venter et al., 2019.


Cities can design safe streets that put the needs of those who walk, cycle, and use public transport before the needs of private vehicles. In São Paulo, when streets were redesigned citywide to accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic and cycling around major intersections, traffic fatalities dropped by almost 32 percent and injuries from crashes fell by 33 percent in just two years (between 2014 and 2016).222 Cities can also develop an integrated network of multimodal transport services with public transport as the backbone. Medellín showed how investing in multimodal public transport services, including cable cars, can tame congestion and connect poor, peripheral, or hillside communities with jobs in the city center. This cut one-way commute times by as much as three-quarters. For some, commutes fell from two hours to just 30 minutes.223 Similarly, in Bolivia, public cable cars reduced travel time between La Paz and El Alto by 22 percent.224 For these efforts to bear fruit, cities must manage the demand for private vehicles. Latin American cities, including Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City; and São Paulo, have discouraged private vehicles and incentivized switching to public, shared, and active transport. A wider selection of examples can be found in the thematic paper on urban mobility.225 Figure 17 highlights interventions in the transport sector that can increase access to jobs and other opportunities for the under-served while increasing productivity and reducing emissions citywide.

Figure 18 | Priority actions for the energy sector

Note: LPG = liquefied petroleum gas; PV = photovoltaic.

Source: Westphal et al., 2017.


Cities can accelerate the shift to cleaner cooking through the use of modern cooking fuels, such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), electricity, biogas, and ethanol. This could save over 550,000 lives lost due to indoor air pollution in urban areas and dramatically improve the health of the urban poor.226 Cities can also scale up distributed renewable energy solutions such as solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to improve energy access while transitioning to a cleaner future. In 2015 the city of Cape Town introduced a net-metering scheme that allows residents and businesses to install rooftop solar PV systems to save power and sell any surplus energy they generate to the municipal grid system.227 The cities of Bengaluru and Delhi in India have done the same to encourage the adoption of solar PV since 2014.228

Options that support the under-served to access solar power include flexible pay-as-you-go (PAYG) models, which alleviate high up-front costs, and community-shared solar, which is a business model that allows people to pool their resources and jointly purchase PV systems. These promising approaches are also key for providing more reliable power to home-based enterprises in informal settlements. As such, affordable and reliable solutions for clean energy access will not only curb air pollution and carbon emissions but also increase opportunities and productivity. Lastly, cities can develop and enforce building codes and appliance standards to increase energy efficiency and help reduce energy costs significantly for the under-served. This brings the additional benefits of improved comfort, health, and resilience to heat waves and other climate impacts. The thematic paper on urban energy access includes numerous examples of these strategies.229 Figure 18 highlights actions in the energy sector to ensure access to affordable, reliable, and clean energy for the under-served while generating cost savings, health benefits, higher productivity, and reduced emissions.

Water and Sanitation

Cities can improve access to good-quality water and sanitation by eventually extending the formal piped water and sewer networks to serve all residents. Many scholars agree that in the long term, the most equitable solution is universal provision, overseen by the state.230 In the meantime, cities can use safe technical solutions for intermittent water supply and on-site sanitation in water-insecure areas, which are discussed in detail in the thematic papers on water and sanitation.231 They should prioritize the affordability of good-quality urban water access and safely managed sanitation services for low-income households, for which strategies such as targeted subsidies and flexible payment arrangements have been used. Our research in 15 cities showed that piped utility water was the most affordable option for low-income residents in cities. The cheaper alternatives—obtaining “free” water from often polluted natural sources and illegally dumping human waste—endanger public health. When considering network extensions, city decision-makers should prioritize the most under-served, water-insecure communities.

Colombo has done this. Pro-poor policy commitments made during the 1970s fueled the creation of the Samurdhi Program, which designates and targets improvements to under-served settlements. Today, although almost half of Colombo is made up of informal settlements, 98 percent of the city has access to piped water.232 Therefore, rather than collecting water from public taps, more households are getting water piped into their homes, improving health and saving time. Upgrading informal settlements in place—when it is safe to do so—is a key way to improve water and sanitation services.

Local conditions can make extending the public water and sewer networks everywhere a challenge. Existing policies that exclude informal settlements and tenants may limit what utilities can do. Settlements clustered on hillsides or lowland areas with high water tables can make installing underground pipes or septic tanks difficult or unrealistic. Thus, some neighborhoods in cities in the global South will need off-grid alternative or complementary solutions (discussed in Transformation 2). Interventions in all sectors must be driven by the goal of increasing access to good-quality services and affordability for low-income households. A wider selection of examples can be found in the thematic papers on water and sanitation.233 Figures 19 and 20 highlight interventions to improve access to good-quality, affordable urban water and sanitation services for the under-served, with significant economic, environmental, and health benefits at the household and city level.

Figure 19 | Priority actions for the water sector

Source: Habtemariam et al., 2021; Mitlin et al., 2019.

Figure 20 | Priority actions for the sanitation sector

Notes: NGO = nongovernmental organization; Simplified sewer is a network or a line of sewers that is constructed using smaller pipes, at a shallower depth, and sometimes at a flatter gradient than conventional sewers.

Source: Satterthwaite et al., 2019.

B. Develop well-serviced, affordable housing in accessible locations

Good-quality, well-serviced housing near employment is key to connecting workers to jobs, attracting investment, and stimulating economic development. A home is the physical space where most of these services come together.

Cities can improve housing options for under-served urban dwellers by upgrading informal settlements. Evidence shows that in situ upgrading is preferable to relocation, except when people need to move for their own safety or to serve an overwhelming public need.234 Upgrading housing in partnership with slum communities helps city leaders harness the typically untapped skills and experiences of these communities, increasing economic productivity, quality of life, and political agency. Adequate measures should be taken to ensure that beneficiaries are neither displaced nor priced out by gentrification.

Cities such as Nairobi and Windhoek are working with community groups to upgrade informal settlements. They are changing land-use regulations to increase infrastructure quality and access and allow for incremental building over time, which is often legally forbidden despite the reality that this construction is happening anyway.235 Bangkok partnered with community groups and NGOs led by the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI) to upgrade informal settlements through the Baan Mankong program, creating a model that has scaled up to over 215 cities in 19 Asian countries (see Figure 21). These community-led shelter services and community upgrades tapped into local knowledge, energy, and priorities while combining with government funds and approvals to serve as an innovative model throughout the region.236

Figure 21 | Community-led slum upgrading efforts in Bangkok have produced well-serviced, affordable housing at scale

A slum settlement in Charoenchai Nimitmai, Bangkok, before and after upgrading efforts that were led by Baan Mankong.

Photo credit: Asian Coalition for Housing Rights.

Figure 22 | Priority actions for the housing sector

Source: King et al., 2017.

In Mukuru, a slum area home to more than 100,000 people, the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, the Nairobi Metropolitan Service, and a coalition of community-based stakeholders are implementing an integrated planning approach to slum upgrading.237 Such integrated approaches deliver better and more sustainable upgrading rather than disjointed efforts where previous progress is undone when the next sector’s improvements occur. Indonesian cities such as Jakarta and Surabaya upgraded traditional housing via the Kampung Improvement Program over the last 50 years.238 Residents in Sanjay Nagar in Ahmednagar (Maharashtra, India) used government funds to design their own housing, working with local foundations and experts rather than relying on developer-led redevelopment, creating more practical and attractive options.239 In Buenos Aires, Argentina, residents in some of the villas, or informal settlements, have worked in their communities, sometimes with the city government, universities, and NGOs, to improve their settlements.240 Community participation has also been a key element of Medellín’s application of the national Comprehensive Neighborhood Improvement Program (Programa Mejoramiento Integral de Barrios), which enabled the city to improve housing and services, spur new construction, and recuperate public and green spaces.241 Figure 22 highlights strategies to ensure access to secure, well-serviced, and affordable housing for under-served and vulnerable groups, which is key to their prosperity and well-being as well as to a healthy urban environment.

Voices: David Satterthwaite on the benefits of upgrading informal settlements

Yet to meet everyone’s needs, cities need to provide a spectrum of housing options. The types of buildings, the services they offer, how they are financed, and who owns them can vary widely (see Figure 23).242 Supporting a range of rental possibilities in both informal and formal markets would reduce the financial and legal bias towards ownership. Cities can make rental housing more affordable and available for tenants of different income levels by creating formal rental policies, improving legal frameworks to tenants’ and landlords’ rights, avoiding financial biases that exclusively incentivize homeownership, and providing well-structured supply- and demand-side subsidies for renting. Rental housing possibilities include lump-sum rentals, rent-to-own mechanisms, and cooperative housing. In many Asian countries, including India, Korea, and Thailand, lump-sum rentals provide discounts to tenants who pay for one or more years in advance.243 Rent-to-own initiatives are increasing housing security for low-income households with limited access to credit in Chandigarh, India; Lagos; the province of Antioquia in Colombia; and throughout Chile and Nicaragua.244 The government of Egypt incentivizes housing cooperatives through loan subsidies and lower interest rates.245

Figure 23 | People in cities rely on a spectrum of housing options to meet shelter needs

Note: All types of housing conditions can range from short to long term. Although not represented in the diagram, homelessness is an important issue in some cities in the global South. The dotted line indicates the variability of this characteristic across cities.

Source: King et al., 2017.

Finally, spatial and economic development must be integrated to help distribute housing near employment centers and ensure good access to jobs. Location must be a key consideration in social housing policies, balancing affordability with livable density. Converting under-utilized urban land to affordable housing is an effective way to strike this balance. Close-in, affordable housing can head off urban sprawl in hard-to-service, risk-prone, and ecologically sensitive areas and reduce the cost of connecting homes to infrastructure. Linking investment in social housing and public transport can cut down on congestion and pollution, boost productivity, and improve people’s quality of life by reducing the time and money they spend trying to get around.

C. Adopt a new trajectory with low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure

Struggling and emerging cities can chart a new model of development that limits carbon emissions and enhances climate resilience. Although these cities need support on capacity and financing, many proven technical and locally relevant solutions exist. They will need to invest differently in core urban infrastructure for water, sanitation, and drainage. New technologies and strategies make it possible to save money, improve people’s quality of life, and avoid mistakes that have warmed the planet and polluted the environment.

This can be done by accelerating a shift to cleaner cooking, saving money over the long run with more energy-efficient buildings and appliances, and incentivizing energy conservation. Reliable and affordable clean energy offers under-served urban dwellers an alternative to burning diesel and kerosene, which are dirty and expensive but are currently relied on in cities across the global South. Evidence shows that fuel switching and more energy-efficient building could potentially slash GHG emissions in cities by more than 60 percent by 2050.246 Energy efficiency measures can cut energy use by 50 to 90 percent in new buildings and 50 to 75 percent in existing buildings.247 They save on energy costs, reduce the need for new power plants, and provide the greatest potential to reduce GHG emissions. Combining efficient buildings with a greener energy supply generates even more benefits.

As cities grow, incentives and investment for clean energy at scale can produce significant environmental and economic benefits. For example, Brazil encouraged households to shift from cooking and heating with dirty solid fuels such as firewood and charcoal to LPG or natural gas, which are cleaner alternatives. It created a national infrastructure and retail market for LPG production and distribution and provided subsidies to keep it affordable. In the 1960s, only 18 percent of Brazilian households had access to LPG, but by 2010, 100 percent of urban households did.248 Ecuador has taken this policy a step further. Spurred by the fact that the country relies on imported LPG for 80 percent of its consumption and spends $700 million a year on subsidies,249 the government is embarking on a campaign to urge citizens to switch from gas to electric induction stoves. The government is offering long-term, low-interest loans for purchasing electric stoves and installation kits and 80 free kilowatt-hours of electricity per month.

Better public and active transport infrastructure can both cut carbon emissions and improve resilience.250 Researchers estimate that investing in mass transit and active transport infrastructure could potentially reduce GHG intensity in the transport sector by 20 to 50 percent by 2050, below a 2010 baseline.251 Another study describes how a transition to clean transport would avert 86,000 deaths caused by air pollution and generate $76 to $224 billion in economic benefits.252 With a focus on the under-served, city decision-makers can ensure that these benefits reach those most in need. For example, they can connect low-income urban dwellers—who increasingly live in minority- and female-headed households—to better jobs while improving the air quality of neighborhoods most exposed to pollution.

Cities will need to fortify themselves against climate impacts such as increased flooding, water scarcity, and heat waves.253 City decision-makers should construct new buildings and infrastructure to withstand projected climate impacts and must retrofit existing infrastructure for this purpose. More climate-informed infrastructure planning and capital investments can lead to more innovative thinking around what can be done differently in the infrastructure cycle. Protecting built assets from extreme storms, flooding, and heat will reduce maintenance costs, safeguard users and tenants, and increase building and infrastructure lifetimes. In South Africa, for example, Durban is upgrading infrastructure in physically and socially vulnerable areas, such as flood-prone slums, and focusing on watershed restoration. Restoring ecosystems that cities depend on for their water supply improves both quality and quantity, leading to less downstream costs for water treatment.254

When longer-term environmental and social benefits, as well as economic gains and avoided losses, are taken into consideration, the benefits of climate-resilient investments in infrastructure outweigh costs by 4:1.255 In coastal cities, for instance, studies found that the annual cost of global adaptation is one-tenth the total cost of no action.256 These steps are not easy, but they offer major payoffs in future losses avoided, greater economic returns, lower infrastructure maintenance costs, and longer building and infrastructure lifetimes. Table 2 lists the actions and roles required of different actors to move Transformation 1 forward.

Table 2 | Roles of specific actors in advancing Transformation 1: Infrastructure Design and Delivery

Infrastructure Design and Delivery—Prioritizing the Vulnerable, by Sector

City Government and Urban Sector Specialists


  • Build complete and safe street networks
    • Complete street networks to improve accessibility for all in the city
    • Democratize streets by prioritizing road space for modes used by the majority—walking, cycling, and public transport
    • Improve pedestrian safety and security
  • Develop an ecosystem of integrated, user-oriented transport services
    • Connect existing services into an integrated multimodal network combining public, private, informal, and active (nonmotorized) transport modes
    • Prioritize investment in affordable public transport to improve citywide access for the under-served
    • Proactively upgrade and integrate informal operators
    • Harness technology to improve productivity and user experience
  • Manage the demand for private vehicle use
    • Discourage private vehicle use in dense city cores
    • Price car use and parking to account for true social costs of driving
    • Promote shared mobility solutions
    • Ensure new development is well connected to economic opportunities by public transport


  • Accelerate the shift to cleaner cooking
    • Move away from solid fuels to cleaner liquefied petroleum gas, electricity, biogas, and ethanol to reduce indoor pollution
    • Promote the use of low-emissions, efficient cookstoves for solid fuels
  • Scale up renewable energy
    • Encourage the use of distributed renewable energy such as solar PV, providing affordable, reliable clean energy access to the under-served
  • Increase the energy efficiency of buildings and appliances
    • Develop and enforce energy-efficient building codes and appliance standards to save energy costs and reduce citywide emissions


  • Extend formal piped water network to improve access
    • Increase piped water connections to the home or plot, where feasible, considering access gaps and climate risks as part of infrastructure planning
    • In the short and medium term, provide water standpipes and kiosks located close to homes for those who do not have access to piped water
    • Diversify water supply sources, conserve natural water resources, and integrate climate risk information into planning and design of resilient water supply systems
  • Address context-specific causes of intermittent water service
    • Increase universal use of water meters, improve billing systems, and use technology to detect leaks
    • Improve regular infrastructure maintenance to reduce leaks, manage demand with growth, and plan for climate risks such as flooding
  • Pursue diverse strategies to make water affordable, with special consideration for low-income consumers
    • Increase affordable water connections
    • Implement strategies to make monthly water service affordable (including subsidized water, cross-subsidies, “free basic water,” incremental block tariffs, and spatially targeted subsidies)
    • Promote flexible payment arrangements for water and water connections
  • Support informal settlement upgrading in locations with low climate risk to improve water access to the urban under-served


  • Extend the sewer and simplified sewer networks to household, communal, and public toilets, with a focus on densely populated urban areas and where residents live in multistoried buildings
  • In the absence of sewer systems, support and regulate on-site sanitation
    • Shift the cost, responsibility, and associated risk for on-site sanitation systems away from households and private providers to the public sector
    • Build capacity to regulate and enforce safe fecal sludge management at every step along the sanitation service chain
  • Take a citywide approach to upgrading informal settlements and include access to sanitation services
    • Coordinate between citywide sanitation initiatives and locally determined sanitation practices
    • Cities, community organizations, NGOs, and federations should work together to improve sanitation access, particularly for low-income households
    • Ensure availability and regular maintenance of stormwater drains in flood-prone locations
  • Make sanitation services affordable for low-income households
    • Subsidize household capital costs of sanitation facilities and provide affordable communal toilet blocks and public toilets
    • Subsidize the cost of household sewer connections and connections to communal and public toilets
    • Subsidize the costs of safe on-site sanitation management
    • Ensure water is affordable for households


  • Upgrade informal settlements in situ when located in low-risk, climate-secure locations
    • In situ upgrading is preferred over relocation programs, except where there are location-based risks
    • Utilize upgrading programs to finance services, amenities, and security of occupancy rights, beyond merely shelter improvement
    • Ensure programs are comprehensive, participatory, and financially sustainable
  • Support rental housing markets
    • Improve legal frameworks
    • Avoid financial biases against renting
    • Provide well-structured subsidies
  • Convert under-utilized urban land to affordable housing in accessible, well-serviced locations
    • Establish realistic regulations and standards, allowing for incremental housing improvements and construction as well as community ownership
    • Create straightforward, easy-to-understand processes and zoning rules
    • Tax under-utilized land and buildings, and provide incentives for production/conversion to affordable housing

National Government

  • Establish policy frameworks to support service provision for under-served communities, such as national frameworks for informal settlement upgrading and national frameworks for land regulations and integrated urban planning
  • Establish pro-poor regulations and provide incentives to encourage and enable utilities to extend service provision and maintain infrastructure
  • Enable the participation of local communities, especially from the under-served, peri-urban, and/or smaller towns, in infrastructure planning, design, and delivery; this is particularly relevant for issues and strategies that extend beyond the administrative boundaries of the city
  • Collect independent information about services and charges to better understand the realities of service provision (e.g., the utility’s service area, associated risks and vulnerabilities, detailed socioeconomic and spatial data)
  • Raise commitments and investments for low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure, recognizing the role of community and local knowledge; integrate these investments into national and regional climate adaptation and mitigation plans
  • Monitor and report on progress for equitable service provision as part of national and global goals (e.g., Sustainable Development Goals); involve community groups or civil society organizations in monitoring, evaluation, and learning programs (e.g., water watch groups)

Civil Society, including Nongovernmental Organizations, Experts, and Researchers

  • Work with the public sector to upgrade informal settlements and improve access to affordable and reliable services; ensure that strategies and solutions are locally determined and appropriate
  • Support strong community-based coalitions to build political and social capital, establish government partnerships, and organize with other social movements
  • Harness community-based knowledge and experience to guide decisions around infrastructure plans, service provision, and locally relevant strategies for climate-smart infrastructure and climate resilience
  • Bring forth issues of representation of marginalized communities in multiple stakeholder engagement platforms and other decision-making forums

Private Sector

  • Work with the public sector and communities to provide safe, reliable, and affordable services, especially for the under-served, in areas outside of formal networks and vulnerable to climate impacts
  • Support and build on existing, localized innovations for delivering services in an affordable and sustainable way (e.g., rooftop solar, rainwater harvesting, mobile payments for water)
  • Consider large but under-served housing market segments, engaging with the public sector and financial institutions to structure and undertake workable projects
  • Invest in low carbon, climate-resilient urban services infrastructure and affordable housing in well-serviced, accessible locations

International Community, including Development Finance Institutions

  • Support funding schemes that target improved service access for the urban poor, considering local needs
  • Articulate equity and justice criteria within multilateral arrangements, projects, and financial documents, considering the local social, political, and economic context
  • Ensure that funding reaches local levels, effectively impacting the most under-served
  • Prioritize strategies and programs that incentivize equitable, low-carbon, and climate-resilient infrastructure design and delivery at scale

Note: Although we promote integrated planning and implementation, sectoral specialists and institutions are often responsible for implementing the above actions because of the way city and national government departments are organized. PV = photovoltaic.

Source: Authors.