Policy recommendations

Cities are one of the primary sources of economic growth in the developing world. But the downsides of density addressed above – congestion, crime, and contagion – require active management by policymakers. In addition, developing country cities are such a new phenomenon that the need for research is critical and the upside of new knowledge is enormous. With this joint role in mind, policymakers and researchers should address the following issues:


  • Urbanisation does have its downsides. However, these downsides do not, and should not, provide a justification for curbing the growth of cities. Cities and urbanisation are key to stimulating economic growth in the developing world. Instead, issues such as contagion, crime, and congestion require a greater focus by policymakers and researchers alike.
  • The provision of public services to combat these downsides can be both costly and difficult to implement. These issues are amplified in developing countries by institutional corruption and a lack of funding. Tackling these issues is key to being able to achieve effective service delivery.
  • In the absence of funding for expensive water infrastructure, substitutes (such as chlorine tablets) and alternate funding models become even more important. Research needs to inform policymakers of the best use of limited public funds to sustainably improve sanitation, especially in slums.
  • Given the problems of under-reporting and corruption in crime prevention, policymakers should instead focus on ways to incentivise police officers to actually fight crime. In addition, policymakers should focus on alternative ways to reduce crime, for example, by investing in early childhood education.
  • Interventions to reduce inner-city congestion need to be better understood, but policymakers should investigate the introduction of congestion pricing, as well as analysing the trade-offs between buses, trains and metro systems.
  • Policymakers need to obtain, through decent data, a snapshot of the impact of cities and urbanisation on earnings. It is particularly important to understand whether economic forces are moving slum dwellers out of poverty and into prosperity.


This brief has discussed a number of areas that would benefit from further research with a focus on developing countries:


  • Viable substitutes (such as chlorine tablets) in lieu of expensive traditional water infrastructure.
  • The impact of poor water quality on health and the economy.
  • Trade-offs between using public providers, private providers, and/or public-private partnerships to build water infrastructure.
  • How to ensure that water provision is profitable and sustainable.


  • How to improve the data collection of reported crime, and to ensure it’s reliable.
  • Efforts to reduce police corruption and incentivise reporting of crimes.
  • Analysing which anti-crime measures can influence future crime rates e.g. education.
  • How crime impacts the economic activity of a developing country city.


  • The efficacy of introducing congestion pricing.
  • A cost/benefit analysis that looks at the economic impact of buses, trains and/or metro systems.
  • How the provision of transport systems impacts other economic objectives e.g. health, urban development, migration.

While research is undoubtedly needed, some government action is also needed to deal with externalities such as urban waste and to protect citizens from crime. Therefore, any research must be sensitive to local conditions and pay attention to institutional design. Finally, if researchers are analysing infrastructure provision, coordination and cooperation with relevant government entities is crucial.