Panel Discussion: Cities and urbanisation in Africa

Encouraging productive and efficient growth through urbanisation in African cities

The process of urbanization is increasingly occurring at much lower levels of GDP than that experienced by developed countries. The profiles of developing country cities, as they emerge, often vary substantially. Despite these variations, it is an accepted fact that urbanisation is a necessary prerequisite to economic growth and productivity. The challenge remains understanding which underlying structural and policy factors are essential to producing both productive and livable cities. To explore these questions, the panel discussion focused on understanding how researchers and policymakers can work together, not only define the right policy questions, but also to begin gathering robust evidence to strengthen decision-making.

In an effort to continue building up the knowledge-base the panel argued for exploration through experimentation to uncover how best to reproduce effective and productive urban forms, particular emphasis was put on the use of randomised control trials (RCTs) in generating high-quality evidence. Prof. Bryan started by introducing the example of an RCT testing the benefits of rural-to-urban migration.  The study, conducted in Bangladesh, found that offering small subsidies to pay for bus tickets encouraged migration into cities during the hunger periods between harvests, when families otherwise experience extreme hardship.

Another such example was a transportation study conducted in Addis Ababa, which tested whether commuting costs hindered the functioning of labour markets. The study offered a partial subsidy  to job-seekers, and tested whether this encouraged more people to migrate into the city centre to search for jobs, and found that doing so led to higher rates of employment, resulting from higher rates of job search and therefore job matching.

A final example came from the MetroBus system in Lahore, experimenting to see what the benefits of the introduction of such a system were to residents in the area. Expanding the bus system into outlying areas facilitated residential mobility for residents in the farthest reaches of the network (with routes known as “feeder lines”). The project subsidised the opening of some of these routes and saw that it did lead to an effective commuting solution.

There are many other ongoing experiments attempting to answer questions on how we can craft and develop optimal urban policies, including affordable housing, rehousing schemes, transit schemes, and effective economic clustering. Using these experiments, we can hope to find out what works before major and largely irreversible investments are made. It is the IGC’s goal to help bridge the gaps between research and policy, through co-generation of knowledge.

Summary written by Aaron Weisbrod, Country Economist – IGC Myanmar