chapter  12
14 Pages

The City is Missing in the Millennium Development Goals

WithMichael Cohen

The scale and pace of urbanization in the economic and social transformations of developing countries continue to be among the most overlooked phenomena of the twenty-first century. Despite the fact that more than one-half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and that since 1991 it has been recognized by international institutions that more than 60% of gross domestic product (GDP) in most countries comes from urban-based economic activities (Cohen 1991;World Bank 2009), the reality of urbanization is not considered either by macro-economists as a central component of development processes or by most specialists on poverty as the site of an increasing share of deprivation on a global scale. Nowhere is this more evident than in the history of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),

which have essentially ignored the urbanization process by focusing solely on one limited physical aspect and doing so in a not very serious way. Simply put, given the consensus estimate of projected demographic growth of two billion new urban residents in developing countries between 2000 and 2020, it is reasonable to ask how the MDGs could include a target of improving the conditions of only 100 million slum dwellers-about 5% of the projected growth. This target lacks analytical and normative justification. Indeed, the situation is worse, because it ignores the fact that by 2003 UN Habitat had estimated the existing slum population to already be about 900 million persons (UN Habitat 2003). This article examines MDG 7, Target 11 from the broader perspective of considering the urban chal-

lenge within the context of development processes and strategies. Part I will present this broader

Vol. 15, Nos. 2-3, 261-274,

context, suggesting that the urban dimensions need to be considered in terms of how the levels and composition of urban incomes and production affect development processes and the achievement of other MDGs. In this regard, for the MDGs to continue the practice of the international community of “entering the city through the house and the bathroom”1 is simply to miss the point that urban areas have become the core of most developing economies and the locus of an increasing share of the poor. It is the site of participatory processes claiming human rights and where equitable and inclusive development is urgently needed.