A framework for a transformative urban recovery

COVID-19 has created a critical juncture in the evolution of cities, but there has been limited focus on its urban dimensions in the global South. Drawing on the experiences of grassroots organisations, international agencies and other key urban stakeholders, IIED has co-created a framework that provides a unifying urban vision to inform and resource a transformative urban recovery process.

Began April 2020
Anna Walnycki

Principal researcher, Human Settlements research group

Urban poverty
A programme of work showing how IIED is working to reduce urban poverty and to change misleading views about urbanisation.
A mask-wearing man stands behind a food stall

A mask-wearing man sells 'choukouya', seasoned and braised mutton and beef in Treichville, a working-class district of Abidjan, the economic capital of Côte d'Ivoire. Informal workers have been among those most affected economally by COVID-19 (Photo: Jennifer A. Patterson/ILO via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the burgeoning policy literature on how to ‘build back better,’ consideration of COVID-19’s ‘urban’ features remains rare. At present, COVID-19’s economic impacts are most profound in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and are increasingly acute in cities across the global South, where informal workers, residents of informal settlements and other marginalised groups have been disproportionately affected.   

Reports suggest that 95% of COVID-19 cases are located in urban areas, and local governments and grassroots organisations are leading urban responses that are pivotal in shaping the pandemic’s outcomes.  

However, the ongoing economic crisis has dramatically reduced municipal revenues and budgets. Urban areas typically receive lower levels of international development and climate finance than rural areas, and these limited resources have been squeezed, particularly given rising demands for social or emergency services. 

In the absence of strategic and financial support for local governments and people-centred recovery plans, COVID-19 may further imperil low-income urban residents’ health and livelihoods as well as the broader 2030 Agenda in the global South.  

At the same time, residents of informal settlements have demonstrated significant capacities to mobilise and respond to COVID-19, which have had meaningful effects in reducing transmission.  

What is IIED doing? 

Together with grassroots organisations, international agencies and other key urban stakeholders such as Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)Slum Dwellers International (SDI)ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and Cities Alliance, we have co-created a framework for a transformative urban recovery process.

The framework, shown below and also available on IIED's Flickr channel, is designed to spark the multi-faceted interventions urgently required to address the complex exclusions and risks facing low-income urban residents in low- and middle-income countries such as climate change, COVID-19 and potential future risks. The numbers in the image relate to the listed text underneath.

21876534Framework for a transformative urban recovery

National and local government processes

  1. Support governance processes that promote transformative resilience to multiple risks. The quality of local governance and use of local knowledge strongly influences access to shelter, infrastructure and emergency response, including during pandemics.
  2. Implement transformative green recovery processes that recognise and manage trade-offs. Responses that promote equitable green recovery process (for example, nature-based solutions, support for circular economy) must also respond to local political realties and benefit low-income communities.
  3. Create and expand mechanisms to decentralise sustained urban development finance. Sustained decentralised funding streams can significantly tackle existing inequalities and offer more than temporary, short-term relief measures in cities and other urban areas.
  4. Promote evidence-based responses that are nondiscriminatory and uphold human rights in urban areas. Key human rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled throughout all evidence-based recovery actions including rights to housing, food, education, water and the right to work in cities.

Inclusion of marginalised groups

  1. Support informal workers’ livelihoods and institutionalise mechanisms for co-producing basic services. The informal economy has a key role in providing housing, basic services and livelihoods, especially for low-income groups in informal settlements and other urban areas.
  2. Support inclusive, gender transformative responses co-produced with marginalised groups. Including women and girls, people with disabilities, youth, LGBTQI residents, racial minorities and others at heightened risk of severe disease or discrimination in cities and urban areas.
  3. Include migrants, refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in pandemic assistance. The legal status of urban migrants, refugees and IDPs presents specific challenges in accessing basic services, with many being excluded from official support during COVID-19.

Interventions and programming

  1. Implement holistic interventions to improve the wellbeing of residents. By strengthening livelihoods, upgrading informal settlements, developing adaptive social protection measures and enhancing key services such as healthcare and education of informal settlements.