Many of the major cities in developing countries, especially in Africa, are failing to reap the economic benefits of urbanization. These cities are not able to drive structural transformation, boost growth, create jobs in tradeable industries, and contribute to national economic growth compared with cities in other countries, such as those in China or most developed countries. We should take the time to reflect upon the economic opportunities created by effective urbanization and policies for helping all cities meet their potential in bettering the lives of their citizens.

As policymakers, urban planners, and development practitioners try to tackle the issues of rapid urbanization, they face numerous roadblocks and constraints. In response to these challenges, the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative has formulated a framework to help identify key constraints to productive urbanization as published in the working paper, “Urban economic growth in Africa: A framework for analyzing constraints to agglomeration.”

A range of national macroeconomic, social, and political challenges affect all cities in a country, but there are also a number of challenges particular to specific cities. Taking the creation of productive jobs, particularly in tradeable sectors, as our objective function, we develop a framework detailing three major types or categories of constraints to a city’s ability to benefit from urban agglomeration: accessibility, the business environment, and public sector governance.

Further application of the framework will require a more detailed understanding of the political, economic, and social context of the cities that are the subject of interest. It will also require data collection for a number of indicators for which no internationally comparable data or accepted methodological norms exist. This process will involve collaboration across various institutions with expertise in urbanization and the specific constraints described above.

Read the full article about urbanization in Africa by Payce Madden and Jeffrey Gutman at Brookings.