Exploring the Concept of Inclusive Cities

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The Definitions

The Oxford Dictionary defines inclusivity as ‘an intention or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who are handicapped or learning-disabled, or racial and sexual minorities.’

(Inclusivity, 2014)

Now this very core idea can be identified in writings all over, where people have attempted at defining cities that are inclusive, hence justifying the fact that inclusive cities are simply cities that advocate inclusivity.

According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, an Inclusive City promotes growth with equity. It is a place where everyone, regardless of their economic means, gender, race, ethnicity or religion, is enabled and empowered to fully participate in the social, economic and political opportunities that cities have to offer. It goes on to summarize that participatory planning and decision-making are at the heart of the Inclusive City.

They believe that promoting inclusiveness is not only socially just, but is good for growth and central to sustainable urban development as Inclusive urban governance reduces inequality and social tension, incorporates the knowledge, productivity, social and physical capital of the poor and disadvantaged in city development, and increases local ownership of development processes and programmes.

(UN-HABITAT, 2003)

Rhonda Douglas, the Global Projects Director for WIEGO, says that an inclusive city is one that values all people and their needs equally. It is one in which all residents—including the most marginalized of poor workers—have a representative voice in governance, planning, and budgeting processes, and have access to sustainable livelihoods, legal housing and affordable basic services such as water/sanitation and an electricity supply.

Douglas adds that including informal workers in municipal plans is not just possible; it is a better way to create sustainable, prosperous, inclusive and vibrant cities. But good planning practices that support livelihoods share a common element: workers and their representatives are integrally involved. Doing it right is a matter of planning with, rather than planning for, informal workers.

(Douglas, 2013)

Other significant descriptions for inclusive cities include that of inclusive planning and design based on economic, social, environmental and culturally sensitive policies that allow everyone to improve economically as the physical area improves; (Goltsman, 2007)

and cities that maintain their wealth and creative power by avoiding marginalization, which compromises the richness of interaction upon which cities depend. (Collaborative for Inclusive Urbanism, 2012)

The Situation in Delhi

According to the latest data, Delhi is home to more than 3.8 million people who come to the city from other states and stay on for a variety of reasons. Unlike their privileged counterparts at the upper end of the scale who take pride in their ability to straddle the insider/outsider boundary with ease and confidence, ‘fitting in’ and ‘standing out’ on their own terms– many millions of migrants remain perpetual outsiders to the city, struggling to make a place for themselves both literally and metaphorically. The city is too slow to respond to their needs, and they neither get government recognition nor figure in development schemes.

The planners are not blind to these ugly realities of urban life for migrants at the bottom of the pile. Nor are they unaware of the fact that these circumstances are not accidents of fate, but may well be created by the way that cities are conceived and planned. Still, the history of the last few years gives us enough reason to believe that real life works differently.

(Sen, 2013)

Between 1990 and 2003, 51,461 houses were demolished in Delhi under “slum clearance” schemes. Between 2004 and 2007 alone, however, at least 45,000 homes were demolished, and since the beginning of 2007, eviction notices have been served on at least three other large settlements. Fewer than 25 per cent of the households evicted in this latter time period have received any alternative resettlement sites. These evictions were not ordered by the city’s planning agency, its municipal bodies or by the city government. Instead, each was the result of a judicial ruling. These evictions were the final result of several public interest litigations (PILs) filed in Delhi courts by non-poor resident welfare and trade associations. It was the Delhi High Court that argued that Delhi “…is a show window to the world of our culture, heritage, traditions and way of life. It cannot be allowed to degenerate and decay.” Outside the courtroom, the city government remained silent, saying simply that it would respect the court’s rulings.

(Bhan, 2009)

So the point is that rapid urbanisation led by expanding cities might have done well in terms of economic growth, but it has significantly fallen short in terms of addressing the needs of the poor. It is disquieting to note that informal settlements occupy one-third of the area in large urban centers such as Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai and the population living in urban slums is set to climb steeply to reach about 105 million in another five years — a 40 per cent increase over the 2001 level.

The only solution in the form of inclusivity, which could provide hope, is if the urban poor are recognised as important stakeholders and included in the process of urban planning. This would give reason to believe the spatial marginalisation caused by the current form of urban planning, and the suffering it inflicts on vulnerable groups, would end.

As a first step, taking a cue from countries like Brazil which have experience in slum up gradation, municipal governments should recognise informal settlements as special zones of social interest. This would provide much-needed legal protection, prevent forced eviction and stop deterioration of living conditions. Development plans can follow and integrate these informal areas with the mainstream planning process.

(The Hindu, 2013)

Thus, our definition

‘ Inclusive cities are those with the participation of the otherwise marginalized, in lieu of their equitable sharing. ’

The above definition is two-fold; the first part stresses on the robust involvement of the people of the community, who are going to be directly affected by the development projects, in the decision making, thus ensuring that the final designs reflect the collective wisdom and visions of the community and the specialists; and the second part ensures that far from being forced out of the lands that have been their home for decades, after the development plans are put in place, they should actually get proportionate shares of the benefits that arise from the same, or otherwise.

As David Harvey says, “The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”

(Harvey, 2008)


Inclusivity. (2014). Retrieved October 2, 2014, from Oxford Dictionaries: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/inclusivity

Balestra, F. (2014, September). Architecture Every Day. domus, pp. 30-37.

Bhan, G. (2009). "This is no longer the city I once knew". Environment and Urbanization, 127-142.

Collaborative for Inclusive Urbanism. (2012, February). A World of Inclusive Cities. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from Collaborative for Inclusive Urbanism: http://www.inclusiveurbanism.org/

Douglas, R. (2013, January 28). Commentary: What We Mean By “Inclusive Cities”. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from The Rockfeller Foundation's Informal City Dialogues: http://nextcity.org/informalcity/entry/commentary-what-we-mean-by-inclusive-cities

Goltsman, D. I. (2007). Inclusive Design: Moving Beyond New Urbanism. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from The Inclusive City: http://www.inclusivecity.com/Content/10012/Inclusive_Design_Moving_Beyond_New_Urbanism.html

Harvey, D. (2008). The Right to the City. New Left Review, 23-40.

Patel, S. B., Seth, A., & Panchal, N. (2007). Urban Layouts, Densities and the Quality of Urban Life. Economic and Political Weekly, 2725-2736.

Ranade, S. (2007). The Way She Moves. Economic and Political Weekly, 1519-1526.

Rockefeller, John D. (2014). Designing the Inclusive City. The Rockefeller Foundation, 182-223.

Sen, K. M. (2013). A place in the city. Seminar 648, 32-35.

The Hindu. (2013, February 26). Building Inclusive Cities. The Hindu, p. 13.

UN-HABITAT. (2003). The Global Campaign on Urban Governance. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from UN-Habitat: http://ww2.unhabitat.org/campaigns/governance/documents/way_forward_29.May.doc.