Bright lights, big city

Seven things all city folks can relate to.

LED lights light up the inside coach of a train stationed in Old Delhi Railway Station in India. © UNDP India

By 2040, two thirds of our planet’s population will be urban. Rich or poor, young or old — people with big dreams migrate to be part of the choreography of a big city. Our UNDP4Urban work aims to ease the challenges of big city living — here are seven things any city slicker can relate to.

1. You are a seasoned veteran of the daily grind

Many people migrate to cities for better roads, the convenience of public transportation, access to social services and job opportunities.

© UNDP India

To get billions of people to work on time, UNDP works on green energy to power transportation systems in countries like India. Every day India’s national rail network transports 23 million people around the country, roughly equal to the population of Australia! More on our work.


2. You have big dreams

Others move for the quality education and the mix of creativity, culture, diversity and technology that cities offer. By 2025, cities will account for 88 percent of global GDP, and people are flocking to be a part of this economic dynamism.

Artist Aicha Muteba in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. © Aude Rossignol/ UNDP DRCongo

“The challenges of Kinshasa? The people must cling to culture because it is the future! There are so many artists living and working here!”- Artist Aicha Muteba Makana on the art scene in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why did you move?

Inés selling food. © Alvaro Beltran/ UNDP

“I want my children to get an education, and that’s why I like this city, because it gives us opportunities,” says 29-year-old Inés, a Peruvian street vendor who migrated to Lima from the village of Huancavelica.


3. You struggle to keep up with the Joneses

Rich and poor co-exist in the city, living two different realities in the same location. When the cost of living rises but your pay doesn’t, your quality of life suffers.

Outskirts of Lagos city in Nigeria. © UNDP Nigeria

Between now and 2030, 90 percent of urban growth will take place in developing countries in Africa and Asia, where many of the world’s largest slums are.

The population of slums will swell to 2 billion. Making cities safe and sustainable will require us to find ways to reduce the inequalities that are so evident in cities.

4. Your daily routine can be paralyzed by rain

Rainy season in Bangkok, Thailand. © Beniam Gebrezghi/ UNDP

A sudden downpour can bring everything to a standstill, especially in cities without adequate drainage and sanitation services. This is more than just an inconvenience. It increases the spread of insects that can carry diseases like Zika, malaria, dengue fever and others.


Rugiatu in action. © UNDP Sierra Leone

Rugiatu owns a shop in Waterloo Market in Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 2015, monsoon rains flooded the market. The vendors, many of them women working in the informal sector, were hit hard. So at 42 years old, Rugiatu took a stand. Through a partnership between UNDP and the Sierra Leonean government, women like Rugiatu have become leaders in the community, helping their fellow stallholders prepare for the next flood. More

5. You worry about crime and personal safety

©UNDP Brazil

With overcrowding and high inequality, cities are vulnerable to crime and social unrest.

Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India used to be Asia’s largest slum and was part of the 2008 film, Slumdog Millionaire.

UNDP has been working with NGO partner Sneha to help women trapped in domestic violence, many residing in Dharavi and other slums, using an app. The app connects women to a social worker, safe houses, access to legal information and job training and placement.

6. You welcome people from different backgrounds

Over half of the world’s 38 million internally displaced people and 13 million refugees live in towns and cities, rather than in refugee camps. With their economic and cultural diversity, cities are inviting to newcomers, including refugees and displaced persons.

Young people from @undpyemen’s #Cash4Work project head out to clean streets. City sanitation services have closed down due to war. ©UNDP Yemen

But the sudden influx of people can put a strain on labour markets and public services. Since the beginning of the war in Yemen, UNDP has helped people in the cities of Sana’a and Aden to maintain basic services like water, health and sanitation. We create jobs to restore critical infrastructure such as hospitals, shelters and water pipes and to clear roads of debris so food from farms can reach cities.

7. You value community and like helping your neighbours

Whether it’s lending a cup of sugar or volunteering at the local youth centre, urban dwellers understand the benefits of working together.

Nursing students learn how to take blood pressure reading. © UNDP Afghanistan

Abida is a nursing students in a school supported by UNDP and Global Fund in Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, only 12 percent of women can read and write, and almost 90 percent have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence, or forced marriage.

Abida and her classmates are helping to change this. When they graduate, they will go to work in some of the most underserved parts of the country.

“I don’t waste a single day without learning,” says nursing student Abida. “I don‘t want to see a mother die on the way to a clinic or see her child become an orphan.”

Author: Lei Phyu from UNDP with photos and interviews gathered by UNDP teams worldwide.

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