Urbanisation - Community engagement

Urbanisation - Community engagement

Why do we need to engage with slum communities?

Community engagement means allowing and encouraging all those who have a stake in a process to have a say in how it is resolved.

Projects, which engage communities in the decision making, construction and operational processes, have a higher chance of success and rate of uptake than those which are seen to be imposed or gifted.

It is important that communities are engaged in a meaningful way. In the long term, tokenism will not help to create sustainable communities that drive change for themselves.

Engagement in the context of urbanisation

Currently, the number of people living in cities equals those living rurally. In the future more people will live in cities than rurally, therefore cities must adapt to accommodate people, and people must adapt to their new urban surroundings. A large proportion of these new urban dwellers are poor, coming to the cities to find economic opportunity. These people, whilst poor, are the growing cities’ greatest asset. If a city fails to engage with a majority of urban poor, it fails to fully use the largest human resource available to it.


What are the possible consequences of failing to engage with the urban poor?

Civil unrest – stakeholder engagement and integration of the growing urban poor is crucial to maintain social cohesion.

Stunted economic growth – if the urban poor are not engaged, the cities themselves will not grow economically as other better-equipped and serviced cities compete on a global platform.

Deterioration in health – urban communities are growing at such a rate as to make it very difficult for the necessary infrastructure and healthcare provisions to be made without the help of the communities themselves. The spread of disease through these highly populated informal areas, will have a devastating affect on the health of the people living there.

Inefficient and wasteful use of resources– by engaging with communities, cities can prioritise and identify their needs, finding creative and tailored solutions which build on existing capacity.

Develop appropriate solutions to build the capacity of communities

Sherry Arnstein (1969), writing about citizen involvement in planning processes in the USA, described a ‘ladder of participation’, illustrating eight levels of stakeholder engagement.

This ladder can be adapted to describe community engagement in a development context.

True community engagement is about power sharing and control for the community; the further up the ladder you go, the closer you are to achieving this.

Further reading



State of the World's Cities 2008/2009, Harmonious Cities, UN-Habitat