The experience of childhood is increasingly urban. Over half the world’s people – including more than a billion children – now live in cities and towns.
For the first time in history, the global population is becoming increasingly urban. This shift is causing us to rethink our cities, and to reconsider our collective roles and responsibilities, as well as those of our leaders. For city leaders, this can be a huge opportunity. It means more growth. More economic opportunity. More human capital. It also means new and competing challenges.
While cities provide a multitude of opportunities for people, old and young – they are also home to some of the greatest inequalities. A city’s most vulnerable and often underserved group – its children – are also its greatest source of potential.
Consider this: Within a single city, the infant mortality rate can be three times higher in poorer households. Some children get more than 12 years of education, while others get less than 4. In some cities, as seen in the graphic below, the urban poor average less years of schooling than even their poorest rural counterparts. Overcrowding and high admission costs leave the poorest urban children unable to even access their city’s hospitals and schools.
Large numbers of urban children—especially those living in slums— are often not counted in official statistics, leaving insufficient data for city leaders to make informed decisions. Moreover, urban population densities are unevenly distributed globally, with the highest growth rates in Asian and African cities.
Children shape our cities, and our cities shape our children.
This is more than a mere demographic shift – it is poised to be one of the defining themes of the coming century. City leaders and communities that are best prepared for this shift will be in a position to affect positive and lasting change. As cities grow larger and more complex, city leaders will need new tools, technologies, and ideas to make lasting and measurable improvements.