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Managing Urban Spatial Growth

Chapter 1 | Background and Context


Cities function best when they benefit from agglomeration (the proximity of firms and households to each other), but pressure to develop land in and around cities is growing, contributing to slum formation and urban sprawl.

This evaluation focuses on land administration, land-use planning, and land development as determinants of urban expansion.

Land administration is the process of tracking information about the ownership and value of land. It enables the functioning of land markets.

Land-use planning is the allocation of land to private and public uses, including infrastructure and services. Together with urban finance and planning for resilience, it allows for efficient and sustainable land use.

Land development is the transformation of land through investment in an urban area. It includes both urban upgrading (improving the conditions in existing slums and preventing the growth of new ones) and urban transport (integrating transportation with land use for both formal and informal land development).

Together, these determinants can lead to the sustainable, efficient, and equitable urban spatial growth essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 11 and the World Bank’s twin goals.

The evaluation addresses both the relevance and the effectiveness of World Bank work on managing urban spatial growth through its support to land administration, land-use planning, and land development.

The Challenge

Cities thrive when households and firms can benefit from being close together (agglomeration). Increases in population density generate major economic advantages, including reduced transportation and energy costs for households and firms, increased productivity, and better opportunities for innovation. Well-designed urban structures can also contribute to social equity and environmental sustainability (World Bank 2013b). Social equity can be enhanced by ensuring that poor people are spatially integrated with employment opportunities and urban services. Environmental sustainability can be achieved by ensuring that sensitive areas such as floodplains, mangroves, and natural watershed drainage networks are protected.

Development pressure on land in and around cities is growing, contributing to urban sprawl. As of 2018, more than 4 billion people—55 percent of the world’s population—lived in urban areas. By 2045, that number will increase to 6 billion. The 2 billion new urban residents will require land that is developed in an equitable and efficient manner (World Bank 2020b). It is estimated that the world will add 1.2 million square kilometers of new urban built-up area over the next three decades—equivalent to the surface area of South Africa—to meet these needs. Moreover, cities are growing at a tremendous pace. Can Tho in Vietnam, for example, has expanded spatially at more than 10 percent per year, nearly tripling its surface area in 15 years; Maputo in Mozambique doubled its surface area over the same period. As cities grow and develop, they need more floor space. Cities can create more floor space in two ways: vertically and horizontally. Vertical expansion includes building upward or infilling the open spaces between buildings, whereas horizontal expansion involves expanding outward. Sustainable urban growth requires cities to grow in both ways (Angel, Lamson-Hall, and Blanco 2020). Horizontal expansion often takes place in the form of sprawl over undeveloped land, as evidenced by the fact that urban land consumption outpaces population growth by as much as 50 percent. As a result, cities are becoming less dense as they grow (Bertaud 2018). Making urban spatial expansion sustainable requires attending to differences in historical patterns of urban development to strike the right balance—for any given city—between densifying the existing urban extent and preparing for spatial expansion in the periphery. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing urban spatial growth.

The challenges of spatial expansion are greatest in lower-income cities that tend to grow through the formation of informal settlements and slums. The proportion of the urban population that lives in developing country slums fell from 39 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2014. Despite these gains, the absolute number of urban residents who live in slums—principally in lower-income cities—has continued to grow. In 2014, an estimated 880 million urban residents lived in slum conditions, compared with 792 million in 2000 (UN 2019).

Living conditions in slums are a risk to the inhabitants’ health and make them more vulnerable to the spread of diseases. In most cities, high inequities in economic, social, and living conditions are mirrored by inequalities in health (Alirol et al. 2011). Communicable disease outbreaks have dramatic effects on slum dwellers’ life expectancy. Although the poorest 20 percent of people in cities struggle to reach 55 years of age, the richest 40 percent live well beyond 70 years. Similarly, among the poorest 20 percent of the world’s urban dwellers, the under-five mortality rate is more than double that among the wealthier urban quintiles (UN-Habitat 2016).


This evaluation focuses on three of five critical determinants of urban spatial growth: land administration, land-use planning, and land development. The first determinant is land administration (figure 1.1). Land administration is the process of establishing, recording, and disseminating information about the ownership, value, and use of land and its associated resources (UNECE 2005). These processes include the determination of land rights and the establishment of property rights through strengthening laws and legal frameworks, increasing land titling and land-use certification, improving land records data management systems, and strengthening institutions, which together enable property tax administration and land markets. Land administration provides fundamental reference information, such as property addresses and the locations of transportation networks, that enables the integration of wider spatial information systems managed by the public and private sectors. Proper land administration allows recognition of a continuum of property rights, ensuring security of tenure, which motivates households to invest in dwellings. Households, in turn, can buy and sell property willingly through functioning land markets, enabling the development of cities.

Figure 1.1. Determinants of Urban Expansion


Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: The evaluation focuses on the determinants in green and the intermediate outcomes in light blue. It does not focus on the determinants outlined with dashes or the final outcome in dark blue.

Figure 1.1. Determinants of Urban Expansion

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: The evaluation focuses on the determinants in green and the intermediate outcomes in light blue. It does not focus on the determinants outlined with dashes or the final outcome in dark blue.

As land markets begin to function, three additional determinants—land-use planning, finance, and planning for urban resilience—become necessary for efficient and resilient land use. Together, land-use planning, finance, and planning for urban resilience minimize losses and the need to finance them by ensuring that development takes place in safe areas, creating efficient and resilient land use. Planning for urban resilience has been covered in a recent Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) evaluation.1 Considerations of urban development in finance may be covered in a proposed future evaluation. Therefore, among these three determinants, this evaluation focuses on land-use planning.

Land-use planning is the allocation of land to public and private uses to provide infrastructure and services, in turn enabling efficient and sustainable use of land. Land-use planning regulates the uses of space, focusing on the physical form, economic functions, and social impacts of the urban environment and on the locations of different activities within it. Land-use planning addresses the allocation of land (greenfields) and the revitalization of existing parts of the city (brownfields). A critical role of land-use planning is the delineation of the uses of private and public land through spatial planning, enhancing the capacity of planning agencies, land-use regulation, geospatial data and management, street addressing, and land-based tools.

The development of land takes place as urban population grows, and it is only when land markets function well and land is used in an efficient, equitable, and resilient manner that sustainable land development can be achieved. Land development is the transformation in the uses of land through investments, creating public and private infrastructure. This transformation may take place in brownfields, including the upgrading of slums, and in the conversion of greenfields into urban uses to accommodate the expansion of cities. These interventions shape land use and growth patterns that help define the productivity and inclusiveness of cities.

Urban transport and urban upgrading are two particularly important aspects of land development. Urban transport integrates urban transportation with land use and land markets through increased mobility, greater accessibility, and ultimately by fostering land development along transportation routes, providing integrated urban transport that meets people’s needs. Urban upgrading supports both the consolidation of built-up areas and urban expansion. It integrates land use by improving existing slums (curative approaches) and helping prevent the emergence of new ones (preventive approaches). Both approaches can help integrate residential areas that lack infrastructure and services into the main fabric of the city, consolidating urban development and thereby contributing to the management of urban spatial growth.

Together, land administration, finance, land-use planning, planning for resilience, and land development through urban upgrading and urban transport are the most important determinants of urban spatial growth. If managed properly, they lead to functioning land markets, efficient and resilient land use, fewer slums, and integrated urban transport. These intermediate outcomes, in turn, will lead to sustainable, efficient, and equitable urban spatial growth.

Links to the Sustainable Development Goals and Twin Goals

Land administration, land-use planning, and land development are essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the World Bank Group’s twin goals. SDG target 1.4 addresses land administration and the need for all people to have equal rights to economic resources, including land. SDG indicator 1.4.2, in particular, is the “proportion of total adult population with secure tenure rights to land, (a) with legally recognized documentation, and (b) who perceive their rights to land as secure, by sex and type of tenure.” SDG target 11.3 addresses land-use planning and the need to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated, and sustainable human settlement planning and management. Indicator 11.3.1, “ratio of land consumption rate to population growth rate,” measures land-use efficiency, which is fundamental to strengthening capacities for land-use planning and land development. Related to land development, SDG 11.7 addresses “the need to establish urban public space as a necessary feature of managing urban spatial growth.” Indicator 11.7.1 establishes targets for the average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use by all, regardless of sex, age, or disability (UN 2017b). Land administration, land-use planning, and land development also contribute to achieving the Bank Group’s twin goals by establishing land property rights with a focus on urban poor people, improving the quality of informal settlements by upgrading slums, and enabling well-connected, compact urban growth that brings people and employment opportunities together.

Evaluation Aim and Methods

This evaluation assesses how well the World Bank has addressed the management of urban spatial growth through land administration, land-use planning, and land development. It answers two main evaluation questions:

  • To what extent has World Bank engagement been relevant to support its clients in managing urban spatial growth through land administration, land-use planning, and land development?
  • To what extent have relevant World Bank flagship analytical initiatives and investment lending activities been effective in enhancing the capacity of clients to manage urban spatial growth through land administration, land-use planning, and land development?

This evaluation applied a mixed methods approach that draws on a range of data sources to collect evidence and derive explanatory factors. The evaluation combined an array of complementary methods for data collection and analysis, then triangulated to ensure the robustness of findings. The evaluation methodology is based largely on four field-based case studies and four desk-based comparative case studies, an overall portfolio identification and trends assessment, a focused portfolio review in 19 countries, a systematic analysis of corporate and country strategies, staff surveys, semistructured interviews with staff and other stakeholders, and geospatial analysis of two urban transport investments. The selection criteria for the focused portfolio included the intensity of World Bank engagement, urbanization rate, and regional representation. A detailed description of the methodology is presented in appendix A.

The identified portfolio consists of 527 lending operations and 199 advisory services and analytics in fiscal years (FY)00–19, representing 5.8 percent of the total World Bank portfolio. Of these projects, 274 have been closed and evaluated. The portfolio consists of 115 land administration, 258 land-use planning, 91 land development through urban upgrading, and 316 land development through urban transport projects. Most of the portfolio is mapped to the Urban, Disaster Risk, Resilience, and Land (50 percent) and Transport (31 percent) Global Practices (table 1.1).

Table 1.1. World Bank Overall Portfolio of the Evaluation, FY00–19


Projects for Each Focus Area (no.)

Percentage of Total World Bank Commitmentsa

Percentage of Total World Bank Portfolio

Total Evaluated (no.)

World Bank lending

Land administration





Land-use planning





Land development through urban upgrading





Land development through urban transport










World Bank select ASA

Urbanization Reviews




City Development Strategies




Land Governance Assessment Frameworks




Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: ASA = advisory services and analytics; FY = fiscal year; n.a. = not applicable; — = not available.a. A project could contribute to more than one determinant.

The report is structured as follows: Chapter 2 focuses on the World Bank’s relevance in helping clients manage urban spatial growth. Chapter 3 examines the World Bank’s effectiveness at enhancing clients’ capacity to manage urban spatial growth. Chapter 4 describes some external and internal determinants of success and failure, and chapter 5 presents the conclusions and recommendations.

  1. Two World Bank evaluations (2020f, forthcoming) cover finance. World Bank (2019a) covered urban resilience.