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Managing Urban Spatial Growth

Chapter 4 | Constraints on Effectiveness


There are two main external constraints on the World Bank’s effectiveness in managing urban spatial growth: the political economy and client institutional capacity. Political economy barriers may lead to resistance to change in land administration and static land-use planning regulations that are incompatible with the need to adapt to rapid expansion. Low client institutional capacity for land administration affects the efficiency of land registry systems and interferes with land-use planning outcomes. In Europe and Central Asia, this constraint has been overcome through a strong emphasis on human resources and professionalizing staff.

There are three internal constraints on the World Bank’s effectiveness in managing urban spatial growth: (i) the World Bank protocol that requests the recording of only the jurisdictional location but not the geospatial location for projects; (ii) the underuse of approaches (such as preventive urban upgrading, transit-oriented development, land-based tools, and scenario planning) that help anticipate and address future urban spatial growth; and (iii) a lack of operational guidance requiring land-price data as part of the design framework for urban upgrading and transport projects.

This chapter identifies external and internal constraints on the World Bank’s relevance and effectiveness in managing urban spatial growth through land administration, land-use planning, and land development. Constraints have been identified through inductive methods, such as systematic reviews and literature reviews, and deductive methods, such as case studies and portfolio reviews.

External Constraints

External constraints are those that governments are best placed to address, with potential World Bank support. They two main external constraints are (i) political economy and (ii) client institutional capacity. Although these constraints are external, the World Bank has a role to play in overcoming them by designing and implementing interventions that acknowledge or address them. A staff survey carried out in collaboration with the land thematic group shows that political economy and commitment and institutional capacity are the top two constraints for land administration and land-use planning.

Political Economy Constraints

The political economy affects land administration and land-use planning at both the country and the city level. According to systematic reviews of land administration and planning, it is essential to be cognizant of the political economy, the strengths and weaknesses of traditional institutional systems, and the costs and benefits of any intervention (Deininger, Hilhorst, and Songwe 2014). In the context of rapid urban expansion, the political economy affects the establishment of property rights to land and the use and transfer of land. Both strengthening laws and legal frameworks, and encouraging land titling and registration are met with resistance to change. Some governments in client countries treat land-use regulatory and policy frameworks as static, resisting change that is necessary to provide appropriate urban services in response to high demand for land (World Bank 2013a).

Resistance to change in land administration is sometimes motivated by perverse incentives, but these can be overcome with sustained support over time. In the Philippines, for example, the first Land Administration and Management Project sought to reform land titling to enable mass titling and accelerate results. However, the reform did not move forward due to the informal fees generated by the existing land titling system. The project originally sought to obtain authorization for mass titling through an edict from the executive arm of government. This reform was thwarted by lawyers, courts, and all those benefiting from the informal fees generated by the existing (demand-driven, sporadic) system of land titling. In the second Land Administration and Management Project, the World Bank recognized that legal reforms would be difficult and instead improved land administration through administrative means rather than through legal processes.

Static land-use planning regulations, the result of the inability or unwillingness to modernize regulations, are incompatible with the need to adapt to rapid expansion. This can be seen in the case of Mumbai, India, where the law was compared to the actual land-use planning processes using key informant interviews, spatial analyses, land market price analyses, media and judicial reviews, and desk review of relevant policies, laws, regulations, and literature (World Bank 2013a). In Mumbai, the regulations on the allowable density of land use have been applied uniformly in large areas across the city, and densities are generally low. After more than a decade of World Bank technical assistance engaging a diverse set of stakeholders, planning institutions remain steadfast in limiting the amount of floor space. This policy has been driven by the belief that it helps manage the demand for public services and thereby avoids overwhelming the infrastructure. Because the regulatory framework has not been changed to increase densities, new urban developments have been pushed out to new towns, resulting in urban sprawl.

Political economy barriers can also lead to static land-use planning regulations. In Nairobi, Kenya, where the law was also compared to actual land-use planning processes, there was a general absence of approved statutory plans to guide land-use conversions and subdivisions. This gap in planning created opportunities for public officials and politicians to treat requests for such development activities as matters subject to discretion, sources of administrative power, and opportunities for rent seeking. Even where planning guidance was provided, deficiencies in base mapping meant that boundaries between planning zones were not easily discerned. The lack of clear boundaries opened discretionary spaces, limiting the ability to use land-use regulations to manage urban spatial growth (World Bank 2013a). As part of the ongoing Kenya Urban Support Program, the World Bank identified weak implementation of the procedures for land acquisition at the county level. World Bank support is addressing the deficiencies through measures to improve base mapping.

The World Bank can sometimes take actions to reduce the risk of political or administrative barriers, helping a city flexibly adapt its land-use planning regulations. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for example, World Bank support motivated the government of Vietnam to reform its planning processes, improve the integration and effectiveness of planning agencies, move from static to dynamic plans, and start using better tools to monitor changes in the land and housing markets in real time. Ho Chi Minh City led the reform process in 2012 and 2013, introducing innovative regulations and guidelines that addressed many of the shortcomings of the planning system, including flexibility to promote mixed land use in central business districts and a more granular application of regulations affecting the density of land use (Matsumura, Hoa, and Kien 2017).

Client Institutional Capacity Constraints

Low client institutional capacity has affected several World Bank projects. The World Bank has identified local capacity as a constraint on effectively managing urbanization in its Urbanization Reviews (see appendix F). The level of institutional capacity has influenced about 40 percent of evaluated projects in the focused land portfolio (53 of 134). Of these 53, 15 had positive and 38 had negative outcomes. Addressing institutional capacity also requires the introduction of appropriate technologies as an opportunity to expand and speed up reform (box 4.1). Land administration projects in Tanzania and Mozambique, for example, had negative outcomes. In Tanzania, the development of efficient land registries lagged in part because local government authorities lacked the expertise, equipment, and protocols to develop land registry systems. In Maputo, Mozambique, the support to enhance municipalities’ capacity using external consultants was not effective because the trained professionals moved to better-paid jobs in the private sector. By contrast, a strong emphasis on human resources and professionalizing staff, including the use of competency standards accompanied by improved remuneration, has gradually enhanced capacity with positive results in Europe and Central Asia. This is the case in Kosovo and North Macedonia, for example, where the World Bank placed a significant emphasis on strengthening the capacity of city-level municipal cadastre offices that gradually assumed greater responsibilities.

Box 4.1. Technological Innovations to Expand and Improve Geospatial Management

Geospatial technologies have an increasing role to play to help transform land administration at a faster pace to keep up with the rapid growth of urbanization. Although the World Bank has recently been deploying innovative information technologies in land administration that have the potential for broad expansion by reducing time and cost, these efforts have been limited. Some projects are piloting drone, satellite, and mobile technologies. Land surveys are being transformed from those carried out using traditional theodolite (surveying) instruments to GPS-enabled mobile instruments, reducing the cost and time of delivery. Implementing the information infrastructure to support land administration is a complex process, normally achieved over years. Many countries will take up to 10 years to achieve comprehensive coverage with a rich set of e-services (World Bank 2011a).

Drone technologies have been used in Tanzania to create low-cost, high-resolution digital maps of Zanzibar. This new method decreased the total time for data entry from 1.5 years to 15 minutes.

In Peru, World Bank support for the national urban cadastre applied drone imagery and more efficient methods for the collection, processing, and updating of cadastral information. The use of new technologies and methods is estimated to more than halve the cost of the cadastral survey from $75 to $35 per property.

Sources: Anderson 2020; Krambeck and Qu 2015; World Bank 2019c.

Institutional capacity also influences land-use planning outcomes. Institutional capacity was a key factor in 14 of the 60 land-use planning projects, and 9 of the 14 are in International Development Association countries. Of these, 3 projects had positive outcomes, and 6 had negative outcomes. For example, capacity constraints affected land-use planning outcomes in Mozambique under the Spatial Development Planning Technical Assistance Project (FY11–16) because national and city governments were not able to operate complex systems that included geospatial data standardization and the development of interactive multisector spatial data infrastructure. The World Bank supported the development of urban land-use plans under the Maputo Municipal Development Program (FY05–17). Although 11 plans were developed, achieving the output targets, these plans have rarely been updated or used due to the limited capacity of the municipality to develop and enforce land-use plans as mandated by law. In Colombia, a moderate-urbanizing country, the national level Planes de Ordenamiento Territorial enabled the implementation of land-use planning for departments and municipalities. However, at a municipal level, heterogeneous municipal capacity hindered the wider application of new planning instruments. One way in which the World Bank has successfully built land-use planning capacity is by introducing incentives. Instruments such as performance grants provide the incentives by conditioning capital investments on the establishment of land-use planning capacity within local governments (box 4.2).

Box 4.2. Overcoming Capacity Constraints through Incentives

In Ethiopia, the World Bank supported performance grants to cities to finance urban upgrading initiatives; the support was conditioned on a broad range of capacity-building activities, including strengthening the cities’ land-use planning capacity. The grants were effective at improving land-use planning capacity in most cities except Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa had access to significantly larger sources of revenue than other participating cities, and the funds provided through the project did not provide a sufficient incentive to bring about substantial change.

Colombia, with World Bank support, introduced a performance grant plan (Contratos plan) in 2014 to stimulate departments and municipalities to conduct integrated planning and investments at the regional level. Contratos plans were successful in stimulating regional financing, accounting for $5.4 billion in investments. However, the objective of financing major investments with metropolitan and urban impact was less successful. Weak prioritization of projects resulted in each Contratos plan having many projects scattered in different sectors in rural areas, with a low impact at the regional level. Of the 902 approved projects of the seven Contratos plans, only 189 projects (21 percent) provided dedicated support to urban investments, limiting the impact on strengthening urban planning and public investments.

Sources: World Bank 2008, 2018a, 2020a.

Table 4.1. Administrative Levels of Project Location Data in the Portfolio

Political Boundary


(state or provincial)


(county or district)


(city, town, or municipality)


(ward, neighborhood)

Identified project sites (total sites = 5,669)





Total percentage





Another constraint on recording sufficiently precise project location is that such recording is not mandatory. As highlighted in chapter 3, a key finding of this evaluation is that there is a lack of systematic data recording the precise locations of investments financed by the World Bank, which are necessary to assess the impact of the projects. A staff survey revealed that only 42 percent of task team leaders maintained project location data. Furthermore, 27 percent maintained spatial data in PDF or hard copy rather than electronic format, both of which are inadequate for project supervision and implementation. Although there is a protocol for geotagging at a jurisdictional level, teams are not required or motivated to use it. According to an IEG survey of World Bank staff, the main reasons for not recording geospatial data were limited system capacity to archive the geospatial data during the first 10 years of the evaluation period and the lack of any requirement for task team leaders to document location information in the PAD or Implementation Completion and Results Report. There was high convergence of opinions during semistructured interviews that there have been multiple initiatives and pilots to help generate, use, and monitor geospatial data. However, they have not translated into a systematic approach or expansion in the use of geospatial technologies.

The use of mobile technology is emerging and may help overcome the limitations of identifying project locations in a cost-effective and agile manner. Mobile technology, such as mobile phones, tablets, GPS, and biometric devices, enables new types of mobile data collection, including real-time monitoring and reporting of georeferenced location and media data such as pictures of the project site (Thakkar et al. 2013). The World Bank has recently begun applying two mobile-based project monitoring tools—Geo-Enabling Initiative for Monitoring and Supervision and the Smart Supervision App—to remotely monitor project implementation with coordinates of project location at a high degree of precision (box 4.3).

Box 4.3. Mobile Technology for Project Monitoring

Geo-Enabling Initiative for Monitoring and Supervision

The Geo-Enabling initiative for Monitoring and Supervision (GEMS) was launched by the Fragility, Conflict, and Violence (FCV) Group to systematically enhance monitoring and evaluation as well as supervision and third-party monitoring in FCV settings. Its aim is to build the capacity of clients and World Bank staff in using simple open-source tools for in-field collection of structured digital data. Through GPS-enabled handheld tools such as mobile devices, GEMS allows remote and real-time monitoring and evaluation, which integrates data such as indicators, photos, audio, video, and GPS coordinates of the project location. In line with the FCV strategy and the 19th Replenishment of the International Development Association Policy Commitment 5 for Fragile States, GEMS is being implemented across International Development Association and fragile and conflict-affected countries. In 2020, GEMS experienced significant growth, partly due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to do remote and real-time monitoring. In February 2020, it was expanded to include non–fragile and conflict-affected countries, starting with Zambia. As of January 2021, GEMS training has been implemented with more than 500 World Bank Group–funded projects in 50 countries, and more than 3,000 project implementation units and government employees have participated in capacity-building training.

The Smart Supervision App

The Smart Supervision App is designed to capture, report, and analyze real-time project information with an enhanced mobile application through which users can upload data and documentation. It allows near-real-time remote monitoring of projects by tracking physical project implementation and by capturing georeferenced data (that is, recording latitude and longitude) to permit the mapping of projects and subprojects in the field. It can also allow the identification of project risks because the application is connected to the World Bank’s financial management Portfolio and Risk Management System and Procurement Risk Assessment Management System; the project team is empowered to conduct swift and informed decision-making on a critical dimension of project supervision. The app works both online and off-line to enable the assessment of subprojects in remote locations. The pandemic has led to an additional increase in demand for remote project supervision. As of September 2020, the app has mapped Brazil’s portfolio with detailed project data, and there are plans to expand it to at least four more countries.

Sources: GEMS: Fragility, Conflict, and Violence Group 2017; Independent Evaluation Group interview conducted on October 16, 2019; SSA: Vicente 2017; Independent Evaluation Group interview conducted on November 20, 2019.

Limited Use of Approaches to Anticipate and Address Urban Spatial Growth

The World Bank has underused approaches that address future urban growth, constraining its ability to manage growth in the periphery. This evaluation found that four approaches have been underused to anticipate and help manage urban spatial growth: preventive urban upgrading, TOD, land-based tools, and scenario planning.

In urban upgrading, the World Bank has had a limited focus on preventive approaches, constraining its ability to support clients with managing urban expansion at the periphery of cities. As noted in chapter 3, only 4 interventions of 50 were related to introducing infrastructure and basic services to prevent urban expansion and help control urban sprawl. The World Bank’s lack of focus on preventive approaches has three causes. The first is the urgency and demands of existing stakeholders, including slum dwellers who have already settled within the built-up area. The second is the complexity of greenfield projects, including the long implementation period. The third is that the project benefits are realized well after project closure, which makes project design challenging.

World Bank support to urban transport through TOD remains limited. TOD is a key instrument to manage urban spatial growth, reverse urban sprawl, and return to compact development patterns. Construction of new roads is likely to temporarily relieve congestion, but unless it is integrated with careful land-use planning and enforcement, it could promote sprawl, reducing the accessibility of jobs and other economic opportunities while increasing motorization rates and vehicle-kilometers of travel (World Bank 2016a). However, results from the urban transport portfolio review show that TOD represents a small proportion (11 percent) of all urban transport projects in the focused portfolio. The reasons for the limited TOD support include lack of regional coordination at the metropolitan level; sector silo behavior and practices at the city level; inconsistencies in the planning instruments and deficiencies in their implementation; inadequate policies, regulations, and supporting mechanisms for redeveloping built-up areas, particularly brownfields or distressed and blighted districts; and neglected urban design at the neighborhood and street levels (World Bank 2013b).

Finally, in land-use planning, to a limited extent the World Bank has used land-based approaches and recent advances in scenario planning to simulate the impact of urban expansion. The World Bank has not been successful in operationalizing land-based tools. Only 4 of 118 land-use planning projects in the focused portfolio used land-based approaches. The key reasons for the low uptake of land-based approaches are the political economy, the lack of adequate legal frameworks to implement land-based tools, and the limited uptake of capacity-building initiatives offered by the World Bank. Land-based tools have been proven to work effectively in the early stages of urbanization in countries such as Germany, Japan, and, to a significant extent, India. Scenario planning is necessary to forecast and model the impact of policies and investment on urban spatial growth (box 4.4).

Box 4.4. Scenario Planning as a Tool to Manage Urban Spatial Growth

Scenario planning is a process to support informed decision-making that helps urban planners navigate the uncertainty of the future (American Planning Association 2020). Since 2016, the World Bank has implemented six major urban growth scenarioplanning exercises. In Chongqing, China, the World Bank is supporting the implementation of commercially developed software including the RapidFire scenario-planning model to estimate the impact of policies and investments on urban expansion.a Scenario-planning approaches in Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, and West Bank and Gaza simulate urban spatial growth and changes to land use through three World Bank–developed software applications: CollabMap, Urban Performance, and SuitAbility. The application of these scenario-planning platforms has proven effective in bringing together diverse stakeholders. However, their uses are limited.

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.

Note: a. RapidFire is a Microsoft Excelbased tool to examine land use. It can be used to represent, model, and analyze scenarios or plans.

Lack of Operational Guidance Requiring Land Markets Data

A lack of operational guidance requiring land-price data as part of the design framework of urban upgrading and transport projects has constrained the World Bank’s ability to mainstream land-price data to support clients in designing urban development projects and managing the growth of cities. The lack of reliable land-price data prevents land markets from working equitably and efficiently. Efficient land markets enable symmetric information and transparent land market transactions. As noted in chapter 3, the urban upgrading and transport-focused portfolios considered property prices in only 12 percent and 1 percent of projects, respectively. Despite developing land market assessment methodologies and learning programs related to them, the World Bank has failed to incorporate their application into project design, implementation, and evaluation.