Informality and Resilience: A Nexus We’re Exploring this Week in Addis Ababa

This week, 100 Resilient Cities joins the City of Addis Ababa to focus on the critical intersection of urban informality and resilience.

Rapid growth in cities across the Global South has led to the proliferation of informal development, becoming an increasingly visible sign of urbanization. Informal areas constitute a significant proportion of these cities, supplying vital goods and services and providing sources of livelihood generation for some of the poorest and most vulnerable urban residents. Yet informality – in physical settlements, transport services, waste management, and within the economy – has historically been at best dismissed and at worst marginalized by official policy and planning.

That’s why, starting today, we’re addressing informality and its complexities head-on in a Network Exchange on Urban Informality and City Resilience. This critical and truly global conversation will be led over the next three days by Chief Resilience Officers and city leaders from 8 cities in the 100RC Network, as well as partners, experts, and Addis Ababa city and community leaders.

The enormity of the informal sector means it is here to stay. Already roughly one billion people worldwide live in informal settlements, and should current trends continue, UN-Habitat projections estimate that one-third of the world’s population will live in informal settlements by 2050. Between 2005 and 2010, informal employment accounted for 66% of total non-agricultural employment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Addis Ababa alone, informality plays a large role in housing and settlements as well as public transportation. An estimated 30% of the current housing stock is informal, and although there are municipal efforts to provide subsidized low-cost housing, the informal supply is the fastest growing mechanism in the city. And with over 10,500 blue and white minibuses undertaking 840,000 daily journeys, regulated paratransit has become the main public transport provider in the city.

In its current form, informal development presents a double-edged sword to cities, both contributing to urban resilience and also posing a number of challenges. For example, returning to paratransit and to those cities where it represents the main form of collective motorized transport, these informal options (known locally as matatus, car rapides, danfos, tros tros, and more) enable access to jobs and economic opportunity in the absence of reliable and affordable formal mass transit. On the other hand, informal transit is often plagued with operational, safety, and quality challenges.

We hope to address these exact questions at this week’s convening – and work together to advance a shared understanding of informality as a key component of city resilience, and curate a body of tactical knowledge to help cities around the world promote resilience initiatives that advance the integration of the formal and informal across numerous systems. The Network Exchange builds on previous work undertaken by 100RC and several member cities in the Global South to explore the intersection of informality and resilience, begun during last year’s Urban Resilience Summit and running through influential events like the annual African Centre for Cities’ International Urban Conference.

A key component of 100 Resilient Cities is gathering member cities to share best practices, solve problems collectively, and access expertise from peers and partners. The 100RC Network Exchange program brings together Chief Resilience Officers and practitioners around a common resilience challenge; from exploring Addis Ababa as a living laboratory to collaborating on multi-benefit solutions at work in cities today, this will be an exciting week focused on an exchange of ideas and new collaborations with the potential to benefit cities around the world.