What is urban management?

Where are cities heading?

Cities are in a constant state of unprecedented change. Nowadays, the majority of the population is concentrated in cities. It is estimated that between now and 2030, urban areas are expected to triple in surface. That’s as if we built a city the size of Rotterdam daily, for the next ten years. Last year, the percentage of urban population was 54%, up by 20% compared to the ‘60s and way higher than the 1800, when only 2% of the population lived in a city. Urbanization is booming and will continue to do so. Predictions stretch to saying even that 64% of the developing world and 86 of the developed world will be urban by 2050.


The increased movement of the population from the rural areas to the urban areas, as well as the society’s capability of adapting to changes are raising serious questions and specialists are striving to answer the challenges in the best possible way. Despite a lengthy and public debate on the disadvantages urbanization can cause, cities are booming and this is the inevitable reality.

A well-developed metropolitan area plays an important role, as a development centre and economic engine. But this can only happen under one important condition: it has to be very well planned and managed. For this to happen, the local government needs to make it a focus, to have very well trained staff, proper policies in place and adequate funding options.


But what does urban management mean?

In a nutshell, urban management is a very complex field that encompasses strategies, activities and instruments that make a city work.


What does it mean for a city to work? It can mean that its infrastructure is accessible and functional, that the needed resources and services are available and divided in an equitable manner to the population, that interests of the different stakeholders, especially of the inhabitants, are well represented and count in the decision making process and in future developments. For a city to work, one needs solid policies that allow and regulate investments, partnerships and developments of different kinds. This way a city can improve its social, environmental and economic climate, offer more livelihood options and support small & medium scale entrepreneurship and other activities of a commercial nature. Improving living conditions means having affordable and accessible housing options and considering the environmental sustainability, waste management, green area conservation and last but not least, climate change mitigation and adaptation. All these aspects need to be planned and managed at a local administration level, but with a wider context in mind.


Why is it relevant?

In general, it brings cohesion and congruence to a strategy of a city. It unifies the expectations of the different stakeholders, in a way that the plans are feasible and adequate to the daily reality of a place.

Besides paving the way for a common development vision, urban management can benefit cities and people immensely in other ways too.While some individuals have in mind mostly the image of developed countries, with perfectly planned spaces and plenty of resources, it is important to understand that urban management stretches way beyond that. It makes life-changing differences in developing countries and it allows interventions of a different scale, according to the needs and resources of each particular place.

Besides making cities work, urban management and development can also make cities liveable and attractive, both for inhabitants and for businesses, which leads to further developments.

Who makes cities work?


People make cities. This means that every urban professional and urban actor has an important role, just like a million small pieces that make up a huge puzzle image.

Beyond the participative role that everyone has, strategically thinking how the perfect city should be and actually taking those steps to achieve it is a demanding job. Furthermore, one might argue there is no such thing as a perfect city (though some come close) and we should rather just try to make cities work. A city that works in an optimum way for its stakeholders and with sustainability in mind is a winning city. What does it take to create that? It takes excellent, well-trained and adaptable professionals that can do the work both in unfavourable contexts with scarce resources and in seemingly flawless places, with complicated underlying issues.

With urbanization figures rising and such intricate urban environments all across the globe, the world needs well-prepared experts to make sure that things keep going and the growth happens in the best possible way for everyone.

Who can become an urban manager?


This field is very wide and has connection points with many other areas. Future urban managers can have background expertise in architecture, engineering, environment studies, social and economic studies, statistics, public administration and governance and many others. The benefit of a niche programme like urban management and development is, however, that it gears you up and encourages the adequate mindset for such a position. 

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IHS, institute for housing and urban development studies

of Erasmus University Rotterdam

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