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Ivan Turok

The determinants of a region’s competitive advantage, and therefore its ability to sustain economic progress, are the quality of local productive inputs and how well they complement each other. Theories of regional competitiveness in the advanced global North have placed emphasis on ‘soft’ or intangible assets at the expense of physical resources. The tendency to relegate the importance of the built environment also stems from its perception as an inert productive input with diminishing returns, rather than a dynamic resource and a source of ongoing improvements to productivity and competitive advantage. This chapter argues that the urban land and infrastructure system (ULIS) is a cornerstone of regional prosperity and too important to be neglected. A functional and adaptable ULIS amplifies and reinforces the other, softer drivers of competitiveness. Improving the ULIS is particularly important for countries in the global South that are undergoing rapid urbanization in order to accelerate economic progress. Better urban management could help to prevent worsening urban congestion, land-use conflicts, squalid living conditions and a host of related problems. Neglecting the urban form will give rise to common-pool liabilities rather than decent and productive places. It will lock in inefficiency, poverty and social exclusion for decades. This chapter examines the three core pillars of the ULIS: land management, infrastructure investment and coordination of the built environment. Each has an independent effect on productivity and development, but as the chapter illustrates that their influence is enhanced if they combine together and reinforce each other in a cumulative, city-wide process.

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Ivan Turok

The New Urban Agenda maintains that urbanisation in Africa is a one-off opportunity to restructure national economies, eliminate poverty and enhance environmental resilience. The key to unlock the transformative power of urban growth is a compact and connected spatial form that facilitates economic interactions, reduces infrastructure costs and protects surrounding ecosystems and biodiversity. This chapter reflects on whether these propositions accord with current evidence and understanding of urbanisation dynamics, encapsulated within four broad narratives. The simple conclusion is that a more integrated urban form would confer important economic and environmental advantages, but probably at the expense of equity and inclusion because buoyant land markets tend to displace low income groups. There are additional complications surrounding the political realities of anti-urbanism and the lengthy timescales required to transform urban trajectories.