The prosperity of African cities

The City Prosperity Initiative is a tool from UN-HABITAT that measures sustainable urban development across the globe in a comparative manner. A set of indices are used covering productivity, infrastructure, quality of life, equity and social inclusion as well as environmental sustainability. These indices are composed of figures derived from combining metrics within each category, resulting in a number between 1 and 0. A figure between 1 – 0.7 is seen as solid, 0.7 – 0.5 moderate, 0.5 – 0.2 weak and anything below 0.2 as very weak.

This city prosperity index (CPI) stands out as an interesting and unique system for three reasons. Firstly, very few metric systems focus solely on cities, most are national statistics. The index also attempts to look at a set of interconnected systems that are intrinsic components of human rights, rather than focus purely on economic factors to measure development. And, for the initial 2012/2013 round at least, the tool covers the vast majority of global cities.

We looked at a handful of emerging African cities, selecting those with rapidly urbanising populations and future potential for large scale growth according to the World Urbanisation Prospects. Johannesburg contributes as both a developing mega-city  and baseline for a more thoroughly entrenched urban environment.

The map below shows city prosperity scores displayed alongside city population figures plus the percentage of residents living informally. A radar chart is also included that overlays all of the cities and the indices into one diagram, which is useful for quickly finding outliers and commonalities in the data (In the radar chart, the indices are colour matched to the bar graphs, and the cities to their name-colour). A quick glance at it, for instance, quickly tells us that Johannesburg’s  levels of infrastructural development and equity are extreme figures for this group of cities.



The analysis highlights a couple of trends and raises some questions as well, which is exactly what you want from large data sets. For instance, the cities all show solid to very solid environmental sustainability figures, except for Niamey in Niger. That particular index is a composite of air quality and emissions figures. So, is that finding due to differences in energy production and carbon intensive methods of household cooking? This might suggest an interconnection between Niamey also having the lowest infrastructural score among the set, as well as over 40 percent of its population living informally. Yet, Kampala in Uganda shares similar figures in those regards but has the highest environmental sustainability figure of the lot.

Johannesburg’s appallingly low equity and social inclusion figure also stands out. Johannesburg has the highest figures for productivity and quality of life as well as infrastructure, and this is combined with the largest population size and smallest number of people living informally. These numbers would all traditionally be used as positive measures of development. The fact that they seem to have had so little impact on equity within the city speaks to a need for strong spatial transformation and a rethink of investment and development practices. It seems apparent in this situation that the trickle down approach is not having the expected impact.

Having access to numbers like this is intended to allow local level government to start linking its analysis of indicators, projects on the go and overall policy, which by itself is a useful tool. But having a large set of cities also means you can quickly start to find cities working with very similar bases but achieving remarkably different results, making a valuable base for comparisons, and from there more deeply interrogate why. It is unclear at this point how frequently these figures are going to be updated in the future, but even without change over time they still make for a fascinating and simple introduction to cities across the globe and the challenges they face.


Mark Jackson is an editorial intern at with a background in environmental sciences as well as city and regional planning. He is presently studying at UCT in the engineering and built environment department, doing research into the project management success factors behind large scale urban developments.

Sources: UN-HABITAT Urban Data

Photo Credit: Peter Durand via flickr

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