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The Urban Policy Laboratory

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population is living in urban areas.  Cities are not only growing in size and number, they are producing more of the world’s wealth. This expansion is continuing with virtually all urban growth occurring in cities of the developing world, overwhelming ecosystems and placing tremendous pressure on the capacity of local governments to provide necessary infrastructure and services.  Failure to prepare for this unprecedented and inevitable urban explosion carries serious implications for global security and environmental sustainability.

Supporting livable communities requires that cities meet exceptional challenges arising from climate change, rapidly growing inequality, and intensifying urban diversity.  Creating inclusive and socially sustainable cities requires that urban policies pay close attention to the ways neighborhoods and local government interact to create community, economic and educational opportunities, and provide services for all residents.

While these trends are global, the history of place, community identities and public policy shape how cities adapt. Good governance requires leaders and communities to do more than provide needed services and infrastructure to city dwellers.  Effective urban governance must become a powerful tool that allows for popular participation in decision making, creating connections between civil society and the government, and ultimately fostering the articulation of a common vision for the city.

For more than two decades the Wilson Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Project has explored the importance of effective governance and inclusion for nurturing livable cities around the world.  The Project has worked with numerous partner institutions to produce numerous critically acclaimed reports, edited volumes, and monographs.

Building upon this extensive record, the Wilson Center's Urban Sustainability Laboratory (USL) will continue research and programming to promote inclusive and livable cities.  Moving forward, the Laboratory will develop learning exchanges that advance comprehensive and integrated policies, public-private partnerships, strategic long-term city planning and sustainable models for managing urban development by strengthening governance structures and engaging civil society.