A Tale Of Two Cities: Mixing The Urban Poor Into A Rich Urban Life

A Tale Of Two Cities: Mixing The Urban Poor Into A Rich Urban Life
The escalators in Medellin, Colombia, on Dec. 26, 2011, the day of their inauguration

Skyscrapers and shanties, gleaming malls and rundown markets, palatial houses and the piss-poor guys who build them: Those are the divides in cities like Mumbai, Nairobi and Manila. Rich and poor do not much mingle.

But a movement is afoot to change that. It aims to integrate the poor into the urban bloodstream, instead of shunting them from sight. For this “inclusive cities” movement, urban renewal doesn’t require razing slums and markets. Instead, these world-class cities embrace their informal workers, those who work for cash and usually lie outside the tax system, uncounted.

Some shining examples: Bogotá recently incorporated 15,000 informal trash pickers into its municipal rubbish and recycling program. In February, India’s Parliament passed a law to regulate and protect street vendors, and last year saw the creation of the first worldwide domestic workers union.

The poster child for inclusive-city efforts is Medellín, the Colombian city where a 1,300-foot escalator links hillside shanties with the city’s commercial center. Credited with fostering the city’s renaissance, the escalator is the centerpiece of a transport network that includes cable cars and trains and a living metaphor besides: a ladder from poverty to economic opportunity.