Urban inequalities and sustainability

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Since their emergence, cities acted as major engines of economic and social development. The rising impact of urban life is testified by the 2018 Revision of UN’s World Urbanization Prospect, showing that by 2007 urban population passed, for the first time in mankind’s history, the 50 per cent threshold; the same source suggests that by 2050 more than two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities.

However, cities are not universally accepted as sources of welfare and happiness. In particular, while income inequalities rose all over the world over the past half century, they became even more visible in cities.

This collection of papers will take stock of the existing body of knowledge stemming from these relatively disconnected strands of literature to help understand the general picture of inequalities at the urban level. From a policy perspective, our collection links particularly with Sustainable Development Goals 10 and 11. The former suggests to aim at reducing “inequality within and among countries”, while the latter argues that policies should “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. This special issue will argue that cities will not be sustainable, lest within-cities and rural-urban inequalities will be addressed and amended across the economic, environmental, and social dimensions. In fact, a substantial share of the extant literature suggests that more equitable economies are also more competitive, and long-run evidence suggests that inequalities are not accepted by the larger population.

Both empirical and theoretical contributions to the collection are welcome; however, the latter should examine empirically and/or policy- relevant issues, and provide some real world data as a starting point.

We welcome papers that deal with the determinants and the impact of urban inequalities, including, but not limited to, institutional quality, public governance, income, and well-being, health, schooling, housing and environmental inequalities, all declined along the urban dimension. Papers from both the Global North and Global South should especially address the following themes:

  • Urban-rural inequalities

This collection of papers will welcome contributions digging into this topic, and assessing the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the process of urbanization for both urban and rural dwellers.

  • Within- and across-cities socio-economic inequalities

The special issue will welcome contributions that deal with within- and across-city inequalities along the social, racial, gender, and wellbeing dimension. While evidence is overwhelmingly suggesting the perks of urban life, it does hint at an inequal set of benefits for different social groups and dwellers of different cities, which need to be paid specific attention.

  • Environmental inequalities

This special issue will welcome contributions to the debate on the role of cities in enhancing, or mitigating, climate change and environmental pollution, and to the discussion of cost-benefit analyses of policies helping steering these two mega-trends.

  • Other types of inequalities/issues

This collection also welcomes contributions presenting a fresh perspective on inequalities along all dimensions not explicitly mentioned. These may include, but are not limited to: health inequalities, schooling inequalities, housing inequalities, the digital divide characterizing different social groups within cities, and their capabilities to manage new emerging digital technologies. By the same token, papers dealing with the role of informality in urban development are also welcome.

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About the Guest Editors


Andrea Caragliu is Associate Professor of Regional and Urban Economics at Politecnico di Milano. He is currently Editor for PLOS One; serves as Book Review Editor for Papers in Regional Science; and currently sits on the Editorial Board of npj Urban Sustainability and Investigaciones Regionales - Journal of Regional Research. He also acts as Executive Director of the Regional Science Association International. He has guest-edited four special issues, for Regional Science Policy and Practice, International Regional Science Review, Scienze Regionali The Italian Journal of Regional Science, and Energy Policy, and has published on several international journals, including Papers in Regional Science, Journal of Regional Science, Economic Geography, the Journal of Economic Geography, and the Journal of Urban Technology.


Chiara F. Del Bo is Associate Professor of Public Economics, Università degli Studi di Milano. She is Associate Editor of the Cambridge Elements of Public Economics, Cambridge University Press and acted as a Guest Editor of two Special Issues for Technological Forecasting and Social Change and Scienze RegionaliThe Italian Journal of Regional Science. Her research interests are in public economics, with an additional focus on regional and urban issues. Her research has appeared in international journals including: European Journal of Political Economy, Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Regional Studies.


Sumana Bandyopadhyay is Professor of Geography at the University of Calcutta. Her areas of research include Urban Geography, Urban Environmental Planning, Disaster Studies and Gender Geography. She completed her Masters at JNU and her MPhil-PhD at the IIT Bombay, India. She is presently President of the Regional Science Association of the India Section and has been working towards networking and collaborations in the South Asian region, having successfully initiated the Sri Lanka Section along with the RSA International team. Her recent collaborative Book Projects with the SADF also highlights her interest in research in the South Asian Region. She has led several research projects with international collaboration, recent ones being with Nottingham University (GCRF Projects, Newton Fund), University of Waterloo (the interRAI network collaborator representing India at the iNMH), works as Short Term Consultant for the World Bank. Her recent publication is on the transformation of Kolkata, the Colonial City, and another on the Urbanisation of Eastern India, to be published by Routledge. She regularly leads organizational activities of the Regional Science Association of India, especially its Annual conferences, Workshops and was the Local Organiser of the 12th World Congress of the RSAI at Goa in 2018. She works in the Editorial Team of the RSPP, Asia Pacific Journal of Regional Sciences and The Geographical Review.