Infrastructure inequality is a characteristic of urbanization

Bhartendu Pandey, Christa Brelsford, and Karen C. Seto

Department of Energy, Office of Science, Earth & Environmental Systems Modeling Program Acknowledged Support: No, other Non-DOE EESM source of support


Urbanization can challenge sustainable development if it produces unequal outcomes. Infrastructure is an important urbanization dimension, providing services to support diverse urban activities. However, it can lock in unequal outcomes due to its durable nature. This paper studies inequalities in infrastructure distributions to derive insights into the structure and characteristics of unequal outcomes associated with urbanization. We analyzed infrastructure inequalities in two emerging economies in the Global South: India and South Africa. We developed and applied an inequality measure to understand the structure of inequality in infrastructure provisioning (based on census data) and infrastructure availability (based on satellite nighttime lights [NTLs] data). Consistent with differences in economic inequality, results show greater inequalities in South Africa than in India and greater urban inequalities than rural inequalities. Nevertheless, inequalities in urban infrastructure provisioning and infrastructure availability increase from finer to coarser spatial scales. NTL-based inequality measurements additionally show that inequalities are more concentrated at coarse spatial scales in India than in South Africa. Finally, results show that urban inequalities in infrastructure provisioning covary with urbanization levels conceptualized as a multidimensional phenomenon, including demographic, economic, and infrastructural dimensions. Similarly, inequalities in urban infrastructure availability increase monotonically with infrastructure development levels and urban population size. Together, these findings underscore infrastructure inequalities as a feature of urbanization and suggest that understanding urban inequalities requires applying an inequality lens to urbanization.

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