Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Thinking bigger: area-based and urban planning approaches to humanitarian crises

Victoria Maynard, Elizabeth Parker, Rahayu Yoseph-​Paulus, David Garcia

International Institute for Environment and Development



Policymakers and donors are calling for a paradigm shift in humanitarian response in urban areas: moving away from processes focused on individuals or households to approaches that intervene at a larger scale. This paper looks at two larger-scale approaches: first reviewing the literature on “area-based approaches” to urban crisis response (participatory approaches to providing multi-sectoral support in specific geographic areas); and then investigating UN-Habitat’s experience of supporting locally led urban planning at the neighbourhood, district and city scales. It finds that area-based approaches may be appropriate if particular locations have a high concentration of needs, but to be effective they must be linked to city-wide or regional plans and policies. The research suggests post-crisis urban planning can provide this policy and planning framework, while empowering communities and local government to identify their needs and priorities and manage their own recovery. However, significant support may be required to build local capacity.


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