Ads are being blocked

For us to continue writing great stories, we need to display ads.

Un-block Learn more


Please select the extension that is blocking ads.

Ad Block Plus Ghostery uBlock Other Blockers

Please follow the steps below

Where the 'Fragile Cities' Are

A new data visualization reveals the urban areas around the world that are struggling to keep it together.

Igarapé Institute

What makes a city fragile?

There are eleven factors that “undermine metropolitan capacity and legitimacy,” according to a global ranking devised by the creators of this new world map of 2,100 cities that have more 250,000 or more residents. Some have their hands full with local issues like crime, unemployment, and pollution; others are grappling with the consequences of war, unable to provide even the most basic services required for the safety and well-being of their residents. Still others face threats from climate change and weather-related disasters.

The Igarapé Institute in Brazil, United Nations University, the World Economic Forum, and 100 Resilient Cities together developed this planet-spanning index of urban fragility. According to their metric, the most fragile cities in the world are Mogadishu, Somalia and Kabul, Afghanistan. On the other end of the scale are Canberra, Australia, and Oslo, Norway. The 328 “low fragile” cities tend to cluster in Western Europe and Japan. But, as the website explains:

All cities, irrespective of their location, exhibit properties of fragility and resilience. Fragility intensifies where risks and stresses accumulate, undermine services and expose citizens to chronic and acute vulnerability.

The cities on the map are scored from 1 to 4, ranging from least (yellow) to most fragile (red). They’re based on 11 indicators in these basic categories of risks: rapid and unregulated urbanization, inequality, poverty, unemployment, policing problems, lack of security, and natural hazard exposure. “The intention is not to single out the most and least fragile cities, though it is hoped that it will help strengthen policies that will help cities build resilience,” the website notes.

Take Aden, Yemen, for example, which has a sky-high score of 3.6. That’s mainly the effect of the ongoing ethno-religious conflict there between the Houthis, an insurgent group, and the Yemeni government. Unemployment there is super high at 28 percent as a result. But it’s not just the conflict-ridden cities that face issues with fragility. London, has a score of 2.1, making it a medium fragile cityhigher than Paris or Washington D.C (both 1.5). Why? Because of crime, air pollution levels, income inequality, and the threat of terrorism. New York City is a tick more fragile, at 2.2, thanks in part to its higher flood risk. You want safe? Move to Syracuse (1.1).

Here are some of the broad trends, via the website:

  • City fragility is not confined to developing countries alone: While it is true that city fragility is concentrated in low-income settings, especially Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia, it is not exclusively so. There are also fragile cities in North America, Western Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.
  • City fragility is not restricted to fragile and conflict-affected states: There are an estimated 40 conflict-affected countries in 2015 according to the UCDP. The World Bank claims there are another 33 fragile states in 2016. Fragile cities are heavily clustered in these areas, but also more widely spread geographically.
  • Megacities and large cities are not necessarily the most at risk of fragility: Most concern and attention is devoted to the more than 35 megacities and 600 large cities driving global growth. It is true that some of them experience fragility. But there are more than 1,500 other cities that are seldom examined, many of them growing perilously quickly.
The Middle East and North Africa have the most fragile cities, sure, but cities in more developed countries are fragile too.  (Igarapé Institute in Brazil, Nations University, World Economic Forum, and 100 Resilient Cities)
The least fragile cities are predictably in Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia. (Igarapé Institute in Brazil, Nations University, World Economic Forum, and 100 Resilient Cities)
The map also helps correlate some of the variables on which the index is based to the total fragility. The unemployment rate in Africa and the Middle East, for example, is strongly associated with city fragility. (Igarapé Institute in Brazil, Nations University, World Economic Forum, and 100 Resilient Cities)
47 of the 50 most violent cities are clustered in Latin America, in countries like Honduras and El Salvador. However, the global data for this indicator is a bit sparse. (Igarapé Institute in Brazil, Nations University, World Economic Forum, and 100 Resilient Cities)

Earlier in September, the platform was demonstrated inaugural meeting of the global parliament of mayors in the Hague. Dive in for more insights.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.