Easy access to services, institutions and economic opportunities can separate thriving communities from others that are left behind socially and economically.
Eighty per cent of the global population lives within an hour of a city, but poorer people have poorer access to the services and opportunities that cities bring, according research published.
University of Queensland researcher Bonnie Mappin said the University of Oxford-led study was the most detailed assessment to date of how accessibility to services, institutions and economic opportunities offered by cities varied around the world.
“The study takes a crucial step to show where gaps in accessibility and fundamental inequalities remain in 2015,” said Ms Mappin, a PhD candidate in UQ’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science.
“It will provide the inputs for future geospatial modelling for sustainable development.
“The accessibility map could be used, for example, to inform environmental and conservation planning to balance infrastructure demands and ecosystem preservation.”
She said advancing accessibility worldwide underpinned the United Nations’ equity agenda of “leaving no one behind”.
The study found that only half (50.9 per cent) of people in low-income areas (concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa) lived within an hour of a city. This compared to 90.7 per cent of individuals in high-income settings (concentrated in Europe and North America).
The researchers measured accessibility in travel time required to reach the nearest urban centre, and integrated multiple large data sources for road and city geography to create a high-resolution global map quantifying travel time to cities, in 2015.
The study authors said the only previous assessment of global accessibility was in 2000, before recent expansions in infrastructure networks, and significant advances in data quality and availability.
The study, led by Dr Dan Weiss, involved researchers from The Netherlands, Australia, Italy, UK, and the US. It is published in Nature (doi: 10.1038/nature25181).