The United Nations estimates that by 2030, nearly five billion people will live in cities around the world – about 40% of whom are projected to be occupying informal settlements, or slums, in over-saturated global metropolises. Add to this the finding that already today, approximately 90% of the world’s population is surviving with little to no access to fundamental goods and services.

Design With the Other 90%: Cities” (405 E 42nd St., October 15 - January 9, 2012), an exhibition marking a first-time collaboration between the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the United Nations in New York, sheds light on the role of architecture, infrastructure, and alternative energy sources in creating progressive solutions to the challenges facing city dwellers and planners, resulting from unprecedented population growth and rapid urbanization.

The SONO water filter for example, a low-cost, household system invented to remove arsenic from drinking water was created in Bangladesh, and has been distributed to more than 225,000 people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. And the Praça Cantão favela-painting project in Santa Marta, a project where artists and residents paint building facades in eye-catching colors, both drawing attention to the favela’s need for improvement, and beautifying an overlooked slum of Rio de Janeiro, has spread around the world, with a project in Philadelphia in the works.

With a spotlight on innovative problem solving from around the globe, the exhibition celebrates a movement of socially conscious designers and citizens that are creating sustainable, transferable solutions to inequalities in access facing underserved communities. The potential for these projects to change the world lies in their ability to work not only at home, but in other regions facing similar challenges as well.

Marguerite A. Suozzi is an Assistant Research Editor at Travel + Leisure.