Half the world’s population —or 3.5 billion people— currently lives in cities. These urban settlements bring people closer and open up a window for many opportunities, such as commerce, social interaction and development; and close contact with innovation, science and culture (UN, 2015). But the cities people dwell in today are not sustainable cities, which are direly needed if the world wants to keep moving forward. Let’s see why.
Currently, 828 million people live in slums —overcrowded urban areas inhabited by the chronically poor—. Taking into consideration that 60% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban settlements by 2030; on a business-as-usual mindset, the number of people living in slums is set to increase as well. The adverse effects on society of the expansion of slums are obvious, but the solution is even more so.
Sustainable cities are needed to harbor rapidly-growing masses of people with minimum impact on the pre-existing society and the environment. Current cities occupy only 3% of the world’s surface, but they make up 60-80% of the global energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. Moreover, their rapid growth is putting a strain on existing basic services and the resources available to them. The development of sustainable cities takes this into account and incorporates strategic planning so the needs of all citizens can be met while making conscious use of resources and reducing the harmful effects current-day urbanisms have on the environment.
Sustainable cities are best defined through what is known today as a smart city, which is “an urban development that uses information and communication technology to enhance quality, performance and interactivity of urban services, to reduce costs and resource consumption and to improve contact between citizens and governments” (Wikipedia). Smart, sustainable cities, are not ones that have flying cars, as mankind envisioned during the last century, but ones that are efficient and conscious of their consumption and output. Sustainable cities are designed and managed to be resilient and to accommodate an ever-growing population, as well as withstand the pass of time and adverse events. Sustainable cities connect their citizens and provide them with quality services in order to ensure true sustainable development.
It is expected that 95% of urban expansion will take place in developing countries, which represents a tremendous opportunity for the design and implementation of sustainable cities that allow for efficiency in use of resources, quality services and an improved quality of life in comparison to today’s standards. Sustainable cities will be a powerful tool in the sustained economic growth sought by Global Goal 8.
GLOBAL GOAL 11: INCLUSIVE, SAFE, RESILIENT AND SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND HUMAN SETTLEMENTS
- Ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.
- Provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable positions.
- Enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries.
- Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
- Significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.
- Reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management.
- Provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
Below are three general guidelines contemplated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for the development of resilient, inclusive and sustainable cities. Taking into consideration that not all countries possess the same resources, it is important to adapt these guidelines to the reality of each country and to develop strategic alliances with neighboring countries and others of the global community to achieve this goal.
- Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning.
- By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement holistic disaster risk management at all levels.
- Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials.
A global change of the scale sought by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for actions to be taken at all levels, including how people live and interact with each other in the places they inhabit. Sustainable cities are already in the making, in places like Amsterdam, but there is still a long way to go and the people who currently live in cities must be the ones to take a step forward and demand conscious, systematic efforts from their representatives in order to achieve this goal.