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.[embed][/embed]
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.[embed][/embed]
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.
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.
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.