“Cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost”.
Over half of all people live in cities around the world and the rate of urbanization is growing. Since 2000, more than one billion people have been added to urban areas globally. Throughout history, cities have been the engines of economic growth, innovation, cultural expansion and social reform. Today around 80% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated in cities. And each year millions of migrants flock to cities seeking new opportunities, education, jobs and a higher quality of life.
But cities are also places of squalor, inequality, smog, crime, and deprivation. Close to one billion of the world’s urban dwellers live in dire slum conditions — and this figure is projected to rise to 1.6 billion by 2030. Cities also account for more than half of all global greenhouse gas emissions and 75 per cent of global energy consumption. The rapid influx of people to cities globally is putting additional pressures on city services, with increases in demands for housing, jobs, education, and natural resources, while also worsening the environmental impacts. Poor planning and sprawl lock cities into unsustainable patterns where jobs and people are far from one another, transportation costs and congestion are high, and inequalities and environmental impacts deepen.
Therefore, municipalities have the power to transform the path of global development. As the level of government closest to the people, they also have the capacity to transform lives. That is why they have an essential role to play in the new sustainable development agenda with a standalone goal, SDG 11, dedicated to ‘’make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.’’
With a strong focus on reducing inequalities and vulnerabilities of people, SDG 11 is one of the broadest of all the Sustainable Development Goals addressing nearly every facet of human life, from access to decent housing, transportation, water and sanitation, air quality, waste management and disaster risk reduction. It also looks to give citizens more of a voice in their future, with access to participatory planning, better protection of their cultural and natural heritage, and more public access to green space.
But there are many challenges are ahead and cities will need solid plans and implantation to address SDG11 targets. Cities are dynamic and complex systems and city planners must decide among competing priorities. Is it more important to invest in business needs to create jobs or to improve access to policing, transport, water, and sanitation in slum areas? Managing this complexity of information requires sophisticated tools and participatory processes among stakeholders to help identify needs and balance interests across economic, social and environmental aspects of the city and between current and future needs.
Cities have often been at the forefront of innovation on public policies, pushing through action on public health and the environment, often well before national governments. The new SDG 11 raises the profile for cities to play an essential role in the international sustainable development agenda. Strong and visionary mayors are needed like never before to help lead this effort and they must engage all stakeholders from business, youth, women, slums, etc to participate in making a lasting transformation towards more equitable, safe, healthy, vibrant, sustainable and resilient cities.
Access more information on sustainable cities on the Future We Want webpage and get the latest updates on urban sustainability from TheCityFix. Discover the interesting C40 network to learn how megacities are addressing climate change, and share your urban initiatives and ideas at the Habitat III Dialogues.
Have you already checked the other Sustainable Development Goals on http://www.globalgoals.org?
 UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel Report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda