SDG 11 – Sustainable, Safe and Inclusive Cities and Communities

Introducing the SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities

Given the strongly transformative effect of urbanisation and the vitality of cities, a stand-alone and dedicated urban sustainable development goal was formed. The SDG 11 is part of the broader Sustainable Development Goals developed by the UN member states as a blueprint for equitable, sustainable development for all people.

It is essential for mobilising stakeholders, promoting cohesive, city-level strategies and accelerating progress towards truly sustainable development, which includes ending extreme poverty. Sustainable cities goal is a transformative agenda that believes everyone must have a dignified life and creating preconditions that allow people to grow and flourish.

Implications of Urbanisation

Urbanisation has proven to be very effective in transforming the economic and social fabric of countries. In fact, cities are largely responsible for most of the consumption and production globally, and they serve as the main engines of development and economic growth. Nearly 75% of worldwide economic activity occurs in an urban setting. Thus, the urban percentage of worldwide investments and GDP will also increase with time, especially with a rising urban population.

For many middle-income and low-income countries, true development is only achievable through sustainable cities and communities, which involves addressing the crucial needs of both urban and rural regions. However, most cities of the world are home to environmental degradation and extreme deprivation, with more than a billion people currently living in uninhabitable slums. Many countries have seen a significant increase in slum dwellers in the last few years, combined with deepening urban inequality.

Taking Stock

With much of future towns and cities not yet built, their design and shape must be proactively guided to attain long-term sustainability. Experts even predict that the land used for building cities will double in the next 20 years. The only way the new SDGs can be universally relevant is if they are relevant to the city-dwellers. Thus, it is vital to construct this future urban fabric more sustainably, since once it has been built, change is difficult and slow.

Cities across the world are being faced with high population growth rates caused by natural increase. Both rural to urban movement and reclassification of previously non-urban regions are contributing to the rising population in cities, particularly in developing nations in Asia and Africa. These population growth trends are more pronounced in the smaller cities with high infrastructural backlogs and low financial and technical capacity. Fast growing cities must be more innovative in how they utilise the innovation and efficiencies from agglomeration in a progressively resource-limited environment.

Instead of achieving better efficiency over time, most cities today are forfeiting most of their great potential agglomeration benefits related to connectivity and concentration and are essentially losing density. Between 1990 and 2000, cities across the world grew at a higher rate than their populations. As these cities started to lose density, they locked themselves into untenable land usage patterns; where people and jobs are far from each over, congestion and transportation costs are high and poor land use with pronounced environmental effects.

Unplanned Urbanisation Effects

In cities, poverty and wealth are largely segregated. Inequalities happen in most sectors but are often consolidated in the slums, especially in developing countries. The slum dwellers usually have to contend with social, physical and economic exclusion. They experience poor housing conditions, inadequate access to the basic services (e.g. sanitation, security, and clean water), health, sufficient food, decent transport, job opportunities and education. Youth and women are often worse off if they live in slums.

Nearly 60% of urban dwellers in developing countries report being affected by crime. Youth, women and children, particularly girls, face certain risks in cities. These include discrimination, increased vulnerability, violence, and harassment. Other stigmatised members of society (e.g. migrants, indigenous people, sex workers, and people with HIV/Aids, etc.) also have to contend with these risks, particular due to restricted access to services, information, and justice.

Unplanned urbanisation also affects vulnerable ecosystems and agricultural land on which people also rely on for survival. In spite of the beneficial efficiencies of being compact, most cities are large-scale users of energy, water and processed and natural products and also major generators of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the inefficiency and overconsumption, material flows remain linear instead of circular in most cities. In fact, waste production across the world is outdoing the earth’s regenerative and carrying capacity.

Opportunities for Development

Even with all the limitations, cities present unparalleled opportunity. With better management, they can offer hope, jobs and growth, while ensuring sustainability. A sustainable urban environment has great possibilities for humanity with regards to better equability, stronger social cohesion, economic growth, enhanced environmental results and general human development. Proper urbanisation is also the key to eradicating poverty. Sustainable infrastructure built today is going to have major implications for future cities throughout the world.

SDG 11 Main Targets

Listed below are the main targets of the Sustainable Cities and Communities SDG that are all intended to be achieved by 2030:

  • Make sure everyone has access to safe, adequate and cheap basic services and housing as well as upgrade slums.
  • Provide safe, cheap, sustainable and accessible transportation systems for everyone, enhancing road safety, especially for increasing public transport, with a special focus on vulnerable people like people with disabilities, older people, children, and women.
  • Enhance sustainable and inclusive urbanisation as well as capacity for integrated, sustainable and participatory human settlement management and planning in every country.
  • Reinforce efforts to safeguard the natural and cultural heritage of the world.
  • Significantly lower the total number of people who die or are affected and considerably reduce the direct financial losses about worldwide GDP triggered by disasters, with an emphasis on vulnerable people and the poor.
  • Lower the negative environmental effect per capita of cities, particularly waste management and air quality.
  • Provide universal accessibility to inclusive, green and safe public spaces, especially for children and women, people with disabilities and also older people.
  • Support constructive social, environmental and economic links between rural, urban and peri-urban areas through strengthening regional and national development planning.
  • Considerably increase the total number of human settlements and cities implementing and adopting integrated plans and policies towards resource efficiency, disaster resilience, inclusion, adaptation and mitigation to climate change, and also implement the holistic Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
  • Support the least developed nations, through technical and financial help, in building resilient and sustainable buildings using locally available materials.

Possible implications

This SDG on Sustainable Cities and Communities may also include emerging recommendations and themes from the recent Thematic Consultations. For instance, the Consultation on Population Dynamics noted that through leveraging the anticipated urban growth, cities can easily accommodate rising demographic demands, while strengthening links to rural areas. In Inequalities Consultation, participants suggested that urban segregation get tackled through participatory policy-making and inclusive policies that included the youth.

Meanwhile, Environmental Sustainability contributes and emphasised the importance of addressing unplanned urbanisation, changing climate conditions, rural to urban migration and its related risks. Finally, in Governance, contributors discussed how to localise sustainable development.

Achieving the SDG goal of sustainable cities and communities will necessitate interlinking various sectoral challenges and using more evidence-based, relevant policies derived from population data. Moreover, it will require better participation and awareness raising, particularly of youth, women, and the marginalised communities, in efforts like city-wide household counting and slum profiling. Cities must carry on challenging the dominant urbanisation model based on minimal regulation, gated communities and cheap fuel as quick solutions for shocks, crime, and instability. Prioritising non-motorised transport, mixed uses, and interconnected public spaces will help.

Final Note

Most metropolitan areas and cities around the world have already started investing in sustainable innovation and streamlining their infrastructure. Governments must also offer their support through adopting proactive urban policies as well as enhancing the capacity of actors in the urban sector to deal with the unique challenges of cities. The real estate sector will also need to be committed to curb speculation so as to attain post-2015 sustainable development. They will need to adopt sustainable business approaches for equitable service delivery and even better resource efficiency.

However, this cannot be done by the private sector alone, there must be valid input from all concerned parties to realise the goal of sustainable cities and communities.

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