The world has experienced unprecedented urban growth, making cities critical to achieving sustainable development. In 2015, 54% of the world’s population (nearly four billion people) lived in cities, and this will reach 70% by 2050. Rapid urbanization has brought many challenges including air pollution, an increase in slums and pressure on basic services and infrastructure. Most of the additional 2.5 billion people living in urban areas by 2050 will be in cities of the global south, in particular in Asia and Africa. Nearly 40% of all future urban growth is expected to take place in China, India and Nigeria.
Opportunities & Challenges
Making cities more inclusive and sustainable faces several opportunities and challenges.
Access to affordable housing: The number of urban residents living in slum conditions continues to grow, and collecting better data on the areas of greatest need will help direct financing opportunities and public services to lift populations out of slums and unsuitable housing.
Urban planning and management: Unplanned urban sprawl undermines other factors of sustainable development. For example, with every 10% increase in sprawl, there is nearly a 10% increase in per capita hazardous pollution. In 2014, 90% of city dwellers breathed air that did not comply with WHO standards. The majority of urban centers lack current information on the indicators for Goal 11, and better data is necessary to inform planning decisions.
Sustainable and resilient infrastructure and transportation: Today, cities occupy roughly 3% of total land, yet they are responsible for 70% of GDP, 60% of energy consumption, 70% of GHG emissions and 70% of waste (UN Habitat III). Access to transportation is a key indicator of Goal 11 while efficient systems, especially waste, sanitation, building and transportation services are fundamental to improving the quality of life in cities and minimizing environmental impact.
Accessible and inclusive finance, innovative designs and delivery models: Technology can democratize access to finance and services across cities, lessen implicit biases in loan distribution and enable innovative funding models.
Technology in action
Digital technology will play a key role in addressing these challenges
Big data enabling policy decision making in cities: One of the greatest hindrances to attaining Goal 11 is the lack of data. Given this, urban sustainable development solutions center heavily around the collection, dissemination and leverage of data to support efficiency, increased and equitable access to services and better urban planning that incorporates sustainable development. The New York Police Department maps and models criminal activity to inform its allocation of resources, and India plans to create 100 smart cities by 2022.
Data-driven efficient city systems: Real-time analytics and data on traffic conditions can reduce congestion, and there are apps that enable individuals to make choices about timing and route of travel. Vehicle-to-vehicle or infrastructure communication can also optimize traffic flows. Data on pedestrian and cyclist fatalities can pinpoint the most dangerous intersections and enable alterations to reduce accidents. Robotics, scanning technology and traceability tools such as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) promise to improve the effectiveness of recycling systems.
Decentralized social services: Technology can support decentralized social services by providing mobile access to finance and tools. MasterCard and Mercy Corps partnered to distribute prepaid debit cards to eligible refugees so they can make purchases more securely than with cash. Google, Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee created Refugee. info, a site that new arrivals to Europe can access for critical information on everything from medical services to housing and transportation.Get Involved