SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

SDG 11 aims to renew and plan cities and human settlements in general in a way that
fosters community cohesion and personal security while stimulating innovation
and employment.

In 2008, for the first time in history, the global urban population outnumbered the rural population. This milestone marked the advent of a new ‘urban millennium’. Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more. At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically. With the number of people living within cities projected to rise to 5 billion people by 2030, it’s important that efficient urban planning and management practices are in place to deal with the challenges brought by urbanization.

Many challenges exist to maintaining cities in a way that continues to create jobs and prosperity without straining land and resources. Common urban challenges include congestion, lack of funds to provide basic services, a shortage of adequate housing, declining infrastructure and rising air pollution within cities.

Population living in slums

As more people migrate to cities in search of a better life and urban populations grow, housing issues intensify. Already in 2014, 30% of the urban population lived in slum-like conditions; in Sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion was 55%, the highest of any region.

Globally, more than 880 million people were living in slums in 2014. This estimate does not include people in inadequate or unaffordable housing (defined as costing more than 30% of total monthly household income).

Concerted action will be needed to address this challenge and enhance resilience because cities, as hubs of opportunities, remain magnets for people seeking a better life, which however is not always the case. Providing adequate shelter for all is a high priority since slums have negative impact on GDP and on life expectancy.

Urban sprawl

As population growth outpaces available land, cities expand far beyond their formal administrative boundaries. Urban sprawl refers to the unrestricted growth in many urban areas of housing, commercial development, and roads over large expanses of land.

This urban sprawl can be seen in many cities around the world, and not only in developing regions. From 2000 to 2015, the ratio of the land consumption rate to the population growth rate in Eastern Asia and the Oceania was the highest in the world, with developed regions second.

Other regions, such as South-Eastern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, showed a decrease in that indicator over the same time period. Unfortunately, a low value for this ratio is not necessarily an indication that urban dwellers are faring well, as this can indicate a prevalence of overcrowded slums.

Unplanned urban sprawl undermines other determinants of sustainable development. For example, for every 10% increase in sprawl, there is a 5.7% increase in per capita carbon dioxide emissions and a 9.6% increase in per capita hazardous pollution. This illustrates the important interlinkages across the goals and targets of the SDGs.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Given the manyfold challenges related to a sustainable management of cities, any help is welcome. In 2016 the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements in association with the Inter-American Development Bank carried out ten case studies of smart cities, one of them in Singapore.

100% of Singapore’s population lives in cities and the country has the ambition to become the world’s first true smart nation by harnessing technology to the fullest with the aim of improving the quality of life, strengthening businesses, and building stronger opportunities. This is part of the Smart Nation Vision established in 2014 to tackle the main challenges of an aging population, urban density and energy sustainability.

The most advanced smart service is the Intelligent Transportation System.

These are great ambitions and impressive steps are being taken. However, when looking at the daily life of average people, the challenges they face take on a different angle on sustainability that of the importance of the small things and a life well lived in their accustomed settings.