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Making cities more inclusive, safer, more resilient and more sustainable is part of the major challenge behind Sustainable Development Goal 11
The world is changing fast and we, as citizens, are changing with it. We live in an increasingly urbanised world, where cities are becoming the nerve centres of economic and demographic growth, the focal points of the decision-making power of nations. Today, over half of the world’s population — 3.5 billion people — live in cities and 60% of global GDP is located in cities, accounting for 75% of the planet’s carbon emissions and more than 60% of resource use. If we compare these figures with those of the early 20th century, when only 13% of the population lived in cities, and take into account the forecasts for 2030, when five billion people will be city dwellers, we can see why it is crucial that cities become more inclusive, safer, more resilient and, fundamentally, more environmentally sustainable, which is where Sustainable Development Goal 11 comes in.
SDG 11 focuses on the importance that cities have and will continue to have in the development of society. The rapid growth of cities is posing a threat to our societies, especially in developing countries, which will account for 95% of the expansion of urban land in the coming decades. Today, 883 million people live in slums, mainly in East and South-East Asia.
Think of big sprawling cities, with precarious infrastructure, inadequate services, poor waste and sanitation management, unsustainable pressure on water resources… Populations with a dismal quality of life — 90% of the world’s city dwellers breathe air that does not meet World Health Organisation safety standards, resulting in a total of 4.2 million deaths due to air pollution. Cities where the once typical dream of a single-family home, complete with private garden and swimming pool, has faded away and been replaced by a more efficient or lucrative vertical city concept (cities occupy only 3% of the land). Denser cities, which take up a smaller surface area and look more towards the sky in order to free up space. Conditions that could have a negative impact on human life and the environment and which mean that, if such a damaging outcome is to be avoided, the future of billions of people requires a strategy for a better quality of life.
This is where we have to look to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, which set out a roadmap to make sure these cities protect the interests of the community, trying to make them friendlier spaces where the services and resources we need are accessible and sustainable, promoting all things local and the sharing economy. A healthier and more sustainable model.
What are the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 11?
11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
11.2 By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
11.4 Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
11.5 By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths caused and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
11.a Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
11.b By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels
11.c Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings using local materials
How costly is it to pursue SDG 11?
Even though we now know the roadmap, it is essential to consider these targets from a cost-benefit point of view. Carrying out the necessary actions requires considerable investment, but organisations such as the United Nations maintain that the benefits are huge in terms of economic activity, quality of life, the environment and the medium-term success of a city. An example of this is investment in a functional public transport network, which has been shown to offer one of the highest returns at socio-economic levels.