Welcome to our cours on sustainable cities. This is based on the experience of urban leaders, practitioners, policy makers, activists and of course, researches from across the world. This builds on a global campaign that led the United Nations to create a stand-alone goal for sustainable cities. Goal 11 within the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs that define what all countries of the world seek to achieve for their citizens and the planet by 2030.
In this course we will first understand how cities function and how to make them inclusive, productive, safe, resilient and therefore sustainable and we will examine what institutions and processes can enable this to happen.
Over the next several weeks, we will examine the different facets of urban and the path to achieving sustainable cities.
Do you believe cities are a great developmental challenge or opportunity?
I guess the first question is: do you believe Cities are a great development challenge? Cities have long been seen as part of the problem. They cant feed themselves, most are politically volatile and economically fragile. They pollute & destroy nature; many are full of filth, slums, disease and violence.
They concentrate great riches and poverty; are often too complex to plan for and too difficult to manage. That has of course been a popular perception, but if you look at the evidence: Cities and urbanization are far from being an intractable problem. They present us with a unique 21st century opportunity to end poverty, start the journey towards prosperity and inclusive development, reduce disaster risk and address climate change impact. The world has changed a lot since 1950, just after the UN was created. At that time it was only 30% urban, with just 750 million people living in cities; 60% of whom lived in European or American cities as you can see in the map that we are showing you. The economy of the world was just three trillion in size at that time. As we watch the Earth from space today with its 7.3 billion people, most continents are overlaid by a fine mesh of cities and towns. Now over half the world now lives in urban areas. That will of course rise to 60 percent by 2030. Most people dont know: close to two-thirds of the world economy today comes from cities today. At 2030, this will rise to over three-fourths. Close to $90 trillion a year of economic output will come from cities across the world. Where has this economic and demographic explosion come from? New urban geographies different from North America and Europe? New million cities in East Asia; South Asia and soon sub-Saharan Africa? But the growth of these cities has come at a huge price. Large environmental impacts and contests around air & water pollution; unsustainable forest and resource extraction.
Cities also concentrate risk due to natural hazards. Remember- Haiti, Hurricane Sandy or Cyclone Hainan and technological ones Bhopal, Chernobyl and more recently Fukushima Preparing our cities for disasters, reducing vulnerability by strengthening housing and improving services can protect lives; improve livelihoods and the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people across the world. A recent IPCC report, which I was involved in, presented a stark message to the world. There is clear scientific evidence of climate impact that will deepen if we do not take drastic steps over the next 20-30 years. Most of these steps will involve cities across the world. If not, there will be clear limits to our ability to adapt to climate change that will be reached in our children’s lifetime.
Even, the wealthiest, technologically most advanced cities may not be able to survive water and food scarcity that come with this process. If we are able to integrate disaster risk reduction, climate mitigation and adaptation with good development practice, the good news is that we can help transform most existing cities to make them more sustainable. We can also build new sustainable and resilient cities in Asia and Africa, where two-thirds of the future demand for buildings and infrastructure is still to be met. This could well turn the tide over next 20-30 years, creating new economic opportunities and hundreds of millions of jobs that young people from these regions require. This aspirational process, to transform the lives and livelihoods of 5 billion people who will live in cities by 2030 lies at the heart of the SDGs. Implementing this will require a compact between countries, their citizens, city and regional governments and enterprises to deliver the end of extreme poverty, the end of hunger and gender inequality; universal access to health, education and basic services like water, sanitation and energy. But, can we do all of these before 2030. And if so, how?
In September 2015, the UN provided a mandate to all governments and all people everywhere to Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This is a huge step forward for cities and the world. Sustainable cities are a 21st century idea whose time has come; not only to save us from ourselves but also transform our perspectives on development.
The question is how will we implement the urban SDGs, starting in 2016? There is no single answer, no magic bullet to this question. There are many pieces to a dynamic puzzle tied to the diversity of cities and regions in this world that we live in. Cities like each person are almost unique, but they share so many common processes. There is much to learn and understand in each one of them.
Let’s start with the critical rural-urban question.
Cities cannot survive on their own without food and water that largely come from rural areas. Villages in a networked world cannot survive without the industrial products, technologies and services that largely come from cities. Hence strong rural-urban linkages can help end extreme poverty and enable prosperity in rural areas and resilience in cities. In the 21st century, cities and villages will complement each other, rather than being in stylized conflict. Migrants will help link them together, through remittances, improved educational and job opportunities. Now back to cities. Most people come to cities for work, especially the additional 1.1 billion new urban dwellers, who we expect in cities by the 2030s.
They need productive employment. They also need safe, well serviced housing to dramatically reduce 2 billion people currently living in slums. To do this we must solve the challenges of land and labor markets for the poor. We can do that by integrating land use, economic and transportation planning in our cities. This, if it works effectively, can help end extreme urban poverty, increase prosperity and potentially reduce inequality, as we have seen demonstrated successfully in countries as diverse as China, Brazil and Singapore. Sustainable water systems which support universal access to safe drinking water, and environmental services, worked very effectively as we can see in this example from Bangkok.
Linked to this, secure regional food systems, urban agriculture and universal access to adequate nutrition has been done very well in Vancouver and slowly in other regions of the world. To keep the city running and enable a diverse and resilient economy we need reliable, sustainable energy for all households and clean manufacturing, which has been pioneered in Denmark and Germany.
Citywide access to safe, energy-efficient transport systems; improved road safety; expanding public transport, walking and cycling that have transformed Curitiba, Bogota and Vienna. A secure and inclusive built environment at human scale that includes affordable and green housing and universal access to public and green spaces like in Stockholm and some parts of London.
The employment of disruptive technologies, especially ICT to enable learning, commerce, access to knowledge and to mobilise change like in Bangkok and across many parts of India. But beyond, these ecological, technical and economic interventions; cities are centrally about people; their values, their identities and their culture. The urban transformation that we are living through is fundamentally a cultural transformation. For sustainable cities to be effectively realised, we will need to embrace a new social compact that will help to address four persisting asymmetries. First, the artificial divide between the urban and the rural that has no place in a networked world of the 21st century.
Sustainable cities and towns and the countryside are not in contest they are extensions of each other. Second, the forced separation between humans and nature, setting us apart from our environment which would have been useful for frontier cultures, but no longer works for much of the world.
The world in now full of 7.3 billion people who place tremendous pressure on the biosphere. Our Cities have to be reimagined as vulnerable places dependent on fragile environments for their food, water and clean air. Third and most pressing: greater intra-generational and gender equity that will give fiber and strength to our yet fragile urban cultures. Today, a spark in one place can set another location alight, unless we address the clamouring needs of billions of people especially those who live in poverty, insecurity and deprivation every living day of their life.
The immense wealth, technology and knowledge available with us can and must be put to use to address these core urban concerns. Fourth, unbridled consumerism has helped convince billions of us that our immediate wants, our need to consume more and more; trumps intergenerational equity – the well-being of our children, our grandchildren; and with them all of life on the planet. We need to realise the potential of all cities and towns to go beyond mere sites of production and consumption.
We need them to become centers of celebration and transmission of what is best in local culture: livability and access to open spaces in Vancouver, Canada; the celebration of public places in Marrakesh; the river ghats of Varanasi; the west lakes of Hangzhou in China. To address this implementable urban solutions exist across the world. They need to be woven into a coherent fabric that links economic, social and environmental
concerns via this new social compact. Cities are just at the right intermediate scale between the local and global to operationalise this compact. They can deliver impact much more effectively than if we only work bottom up through hundreds of millions of households or only top down via 200 countries and lets say a few hundred corporations.
Yet, this is going to be a tough ask. Only a handful of cities and regions, have been able to make progress on most of these dimensions. Therefore, the challenge before us is to multiply this, first ten, then a hundred fold, to reach a tipping point that will help transform development as we know it, by the 2030s. The SDGs are a major step forward in this pace after decades, especially the idea that no-person and no-place will be left behind. Cities thankfully are a lot more nimble than countries and sometimes even large corporations, even though they are poorly resourced and usually disempowered.
The nation states and the UN will be greatly strengthened in the SDG process, by an alliance that embraces cities and regions. It is time this synergy is invoked: ~2,000 cities and about 200 member states can collectively transform development more effectively, and with greater impact than either of them alone. In Summary, What can sustainable cities and the SDGs deliver for us? Education and health care for all 5 billion urban citizens. 1-2 billion people moving from slums into secure housing and adequate services. 600 million meaningful, new jobs with better working conditions. Building resilience and addressing informality in a $90trillion global urban economy. Building a more compassionate and inclusive culture via cities across the world.
Is this impossible?
So did some people think of the contest against slavery; absolute monarchy; universal voting rights; emancipation of women; and more recently climate change. All of which not accidentally were incubated in cities. The time of cities is here. They can of course drag us down into the dregs of human nature. Alternatively, they can help save us from ourselves and transform our very idea of humanity and development. The choice of pathway lies with us. There is no opportunity for delay our time to enable Sustainable Cities starts now.