• People are cities, cities are the future | Chris de la Torre

    23 Oct 2013

    Kampala City at Night
    Kampala, Uganda at night. (Photo: UNDP in Uganda)

    Making cities more sustainable is central to global development, and it's easy to see why. The report of the Secretary-General's High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda (PDF) describes cities as "engines for business and innovation," adding that "with good management they can provide jobs, hope and growth, while building sustainability."

    Following current trends, by 2025, 65 percent of the world's economic growth could be generated by just 600 cities. Urbanists like Alan Ehrenhalt have studied the impact of development on cities, portraying them as dynamic and diverse systems that help shape the trajectory of economic and social evolution.

    People are coming together, and fast. The current influx of people to urban areas, projected to have two thirds of the earth's population living in cities by 2050, underscores the need for improved infrastructure and social relations. The global urban slum population will increase by 6 million each year unless improvements are made.

    The rapid growth of cities demands an integrated approach to sustainable development that considers equality, human rights and resilience. Success hinges on partnerships between Member States, multilateral organizations and civil society — in essence putting people at the forefront of global change.

    While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stresses the ideal of social justice, UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) require practical plans of action that consider urban spaces collectively, as well as individual systems that evolve according to local culture and custom.

    Maruxa Cardama, executive project coordinator of Communitas, a coalition working to holistically advance urban and rural development, is keen on seeing an urban SDG.

    "How can we visualize an edifice of sustainable development goals where urbanization is [included]?" she says.

    Cardama refers to Sustainable Development Goals, the set of action-oriented goals meant to build on the MDGs and converge with the post-2015 global agenda. Urban SDGs would focus on challenges unique to cities and empower actors around problem solving, including rural-urban innovations that would interlink food, water and energy sectors in a “nexus.”

    People are cities, and cities are the future. Community is the driving force behind urbanization. Knowing who needs what and how we can work together is essential to finding a sustainable path forward.

    Talk to us: How can we ensure that our cities are inhabitable for all people? What lessons can cities tell us about how to utilize public space and equitably manage natural resources like water, food and energy?