Unplanned cities and urbanisation is one of the greatest challenges facing developing countries, resulting in “slums, sprawl, housing and infrastructure shortages, and social segregation”, according to the United Nations.

This leads to cities that are unsustainable, prone to exclusion and unfit for purpose.

When planned and managed well, cities can drive economic growth. To ensure the design and development of cities now and into the future, the UN has devised the Sustainable Development Goals to tackle this in a meaningful way to ensure that cities are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable for all inhabitants.

Sustainable Development Goals

With the global urban population expected to rise from 54 per cent to 70 per cent by 2050 and the addition of hundreds of new cities – much of the growth set to occur in developing countries – how do we tackle rapid urbanisation where poor regulations, a lack of expertise and funds, declining infrastructure, a shortage of housing and congestion exist? Alongside this, how do we manage the growth of current cities to ensure we allow them to continue to thrive and create opportunities for those that live there?

The Sustainable Development Goals are a UN initiative that proposes to “eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all”. The 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted on 1 January 2016. While the goals aren’t legally binding, governments are expected to take control and establish frameworks to ensure that the 17 goals are implemented.

Further, the Sustainable Development Goals build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000 and the signing of the Millennium Declaration. All 189 UN member states committed to achieving the initial set of eight international development goals by 2015.

The Sustainable Development Goals have brought sustainable cities and communities to the forefront of future urban planning.

Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to make cities inclusive, smart, resilient and sustainable. With the UN’s backing there is opportunity for innovative planning, urban design, management and governance to take place so that cities create opportunities for all those that live in them and allow them to continue to grow and thrive whilst not placing pressure on finite resources.

To achieve the key objectives of Goal 11, it is vital for the public and private sectors to work collaboratively with governments at a national and local level to ensure that the outcomes delivered are strong and innovative to future?proof cities and regions. There is a growing understanding that policy and strategy drive economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability.

Cities need to allow opportunities for all members of the community, which requires access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more. Failure of urban planning is a particular concern in developing nations where there is often no existing policy and an underrepresentation in the discipline of urban planning. This is further exasperated by the fact that developing countries are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

It is projected that more than 60 per cent of the area yet to be built by 2030 will be urban and will be in developing countries. With a high rate of urban growth expected, effective planning policy is critical along with local understanding of conditions to ensure new urban areas are robust, can deliver basic services and allow cities to be more reactive and faster to recover if disaster strikes.

Integrating policy

One of the objectives set by the Sustainable Development Goals is to “substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaption to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement holistic disaster risk management at all levels”.

Urban governance allows a more integrated and inclusive approach to urban planning. By having systems in place that promote participation, transparency, efficiency and accountability it is thought that this leads to better outcomes for all stakeholders. It has been proven that engagement with the private sector and other stakeholders “within clear regulatory frameworks and responsibilities have delivered a stronger link between planning and implementation”.

An inclusive approach to urban planning and management can attract investors, directs growth rather than allowing the market dictate where growth should occur and can assist in “translating vision into action”. Existing cities also need to consider attracting investment to develop and renew sections of cities to future-proof them and provide services and infrastructure for a community’s changing needs. This is where community engagement has been known to improve planning outcomes.

The compact city and climate change

There is a correlation between urban compactness and greenhouse gases. Currently cities account for 80 per cent of GDP with the wealthiest 100 cities generating 35 per cent of global GDP. Cities also produce 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Urban strategies and policies that create compact and connected cities are generally known to be more sustainable.

Research shows that when one per cent growth occurs in the city core (rather than the suburbs) this translates to an “avoidance of five million metric tons of CO2 per capita”. Compact and connected cities promote low carbon, energy efficiency and a resilience that can have long-term positive impacts on a community’s health and wellbeing. In contrast, urban sprawl has created congestion, reduces connectivity and increases segregation.

Rachel Kyte, the World Bank Group’s special envoy for climate change has stated, “There is no way that we get to two degrees or to 1.5 degrees without building and living in, and transporting ourselves around cities, in a very different way than we do today.”

Further, there is a general consensus that if global greenhouse gas emissions aren’t cut or slowed this could potentially lead to a loss of economic gains that some developing countries have seen over recent decades.

“Unless world leaders agree to cut emissions, the future could be quite catastrophic,” said Ancha Srinivasan, principal climate change specialist with the South-east Asian department at the Asian Development Bank.

Growth can occur – and should – but it needs to be planned in a way that promotes sustainable and smart interventions, resilience, addresses appropriate densities and integrates mixed use to keep the size compact. This can also lead to increased land values and productivity.

Thinking smart

Information and communication technologies have been playing a leading role in how cities adapt to the effects of climate change. Technology is being used to mitigate climate risk and build resilience, analysis of data is providing a better understanding of how cities function, and ultimately it assists in the decision?making process to allow planning policy to be robust and implementable.

The Smart City concept has risen in prominence over the last few years to promote a more inclusive way of planning through the use of technology and data to build healthy urban environments. Worldwide there are seven billion mobile subscriptions and 3.2 billion people using the internet, two billion of these users live in developing countries.

It is a series of systems that help improve the “quality of life, grow the economy and protect the environment from degradation”. Key to implementation is that it needs to be planned, designed, implemented and managed effectively.

A Smart Cities approach can be used to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, it will allow an integrated approach across all sectors, at local level and provide opportunities to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Cities are for their people and the Sustainable Development Goals will help the global community achieve better outcomes for all. The choices that we make now will impact current and future generations.

David Klingberg is chief executive of David Lock Associates. Kathryn Cuddihy is marketing manager at David Lock Associates.

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