• Urban Cosmography

Sustainable Development Goal 11

The role of cities

How can cities take part in holistic development? Cities crosscut many of - if not all - the issues targeted by Agenda 2030, as they are hubs for social and economic development. This is why Sustainable Development Goal number 11 is dedicated to Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

In Part I of this article, we have presented the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and highlighted its main strong points: the fact that it’s intersectional and that is a global call

Now, we will focus on Goal 11, starting from a clear figure: by 2050, two-third of the world’s population will be located in cities. Innovative urban planning and management are needed to make the world’s urban spaces more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

From vision, to plan, to practice.

Seven targets plus three are defined to reshape our cities, each of which is related to a specific indicator in order to periodically assess progress and results. We understand that talking about cities through this framework might sound abstract and that it’s difficult to grasp its execution in practice. However, we believe there is a value in discussing Goal 11 as an example of “global planning” for two reasons. 

Initially, it’s the first opportunity that a coordinated view is laid down for all urban contexts throughout the globe: despite each city’s peculiar characteristic, it’s important to pass the idea that there cannot be healthy human settlements, whatsoever, without the recognition of fair social and environmental grounds, across the globe. 

Secondly, we like to see all these targets and indicators as a tool to constitute a not-negotiable decalogue of citizens’ rights: educating people on what constitutes the quality of collective living - as we live in cities together - it’s paramount. This will increase the individual understanding of one’s own rights, and their consequent demand from the political class.

The full list of targets and indicators is available here. We will now concentrate on the following key points, as we called them citizens’ rights: adequate housing, air quality, access to transport, waste collection and provision of open public spaces.

Adequate housing (target 11.1)

Although relevant progress has been made, more than 1 billion people continue to live in slums, with little to no basic services (i.e. water, sewage, electricity). Safe and affordable housing have to be provided for, across cities and also within the same urban context. Otherwise, we are favoring sharper cuts between privileged and unprivileged residents and contributing to creating hostile urban environments. Never forget that spaces create behaviors. 

Access to transport (target 11.2)

Convenient access to public transport is defined as living within 500 m walking distance from a bus stop and within 1Km from a railway or ferry terminal. Developing countries still experience the lack of such networks, and tend to compensate it by means of informal transport modes. Mobility is not only to be kept safe and in operation, but it’s also necessary to diversify the means of transport, optimizing the routes and types of travelers. 

Air quality (target 11.6)

The World Health Organization guidelines recommend that particulate matter of 2.5 microns doesn’t exceed 10 micrograms per m3 annually, or 25 micrograms per m3 daily. These data are largely unattended, and more than half of the world population is experiencing an increase of particulate matter. The issue is taking a harder toll on those countries that are undergoing fast industrialization, like China or India, and in general poor air quality is affecting more the sensitive groups within a city, like children, the elderly, and people with respiratory diseases. 

Waste collection (target 11.6)

Regular access to waste collection services and the provision of controlled disposal facilities are the standards to make sure that waste is safely managed and handed out to be repurposed for further use. We can assess the importance of an even share of services, in this case, waste collection, if we consider that despite from 2010 to 2018 the proportion of solid waste collected raised to 81% globally, in sub-Saharan Africa it reached only 52%. Consumer-oriented economies and rapid urbanization are, again, hitting harder on cities where waste is not handled correctly, to the detriment of hygiene, natural habitats, and economy. 

Provision of open public spaces (target 11.7)

Open public spaces are defined as spaces within 400 m walking distance from home. Investing in open public spaces make sense only provided adequate proximity because this will guarantee an active use. According to data gathered from 220 cities in 77 countries last year, only 21% of the population had convenient access to open public spaces: the land dedicated to open public spaces might be provided but its provision is inefficient because not evenly distributed across urban areas. As opposed to the logic of the zoning, where open spaces equal leftovers of buildable areas, resilient cities are those where communities are reinforced by having collective, open, spaces for gathering.

The price of the environmental crisis will not be paid evenly across the globe.

To conclude, we believe that Goal 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable should be intended as a guide, to orient the path towards sustainable development. 

We acknowledge that this global plan is currently acting to very fragmented and uneven conditions: the price of the environmental crisis will not be paid evenly across the globe, but will rather go to the expense of the most vulnerable ones. 

But this is why we believe in the power of a global call, where the share of resources is more balanced, across countries and within citizens, and where everybody can be part of the solution.

#sustainablecities #UnitedNations #Agenda2030


United Nations, Sustainable Development Goal 11

Urban Cosmography, 17 Sustainable Development Goals - Part I


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