Cities and towns have become drivers of economic growth and now account for more than 80 percent of global GDP. However, as of 2020, more than one billion urban dwellers still live in slums or informal settlements, mostly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. As urban populations grow, slums expand faster, UN data shows.
Accelerator of inclusive growth
This number is expected to continue to rise with an additional two billion people projected to move there in the next 30 years.
Many will be migrants from rural areas or other countries, forced to leave their homes due to climate change, economic hardship and armed conflict. The head of the UN migration agency told HLPF that it is time to include them fully in urbanization plans.
“Cities are at the frontline showing that, when integrated into urban planning, human mobility in general is an important driver of sustainable development,” said António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Believing that migration can be an accelerator of inclusive development, he calls for new national policies that allow migrants to become “active changers” in societies. Migrants’ representatives, as the head of the IOM, must participate in urban planning.
The Forum highlighted the challenges and opportunities associated with urbanization and the urgent need to address the growing issue of reducing the footprint of slums and slum-like conditions.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 seeks to address this by making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable by 2030.
Things to deal with
According to UN statistics, the expansion of the world’s cities in terms of physical infrastructure has exceeded the rate of population growth. Data from 681 cities collected between 1990 and 2020 reveal that the average annual land consumption is at 2.0 percent, compared to population growth of about 1.6 percent from 2000 to 2020. This trend highlights on the need for more sustainable urban planning and land management strategies.
While air quality has improved worldwide, largely due to the efforts of high-income countries, there is a need to address air pollution in cities, as they often experience poor air quality compared to cities. For example, in 2019, cities in East and Southeast Asia experienced a severe deterioration in air quality.
The lack of public spaces and accessible roads also challenges cities around the world. Data from 1,072 urban areas in 120 countries in 2020, shows that more than 75 percent of these cities have less than 20 percent of their area dedicated to open public spaces and streets, which falls well short of the recommended numbers.
Public open spaces account for a measly 3.2 percent of urban land, about four times less than the area taken up by streets.
On a positive note, according to UN data, towns and cities are now more prepared for different types of disasters, because the number of countries that have national strategies to reduce the risk of disaster continues to grow.
Some 102 countries reported that local governments have developed disaster risk reduction strategies, up from only 51 countries in 2015.