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Sustainable Cities

Dealing with the challenges of modern urbanization

Publication date: 11-02-2024, Read time: 3 min

Over the last few decades, increasing numbers of people have moved to urban areas. This trend is far from new. In 1990, 43% (2.3 billion) of the world’s population lived in urban areas; by 2015 this had grown to 54% (4 billion). And it continues to increase. The United Nations predicts that, by 2050, the share of urban population will reach 66%.

Along with increases in population, the land area occupied by cities is increasing at an even higher rate. Projections for the period 2000–2030 indicate that the urban population in developing countries will double, while the area occupied by their cities will triple.

What makes cities so attractive? 

The unceasing migration of rural populations to urban regions speaks to the relative attractiveness of cities. Cities provide a wide variety of opportunities, facilities and services. These can include opportunities for generating income, jobs, education, access to health care, social and cultural events and so forth. Moreover, most urban infrastructures are better developed than their rural counterparts. Seen in this light, urbanization is a process that fosters economic growth and brings with it greater productivity and a better quality of life for many.

However, there are challenges to be considered as well.

Urbanization is energy intensive, which contributes to climate change. It often leads to urban sprawl, environmental degradation, poor living conditions and severe problems of accessibility. Moreover, although urbanization is a worldwide trend, the increase in urban population has not been evenly spread. Nowadays, the highest growth rates can be found in Asia and Africa, particularly in less-developed regions and in middle- and low-income countries. Building and sustaining adequate infrastructure and public services for these growing populations is especially challenging.

The role of urban planners and managers 

Mitigating the threats presented by modern urbanisation is one of the main tasks of urban planners and managers. Urban planning and management describes the technical, social and political process concerned with the design, development and maintenance of land use in an urban environment. This includes paying attention to air and water quality and the infrastructure into and out of urban areas (e.g. transportation, communication and distribution networks).

Urban planning encompasses activities such as strategic thinking, research and analysis, public consultation, urban design and policy implementation.

Urban management mostly consists of tactical and operational issues related to the performance and maintenance of an urban system.

Ultimately, the key objective of adequate urban planning and management is to overcome and eradicate the dysfunctions and discontinuities of development. This fits seamlessly with the New Urban Agenda of the United Nations – in particular Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

To learn more about urban planning and management, see our article on Five new concepts of what a city should be.

Sustainable Cities
Last edited: 14-03-2024

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