Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires creating cities that are more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. Until 2007, a majority of the global population was rural. Today, a majority of people live in cities—and the proportion continues to rise. The UN estimates that by 2030, the world’s urban population will exceed 5 billion.
Many people migrate to cities in search of a better life. To ensure that this remains possible, the UN’s eleventh Sustainable Development Goal aspires to reach the following targets:
- Ensuring adequate and affordable housing for city-dwellers—including reducing the population of people living in slums.
- Expanding public transport and improving road safety.
- Reducing the losses and deaths caused by natural disasters by improving resiliency and implementing disaster risk reduction strategies.
- Providing access to green spaces, public spaces, and sites of cultural heritage to improve the quality of life for urban residents.
- Addressing the health consequences of poor air quality and waste management in urban areas.
Despite progress toward reducing the proportion of urban residents living in slums, the UN reports that the overall growth of urban populations has offset gains. Currently, nearly 1 billion people live in slums. Urban areas also continue to sprawl, growing in size faster than the rate of growth of their populations.
The stories in this collection illustrate solutions working to make cities more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. Anoush Darabi writes about the strategies that helped Medellín, Colombia, make its cable car infrastructure a success for residents of the city’s barrios. The article also explains why a similar strategy had very different results in Rio de Janeiro. In Peoria, Illinois, a different kind of infrastructure is making the city more resilient to climate change—and more green.
We also learn how the "import replacement" movement is gaining momentum as the pandemic forces communities to examine their own resource allocation practices as they attempt to source goods and services locally, resulting in increased employment and property values, economic stability, and the building of local wealth in the community.
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on sustainable cities and communities.
- Describe how the various strategies of the import replacement movement contribute to sustainable cities and communities. What is green infrastructure? Define green infrastructure and list some of benefits, using specific examples, and paying attention to categories of economic development, climate resilience, and public health.
- Explain the differences in the implementation of public transportation Medellin and Rio de Janeiro—what led to success, what led to failure?
- After reading the story about the women of Ahmedabad, discuss the significance of enrolling local activists in urban planning projects. How can city planners, policymakers, developers, and residents reach agreements for how to use space in cities?
- Examine at least two other SDGs and their targets alongside those of Goal 11. Then, either explain or illustrate how the targets of these SDGs relate to or influence one another.
- Choose an Issue Area or a Success Factor related to Goal 11. Then, create a collection and select at least 4 (or more) stories from the Solution’s Story Tracker that relate to your topic. If working with groups, each group can present on the issues and solutions they found most compelling.
- The import replacement efforts build local wealth by keeping local consumer dollars circulating within the community, instead of being spent in another state or country. The strategies used raise employment rates, increase the tax base, and enhance property values in a community. Because fewer goods are being imported from across the country and world, the carbon footprint of a town or city is dramatically reduced. Producing goods locally builds resilience and adaptability in a community; see the example of Albuquerque not running out of toilet paper because it has a local, family-owned paper factory.
- After reading the article, introduce students to the concept of cooperative design (also called co-design, or participatory design). This is an approach that enrolls multiple stakeholders in the design of a project to ensure that the needs of all parties involved are met and satisfied. In the case of Rio de Janeiro in Anoush Darabi’s article, there appears to have been little input from the communities served by the cable cars. Challenges remained, including a lack of basic sanitation, and inconvenient locations of cable car hubs. This led to a poor outcome for the project.
- The concept of participatory or co-design also applies to housing development. Community activists, as is the case with the women of Ahmedabad, are essential in bringing the voices of those serve to the table. To ensure equitable use of land and other urban resources, city planners, policymakers, and private developers must make planning more transparent and inclusive. You can find other stories about community activism and public engagement in public works projects in the Story Tracker—consider having students build a collection around the issue of participatory design in urban planning and the value of having local activists bringing their voices to the table. This report from an SDG leadership forum by private sector analysts also gives valuable insight into the barriers to sustainable development posed by public apathy and disengagement. (p. 19)
- Answers will vary by student. Goal 11 especially relates to the targets of Goals 1 (no poverty), 3 (health and wellbeing), 4 (quality education), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities).
- Answers will vary—for more on creating collections, click here. For more on Success Factors, click here.