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Why do Cities Matter in Sustainable Development Discourse?

17th April 2020

As current projections indicate that the majority of the world’s future population will live in urban areas, cities play a central role in the pursuit of sustainable development. This recognition materialized through the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 (in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development): “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. This UN World Cities Day, October 31st, further emphasises this with the same theme. In order to strengthen resilience, adaptive capacity, and adaption to climate impact, related hazards and associated risks, cities and urban planners need to have a greater role in the local development of natural resource planning and management, with broader access to resources and a more decentralized governance structure.

Cities are not isolated. They interact extensively with surrounding regions and, increasingly, with the rest of the world. Since the emergence of new discourses and agendas, such as sustainable development, climate change, disaster risk reduction, urban development, etc., scholars stress the need to create integrated and harmonized policies and promote a coordinated decision-making approach at local, national, regional and international levels. Furthermore, they argue that achieving overlapping objectives and goals can occur when decision-makers better recognize and understand how their actions, interests, and mandates link and interact with other components within the broader system of governance.

Cities have significant potential in contributing to resource demand management (e.g., infrastructure, awareness, policy interventions, and community engagement) and urban climate-related strategies (adaptation and mitigation). Furthermore, at the city scale, there are significant opportunities for synergies between the sectors and potential for collaboration and coordination between the key actors responsible for planning and designing sustainable development plans, adaptation and mitigation responses, and disaster early warning systems, etc. There are also various significant sectoral interlinkages and urban synergies between SDG11 and potential innovations and practical solutions to advance policy coherence and interventions within cities. It is critically important for policy makers in global, regional and national governments and cities to understand these linkages and the need for coordination when devising sustainable development strategies. Despite the progress that has been achieved at a global level in recent years to help guide and drive local, national and regional processes on sustainable development, many knowledge gaps and challenges still exist that might hinder the SDG11 implementation process.

The achievement of SDG 11 is observed as a cyclical relationship with planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of the strategies as key responsibilities of the leader. Ultimately, strong leadership, a coherent implementation plan and engagement of all government departments and diverse stakeholders are necessary to ensure that SDG 11 is achieved at national and international levels. UN World Cities Day on October 31st is one more way of drawing attention to the context around, and the importance of, sustainable and resilient cities.

Authors: Maha Al-Zu’bi, University of Calgary, Canada; Vesela Radovic Belgrade University, Serbia

The author’s Sustainable Cities and Communities, part of Emerald’s Concise Guides to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Series, publishes on November 13th.

Maha Al-Zu'bi, Vesela Radovic

University of Calgary, Canada, Belgrade University, Serbia