top of page
SDG #11

Creating Sustainable Cities and Communities

Unveiling Sustainable Development Goal 11

In an era of rapid urbanisation, ensuring sustainable cities and communities has become a pressing global concern. According to the Sustainable Development Goal Report, over 50 percent of the global population resides in urban areas, and this number is projected to increase significantly by 2050, with an estimated 7 out of 10 people living in cities

[1].While cities play a crucial role in driving economic growth and contributing to more than 80 percent of global GDP, they also bear the responsibility for over 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions[1]


The rapid urbanisation and rural-urban migration in developing nations has given rise to the emergence of mega-cities, characterised by their large size and population. These cities are confronted with significant global air pollution concerns. Insufficient infrastructure development in many developing urban areas has failed to keep up with the rapid population growth, resulting in the proliferation of slums and uncontrolled expansion[2]. Additionally, this unplanned urban growth is predominantly occurring in vulnerable regions that face an increased risk of disasters, further compounded by the effects of climate change.

Nevertheless, there is potential for sustainable urban development to create inclusive prosperity if adequately planned and managed. Sustainable Development Goal 11 (SDG 11) is part of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which encompasses 17 interconnected goals aimed at achieving a more equitable and sustainable world. SDG 11 specifically focuses on creating sustainable cities and communities. Its objective is to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable by addressing various challenges related to urbanisation, environmental degradation, inequality, and inadequate infrastructure. It emphasizes the need for affordable housing, efficient transportation systems, and access to basic services, green spaces, and measures to mitigate the environmental impact of urbanisation

Key targets and indicators include ensuring access to adequate housing, upgrading slums, providing safe and inclusive public spaces, improving urban planning and management, enhancing resilience to disasters, and promoting sustainable transport systems. These targets serve as benchmarks and guide policymakers in implementing strategies and monitoring progress effectively.

What defines a sustainable city?

While some may perceive sustainability as solely focused on environmental preservation, its scope extends much further. When we refer to a sustainable city or community, we imply a balanced utilisation of its economic, social, cultural, and environmental dimensions, while ensuring the preservation of resources for future generations. In essence, it encompasses the pursuit of a high quality of life for both individuals and the ecosystems coexisting within the city[3].

Why it Matters

Achieving such a complex goal is no easy task, the study released by the UN, indicates that leaving no one behind will require an intensified focus on urban slums – home to 1 billion people in Central and Southern Asia, Eastern, and South-Eastern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 85% of the total. Additional snapshots from the report revealing trends associated with progress related to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable include:

Urban Population Growth and Slum Incidence

  • A 1% increase in urban population growth leads to a 2.3% and 5.3% rise in slum incidence in Africa and Asia, respectively.

Ambient Air Pollution and Health Impact

  • Approximately 4.2 million deaths in 2019 were attributed to ambient air pollution caused by various sources.

  • Sources include traffic, industry, power generation, waste burning, and residential fuel combustion.

Monitoring Air Quality Worldwide

  • Over 6,000 cities in 117 countries actively monitor air quality.

  • Indicates a doubling of the number of cities since 2015.

Air Quality Guidelines and Urban Population

  • As of 2021, 99% of the world's urban population lives in areas that exceed the new air quality guidelines set by the WHO.

Impact of Outdoor Air Pollution on Low- and Middle-Income Countries

  • People in low- and middle-income countries account for 91% of the 4.2 million premature deaths caused by outdoor air pollution.

Projected Increase in Global Passenger Traffic and Cars on the Road

  • Between 2015 and 2030, global annual passenger traffic is projected to increase by 50%.

  • The number of cars on the road is expected to double.

Public Transport Availability in Urban Areas

  • Only around 37% of urban areas worldwide are served by public transport, based on data from 1,510 cities in 2020.

Municipal Solid Waste Collection and Management

  • In 2022, an average of 82% of municipal solid waste globally was collected.

  • 55% of municipal solid waste is managed in controlled facilities.

Local Disaster Risk Reduction Strategies Reporting and Adoption

  • Between 2015 and 2021, the number of countries reporting the existence of local disaster risk reduction strategies nearly doubled.

  • The proportion of local governments adopting such strategies increased from 51% in 2015 to 66% in 2021.

These facts highlight the challenges and areas of focus within SDG 11. They emphasise the urgent need to address issues such as inadequate housing, air pollution, transportation infrastructure, waste management, and disaster risk reduction. The data underscores the disparities and significant impact on vulnerable populations, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Efforts towards sustainable urban development, improved air quality, enhanced public transportation, and effective waste management systems are crucial in achieving SDG 11's objectives.

Interlinkages - Promoting the development of sustainable cities can make significant contributions to various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Actions like improving transportation and reducing pollution in urban areas can have positive effects on goals related to health (SDG3), education (SDG4), sustainable energy (SDG7), decent work (SDG8), and equality (SDG 10). Furthermore, adopting sustainable practices in urban planning can also benefit goals concerning life on land and climate action by minimising the environmental impact of cities. While investing in sustainable cities can enhance the overall well-being of residents, it is important to acknowledge potential challenges such as housing affordability, tax burdens, and the potential for increased urban migration[2]. These challenges may exert pressures on other goals such as employment, food security, access to clean water, and peace[2]

Challenges and Issues on the path to creating sustainable cities and communities are numerous. Rapid urbanisation and population growth pose significant pressure on cities, leading to inadequate housing, insufficient infrastructure, and increased pollution. Limited access to affordable housing, basic services, and public spaces exacerbates social and economic inequalities. Moreover, natural disasters and climate change further impact the resilience of cities and communities, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations.

Additionally, social inequality, insufficient urban planning, and unsustainable consumption patterns exacerbate these issues. It is essential to tackle these challenges holistically and adopt innovative approaches for sustainable urban development.

Actions to build sustainable cities and communities require concerted efforts from policymakers, urban planners, communities, and individuals. Here are some key actions that can drive progress toward SDG 11:

  • Urban Planning: Governments and city authorities should develop comprehensive urban planning strategies that prioritise sustainable land use, efficient infrastructure, and inclusive zoning policies. This includes promoting mixed-use developments, prioritising public transportation, and preserving green spaces.

  • Affordable Housing: Ensuring access to safe, affordable, and adequate housing for all is crucial. Governments, in collaboration with the private sector, should invest in affordable housing projects, implement rent control measures, and provide assistance to vulnerable populations.

  • Resilience and Disaster Preparedness: Building resilience to natural disasters and climate change is essential for sustainable cities. This involves implementing risk reduction measures, integrating climate change adaptation strategies, and enhancing early warning systems to protect communities.

  • Sustainable Transport: Promoting sustainable transportation systems, such as public transit, cycling infrastructure, and pedestrian-friendly designs, can reduce congestion, air pollution, and carbon emissions. Encouraging a shift towards electric vehicles and promoting carpooling can further contribute to sustainable mobility.

It is worth mentioning that business leadership taking action can promote the attainment of sustainable cities and communities. With the escalating effects of rapid urbanisation on society and the environment, businesses can seize opportunities to cultivate interconnected, resilient, and sustainable urban spaces. A collaborative endeavor to enhance community sustainability will demand investments in various sectors such as transportation, energy, waste management, and recreation. Over the next decade, an estimated $78 trillion investment will be required to develop city infrastructure, with private sector solutions and public-private partnerships likely playing a significant role.

Policy and Action Recommendations: Constructing cities that are environmentally friendly, resilient, and inclusive necessitates comprehensive policy coordination and deliberate investment decisions[4][iv]. Both national and local governments hold significant responsibilities in taking immediate action4, policymakers can focus on integrating sustainability into urban planning frameworks, promoting affordable housing, improving public transportation networks, and enhancing disaster risk reduction measures. As part of the

Worlds Bank's strategic plans towards sustainable cities, the bank employs some comprehensive approaches to revolutionise the fundamental systems of cities, with a specific emphasis on five key priorities, which are outlined below:

  • Enhancing Planning Systems and Local Capabilities for Cities: The main strategy focuses on helping cities build stronger planning systems and local capacities to improve their capacity to more efficiently plan, design, and manage urban environments and city assets.

  • The second strategy is to maximise the diversity of financial resources that are available to cities by strengthening their fiscal and financial structures. Cities will be able to more effectively satisfy their investment and financing needs for service delivery and infrastructure development as a result.

  • Building climate-smart cities and urban resilience is a top priority for the Bank, which also lays a major emphasis on reducing the effects of climate change. This is accomplished by increasing the resiliency of infrastructure, raising money, and performing climate planning and analysis at the outset of projects.

  • Fostering Spatial and Territorial Development: The third component concentrates on fostering spatial and territorial development in cities and developing nations. Currently, most of the world's economic activity takes place in a small number of places, covering only 1.5% of its total land area.

  • Investing in Low-Income, Marginalised Urban Communities: The last component focuses on inclusive cities, addresses urban poverty and slum issues, and offers safe and dependable housing options for both current and new residents, including those who have been forcibly evicted.

Call to Action: Creating sustainable cities and communities requires collective action. You can make a difference by getting involved in local initiatives, supporting organisations working towards sustainable urban development, and advocating for policies that prioritise sustainability. Promote awareness about SDG 11 and its importance within your community and social networks. Embrace sustainable lifestyle choices, such as reducing waste, conserving energy, and using public transport.

SDG 11 provides a roadmap for creating sustainable cities and communities that prioritise the well-being of their residents and the environment. By addressing the challenges of urbanisation, adopting sustainable practices, and involving communities in decision-making processes, we can build cities that are resilient, inclusive, and environmentally friendly. Achieving SDG 11 requires collaboration, innovation, and a shared commitment to creating a better future for present and future generations. Let us work together to build sustainable cities and communities that enhance the quality of life for all.



[2]SDG Blueprint | Blueprint for Business Leadership on the SDGs SDG Blueprint | SDG 11

[3]Sustainable Development Goal 11 - Sustainable cities and communities - Blog Bright Cities

[4]World Bank - Sustainable Cities: Urban Development

bottom of page