Cities Need Work If We Want to Address Sustainable Development Goals


October 17, 2016

Did you know that more than half the world’s population lives in cities? That number is projected to increase to 70 percent by 2050. At the same time, economic inequalities have risen, making cities a focal point for how we solve some of the most pressing causes of poverty.

Almost one-third of city-dwellers live in what are known as “informal settlements,” like slums. Cities are guilty too, of the significant contributions to carbon emissions — a whopping 70-75 percent and use two-thirds of the world’s energy — factors significantly impacting climate change. Cities are a natural hotspot for some of the big issues we’re trying to solve to improve our world.

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals include a goal specifically on sustainable cities and communities. As places to tackle poverty, healthy and safe living spaces, and sustainable construction in urban areas, re-imagining how we live and grow together in cities is critical.

It’s not just housing. It’s how we think about transportation. Garbage. Energy. Sewerage. The often behind the scenes details that are the engine rooms of urban life.

These issues are why hundreds of mayors, UN leaders, national government politicians, and community leaders are gathering right now in Quito, Ecuador for Habitat III. It is the third ever UN conference on housing and sustainable urban development and the agenda revolves around the New Urban Agenda which sets out a global sustainable cities strategy for the next 20 years. The last time Habitat was held was 1996.

Speaking to a gathering of more than 400 mayors in advance of Habitat III, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “elected officials, Mayors, Governors and Councillors, are the forefront of the battle for sustainable development… In short, your role is growing by the year […] You are faced with the immediate daily demands of your people: for housing, transport, infrastructure, and basic services…“ Praising mayors for their leading role in drafting the New Urban Agenda, he called them to action: “Take strong ownership of this vital agenda. Stand up for the people you represent.”

Take Action Challenge

Do you live in a city? What kind of city life do you want? For you and for your children? Follow the conversation on social media using hashtag #Habitat3. Be sure to follow the summit’s top issues via @Habitat3UN or learn more at

Mr. Ban’s call to mayors can apply to ordinary citizens too. How can we stand up for the people we represent — our children — and build them cities that will create the kind of future we want for them?

Lead photo of an informal settlement outside Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Chrysula Winegar 

Share this post!