Today, for the first time in history, half the world’s population now live in urban areas. By 2050, eight out of ten people on our future planet will be living in cities. No wonder the Executive Secretary of the International Convention on Biological Diversity says, “The battle for life on Earth will be won or lost in cities”.
Successfully re-engineering and building sustainable cities, to live within environmental limits, is a huge challenge. Cities consume two-thirds of our total energy and produce over 70% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. They are the economic powerhouses of their regions, but with huge social inequality in the sharing of that wealth creation.
But the very density of cities offers great opportunities, not just spatially, but in terms of politically leadership too. And we know what a sustainable city looks like. A collection of dense community centres where most people live within walking or cycling distance of their work and recreation. These centres threaded with natural habitat corridors, to foster biodiversity and to give residents access to nature, with frequent public transport connecting them. Buildings making the best use of sun, wind and rain to help supply decentralised smart energy and water grids. A greatly re-localised and healthy food culture. Manufactured goods designed for reuse and recycling. A good quality of life while using minimal natural resources.
That’s an exciting future I want to live in. The question is are our cities up to the challenge of global leadership to deliver that sustainable future?
By Paul Rainger Head of Sustainable Bristol City-Region, Forum for the Future
More and more people are moving to cities. But is the shift sustainable, and is it really doing our quality of life any good? Read more
Demographic, Social and Economic Indicators
UNFPA: state of world population 2009 - Facing a changing world: women, population and climate
Woman Watch Fact Sheet: Gender Equality and Sustainable Urbanisation
IIED: International Institute for Environment & Development
IIED: Working Paper Series on Rural-Urban Interactions and Livelihood strategies: Urbanization and rural development in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta
IIED: Human Settlements Working Paper Series Theme: Urban Change – 5. Africa’s urban transition and the role of regional collaboration
IIED: Environment and Urbanisation brief: Towards a real-world understanding of less ecologically damaging patterns of urban development