Livable Planet

An Action Plan Is Needed If a Majority of the World Will Live in Cities by 2030

The Sustainable Development Goals have specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. Today we're breaking down how to get safe and sustainable living spaces in our cities and communities.

by Katelyn Harrop
Sep 26 2017, 4:30pm

Image via UN

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals are 17 encompassing objectives meant to address the world's most pressing health, educational, social and economic issues by 2030. This month, the UN General Assembly, as well as many of the governing bodies behind the UN's SDGs, will be convening and we'll be breaking down a goal a day.

SDG #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

It's estimated that 60 percent of the global population will live in cities by 2030, with 95 percent of this rapid urban expansion taking place in the developing world. And while urban growth can offer exciting opportunities for innovation and commerce, it also poses a unique list of health, environmental, and governance issues unknown to many rural communities.

This extreme population increase, under such a short time period, will require expert city planning and transportation development, water treatment and septic system innovation, and the reconfiguring of global climate policies to make urban centers safe and sustainable living spaces for all by the SDG deadline.

The Effect

More than one-third of urban dwellers lived without access to municipal solid waste collection in 2013, and the number of people living in urban slums continues to grow across the globe. In 2014, 90 percent of people living in cities were breathing air that registers below WHO standards, and cities continue to contribute up to 80 percent of global greenhouse gasses, despite occupying only 3 percent of the earth's land. And these issues aren't reserved for developing nations.

U.S. cities have some of the highest rates of energy consumption in the world, and cities like New Orleans and Houston continue to feel the shortcomings of their city infrastructure in the face of natural disasters. It's time to seek sustainable development for our cities. Both at home, and across the globe.

The "You" Factor

It's up to us to make sure our cities are prioritizing sustainable, international development. Let's get started.


Good news! The UN General Assembly has adopted the New Urban Agenda. The document's chocked full of good stuff like ensuring basic social services to all citizens, including sanitation and family planning, reducing urban greenhouse emissions, and promoting full social inclusion for refugees and displaced people. Now, it's up to us to put pressure on leaders to make sure these commitments are pursued and maintained across the globe.

Prefer to focus at the community level? ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability helps local governments worldwide to establish sustainable urban planning and energy initiatives for cities of all sizes. ICLEI has even developed a "fast growing cities network" to address the unique challenges of rapid urban development through local governance.

At Home

The Urban Institute is leading the research charge for healthy, sustainable urban growth across all demographics and regions in the United States. Urban also provides resources for policy makers, educators, and grassroots organizers, with the goal of making a progressive urban agenda available across the map.

There are also a ton of city-specific nonprofits fighting to increase sustainable urban growth right in their backyard.

Urban Green Council fights carbon emissions in NYC by promoting sustainable construction and planning across the city. Nashville's Urban Green Lab takes a hands-on, community-centered approach to sustainable urban development through classroom curriculum, household waste audits, and even an innovative mobile sustainability lab, all with the goal of increasing thoughtful, green development across the city.

To learn more about the SDGs, head to the Goalkeepers site created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.