Time to think urban: The challenge of building smart, sustainable cities

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Time to think urban: The challenge of building smart, sustainable cities


A worldwide urban population surge is putting increasing pressure on governments, aid donors and the private sector to create the infrastructure necessary to support it. The issue has inched up the international development agenda, and will be the subject of a landmark UN conference in October, known has Habitat III.

At a Friends of Europe session at the European Development Days, the European Commission argued for a more “strategic approach” to the problem, focusing on the social, environmental and practical needs of people who live in cities all over the world. “We need to look at the various elements, we need a strategic approach to urbanisation, looking across borders and beyond borders,” said Corinne Hermant-de Callataÿ of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy.

For Eileen Frerking of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), more should be done to integrate local authorities in urban planning, and to ensure they cooperate with each other. “We need to ensure that national governments are going to support the local level with their challenges due to urbanisation,” she said at the session, ‘Time to think urban’, on 15 June.

While urbanisation is a challenge for both developing and developed economies, Pierre-Arnaud Barthel, Senior Project Manager in the Local Authorities and Urban Development Division of the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) pointed out that it will be trickier for fragile states that lack strong governance structures. “Implementation is key,” Barthel said. “There are too many plans and projects which are remaining on the shelves.”



It’s time to think urban. The Habitat III conference in Ecuador in October will meet at a time of rapid global urbanisation. An estimated 54% of the world’s population currently makes its home in urban areas, but by 2050 this will increase to 62% in Africa, to 65% in Asia, and to 90% in Latin America. Cities are hubs for creativity, commerce and culture, but across the world, rapid urbanisation is putting a strain on land and resources. Governments, including in India, China and in Latin American countries, are not keeping still, however, as they focus on creating “smart cities”, accelerate efforts to end inequalities and build more inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities.

  • What are the elements of the “New Urban Agenda” that Habitat III will seek to hammer out in Ecuador and is there enough political determination among governments to implement the new goals?
  • With an estimated 1 billion people living in slums, can “smart city” initiatives such as those launched in India by Prime Minister Modi help tackle the difficulties facing the urban poor?
  • In China, are city governments doing enough to reduce pollution-related health issues?
  • Is the private sector helping city authorities to invest in mobilizing investments in climate resilient urban infrastructure?


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