Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2030, it is projected that 6 in 10 people will be urban dwellers. Despite numerous planning challenges, cities offer more efficient economies of scale on many levels, including the provision of goods, services and transportation. With sound, risk-informed planning and management, cities can become incubators for innovation and growth and drivers of sustainable development.

Almost a third of the urban population in developing regions still live in slums

In 2014, 30 per cent of the urban population in developing regions lived in conditions categorized as slums. In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion was 55 per cent – the highest of any region. Though the percentage of the city dwellers living in such conditions declined over the last decade, more than 880 million people around the world were still living in slums in 2014. Concerted action will be needed to address this challenge and enhance resilience because cities remain magnets for people seeking greater opportunities and a better life.

Proportion of urban population living in slums, 2000 and 2014 (percentage)

Urban sprawl is found in many cities around the world

In many burgeoning cities around the world, growing populations are moving outwards, far beyond administrative boundaries. Urban sprawl is found in many regions: Eastern Asia and Oceania had the highest ratio of land consumption to population growth in the world from 2000 to 2015, developed regions were second. Only Latin America and the Caribbean and Southern and Central Asia saw a ratio of less than one, meaning that cities in these regions became more densely populated. Unfortunately, a low value for this ratio is not necessarily an indication that urban dwellers are faring well, as this can indicate a prevalence of overcrowded slums. Unplanned urban sprawl is associated with increased per capita emissions of carbon dioxide and hazardous pollution and often drives housing prices up, all of which hamper sustainable development.

Average ratio of land consumption rate to population growth rate, 1990−2000 and 2000−2015, based on a stratified sample of 194 cities

Cities in every part of the world have dangerously high levels of air pollution

Air pollution is a major environmental risk to health. Globally, ambient (outdoor) air pollution in both cities and rural areas is estimated to have caused 3.7 million premature deaths in 2012. In 2014, about half the urban population worldwide was exposed to air pollution levels at least 2.5 times above the safety standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO). No region had annual average mean concentrations of particulate matter below the maximum level set by WHO of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3).

Average annual mean of particulate matter of 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller (PM2.5) concentration levels in urban areas (µg/m3), 2014

Note: Data reported only for WHO member States.

Nearly three-quarters of countries have implemented or are working to implement national-level urban policies

National policies and regional development plans that take into account the specific needs and characteristics of urban areas are essential to sustainable development. As of 2015, 142 countries were developing national-level urban policies; of these, 82 countries were already in the process of implementation and 23 had reached the monitoring and evaluation stage. The vast majority of these urban policies can further be aligned with SDGs and can be disaggregated by key themes of the sustainability agenda. They are a way to connect national policy to local action.

Proportion and number of countries that are implementing national urban policies by stage of implementation, 2015