Overall Aim of Sustainable Development Goal 11
Following many other previous initiatives, in 2016 the United Nations adopted a global Agenda with objectives and targets of sustainable development oriented to year 2030. The framework includes and describes in a very effective way 17 main Goals, one of which concerns cities and human settlements, in order to make them inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social, human and economic development. Urban planning, transport systems, water, sanitation, waste management, disaster risk reduction, access to information, education and capacity-building are all relevant issues to sustainable urban development.
In 2008, for the first time in history, the global urban population outnumbered the rural population. This milestone marked the advent of a new 'urban millennium' and, by 2050, it is expected that two-thirds of the world population will be living in urban areas. With more than half of humankind living in cities and the number of urban residents growing by nearly 73 million every year, it is estimated that urban areas account for 70% of the world's gross domestic product, generating economic growth and prosperity for many. But, at the same time, this process will go on producing severe challenges, to be carefully managed through a clever social planning.
Given the importance of this topic to global development efforts, recent movements pushing to address sustainable development from an urban perspective have taken place throughout the world, and Europe is at the forefront.
Local authorities and communities are asked to work together to renew and plan our cities and human settlements so as to foster community cohesion and personal security and to stimulate innovation and employment, increasing the so-called ‘livableness’ of cities.
Topics and problems to deal with are really overwhelming, and of course the territorial differences among the planet areas require different policies and strategies. But there is good news: as of the beginning of 2019, 150 Countries had developed such policies, and almost half are already implementing them.
Why is it important for educational community?
Taking account of the entire set of Sustainable Development Goals fixed in the 2030 Agenda of the UN, it appears quite clear that the future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. But it lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation, who will pass the torch to future generations.
Educational community is therefore highly interested in these topics, because a clever education of today’s pupils, able to open their eyes on these global challenges, will form the basis for a future capacity to manage them. Besides, considering specifically the SDG concerning sustainable cities and communities, it’s important to stress the cross-cutting nature of urban issues, which have an impact on a number of other Sustainable Development Goals, including that related to educational issues.
Living in cities can facilitate the accessibility to educational facilities, and this is no doubt a very positive aspect because it contributes to spread literacy and numeracy also in developing Countries, and to increase the rate of upper education in the most developed ones. But living in cities opens the doors to a number of social and relationship problems typical of urban agglomerations (risk of ethnic conflicts, drugs and alcohol abuse, violence, stressed-out and vulnerable kids, etc), that the educational institutions must be ready to tackle with efficacy.
The target we can find in the Agenda 2030, is to ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.
Key dimensions of Sustainable Development Goal 11
The exodus from rural and peripheral areas towards cities seems to be inexorable, more or less everywhere in the planet. More than half of the world population live in cities. By 2050, 6.5 billion people - two-thirds of all humanity - will be urban. Cities occupy just 3 percent of the Earth’s land but account for 60 to 80 percent of energy consumption and at least 70 percent of carbon emissions. The rapid growth of cities — a result of rising populations and increasing migration — has led to a boom in mega-cities, especially in the developing world, and slums are becoming a more significant feature of urban life: even if considerable progress has been made in 2019 in reducing the proportion of the global urban population living in slums, more than 1 billion people continue to live there.
In such a context, sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces. The UN 2030 Agenda selected for this topic a panel of important targets, to be achieved through the joint commitment of upper and lower authorities, business stakeholders and community members. So, by 2030 it will be essential, let’s say mandatory, to take the initiative and change course in several fields considered as key elements.
The vast majority of urban people breath poor-quality air, influencing negatively many factors related to the living in cities. First of all, health of the citizens, highly influenced by pollution. In 2016, 9 in 10 people living in urban areas still breathed air that did not meet the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines values.
About waste management, globally, 2 billion people have no access to waste collection services and 3 billion people lack access to controlled waste disposal facilities. With increasing urban populations and the existence of consumer-oriented economies amid rising income levels and rapid urbanization, it is estimated that the total waste generated in the world will double from nearly 2 billion tons in 2016 to about 4 billion tons by 2050. And an eventual selfish consideration in Europe, based on the idea that waste problems mainly affect cities on the other side of the world, would be blind and strategically wrong.
Environmental sustainability is at risk also because of excessive expansion of uncontrolled concreting, contributing to stole green areas. In order to safeguard the livableness of cities, it would be fundamental to preserve non-urbanized spaces, through their reconversion to a balanced mixture of accessible green areas, pedestrian and bike path, and maybe also urban vegetables gardens. Globally, urban areas are expanding at a faster rate than their populations. Between 2000 and 2014, areas occupied by cities grew 1.28 times faster than their populations. Better management of urban growth will be crucial in order to guarantee sustainable urbanization.
The role of transport in sustainable development was first recognized at the 1992 United Nation’s Earth Summit and reinforced in its outcome document, Agenda 21. The global attention to transport has then continued, and in the 2030 Agenda sustainable transport is mainstreamed across several SDGs and targets, especially those related to food security, health, energy, economic growth, infrastructure, and cities and human settlements. The importance of transport for climate action is further recognized, given the fact that close to a quarter of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions come from transport and that these emissions are projected to grow substantially in the years to come. Besides, by 2030 policy makers will be asked to find a solution for the social impact of transport solutions in cities and human settlements, providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
The interplay between Sustainable Development Goal 11 and the acquisition of 21st Century skills
People living in an urban context are those who can show at the maximum level the characteristics of the humankind as ‘social animal’. Compared to those living in rural and marginalized areas, where population density is lower and the opportunities to cross and interact with other people in regular daily activities are a bit reduced, urban citizens need to quickly acquire more elements of the so-called ‘soft skills’ known as 21st Century Skills. These skills are needed to exploit opportunities and to participate fully in society.
So, if the objective of an educational process is a capacity building of students (alias future adults) to help them understanding the meaning of sustainable cities and communities as affordable and resilient places with green and culturally inspiring living conditions, the soft skills they will need cross the entire set of 6 global competences as defined by Michael Fullan, but concern specifically Citizenship and Teamwork elements.
In the same way, soft skills related to Problem Solving and Creativity may be highly helpful when thinking for instance about the reduction of the environmental impact of cities or the accessibility to safe and inclusive green and public spaces.