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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

World and European Sustainable Cities, Insights from EU research

Publication Year: 2010 Publisher: European Commission


The “Rio+ 20” Earth Summit is approaching and the European Union is strongly committed to promoting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by 2020. However, a key question for the future of both the world and the European Union is how to tackle the main challenges resulting from continuing urbanisation.

The move towards urbanisation is progressing. Today, more than half of the world’s population is living in cities and Homo sapiens urbanus is now the norm. By the decade 2030, five out of the world’s eight billion people will live in cities.

Urbanisation brings new challenges in terms of social cohesion, governance and environment. By 2030, almost two billion people will inhabit the great urban slums of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle-East. Many of these large urbanareas are likely to become centres of criminality and disaffection. They may also become focal points for extremist ideologies and urban insurgency.

Urbanisation is also synonymous with stress on water supplies and waste disposal systems, air pollution and traffic congestion. These issues will be especially acute in countries like China and India. In addition, as the large majority of megacities are on the coast, the impact of the rising sea level due to climate change could be highly damaging.

Many cities may be affected by these social, political and environment challenges. The implications could be significant in humanitarian, economic and security terms. A greater understanding of the dynamics of urban societies is required if instability and the risks within cities are to be identified and managed.

This is one of the main objectives of the European research on urban issues, mostly carried out through the sixth and seventh EU Research Framework Programmes and in close collaboration with UN-Habitat.Through presenting a sample of European research projects and UN-Habitat activities, this publication addresses questions related to the concentration of urban needs and services, migration and settlement patterns and new forms of poverty and exclusion in Europe, as well as urban welfare and social innovation, and green urban planning.

Our hope is that through the world and European experiences highlighted in this brochure, we can shift to a culture of sustainability – economic, social and environmental – and that the motto of the Shanghai World Expo “Better city, better life” can become a reality for the next generation.