Today, every second person on the planet lives in a city. That could rise to three quarters of the global population by 2050. As nerve centers for ideas, trade, culture, science, social development and much more, cities at their best allow people to prosper both socially and economically. They are also productivity and innovation hubs that generate around 80 percent of global gross domestic product. But at the same time, they are responsible for up to 75 percent of human greenhouse emissions. Fortunately, there’s great potential for a more sustainable future in cities because population density is conducive to greener living and resource-efficient mobility concepts.
Not everyone living in urban centers has equal access to resources. In 2018, the number of people living in slums rose to 24 percent of urban populations. In the Global South’s metropolitan areas, neighborhoods without water and electricity supply often sit directly alongside gated communities or golf courses with floodlights and lawn sprinklers. Nine out of ten of the world’s city dwellers breathe air with particulate matter levels that exceed the World Health Organization benchmarks. Only about half of residents live near public transport and a mere one in five is within easy reach of open spaces, such as squares or parks. With the number of people living in cities expected to reach five billion by 2030, instituting effective urban planning and management practices capable of meeting the challenges posed by urbanization is essential. Climate change will only exacerbate inequalities, as the poorest are often the most vulnerable to natural disasters and the like.
At present, few topics are as politically charged in German cities as rental rates and housing shortages. In Hamburg, for instance, every third tenant fears losing their apartment. Low earners in particular often spend far more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on rent. That means housing costs increase the risk of people falling into poverty, as low-wage earners are pushed to urban peripheries, far removed from infrastructure and social life in the city center. Accordingly, providing sufficient affordable housing while ensuring residents enjoy quality of life in ecologically sound cities with public and green spaces is one of the key challenges in urban development.
By the same token, expanding public transport networks and improving infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians are also critical aspects of a sustainable urban development strategy. Nor must planners forget about rural areas. After all, one way to ease the demographic pressure on cities is by making rural areas attractive locations for business and innovation. That entails providing an equal quality of life in both urban and rural areas by providing the same kind of access to transport, education and infrastructure.
This is why Germany, too, aims to make its cities more sustainable and consequently better equipped for the future. What’s more, cities must become more inclusive so that no one is excluded or disadvantaged. More affordable housing and better mobility are just the beginning. Impact on the climate and environment must also be taken into account with a view to targeting carbon neutrality, energy efficiency and climate adaptation in cities. With that in mind, the German federal government, states, local authorities and citizens are working on ideas and strategies. In addition to urban planning, Germany is focusing on developing rural regions to ensure people in the countryside and cities enjoy equal quality of life.
Managing cities means juggling many different demands in order to go on creating jobs and prosperity without overburdening land and resources. Common urban challenges include traffic congestion, lack of funding for basic services, a shortage of decent housing, deteriorating infrastructure and increasing air pollution. By continuing to develop cities while improving resource usage and curtailing pollution and poverty – for instance, by way of safe, systematic municipal waste collection – it is possible to overcome the challenges of rapid urbanization. We need to forge a future where cities not only provide opportunities for all but also afford access to basic services, energy, housing, transport and more.