Sustainable Urban Development: A Global Challenge Requiring Innovative Solutions

The global human population is increasing rapidly, especially in urban areas.  With 180,000 people moving to cities every day around the world, it is predicted that the number of people living in urban areas will double by 2030.  By 2050, 70% of the global population will live in urban areas.

Urbanization in Asia
Urbanization in Asia

This rapid urbanization presents major development challenges for the international community.  As more and more people move to urban areas, governments around the world are confronted with the problem of providing adequate housing, transportation, and services for these growing communities.  For example, China’s urban population grew from 200 million to 700 million in just the past 30 years, and China plans to have 60% of its population living in urban areas by 2020.  Jim Young Kim, President of the World Bank, recently urged China to give more attention to the development of these urban areas, saying: “China now needs to find new ways to make cities more energy efficient, promote clean energy, and reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.”

While global urbanization presents significant problems, it is also an opportunity for nations and communities around the world to develop in a new way.  The Society for International Development’s Washington, DC chapter and CH2M HILL recently hosted an event to discuss these challenges and opportunities, entitled Building a Resilient City: The Role of Public-Private Partnerships to Meet Development Goals in a Rapidly Urbanizing World.  Moderated by Peter Engelke, Senior Fellow at The Atlantic Council, and Alonzo Fulgham, Vice President of CH2M HILL, the event gave panelists – Jane Katz of Habitat for Humanity, David Grossman of ICMA International, and Scott McGuigan of CH2M HILL – the opportunity to discuss urbanization, global trends in international development, and possible solutions from their unique perspectives.

Development and urbanization are processes that never finish and thus require long-term solutions.  Many countries around the world are experiencing economic growth and urbanization, on a large scale and at a rapid pace that is difficult to adapt to.   It is imperative that, in such a context, cities around the world be built right the first time.  However, this panel stressed an interesting point- that no one sector can tackle and fix this set of global challenges alone.  Urbanization, like human population growth and climate change, is a complex phenomenon that will require a multi-faceted approach.  This panel explored the role that private-public partnerships can have in solving global problems, like how to sustainably build and develop urban areas around the world.  Private-public partnerships can allow for innovation, idea sharing, and collaboration- things that increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.

The panel, combining members of the non-profit, governmental, and private sectors, was, in itself, an example of the partnerships being discussed.  Communities, local and national governments, and private sector companies all have unique perspectives and strengths that can be combined, through such partnerships, to create holistic, inclusive solutions.

Global urbanization, and the subsequent need to find ways to develop cities sustainably, has been receiving increased attention from international leaders.  The United Nation’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Making Resilient Campaign launched in 2010 and now has over 1,500 members, and the United Cities and Local Governments Congress recently called for the inclusion of sustainable urban development goals in international agendas.

 Transforming Nigeria’s urban areas on a sustainable basis also [requires] the development of new capacities through the infusion of knowledge, new thinking and possibilities, as well as our readiness to embrace a new philosophy of doing things.

Urban Area in Lagos, NigeriaSub-Saharan Africa and  Asia are two regions where these phenomena are especially apparent.  For example, Nigeria is experiencing high economic growth and population growth, especially in urban areas.  The United Nations estimates that Nigeria’s population will grow from 160 million to almost 1 billion by 2100- and, like in other African countries, much of this increase will occur in urban areas.  However, Musa Mohammed Sada, Nigeria’s Minister of Lands Housing and Urban Development, recently said, “Nigeria lacks a proper framework for urban development.”  So far, Nigeria’s development strategy has focused on new housing projects and transportation infrastructure.  However, this strategy has not been inclusive; it has largely ignored the poor, who constitute the majority of the country’s population.  Sada also recently stated: “Transforming Nigeria’s urban areas on a sustainable basis also [requires] the development of new capacities through the infusion of knowledge, new thinking and possibilities, as well as our readiness to embrace a new philosophy of doing things.”  Perhaps, as the Society for International Development suggests, innovative public-private partnerships are one way countries like Nigeria can deal with these modern challenges and develop their urban areas in sustainable ways.

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