Five things you need to know about cities

Celebrating World Cities Day 2020

The UN General Assembly designated the 31st of October as World Cities Day, by its resolution 68/239. The day is expected to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.

Urban areas often act as the engines of national economic growth and provide space for social transformation in their countries. Despite the pressure and disruption inflicted on urban centers and their citizens by the COVID-19 pandemic, cities remain vitally important parts of the global human ecosystem. To help mark World Cities Day 2020 on 31 October, which this year takes the theme of Valuing Our Communities and Cities, here are five facts about city life and why cities are so important to us all:

1. Until 2007, more people lived in rural areas than in cities. Now, around 55% of the world’s population lives in cities, according to the UN. By 2050, that’s likely to have gone up to 68%. Most of that increase will occur in African and Asian countries.

2. By 2035, the world’s most populous city will be Jakarta, at which point it will push the current holder of that title, Tokyo, into second place. They will be followed by Chongqing, Dhaka and Shanghai, respectively. Together, the top five biggest cities will be home to around 165 million people.

3. Despite all that growth, urban areas actually only cover around 1% of the surface of the Earth. The term ‘urban areas’ can be applied to include a multitude of built-up areas. But there is no internationally agreed definition of what an urban area is.

4. Cities could be responsible for as much as 70% of global CO2 emissions. Most of that comes from urban transport and the energy consumption of buildings.

If a city is spread out and suburban, with limited public transport, its inhabitants will be more dependent on privately-owned vehicles. That situation can become worse if facilities like shops and medical care are not within easy walking distance, or there are insufficient transit options for getting to work. The good news is that addressing this problem can be done, at least in part, by better urban planning.

5. Around the world, there are 136 port cities that each have a population of more than one million. More than a quarter of them are in locations that are at a higher risk from coastal flooding.

In the next 50 years, the number of people living in cities with a high risk of coastal flooding could reach 150 million – a threefold increase on the approximately 40 million today.

On the World Cities Day website, the UN writes that although cities can be great places to live and work, they can also foster societal challenges. “Urbanization provides the potential for new forms of social inclusion, including greater equality, access to services and new opportunities, and engagement and mobilization that reflects the diversity of cities, countries and the globe.

“Yet too often this is not the shape of urban development. Inequality and exclusion abound, often at rates greater than the national average, at the expense of sustainable development that delivers for all.”

The UN also highlights that in 2020, cities have had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put pressure on many local communities that have found themselves “on the frontline of the COVID-19 response”.

This blog was written by Sean Fleming and first posted on the site of the World Economic Forum.  The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.