The city, one of the world’s biggest phenomena of the 21st century, has evolved greatly over the centuries, particularly in terms of its size, form, structure, and composition, while largely maintaining its importance in local and regional development. In just 65 years, the world has experienced a population shift from rural to urban, as evidenced by an increase in the global population living in urban areas from 29.6% in 1950 to 54% in 2015. Estimates indicate that at the close of the monitoring period for the sustainable development goals in 2030, 60% of the world population will be urban. In absolute numbers, between 1990 and 2000, the global urban population is estimated to have increased by an average of 57 million people per year; a number that further increased to 77 million per year between 2010 and 2015.

Cities have become a positive and potent force for addressing sustainable economic growth, development, and prosperity. They drive innovation, consumption, and investment in both developed and developing countries. Cities are productive systems through which most of the 21st century challenges such as poverty, inequality, unemployment, environmental degradation, and climate change can be addressed. Owing to their unique character of population and investment agglomeration, cities link the economic, energy, environment, science, technology, and social and economic elements of development, all of which constitute the key interrelations needed to formulate integrated policies required to achieve sustainable development. Working at the urban level, it is possible to include people, locations, and city conditions to ensure that no one – and no place – is left behind. This makes cities an important string that connects all Sustainable Development Goals.

Despite the unique opportunities presented by cities, their existence does not guarantee success towards sustainability, as it is in the same places where most of the above-mentioned human settlements’ challenges are manifested. Equally, cities do not always perform well, meaning that an action designed to address a certain goal (e.g., solving a major urban challenge) does not always yield the desired results. In most cases, lack of well-informed decisions contributes to this, which is itself partly a result of a lack of clear understanding of the underlying needs or the implications of such decisions. This is directly reliant on the availability of reliable and up-to-date data.


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