Transforming Cities for a Liveable Future for All

Making cities liveable for all remains one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. By Ingolf Dietrich, Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany.

It is in our cities and local communities, where we spend most of our lives. It is here where we live and where we earn our living; where our children grow up, our grandchildren, and the generations to come. Therefore, liveability is a key issue in the planning of urban environments. But what makes a city liveable? What can we do to ensure a liveable future in cities? And how does German development policy contribute to this endeavour?

What Makes a Liveable City?

Indeed, it is very difficult to define liveability since it is subjective and highly dependent on the socio-economic context. For some, it might be a place where they can live safely with their family, or where they can reach everything they need, without using a car and a place where nature is at a reachable distance. For someone else, it might be a place that provides decent jobs and access to basic infrastructures such as water or electricity. Cultural life in cities might be important for others. In the end, liveability is determined by human factors such as health, security, access to services, water, food, education, or the feeling of being heard. And it is cities that have the power to create living conditions that promote these factors.

At the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), we are dedicated to promoting liveable cities in our partner countries. And as diverse as cities and their populations are, there are common factors that influence liveability. Among them are facilitating participatory and integrated urban planning, building just and environmentally sound urban environments, and designing safe and resilient cities. It is these factors that guide our work.

Participatory and Integrated Urban Planning

While a city is more than just the sum of its parts, these parts are its constituent elements and thus crucial to the quality of life it provides. We can only enhance liveability in cities if we recognise the connections between its individual parts. In making a city more liveable, it is not only the government that must convene the planning and implementation, but it is community organisations, private sector companies as well as neighbourhoods and citizens that must be heard and involved.

Building Just Urban Environments

Justice is central to enhancing and sustaining liveability in cities. It is crucial to ensure that people have access to basic infrastructure and housing. This includes water and sanitation but also electricity and fundamental human necessities, which especially citizens in developing cities need access to.

In addition, a city that is worth living in needs to respect and defend human rights, regardless of people’s nationality, socio-economic background, or ethnicity. Equally, gender equity is an immensely important issue. Women are often disadvantaged and among the most vulnerable groups regarding the consequences of climate change and its adverse effects, for example. With our development policy, we strive for a more equitable and just distribution of power, responsibility, and resources, especially in cities.

Accelerating the Fight Against Climate Change in Cities

Climate change remains one of the biggest challenges in the world. Cities only cover three per cent of the world’s surface but use up over 70 per cent of the world’s resources! Close to three-quarters of the world’s cities are already experiencing negative effects of climate change, such as flooding or heat waves, considerably affecting their dwellers.

A key challenge in tackling climate change is the continuous growth of cities. This growth comes with an increasing demand for housing and construction: by 2060, the total floor area of buildings will double, with most of this new construction expected to happen in the Global South, mostly in Africa and Asia. This is worrying if we consider that 40 per cent of all energy-related CO2 emissions are tied to the construction and operation of buildings. It is urgent to rethink how we construct the built environment and which materials we use.

Another key aspect to ensure liveability is mobility. The demand for mobility is increasing with a rising urban population and there is an urgent need for mobility concepts that are affordable, safe, and accessible for everyone. In addition, the transport sector accounts for 24 per cent of energy-related CO₂ emissions globally. Germany promotes the approach of the “compact city”, or “city of short distances” which provides all residents with mobility and access to employment opportunities, services, and social participation, keeps the air clean, and protects the climate.

To promote sustainable and climate-compatible urban planning and development, BMZ supports initiatives such as the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI). TUMI is the leading global implementation initiative on sustainable mobility formed through the union of 11 actors central to urban mobility. Since its establishment in 2016, TUMI improved access to better mobility for 26.5 million people, which made it possible to save 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Overall, cross-sectoral transformation towards a circular economy and consistent efforts to avoid waste generation can save up to 20 per cent of CO2 emissions. Circular economies and green jobs open up new opportunities for more sustainable consumption and production systems and are closely tied to other substantial challenges, such as water scarcity and management. Implementing circular economy in cities of all development stages is important: in cities that are in early or intermediate stages of development, it creates the chance to overcome the developmental divide. In already more developed cities, circular economy allows, for example, to reduce construction waste by intelligently reusing buildings. Realising shifts towards circular economies in cities makes them more resilient and thus more liveable.

The Rwanda Green Fund is the largest of its kind in Africa and provides unheralded technical and financial support to the best public and private projects that align with Rwanda’s commitment to a green economy. Through this fund, a national e-waste management strategy is being implemented to support the conservation of natural resources in Rwanda, for example. The Rwanda Green Fund is supported by KfW Development Bank, which finances and supports programmes and projects on behalf of BMZ.

Finally, crises such as natural disasters, violent conflicts, and epidemics endanger liveability in cities. Covid-19 has demonstrated how a pandemic can overwhelm the functioning of societies, economies, and cities, but it has also opened chances to rethink existing structures and practices. Cities must therefore be prepared, become resilient, and urgently need to adapt to changes that are brought about by crises, most importantly the climate crisis and other natural disasters.

The Resilient Cities Action Package (ReCAP), funded by BMZ Special Funds, focuses on the idea that we should mainstream the climate and resilience lens to the process of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. With this, the capacity for combatting pandemics (including primary healthcare, health management, and public life) was strengthened in selected cities in Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Mauritania.

The above aspects are central to our work in transforming cities for a liveable future for all. We support governments and stakeholders to shape their sustainable cities of tomorrow through policy development, technical expertise, and financial support.

The Liveable City of the Future

Cities have been important actors in international politics for decades, and the attention they receive to do justice to their importance is increasing. The President of the UN General Assembly has just convened a high-level meeting on the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda (April 2022), and the Urban 7 have been advocating for the urban perspective as part of the G7 and came together in May this year. And as you read this article, the World Urban Forum 2022, which will take place in Katowice, Poland, is also just around the corner. Germany will run its pavilion under the theme “The liveable city of the future” this year and will convene a range of events related to this theme.

Cities are at the forefront of counteracting climate change and ensuring a liveable future for all. German development policy would like to see cities recognised as equal partners in international agenda-setting and national policymaking. We envision cities that are adequately equipped with financial resources to assure liveability in their communities.

The liveable city of the future should be one where all people have access to basic services and infrastructure. In the liveable city of the future, all stakeholders and citizens can partake in decision-making processes to voice their needs and concerns. They can make a living, not through any job, but through green jobs. It is a city in which we need not worry about our health because of air pollution or other human-made factors. A city where we can feel at home, move around safely, and where everything is within reach. It is a city that is perceived by its citizens as truly liveable.

Ingolf Dietrich
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