The future of cities: UN-Habitat launches World Cities Report 2022


UN-Habitat has just released its annual World Cities Report during the eleventh session of the World Urban Forum, which took place in Katowice, Poland from June 27 until June 30, 2022.

Titled “Envisaging the Future of Cities”, the 2022 release highlights insights on the future of the urban realm, based on “existing trends, challenges, and opportunities, as well as disruptive conditions, including the valuable lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic”. In fact, it seeks to present cities with ways to be prepared for future challenges and address current issues.

Key Messages

1-The Diversity and Vision for the Future of Cities

The emergence of urbanization as a global mega-trend is intertwined with the existential challenges that the world has faced in the last 50 years.
>Building economic, social, and environmental resilience, including appropriate governance and institutional structures, must be at the heart of the future of cities.
>The disruptive nature of COVID-19 and the emerging global uncertainties are all stark reminders that urban areas need to be prepared for an ever-changing and unpredictable future.
>Any vision for an optimistic future of cities must embody a new social contract with universal basic income, health coverage and housing.
>Localizing the New Urban Agenda and SDG 11 is the most promising pathway to the optimistic scenario of urban futures.


2-Scenarios of Urban Futures: Degree of Urbanization

City densities in low-income countries need to be planned for and managed in ways that future growth does not exert pressure on existing open land, infrastructure and services, and result in crowding on the one hand or lead to unsustainable sprawl on the other.
>Enhanced planning capacities for small cities and emerging newer cities will strengthen the important role they play across the urban-rural continuum in achieving sustainable futures.
>Planning for age-friendly cities and towns that afford good quality of life for all inhabitants across all generations is critical for sustainable futures.
>Effective urban and territorial planning is critical to mitigate the negative social, economic and environmental associated with future urban growth.
>Effective urban and territorial planning is critical to mitigate the negative social, economic and environmental associated with future urban growth.


3-Poverty and Inequality: Enduring Features of an Urban Future?

The vision of equitable urban futures will not be achieved unless cities and subnational governments take bold actions to address the pervasive presence of urban poverty and inequality.
>Within the Decade of Action window (2020–2030), cities and subnational governments should adopt a multidimensional approach to addressing poverty and inequality.
>Investing in and extending infrastructure and services to deprived neighborhoods is a critical policy lever to address poverty and inequality.
>Supporting informal employment is critical for building inclusive urban futures.
>Gender transformative approaches are crucial for building inclusive urban futures.


4-Resilient Urban Economies: A Catalyst for Productive Futures

Cities should prioritize economic diversification as a critical pillar for building resilient urban economies and productive urban futures in line with the New Urban Agenda.
>Sustainable urban and territorial planning supported with effective governance structures is critical for building resilient urban economies and productive urban futures.
>Urban economies are more productive in peaceful and stable societies.
Governments should implement targeted interventions such as tailored social safety nets to strengthen the capabilities of marginalized groups.
>Sustainable and innovative municipal finance are fundamental for optimistic urban futures.


5-Securing a Greener Urban Future

Achieving net zero is also dependent on subnational and city-level action. Policymakers at all levels must therefore recognize and support the role of urban areas in the net zero transition.
>Nature-based solutions must be part of inclusive planning processes for sustainable urban futures—local action to secure greener futures cannot overlook their vital role.
>In environmental decision-making, diverse voices and perspectives must be heard to minimize uncertainties in the pathways to securing greener urban futures.
>Various levels of government and institutions should harness the potential of international partnerships such as transnational networks and social movements in delivering greener urban futures.


6-Urban Planning for the Future of Cities

Post-COVID recovery programs should not only focus on economic recovery but also on social inclusion and climate action.
>The importance of compact development, managed density and prevention of overcrowding in city resilience should be re-emphasized in view of rising concerns over overcrowding in cities during pandemics.
>Cities should implement best practices and policy tools such as sustainable neighborhood planning, the 15-minute city concept and sustainable urban mobility plans (SUMPs) that have been effective in making cities more resilient.
>Safe, affordable, and reliable public transport systems are sustainable and should be integrated with active moblity.
>There is an urgent need to focus on strengthening integrated urban and territorial planning approaches that consider interactions between urban, peri-urban and rural areas.


7-Public Health and Sustainable Urban Futures

When health is recognized and acted upon as a priority across all urban interventions, there are vital possibilities to achieve multiple benefits for well-being and foster inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban futures.
>Ongoing disaggregated data collection is essential to reveal the true picture of multi-layered rapidly changing urban health risks for effective policy formulation and action to ensure policymakers “leave no one behind.”
>Challenges of health inequity—often rooted in geographic, political, and socioeconomic exclusion—can be tackled via place-based initiatives co-developed with residents to promote health in marginalized neighborhoods and support more equitable urban futures.
>Expanding Universal Health Care is a key priority in advancing health for inclusive, resilient, and sustainable urban futures as well as strengthening health system preparedness for a future of epidemics and pandemics.
>Responsive, accountable local governments play a pivotal role in developing effective holistic place-based interventions that can generate multiple co-benefits for health, inclusion and climate change mitigation.


8-Rethinking Urban Governance for the Future of Cities

In an age of global threats and disruptions, such as pandemics, natural disasters and armed conflicts, urban governance needs to be flexible and adaptable.
>With cities being more culturally mixed, and with bigger distance between citizens and government, building trust and legitimacy are essential, including protecting data privacy.
>Governments need to have adequate political and institutional legitimacy, clearly defined roles and need capacity and resources that meet their responsibilities.
>There is a need for clearer and more decentralized regulatory frameworks to enable more own-source revenue, municipal borrowing and bond issuance and more regular government transfers.
>Government must revise their relationship between the private sector and civil society, with special attention to underrepresented groups to co-create strategies such as re-municipalization, community-led finance and forms of co-production of urban services.


9-Innovation and Technology: Towards Knowledge-Based Urban Futures

The deployment of innovation and technology should be tailored to suit the diversity of the urban context.
Cities need to consider the negative environmental externalities when investing in low-carbon, digital and connected technologies.
>Urban economies need to be adequately prepared for the effects of advancing automation and digitalization.
>To avoid top-down, one-way communication, the deployment of digital tools to address urban challenges needs to be inclusive, collaborative and empowering.


10-Building Resilience for Sustainable Urban Futures

Building resilience for sustainable urban futures requires an integrated linkage of the various pillars of the global sustainable development agenda.
>Building urban resilience is a multisectoral, multidimensional, multi-stakeholder process that requires a clear change of trajectory from previous paths.
>Effective urban resilience capacity building requires mainstreaming across local governments.
>Governments have a roadmap to urban resilience in the global sustainable development agenda.
>Cities, subnational governments and other urban actors should urgently prioritize bottom-up approaches when designing urban resilience interventions.
>Building resilience requires innovative, and sustainable financing instruments beyond the traditional fiscal tools at the disposal of cities and national governments.
>Integrated urban planning is an essential component and prerequisite for resilient urban futures.
>Extending social protection to informal sector workers is critical for inclusive development and resilient urban futures.
>Investing in key urban infrastructure must be a prerequisite for building sustainable and resilient urban futures.
>Policymakers must match urban risk assessments with appropriate solutions.
>Visioning and implementation of urban resilience plans must prioritize the poorest and most vulnerable communities.
>Building urban resilience will not succeed without public participation.