Favelan Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One billion people live in urban slums. The neighborhood where children grow up is of great importance for their life opportunities, the guest columnists write. Photo: Max Pixel

Guest chronicle

The battle for sustainable development is being decided in the cities

Did you know it's World Cities Day today? In the light of the new IPCC report on the climate crisis, we should take advantage of this day and ensure that citizens, decision-makers and people working on development issues understand the role that cities play in shaping our future.

Sustainable development has become an increasingly common term in both everyday discussions and public debate. Many people probably think that it is the responsibility of governments to deliver on what they decide. But where should the sustainable transition really take place? We should instead take note of the words of Jan Eliasson and Ban Ki Moon: "Cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won - or lost if we fail".

The new report from the UN Climate Panel IPCC points in particular to the urgent need for bold decision-making and new patterns of life and consumption. It also means local decision makers and individuals. Here, our cities are at the center. Few know that more than half of the world's inhabitants live in cities and that the urban population will increase to 80 percent during the next generation. We will need to build as much new city as has been built through the history of mankind.

About 75 percent of all energy is used in our cities and 75 percent of all emissions come from there. 1 billion people live in urban slums, in southern Africa it is over 60 percent of the population. One in ten lack access to clean water. 2,4 billion people - one in three - do not have access to a toilet. Inequality is increasing fastest in cities, including Northern Europe and Sweden.

In conclusion, cities are meeting the challenges of infrastructure, energy, climate change, water and sanitation, but also inequality, which we so urgently need to address in order to prevent a disaster scenario.

The city decides whether the next generation will succeed

At the same time, urbanization is crucial for improving people's living conditions. 75 percent of the world's total GDP is generated in cities. Cities are where innovation and value creation take place and are therefore the answer to where we should find resources and develop technology to achieve the necessary change. This is where the inequality gap can be closed, and future generations can flourish.

In a article in the New York Times highlights interesting new research from Harvard and Brown. Researchers have proven that the neighborhood where a child grows up will shape its prospects for living a prosperous and successful life. Just moving a few kilometers, at a relatively young age, can actually change your whole life. A child from a certain area suffers a significantly higher risk of getting caught up in unemployment or crime, compared to another child who grows up just a few blocks away.

Of course, the ability of schools and parents to create a good foundation is important, but researchers believe that much of this variation is driven by the neighborhood itself, and that what is most important is the environment within a radius of about a kilometer around the child's home.

Neighborhoods must work for everyone

As a result, US housing authorities are now testing whether they can support families by helping them move to where opportunities already exist. What happens if we try to change the conditions in the districts where these families live instead? In a pilot project in Botkyrka outside Stockholm, this is currently being tested by a group of girls, municipal workers, architects, researchers, companies and organizations together.

Inspired by local work in developing countries, it is now being tested in a northern European suburb if it is possible to jointly develop the tools needed to transform public places into districts. The intention is to create a toolbox that can be used globally. Contrary to the American example, the work is based on the globally recommended view of not moving people from one place to another. Instead, they take advantage of the good opportunities that already exist to make people want to stay - even if and when they can afford to move.

Dare to do the opposite - for humans and the planet

Researchers still do not understand exactly what causes some neighborhoods to help and others to stifle children, although they are beginning to be able to point out some characteristics. It is fundamental that we must create districts where the people who have already fallen behind will have the opportunity to succeed.

Many suburbs were built around the car with the needs of a white middle-aged financially prosperous man in mind. What would happen if we built for girls with a foreign background instead? Will the city be better for both people and the planet, if we dare to do the opposite of what we have done before? Could this be one of the keys to our generation's biggest challenge?

This is a guest column. The writer is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you also want to write a guest column for Development Magazine? Contact us at opinion@fuf.se

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