As the world’s population has increased, so has the sizes of its cities. This does not particularly refer to the area cities occupy, but rather the number of people living in cities. Though cities only take up about 2 percent of the land on Earth, they consume over 60 percent of global energy consumption and contribute to 70 percent of the economy (GDP), global waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. City populations are diverse, generally including many cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes. Unfortunately, inequities are frequently apparent among city populations as some citizens are not allowed the same opportunities as others due to circumstances often beyond their control.
Sustainable Development Goal 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) focuses on bridging the gaps in city populations by supporting the development of inclusive, safe, and sustainable communities. To advance this objective, cities must improve their accessibility, affordability, resilience, and sustainability in a way that promotes growth with equity. Inclusive cities are places where everyone, regardless of their economic status, gender, race, etc., is enabled and empowered to fully participate in all the social, economic, and political opportunities that cities have to offer.
The Habitat III Conference that was held in October 2016 bolstered the movement toward sustainable cities that had been in the works long before the SDGs existed. The conference produced the New Urban Agenda (NUA) to serve as a guideline for urban development over the next 20 years. The NUA included the notion of “The Right to the City,” meaning that everyone has the right to have the accessibility to enjoy the same freedoms and choices, including persons with disabilities.
Historically, persons with disabilities have been an invisible constituency, ignored by those who organized and built public and private spaces. Fortunately, this is largely in the past. With the increasing advocation for persons with disabilities and the constant improvement of technology, cities have been able to increase the accessibility of all its citizens. Smart cities are known for their use of technology to bridge accessibility gaps. Sensors and mobile applications, such as accessibility mapping and wayfinding apps have improved the accessibility and independence of persons with disabilities. Hopefully with the guidance of the NUA and SDG 11, cities and communities will continue their inclusive development.
Inclusive cities are a factor in food security as well. Due to the high proportion of people who live in cities, the highest rates of food insecurity are often found in large cities. Inclusive urban development could increase the access to food to those who have a hard time getting to grocery stores and farmers markets. Transportation is often one of the largest barriers to food security.