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World Cities Report 2022: Envisaging the Future of Cities

Report
Thursday, 30 June, 2022

World Cities Report 2022: Envisaging the Future of Cities

Published by UN-Habitat

World Cities Report 2022: Envisaging the Future of Cities seeks to provide greater clarity and insights into the future of cities based on existing trends, challenges and opportunities, as well as disruptive conditions, including the valuable lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, and suggest ways that cities can be better prepared to address a wide range of shocks and transition to sustainable urban futures. The Report proposes a state of informed preparedness that provides us with the opportunity to anticipate change, correct the course of action and become more knowledgeable of the different scenarios or possibilities that the future of cities offers.

Chapter 1: The Diversity and Vision for the Future of Cities

While the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the two years between editions of the World Cities Report and upended many aspects of urban life, this Report comes at a time when world events create ever more dynamic environments for urban actors. Although of the world has lifted the public health restrictions and border closures that made COVID-19 such a dominant aspect of urban life, the virus continues to flare up periodically and some countries still have strict measures in place. Recently, the world has witnessed a sudden global spike in inflation and cost of living, alongside supply chain disruptions, which is severely affecting the recovery of urban economies. New and persistent armed conflicts have altered the geopolitical order and contributed to global economic uncertainty.

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Chapter 2: Scenarios of Urban Futures: Degree of Urbanization

A new harmonized definition, called the Degree of Urbanization, facilitates international comparisons of urbanization. By defining three main classes of human settlements (cities, towns and semi-dense areas, and rural areas), the Degree of Urbanization captures the urban-rural continuum as recommended by research. It provides a pathway to overcoming the fundamental challenge linked to monitoring urban trends and the development agendas that has lingered over the years: the lack of a unified definition of what constitutes “urban” and its precise measurement.

This chapter provides a unique perspective on future trends using Degree of Urbanization and data emanating from this new harmonized approach. Specifically, it provides scenarios that allow us to understand the anticipated demographic and spatial changes across the urban-rural continuum in various regions as well as their drivers.

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

Cities generate wealth but also concentrate poverty and inequality. From the overcrowded slums in the developing world to homelessness and pockets of destitution in the developed world, urban poverty and inequality take many forms. We cannot envision a bright future for cities when inequality appears to be on the rise globally and poverty in certain regions. How to tackle poverty and inequality are among the most pressing challenges facing urban areas; and improving income and a wide range of opportunities for all is essential to achieving an optimistic urban future. The global development agenda gives prime of place to the issue, with SDG 1, which calls for a world in which we “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” If urban poverty is not addressed, then this goal will remain elusive.

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Chapter 4: Resilient Urban Economies: A Catalyst for Productive Futures

The urban economy is integral to the future of cities. Given the size of the contribution of cities to the national economy, the future of many countries will be determined by the productivity of its urban areas. People first gathered in denser human settlements for the purpose of trading at markets, and this fundamental aspect of urban life has evolved over time. Today’s urban economies are complex systems tied to global trade and capital flows, in which foreign entities can own the property next door and distant events can affect the prices for local goods. Cities must be smarter than ever about how they position their economies for the maximum benefit of all residents while also safeguarding the environment and improving their city’s quality of life.

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Chapter 5: Securing a Greener Urban Future

Climate change and environmental concerns increasingly dominate future scenarios. The increase in extreme weather events and natural disasters like flooding, heatwaves and landslides will impact urban areas the hardest, which makes climate change adaptation a paramount concern. Meanwhile, urban areas are responsible for a majority of the world’s carbon emissions. As such, the transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions must occur as soon as feasibly possible. Cities can do their part by embracing a wide range of options.

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Chapter 6: Urban Planning for the Future of Cities

Cities are complex systems that grow, develop and even shrink based on a variety of forces. Planning is an essential tool for shaping the future of cities, as unplanned human settlements are prone to sprawl, inefficient land use, poor connectivity and a lack of adequate municipal services. Good urban planning is one of the three pillars of sustainable cities, without which cities are unlikely to achieve the optimistic scenario of urban futures.

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Chapter 7: Public Health and Sustainable Urban Futures

As history attests, the resilience and scalability of cities is undergirded by effective public health. Beyond hospitals, medicines and vaccines, equitable provision of health-promoting infrastructure such as green spaces, improved housing, clean and safe drinking water, and extensive sewer systems to safely dispose of human waste are necessary minimum components for securing public health in urban areas. While COVID-19 led to the first major global pandemic in a century, the future portends more epidemics and pandemics. Public health is now once again at the forefront in envisioning the future of cities.

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Chapter 8: Rethinking Urban Governance for the Future of Cities

Whichever future urban challenge cities face, whether it is poverty, health, housing or the environment, urban governance always has a critical enabling role to ensure that the capacities and resources of institutions and people match their responsibilities and desires. Sustainable urban development is not possible without effective multilevel urban governance – including local governments, civil society and national governments. Governments have been severely tested since 2020, which means now is the time to rethink urban governance and put cities on the path to an optimistic future scenario.

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

Advances in technology and urban futures are inextricably linked. The future of cities will be knowledge-based, driven largely by innovation and the widespread use of new technologies and digitization of virtually all facets of urban life. Technological innovations define the twenty-first century. Cities are going through a wave of digitalization that is reshaping how urban dwellers live, work, learn and play. Technology holds great promise for improving urban livelihoods, but there are also risks that smart city technology will invade privacy. Cities, meanwhile, are competing for innovation-based businesses in a race that will create both winners and losers in urban futures.

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Chapter 10: Building Resilience for Sustainable Urban Futures

Any scenario of urban futures outlined in this Report will face unexpected shocks and stresses. Will a given city collapse like a house of cards or withstand whatever unpredictable future comes their way? The answer to that question lies in a city's resilience, a capacity that bookends all of the discussion up to this point. A key message running through this Report is that building economic, social and environmental resilience, including appropriate governance and institutional structures must be at the heart of the future of cities. Cities that are well-planned, managed, and financed have a strong foundation to prepare for such unknown future threats. Moreover, cities that are socially inclusive and work for all their residents are also better positioned to face environmental, public health, economic, social and any other variety of shock or stress, as cities are only as strong as their weakest link.

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Read the Key Findings and Messages for each chapter here: https://unhabitat.org/wcr/files/Key_Findings_and_Messages_WCR_2022.pdf

Access the full report here: https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/2022/06/wcr_2022.pdf

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