For the first time in history, the majority of the global population lives in urban centres, large, medium and small. Of the 4 billion people living in urban areas today, nearly a third of them are children. It is estimated that by 2050, almost 70 per cent of the world’s children will live in urban areas, many of them in slums.
Cities can present great opportunities and hope for a better life. They generate over 80 per cent of global GDP and are increasingly considered engines to achieve development. They are among the world’s strongest sources of growth and innovation, diversity and connectivity and can potentially provide great opportunities for children to live, learn and thrive.
They can also harbour great inequalities. While cities may offer greater access to basic services like schools and hospitals, overcrowding and high admission costs can leave the poorest urban children unable to access them.
Other challenges that affect the urban poor, particularly those living in slums, include overcrowding and inadequate sanitation systems – which facilitate the transmission of disease – lack of affordable and safe housing, poor access to transportation and increased outdoor air pollution. Read UNICEF’s report on the situation of children living in urban areas.
The demographic shift to urban areas and linked challenges and opportunities is causing us to rethink our cities, and to reconsider our collective roles and responsibilities, as well as those of our leaders. The New Urban Agenda launched at the Habitat III conference in October 2016 sets out the pillars of these new goals, targets, roles and responsibilities.
For city leaders, this represents a huge opportunity, and a considerable responsibility. City leaders that are best prepared for this shift will be in a position to affect positive and lasting change in a rapidly changing world.