Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Sustainable Development Goal 11, one of 17 goals that make up the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, provides targets and guidance for urban planning to support cities with growing populations.


5 - 8


Anthropology, Sociology, Biology, Health, Conservation, Social Studies, Civics


The Tower Bridge

The tower bridge is a symbol of the city to many locals and foreigners alike. The tower bridge was built in 1886 and crosses over the River Thames.

Photograph by Robert Bye
The tower bridge is a symbol of the city to many locals and foreigners alike. The tower bridge was built in 1886 and crosses over the River Thames.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 is about making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.” It is one of the 17 SDGs in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan to promote peace and sustainable growth worldwide. One of the goals within the plan is SDG 11, which addresses urban development. The goal says cities should ensure access to safe and affordable housing, public transportation, and public green spaces. It states that cities should be resilient to natural disasters and protect those in vulnerable situations while also minimizing economic loss.

One sustainability target that is often overlooked is social sustainability and civic engagement. This includes actions individuals can take, like voting for measures that increase sustainability in their own city or for politicians who support these measures. People can also attend their city’s public forums to give feedback on sustainability initiatives. Taken as a whole, SDG 11 is a comprehensive and complex goal: creating sustainable cities that can withstand both climate change and unprecedented growth.

The Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the goals contained within it, are important because nations are facing new challenges as their cities grow in size and in population. The 2019 progress review of SDG 11 stated: “Globally, urban areas are expanding at a faster rate than their populations. Between 2000 and 2014, areas occupied by cities grew 1.28 times faster than their populations.” This means that cities are sprawling and becoming less dense. This leaves some urban residents without access to necessary infrastructure, like public transportation.

Environmental concerns are heightened in areas of urban growth as well. Air quality is worse in urban areas, and cities account for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Cities are also extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as a high number of urban areas lie along coastlines, which are prone to climate change–related natural disasters.

Many cities have already implemented sustainability efforts to meet SDG 11. Cities such as London, England, and New York City, New York, have passed legislation for congestion pricing to reduce air pollution. Congestion pricing is used to discourage people from driving by charging drivers higher tolls if they travel during rush hour or in certain high-traffic areas. Drivers of electric cars are sometimes allowed to travel for free in order to encourage environmentally conscious travel. Individuals can participate in this effort by choosing an electric car as their next vehicle or opting to walk or bike more frequently.

Though SDG 11 is primarily focused on government action, the initiatives need community buy-in from individual citizens as well as community leaders. For example, individuals can take actions such as fixing up their local parks, creating rooftop gardens, or participating in community composting programs to improve the quality of greenspaces and create additional ones in new spots. People can make small steps in their own neighborhoods to support sustainable cities on a world-wide level.

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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André Gabrielli, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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