Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

Today, 10% of the world’s population dwells in just 100 cities, and by the end of the 21st century, those cities will hold close to 20% of the world’s population. Technology can play a critical role in helping these hubs of innovation drive sustainability, resiliency, and inclusion. Sensor data collected from city infrastructures can not only help ensure the proper functioning of basic services but it can also help save people from natural disasters and other emergencies.

Data Matters in Urban Matters

Shunting more than 51 inches of rain in just a few days represents a huge challenge for any big city. In Houston, Hurricane Harvey caused more than 60 deaths. At first, the priority was to help the victims to move back to their damaged houses. To prevent even worse catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with 1,800 deaths, Houston must now think about retrofitting its water facilities for even bigger floods and invest in green areas that can draw away the water. Miami, for example, is investing US$400 million in its flood protection program, installing sea pumps and walls. Less prosperous communities cannot afford those investments.

Harvey was not the only hurricane in 2017. Along came Irma, José, and Maria, three hurricanes that threatened the lives of millions of people in the Caribbean, the poorest of the poor. Irma was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded, with maximum sustained winds of 296 km/h. Just a few days after Irma hit, hurricane José destroyed the homes of thousands of people in Antigua and Barbuda and millions more in the whole Caribbean. Then came the third hurricane, Maria, threatening areas already reeling from Irma and Jose. Maria left 15 dead in Dominica, ripped off rooftops, and caused severe damage to infrastructure, including electricity, water supply, and public buildings – the key to the economic development of the region. About 60,000 people lost their homes.

Globally, 60% of the largest cities are at risk from storm surges and tsunamis, and all face new impacts caused by climate change. Eighty percent are vulnerable to severe impacts from earthquakes, such as the one that hit Mexico in September 2017 with a devastating 7.1 magnitude. Material damages amounted to several hundreds of billions of dollars, but tragic is the 300 people who lost their lives. Resilience for cities is therefore a key focus area for UN Habitat. The organization recognizes the role that data and technology can play in building resilience by explicitly adding data management and early warning systems as two of its “ten essentials” for building city resilience. Equally, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, emphasizes the role of data in fulfilling its mission to tackle climate change and drive urban action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks, while increasing the health, well-being, and economic opportunities of urban citizens.

Our urban future

Cities are critical ecosystems across the globe. More than 50% of the world’s population dwells in cities, with 10% living in just 100 cities. By the end of the 21st century, some estimate that those 100 cities will hold close to 20% of the world’s population. The 20 largest cities have a population larger than the entire United States. Tokyo, the largest city on earth, has over 36 million residents, making it larger than Canada’s population though using less than 0.1% of Canada’s land area.

In many ways cities are small – and in some cases not so small – microcosms of the issues we face on a global level. The architects of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals wisely focus on cities in three critical areas. First, ensuring the marginalized are included and protected – from others and natural disasters. Second, ensuring people have equal access to basic infrastructure and services, including water, sanitation, utilities, and transportation. Third, overcoming the negative environmental aspects of modern cities, such as waste and air pollution.

The compactness of cities is why they play a critical role in a sustainable future. Dense urban living can foster innovation and collaboration, supply and strengthen education, make life’s basic necessities more accessible, and drive economic growth. As an added bonus, cities reduce resource consumption and ensure critical, fertile land for agriculture and healthy biomes. For emerging countries, adopting the sustainable development practices outlined in Global Goal 11, along with proven technologies and business practices, will catapult them forward economically and socially.

SAP is doing its part

We are committed to enabling sustainable, resilient, inclusive, and livable cities through technology. Data collected from sensors embedded into city infrastructure, such as the sewer systems in Buenos Aires, helps ensure basic services are working but can also help save people from natural disasters and other emergencies. Innovation in Cape Town shows how data from sensors in water utilities, electrical smart meters, and RFID tags on garbage cans can help improve basic services. The city also uses cutting-edge data collection and analysis technologies to create an integrated public safety solution that enhances the city’s ability to respond to emergency situations and improve citizen’s lives.

Real-time transparency of traffic movement ensures smooth traffic flow for one million cars in the city of Nanjing, China. SAP technology helps collect, analyze, and combine massive amounts of Internet-of-Things sensor data with individual traffic behavior, road conditions, or fare prices to recommend resource-efficient and convenient mobility options in an area of 8 million inhabitants.

The crowdsourced initiative to Improve One Billion Lives (1BLives) seeks to unlock innovation and talent by using SAP technology for social good, aiming to address gaps in education, health, and disaster management. The close collaboration with the seismometer manufacturer Hakusan Corporation, as one example, focuses on disaster preparedness in Japan. The innovative app “My Seismic Safety” transforms smartphones into seismometers and analyzes the potential impact on the stability of buildings in the event of an earthquake.

More opportunities lie ahead. In the near future, blockchain could help cities to cope much better with natural weather disasters, as the “pooling and sharing” scenario shows. Often the problem lies not so much in the lack of resources available to help, but in the logistics to direct and deliver that support efficiently to the right places. Blockchain could help establish the trusted, decentralized transparency required across numerous parties.

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