Building Resilience in Cities

The SDGs have transcended from the year of adoption in 2015 to the year of implementation in 2016. The integrated nature of the 2030 Global Agenda for Development reflects the underlying interlinkages of goals and indicators. Indicators pertaining to a specific target will influence values of other related indicators in other goals. SDG 11 advocates for cities to become more resilient and safe. It is largely fostering the idea that cities need to be green and inclusive.

Cities have driven economic growth in Asia and contribute to about 80% of the GDP. With more than half of the world’s cities, Asia has emerged as one of the most rapidly urbanising regions in the world. By 2050, 3 billion people i.e. about 65% of all Asians will live in cities. SDG 11 most significantly advocates for the fulfilment of the wide principle of Agenda 2030 that no one should be left behind and that people should be alleviated from poverty. Therefore, the process of urbanisation needs to be sustainable as it will in tandem address the urbanisation of poverty.

Of a total of about 1.6 billion urban people in Asia, more than 500 million live in high density, degraded slums. Asia accounts for about 60% of the world’s slum dwellers. Large disparities have emerged in urban areas and the poor are the most vulnerable to economic, environmental and social risks. It is clear that the way cities will be developed and managed will heavily influence the effort to eradicate poverty in Asia. Indian cities of Mumbai and Delhi are in line to gain a place among the top twenty urban economies of the world by 2025. 65-70% of the urban population in India is concentrated in tier 1 cities (Rishabh Misra, 2016).

The national missions in India such as the National Renewable Energy Mission, Solar Mission are already working towards achieving the target of 175 GW to make cities greener, more energy and resource efficient through promotion of low carbon development and smart use of land and water. The efforts to integrate the role of SDG11 and SDG 13 which aims to take urgent actions to combat climate change and its impact with an objective to make cities more resilient to climate change are now being realised more.

Urban planners and thinkers are turning their attention towards designing of urban infrastructure that is climate resilient. Technology, innovation, governance and redefining partnerships will be the defining sources of achieving targets underlined in SDG 11. However this convergence is relatively difficult at this stage as the investments required to achieve the SDG 11 targets are obscure given India’s annual capital spending of $17 on urban infrastructure which is a mere 14% of China’s $116 and 4% of the United Kingdom’s $391 (Gopal, 2012). India needs to invest US $1.2 trillion in its cities in the coming 20 years - equivalent to $134 per capita per year, compared to the $17 spent today. The urban population in India grew 31.6% in the past decade according to the 2011 census data. The government expects another 42% growth in population over the next 15 years. Such rapid expansion raises the prospect of city administrators reacting with short-term, tactical measures rather than responding with long-term strategic direction. A further long-term challenge is adopting a truly holistic approach to sustainable urbanisation, which charts the path for growth in the city population without a commensurate increase in resource consumption. In actual terms, a holistic approach begins with the city plan - which in turn gives rise to frameworks for the built environment, for transportation networks and for energy consumption. But sustainable urban growth must also include measures to tackle urban poverty and social exclusion and to deal with growing diversity. Currently, around three-quarters of India’s urban citizens earn an average of US $1.80 a day. Social inclusion measures could include providing access to low-cost housing to curtail the spread of slums - which currently house between 20-40% of India’s urban population (The Economist, 2011).

The role of cities in addressing sustainability challenges worldwide has been recognised as relevant. Many of the SDG goals and targets will succeed or fail in global cities since over 54% of the world population now resides in these sub-national units (Simon, 2015). Availability of national data at a level of disaggregation that would enable local governments to implement policies or monitor outcomes is very limited. Household surveys, for example, tend to produce single figures on issues such as water or sanitation but fall short of establishing the argument on how these numbers vary across districts. Government data on housing, for example, is often unable to keep up with the movement of population, with information on informal urban settlements seldom reflecting reality (D'Almeida, 2015).

The new urban agenda therefore addresses some of the prime issues to foster sustainable urbanisation strategies and policies within the countries. It will be convening again in the month of October 2016 through the interventions of Habitat III and United Nations. The convention will work towards one of the significant targets of providing adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements in an urbanising world. More so, it will set the role for development and who will realise the alignment of the New Urban Agenda with systems of policy makers, urban economy and governance and to foresee the implementation by the operational enablers. The output indicators of such an approach will be mapped through locating the patterns of land use, city planning and resource efficiency. The enablers will be observed within the fiscal systems, urban planning, basic services and infrastructure. (Rishabh Misra, 2016)

While SDGs will entail the process of measuring and monitoring the goals vis-à-vis the targets and indicators, the contemporary issues and debates are moving beyond the scope of x.1 target as against x.1.1 indicator. The critique of the SDG 11 is also viewed in terms of measuring environmental, physical and infrastructural resources and considering them as pertinent indicators to achieving ‘inclusive, safe cities’. In the exhaustive list of indicators, the danger lies in losing out the very essence of urbanisation or a city i.e. the people. Cities are centres of culture and communities. Although the emphasis is placed on adequate housing and human settlements which has being lobbied for a long time by architects, urban planners and designers; but with the contemporary global crisis and conflict scenarios, the social inclusivity of the city has emerged as a pressing issue. Thus safe, secure, inclusive, egalitarian and humane cities are emerging and redefining the very notions of urbanisation. This redefinition of urbanisation, also entails the urgency for countries to come up with their own set of social and qualitative indicators on which the above parameters of a new urban city will be measured. It has been witnessed that states in India are focussing upon building infrastructure whereas they lag behind in social and economic indicators negating the development under the mask of growth. For example, Tamil Nadu is stated as the most urbanised state in India with 48.45% urbanisation, but when it is compared under economic and social indicators, it falls way behind other states. This serious issue needs to be addressed by the Government of India in order to bring dynamic impact on the state of urbanisation in India. (Rishabh Misra, 2016).

Rishabh Misra


D'Almeida, K. (2015, October 1). Initiative aims to bolster subnational data as key to measuring SDGs progress. Retrieved from Citiscope:
Gopal, K. (2012). Sustainable Cities for India - Can the Goal be Achieved? Retrieved February 11, 2016, from
NASSCOM. (2014). Looking Beyond the Tier. Retrieved February 24, 2016, from
Rishabh Misra. (2016, June). Trends and Patterns of Urbanization In India. IOSR.
Simon, D. (2015, October 2). Cities respond: Testing the urban SDG indicators. Retrieved from Citiscope:
The Economist. (2011). Sustainable Cities: Mastering the Challenges and Opportunities of Rapid Urbanisation. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from

Back to Contents

  Share Subscribe Home

Contact Us

About Us