Urbanization is inevitable, as there exists empirical evidence revealing its irreversible nature. The challenge is how to manage it well and turn it into an effective engine of economic growth and structural transformation. Demographic and economic changes have propelled cities and urban centres to become the principal habitat of humankind, increasingly becoming the drivers of global prosperity.
Economic and socially equitable growth, however, must be achieved without further detriment to the environment. Part of the solution lies in how cities are planned, governed and provide services to their citizens. It is more critical than ever that national governments and other actors commit themselves to realizing the goal of sustainable urbanization as a key lever for economic development and industrialization in Africa.
Sustainable urbanization encompasses a continuum of human settlements, ranging from the largest cities to the urban growth centres and villages in rural areas where most of the continent’s population still resides. If well planned and governed, cities and human settlements can support rural development through the provision or improvement of physical, economic and social infrastructure, and be a solution to poverty.
Efforts to create jobs, reduce our ecological footprint and improve quality of life are most effective when pursued holistically. By prioritizing sustainable urbanization within a broader development framework, critical development challenges can be addressed in tandem such as energy, water consumption and production, biodiversity, disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation.
African Heads of State and Government must therefore invest both in national and sub-national urban planning as well as regional, cross-border territorial planning. This calls for coordinated collaboration across borders, hence the significant role of concerted efforts by Heads of State, local authorities, the African Union and regional economic bodies, working with the UN system, the African Development Bank and a range of other non-state actors.
With global attention currently on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the need for Africa to take advantage of the window of opportunity created by the Sustainable Development Goal 11 cannot be over emphasized. Concrete decisions must be made through a deliberate consolidation of commitments by Africa’s leaders to ensure inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements across the region. For more information, view the Aide Memoire.