World Cities Report 2020

The Value of Sustainable

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The World Cities Report 2020 shows that the intrinsic value of sustainable urbanization can and should be harnessed for the wellbeing of all. The Report provides evidence and policy analysis of the value of urbanization from an economic, social and environmental perspective, including the unquantifiable value that gives cities their unique character; and also explores the role of innovation and technology, local governments, targeted investments and the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda in fostering the value of sustainable urbanization.


António Guterres

Secretary-General of the United Nations

“Cities have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Urban areas are already home to 55 per cent of the world’s population, and that figure is expected to grow to 68 per cent by 2050. Our rapidly urbanizing world must respond effectively to this pandemic and prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks.”

Maimunah Mohd Sharif

Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of  UN-Habitat

“The novel coronavirus pandemic triggered the worst public health crisis in a century and we are now living through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. With over 90 per cent of confirmed cases coming from urban areas, cities remain the epicentres of COVID-19.”

Key Findings and

© Johnny Miller Photography

Chapter 1

Urbanization and Cities:
Trends of a New Global Force

The year 2020 marks a turning point in the global battle for sustainable development, with cities once again at the centre as home to a growing majority of the world’s population. On the one hand, the world is entering the Decade of Action, the ten-year period during which national and local governments, the private sector and civil society must accelerate their efforts to deliver on the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for accelerating sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest challenges—ranging from poverty and gender-based discrimination to climate change, inequality and closing the finance gap.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. The New Urban Agenda as a means of achieving SDG 11 offers a framework for unlocking the value of urbanization.

2. While countries have made progress in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and urban dimensions of the SDGs, there are challenges that need to be addressed..

3. Sustainable urbanization has a key role to play in the Decade of Action for accelerating sustainable solutions towards eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, addressing climate change and enhancing gender equality.

4. Sweeping investment in clean technologies such as renewable energy are among the most cost-effective way to boost economies hit by COVID-19 while reducing emissions.

5. COVID-19 provides the opportunity for cities to build back better in the long term and build up resilience against future pandemics.

Chapter 2

Unpacking the Value of
Sustainable Urbanization

When well-planned and managed, cities create value, which is the totality of the economic, social, environmental and intangible conditions (institutional, governance, political, cultural and civic perception) outcomes that have the potential to improve quality of life of residents in meaningful and tangible ways.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. Since urbanization will continue to be the driving force for global growth, this requires effective planning, management and governance to become a truly transformative asset.

2. The economic value of urbanization will provide the basis by which countries can contribute to achieving the SDGs and New Urban Agenda, as well as recovering from the global recession induced by COVID-19.

3. When designed with climate adaptation, mitigation and resiliency, cities can create communities that enhance environmental values like cleaner air, more compact, integrated and walkable cities.

4. Any urbanization process that does not actively address institutionalized obstacles to full representation, recognition and redistribution is inequitable and therefore undermines the value of urbanization.

5. Realizing the social value of sustainable urbanization is not a natural consequence of economic growth, which does not automatically reduce poverty and inequality.

Chapter 3

The Economic Value of Sustainable
Urbanization: Inclusive Prosperity and
Opportunities for All

Cities do not merely symbolize the dreams, aspirations and hopes of individuals and communities, they are the primary catalysts or drivers of economic development and prosperity across the world. Urban areas generate enormous economic value as they are the world’s platforms for production, innovation and trade, generating both formal and informal employment.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. Urban and territorial planning supported by adequate governance structures will enhance the economic value of urbanization.

2. Cities can enhance their productive capacities by reforming legal and regulatory frameworks and adopting measures that provide greater security to workers, particularly those in the informal economy.

3. Adequate measures to facilitate the transition of workers and economic units from the informal to formal economy are fundamental to achieving sustainable and inclusive urban development in developing countries.

4. Any urbanization process that does not actively address institutionalized obstacles to full representation, recognition and redistribution is inequitable and therefore undermines the value of urbanization.

5. Building resilience in the aftermath of COVID-19 is the foundation for managing future pandemic and driving economic growth.

6. Governance, institutional, policy and regulatory frameworks should be aligned to the local realities and should not hinder economic growth.

© UN-Habitat/Kirsten Milhahn

Chapter 4

The Environmental Value of Sustainable
Urbanization: Building Resilient Urban

Current international debates are characterized by urban optimism, as sustainable urbanization is recognized as a transformative force to harness environmental value. The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New Urban Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction are embedded in this urban optimism.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. Harnessing the environmental value of urbanization requires a more participatory approach to planning. An intersectional approach is thus key to understanding the needs and concerns of different groups.

2. Urban greening initiatives enhance the environmental value of urbanization, but adequate measures are needed to ensure that they do not exacerbate inequality and social vulnerability.

3. A green economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic involving investment in clean technologies such as renewable energy can yield long-term environmental benefits while reducing emissions.

4. The environmental value of sustainable urbanization cannot be realized without prioritizing the needs of disadvantaged groups..

5. Implementing the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda is key to enhancing the environmental value of urbanization.

Chapter 5

The Social Value of Sustainable
Urbanization: Leaving No One and No
Place Behind

The opportunities offered by cities lend a social value to urbanization. When cities are well-planned and managed, they can lift families out of poverty, liberate women from gender-based discrimination, point to bright futures for children and youth, offer comforts and supports to older persons in their golden years and welcome migrants looking for a better life.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. When adequately harnessed, the social value of sustainable urbanization offers pathways to enhancing social inclusion, reducing inequality and ending poverty; thereby, leaving no one and no place behind.

2. If integrated through inclusive policies, migrants will not only ease skill shortages, but will contribute to the social, economic cultural enrichment of their host communities.

3. A system that leaves one no and no place behind and creates equal opportunities for all recognizes that economic growth alone will not reduce inequality and poverty.

4. Sustainable and inclusive cities are the outcome of good governance that encompasses effective leadership; integrated urban and territorial planning; jurisdictional and multilevel coordination; inclusive citizen participation; and adequate financing.

5. To adequately harness the social value of urbanization, authorities must address the threats to more egalitarian cities.

Chapter 6

Innovation, Technology and the
Value of Sustainable Urbanization

The world is firmly entrenched in the Information Age. Technology continues to reshape economies and societies amidst the fourth industrial revolution, or the exponentially paced disruption caused by the possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. Cities must work to promote effective policies to protect citizen data and empower citizens to understand how to protect their personal data.

2. Clear, ethical frameworks and institutional arrangements for data collection and data sharing should be put in place.

3. Technology is most effective when coupled with institutional innovation and is not a substitute for improving governance.

4. Results of smart city experiments are mixed and particularly poor when these efforts are technology- rather than peopledriven.

5. Technology cannot displace citizen engagement in community and city affairs.

© Roman Babakin/Shutterstock

Chapter 7

Local Governments and
The Value of Sustainable

Local governments are the prime movers of sustainable urbanization. As the unit of government closest to everyday citizens, they are the most attuned to the needs and desires of urban residents. The successful implementation of the global development agendas and effectively unleashing the value of sustainable urbanization thus depends on the democratic, efficient and inclusive functioning of this level of urban governance.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. Galvanize the forces of localization of the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda in cities and territories by mainstreaming localization strategies in all plans, programmes and budgets from national to local levels..

2. National governments should strengthen local governments’ involvement in the definition, implementation and monitoring of national urban policies and the SDGs.

3. Countries should create enabling institutional environments for local governments to operate in order effectively unleash the value of sustainable urbanization.

4. Strong multilevel governance frameworks are key to foster vertical and horizontal cooperation between different levels of government and between local governments.
Additionally, strong metropolitan governance that responds to the realities of economic and social geographies should be enabled.

5. Cities must track the localization of the global agendas to ensure that planning processes at all levels are founded on realistic targets.

Chapter 8

Investing in the Value of Sustainable

Significant investments are required to enhance the economic, environmental, social value of urbanization, including the intangible conditions of cities, all of which are critical for to realizing sustainable urbanization. Just like all aspects of development, sustainable urbanization requires adequate financing. The extent to which cities and countries attract and leverage the public and private investments required to achieve SDG 11 and the New Urban Agenda is key to enhancing the value of sustainable urbanization.

Quick Facts

Policy Points

1. Local governments must be empowered to tap their endogenous potential to innovatively increase and diversify own-source revenues, which in the long-run enhances local autonomy and financial sustainability.

2. Policy coherence between global, regional, national and local stakeholders is crucial for meeting urban investment needs to enhance the value of urbanization.

3. A multiplicity of actors and collaborative ventures is required to adequately fund urban infrastructure..

4. Institutions for public investment management should be strengthened to achieve desired outcomes while maintaining quality and efficiency in spending on the city’s physical assets.

5. Urban policies and investments to enhance the value of urbanization should be evidence-based and grounded on realistic targets that can be monitored.

Chapter 9

The New Urban Agenda and the Value of
Sustainable Urbanization

Sustainable urbanization generates economic, environmental, social and intangible value that can be harnessed for the wellbeing of all. This message can and should guide development efforts during the Decade of Action to achieve the SDGs and as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, there is a road map to sustainable urbanization in the New Urban Agenda, which provides a comprehensive framework for unlocking the value inherent in well-planned, managed and financed cities.

Policy Points

1. There should be a sense of urgency and a long-term commitment to implement the New Urban Agenda as the basis for achieving sustainable urbanization.

2. The effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda through supportive urban governance structures, urban and territorial planning, and effective means of implementation—adequate financing, capacity development, information, technology and innovation— will harness value of sustainable urbanization in all its dimensions.

3. Unlocking the value of sustainable urbanization is a multisectoral and multi-stakeholder endeavour.

4. Collaboration and cooperation across scales is central to enhancing the value of sustainable urbanization.

5. Cities should undertake periodic audits and map their efforts onto the transformative commitments of the New Urban Agenda, SDG 11 and the urban dimensions of the other SDGs.

6. Appropriate institutional frameworks and urban legislation need to be in place to support effective multilevel governance and enhance the value of sustainable urbanization.

7. Participatory data platforms and effective monitoring systems are integral to enhancing the value of sustainable urbanization.

8. Cities need to feature prominently in the stimulus packages and economic recovery plans following the outbreak of COVID-19.

9. Government at all scales will have to implement the New Urban Agenda at least in the short- to medium-term, within the context of the impacts and uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

10. COVID-19 provides cities a unique opportunity to build back better, by focusing on greener, more sustainable business and consumption patterns, digital economies and quality urban spaces.