Unprecedented problems of rapid urbanization:

Cities are big magnets for talent and investment, so it's no surprise that they've become the world's main economic engine, creating more than 80% of global GDP and assisting hundreds of millions of people to rise out of poverty. However, the rapidity and size of urbanization pose significant obstacles. Widening wealth disparities, rising pollution, and deteriorating buildings and bridges are all evidence that today's cities are failing to keep up with residents' growing hopes for a sustainable and prosperous future.

Making Cities Healthier and More Sustainable:

1. Sustainable transport systems

Sustainable transportation gives access to all groups of people in the city while remaining within the city's environmental carrying capacity and remaining cheap for both the system's suppliers and consumers. Giving priority to bicycles over cars, as in Copenhagen, where a bridge exclusively for bikes has been built, or introducing dedicated bus routes as part of urban public transportation systems to link hilly and often low-income urban communities to the city.

2. Healthy diets

Policymakers must do more to encourage healthy, sustainable diets that are environmentally friendly and pay equitable wages to food farmers. Healthy consumption may be encouraged through public procurement, schools, and hospitals, in addition to improving access to such food at low cost – notably in places where healthy food outlets are scarce and resources are restricted. Local agriculture must also be supported by governments in order to provide fresh fruits and vegetables in and near metropolitan areas.

3. Managing food waste and pollution

Green places are vanishing as metropolitan areas continue to grow. Trees and green spaces are important for improving air quality, reducing urban temperatures, stimulating physical exercise, and enhancing general health, as well as for aesthetic reasons. To reduce pollution and promote healthy diets and physical exercise, food systems must be organized and maintained in concert with the natural environment.

4. Boosting green spaces and smart solutions

In urban adaptation to climate change and catastrophe risk reduction, nature-based alternatives are increasingly being studied. Greened rooftops and roadways in New York City, for example, can better control water runoff and enhance urban climate. China pioneered the concept of “sponge cities,” which are cities with open areas that can absorb floodwater and mitigate disasters in an environmentally responsible manner. In Kenya, smart metering allows users to pay for utilities and transportation using mobile money, allowing for more equal access compared to those living in an informal settlement and lacking a proper address and a bank account.

5. Connecting and partnering with the surrounding area

Cities must form broad alliances that bring a diverse set of viewpoints to the table. There is rarely a single reason for complex health problems. Shaping our cities to promote urban health involves a collaborative effort that includes urban planners, civic institutions, investors, employers, and, most crucially, communities. Cities must work together to learn and be willing to take risks. Although no single city employs all of these strategies, each one may be tailored to its particular culture and circumstances. This needs both leadership and time.

Support, Partners, and Resources

Find out more about the resources that make this website possible:

Energy Information Administration NRDC Sterling Environmental Protection Agency