In 2017, the UN estimated that more than 4.3 billion people live in urban areas, constituting about 55% of the world's population. With factors such as high birth and migration rates, it is safe to imply that more than half of the global population is now situated in urban spaces or cities, and such numbers are not reducing soon. Reasons for the increase in urban population include the presumption of availability of greener pastures, good environmental conditions, enough amenities, high quality of education, high standard of living, and better livelihood. Moreover, cities promise opportunities like innovation, culture and prosperity.

However, urban spaces, particularly in developing and less developed countries, have failed to serve their inhabitants the presumptuous good wills of cities and their promises. This is mainly because of issues of informality, traffic gridlock, housing shortage, uneven access to essential services, pollution and environmental degradation, and the predominance of informal sectors. Given the current urban development trajectory, it is reasonable to seek answers to how cities can improve the lives of future generations' lives. As a result, achieving a sustainable urban future has become a critical focus globally.

A sustainable urban future requires the creation of cities that will prioritise environmental, social and economic sustainability not only for now but for generations to come. Sustainable urban development will be necessary to solve current and upcoming environmental, social, and economic issues. This implies lowering carbon emissions, protecting resources, improving lifestyles, and creating resilient cities. Smart technological integration, affordable housing, efficient transit, public spaces and green infrastructure are crucial elements. This approach is essential for halting climate change, enhancing liveability, and ensuring that cities keep their vibrancy and functionality despite increasing urbanisation.

Given the above relevance of a sustainable urban future, financing urban sustainability will not only be beneficial to generations. Still, it will also unlock keys to transformative investment in urban planning, which will again aid in achieving adequate fiscal decentralisation. Though most cities, particularly African cities, experience unorganised planning and fractured fiscal authority, they are perceived as deficit areas with poor governance, substantial infrastructure backlogs, and limited access to finance.

Urban planning may involve investment in a public transport system that is responsive and will cater to the needs of all, especially children and older adults, good housing layouts to support decentralisation of authority, greening the city, combining urbanism and nature to create healthy, civilising and enriching places to live, as well as energy-efficient buildings. This can stimulate economic growth by creating jobs and attracting businesses. Structure, layout and urban planning are necessary to achieve adequate fiscal decentralisation.

Fiscal decentralisation is shifting the responsibilities of revenue collection and expenditure execution from the central to sub-national authorities. This is possible with proper urban planning and neat layout of communities. These sub-national or local authorities will better understand their communities' unique needs and challenges, empowering them to prioritise sustainability initiatives that align with their specific urban environment. This enables them to collect revenues and allocate funds to sustainable urban development projects such as public transportation, green infrastructure and renewable energy initiatives.

Scarce resources, bureaucratic red tape, inequality, environmental shifts, and financial uncertainty threaten our progress.

Improving sub-national governments' revenue-generating and management capacity can be the primary focus of transformative investments in urban sustainability and planning.

Therefore, without structure, layout and proper urban planning, the journey towards urban future sustainability will be a hurdle, as it will be challenging to decentralise authority and responsibility of revenue collection that will provide capital for goal achievements as financing sustainable urban future will require significant levels of public expenditure. Thus, resources need to be nurtured into urban planning for adequate fiscal authority and a sustainable future.

However, hurdles emerge as we embark on the journey toward this vision. Scarce resources, bureaucratic red tape, inequality, environmental shifts, and financial uncertainty threaten our progress. Overcoming these challenges means uniting for the cause, mobilising resources, setting priorities, and investing in innovative solutions. It is about building the capacity of local governments, including communities, in decision-making, championing green financing, and leveraging technology for more innovative urban planning.

On World City's Day, we recall that while the road is long and the obstacles are many, the potential for positive transformation is within our grasp. With suitable investments, policies, and improved urban governance, we can create sustainable cities that thrive, providing economic growth and improved quality of life for all, securing a more sustainable and inclusive future for generations.

Article submitted by Ebenezer Amankwaa


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.