People moving by bicycle through the city
Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable


Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more. At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically. However, many challenges must be addressed to ensure that cities continue to create jobs and prosperity, without putting a strain on land and resources. Common urban challenges include congestion, a lack of funds to provide basic services, a shortage of adequate housing and deteriorating infrastructure. These challenges can be overcome in ways that allow cities to continue to thrive and grow, while improving resource use and reducing pollution and poverty. The desirable future is one in which cities provide access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more opportunities for all.

Key messages from the region on the issues addressed by SDG 11 and its targets

      • In Latin America and the Caribbean, rural-urban migration is slowing and migration between cities has increased. The number of people living in large cities has stagnated and medium-sized cities have emerged as growth hubs.

      • The region’s urbanization pattern continues to produce urban areas with fragile economies, high levels of inequality and worrying levels of environmental degradation.
      • An increasing number of people in Latin America are abandoning the public transport system and acquiring private vehicles. Motorization rates in the region are increasing rapidly, as are traffic congestion and emissions of greenhouse gases and local pollutants that have a negative impact on the population’s health, mainly that of children and older persons.

      • The New Urban Agenda, adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) held in Quito in 2016, recognizes the importance of the territorial dimension, and urban sustainability policies can support the cross-cutting implementation of several of the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, beyond SDG 11.

    Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable in Latin America and the Caribbean

    Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable in Latin America and the Caribbean

    The analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) presented here is the outcome of the discussions held within the framework of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and Caribbean on Sustainable Development, convened under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Challenges and opportunities identified for the implementation, follow-up and review of SDG 11 and its targets

    • Challenges

      • Increasing motorization not only brings problems related to congestion, travel times and fuel consumption, pollutant emissions and environmental degradation, the encroachment of residential areas and increasingly poor road safety with very high rates of injuries and deaths, but also makes it difficult for most people to have full access to the public transport system.

      • Efforts to address housing informality by adopting a strategy of granting legal titles to land without the comprehensive development of settlements have not automatically guaranteed better access to public services.

      • While many countries in the region have been able to reduce the quantitative housing deficit, mainly through demand-side subsidies, locating social housing in peripheral areas has driven urban sprawl and deepened socioeconomic residential segregation.

      • In the region there is still the challenge of planning cities that contribute to a better and fairer use and distribution of time and to the more equal enjoyment of rights by men and women. Inclusive cities must be designed, with a spatial distribution that takes into account the complexity and diversity of the daily needs and capabilities of their inhabitants.

      • The lack of access to clean energy sources, safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities in slum dwellings also has adverse impacts on health.

      • All these urban challenges are exacerbated by the difficulty of creating locally appropriate institutional and legal structures to promote sustainable urbanization. This challenge is accentuated in the financial systems of Latin America and the Caribbean, where there are large asymmetries between spending responsibilities and commitments, both at different levels of government and within cities.

      • Poorly planned and managed urbanization translates into low densities, separation of land uses, a mismatch between infrastructure provision and residential concentration, as well as inadequate road networks and public spaces. It also diminishes the potential of using economies of scale and agglomeration, and generates higher emissions.


      • Public policies must address the problems of cities —where economic and social power are concentrated— as well as the opportunities offered by action in this sphere to meet the challenges of sustainable development. The actions of all levels of government must be aligned to promote cohesive policies that ensure efficient patterns of spatial development.

      • Organized and consistent urban planning should encourage dense, contiguous development on the edges of urban areas, modernize existing urbanized areas, improve the diversity and quality of life in urban centres and minimize the adverse effects of climate change on cities.

      • Each city must be understood as part of a system of cities at the local, national, regional and global levels. This conceptualization of the city provides a multidimensional approach based on interactions and connectivity. Cities should be considered centres of social, economic and cultural interaction, capable of fostering productive growth and achieving sustainable development at all levels.

      • Inclusion of time-use analysis in urban planning makes it possible to build cities that take into account the needs of all the people who live in them and thus promote a reduction in inequality and a more equal enjoyment of rights by women and men.

Lessons learned and good practices with respect to SDG 11 and its targets

      • In 2013, the city of Medellín (Colombia) was recognized as the most innovative city in the world, owing to its creative solutions to urban mobility and sustainability challenges, including the public system of cable cars (Metrocable) and escalators, which cut travel times between the hills and the valley (from hours to minutes) and reduced the environmental impact and congestion of main roads caused by traditional means of transport.

Recommendations from Latin America and the Caribbean to achieve SDG 11 and its targets

      • Greater investment in public transport systems and urban infrastructure is needed, paying special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons, to improve the quality and efficiency of public transport, and to ensure the inclusiveness, safety and environmental sustainability of cities.

      • The world has seen unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. Thus, urban planning and management must be improved to ensure that urban spaces worldwide are more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
      • It is important for urban planning to be performed with a gender approach aimed at reducing gaps and responding to the different needs of the population, as well as their different uses of time, space and services, contributing to the transformation of the current sexual division of labour.

      • Environmental and social impacts must be considered in the design, planning and construction of infrastructure to ensure that services are provided and that the concerns of the affected communities are addressed.