Urban development

Urban development

Urban development


The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognises the challenges of the unprecedented urbanisation phenomenon by dedicating a separate goal (Goal 11) to sustainable urban development. This goal not only provides a snapshot in urban settings of other goals and targets across the 2030 Agenda, it also underlines that there are challenges that are unique to urban areas.

Given the crucial role that sustainable urban development will play in supporting the quality of peoples' lives, both within the EU and globally, and the growing relevance of the urban dimension of EU policies, it is important for the EU and its Member States to have a shared vision for the European Union and the world. Likewise, EU's external action should better integrate the dramatic urban demographic growth which will entail major global shifts in the coming years.

For the preparation of an EU common position, European Council conclusions were adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council on 12 May 2016 on the European Union and its Member States' objectives and priorities for the Habitat III Conference. In its conclusions, the Council welcomes the Discussion Paper elaborated by the Commission and endorse the proposed four strings of action as priority areas for the New Urban Agenda, namely:

  • Promoting the social dimension of sustainable urban development through inclusive and save cities in order to better fight against urban poverty and exclusion.
  • Promoting green and resilient cities. Environmental sustainability is fundamental to ensuring the prosperity and well-being of all people within planetary boundaries.
  • Promoting prosperous and innovative cities with a particular focus on growth and job creation.
  • Promoting good urban governance by strengthening the capacity of the authorities at all levels of government in integrated planning and public finance management, by establishing adequate legal and policy frameworks, by fostering access to public and private investments by municipalities, and by fostering women empowerment in urban governance matters. 


In 2014, 54% of the world's population of 7.2 billion people lived in urban areas. This percentage is projected to reach at least 66% by 2050 (of a global total population of around 9.5 billion), representing an increase of 2.5 billion urban dwellers within the next 35 years, 90% of them are likely to concentrate in Africa and Asia.

These unprecedented global challenges ask for new global coordinated action to transform them into opportunities for sustainable development. There is an urgent need to change our way of designing policy to address this major global population and urban shift. Accordingly, new EU response strategies need to include new financial instruments to deliver the necessary assistance helping create better living conditions in the urban areas of developing countries for those who might otherwise have been ready to risk their lives on the dangerous journey to Europe.

Sustainable Development Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

The unprecedented urban demographic growth described above is increasingly recognised as an important development issue across the globe. The quality of life in urban areas underpins the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, adopted at the United Nations (UN) Special Summit in New York in September 2015. At the Agenda's core are the closely interlinked 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 targets, which integrate and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental). The Agenda not only includes SDG 11 as a specific goal on sustainable urban development, calling for "cities and human settlements" to be "inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable", many of the Agenda's underlying targets also directly affect sustainable urban development. The New Urban Agenda should thus contribute to implementation of targets across the whole agenda, reflecting the integrated nature of the goals as well as the inter-linkages between them.

Habitat III and a New Urban Agenda

The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (known as Habitat III to be held in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016) will be amongst the first UN Conferences to take place following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, adopted at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 21).  The objective of the Conference was defined as "to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assessing accomplishments to date, addressing poverty and identifying and addressing new and emerging challenges".

Habitat III will likely adopt a global "New Urban Agenda" (NUA), intended to guide sustainable urban development for the next 20 years, and thus give an important impetus to the implementation of the Agenda 2030, in particular SDG 11 but also a number of other goals and associated targets with a preeminent urban dimension, and the COP 21 decisions. The NUA will thus guide bi- and multi-lateral policy dialogue on urban development and cooperation for the decades to come. It will also reflect the commitments made in the other multilateral frameworks agreed in 2015, such as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.


Objectives for a Common Position of the EU and its Member States

The European Union and its Member States are committed to reaching the goal of sustainable urban development and are major partners in supporting efforts to this end, both within the European Union and globally. Sustainable urban development is paramount in poverty reduction and eradication, and a holistic approach to urban development is necessary in order to promote well-managed, economically prosperous, socially inclusive, safe and resilient, as well as resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable cities. Long-term sustainability can only be achieved if all three dimensions of sustainability – social, economic and environmental – are addressed simultaneously.

Given the crucial role that sustainable urban development will play to the quality of life of people, both within the EU and globally, and the growing relevance of the urban dimension of EU policies, it is important for the EU and its Member States to have a shared vision for the European Union and the world. Likewise, EU's external action should better integrate the dramatic urban demographic growth which will entail major global shifts in the coming years.

The EU's vision of the future global "New Urban Agenda" is based on the understanding that an integrated and place-based approach to urban development, together with a long-term vision, is necessary in order to promote well-managed, liveable, socially inclusive and safe, resilient, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable as well as economically prosperous cities.

This approach needs to take into account the diversity of cities and their wider territorial context, and promote urban-rural linkages in partnership with rural development and agricultural policy in order to contribute to the Union’s objective of territorial cohesion. All efforts should be underpinned by the respect for and protection of human rights, gender equality, as well as the broad participation of marginalised and vulnerable groups, as a prerequisite for achieving inclusive sustainable development. Thereby, sustainable urban development provides a paramount contribution to poverty eradication worldwide, and to economically, environmentally and socially sustainable development. Furthermore, the recognition of the central role of culture, the preservation and promotion of cultural and natural heritage, alongside the availability of public space which is a fundamental condition for participation and ownership of all for the achievement of these objectives, are part of this approach.


EU Development Cooperation support for urban development

Between January 2011 and December 2015, the European Commission committed €360 million per year for urban development i.e. projects having a direct and relevant impact on the improvement of living conditions in urban areas.  The initiatives and actions (both in the past and ongoing) supported by the EU on the basis of the existing financing instruments and aimed at improving the living conditions in urban agglomerations, include:

  • Urban planning and local governance: Local governance has often proved to be more efficient in reaching out to poor people than centralised governance. Democratic institutions allow citizens to participate in city life, defend their interests and share the responsibility of managing their city with the local authorities. Part of the European Commission's (EC) strategy is to fund decentralisation and local governance programmes that have urban infrastructure components. These programmes may, for instance, include the improvement of local authorities' skills regarding financial and human resources management, land-use planning, master plan design, the implementation of large urbanisation schemes (e.g. access roads, repaving, …) and the inclusion of civil society organisations in the decision process.
  • Basic infrastructure: This strand of activity relates to public buildings – for education, health or justice, for instance – but also to the infrastructure needed to restart or develop the urban economy including tourism, such as covered markets, street pavements, museums and historical sites. These constructions usually form part of a larger project or sector programme, including measures to increase the skills of the public administration (e.g. medical staff, teachers, judges, specialist craft associations, marketplaces…).
  • Supporting participatory slum upgrading, coupled with programmatic preventive strategies, to significantly improve living conditions in existing slums and prevent new ones from forming aiming at a substantial reduction of the percentage of slum dwellers. Slum upgrading programmes are mainly concerned with housing, waste, flood and fire risks. They can incorporate institutional and legislative components related to land property issues and access to social services. Improving the ability of local authorities to collect and manage data has been identified as a prerequisite for the rehabilitation of slums.
  • Promoting sustainable urbanisation, taking action to develop and improve access to basic urban services systems as water and sanitation, urban transport, and energy;
  • Promoting improved disaster risk reduction and prevention, climate adaptation and resilience of urban areas. EC-funded measures can include the creation of institutional and legislative frameworks (setting building construction standards notably), risk assessment and implementation of early warning mechanisms, information and awareness- raising activities aimed at inhabitants, reduction of risk factors (ecosystem management, land-use planning, reinforcement of critical infrastructure and social safety-net mechanisms) and strengthening of technical and institutional capacities. Emphasis is placed on the integration of disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and planning.
  • Supporting sustainable approaches and in particular Urban Low Emission Development Strategies to maintain, extend and develop urban infrastructures and services (public buildings, improved street networks, energy, water supply and waste management, sustainable mobility and clean transportation), including actions to reduce industrial waste and GHG emissions;
  • Supporting urban reconstruction and the integration of Internally Displaced Persons (IPD) in urban areas following conflict or natural disasters. This type of measure is often required for urban infrastructure in the wake of events such as natural disasters and conflicts. It begins after the end of the emergency phase, which falls in the scope of humanitarian aid, and aims to re-establish the country's equilibrium in the long term. It can be carried out through various programmes, for instance through the design of urban profiles to serve as a town-planning tool for other forms of assistance. Reconstruction can relate to basic infrastructure for water and roads, health and justice, housing (for refugees or displaced persons), and infrastructure for economic recovery (marketplaces, tourism services related infrastructure, fishing ports etc).
  • Water supply and sanitation: the EC has funded several Water Supply and Sanitation in small towns in many partner countries, be in Africa, Central Asia, Latin America or the Pacific. It includes the infrastructure and the strengthening of the water operator. Sanitation can be either on site sanitation, such as ECOSAN Latrines with reuse of the excreta or collective system with waste water treatment. In some case, the EC has funded, in conjunction with financial institution, such as the EIB, EBRD and others, some larger Water Supply and Sanitation system in metropolis area. These large systems have included some innovations such as radio telemetry. The EU-ACP Water Facility included a specific Call for Proposals for Partnership of Water Operator in Urban areas aiming at strengthening the local Water utility, through Performance Improvement Plan. 32 projects were funded under this Call.
  • Solid waste management projects: EC-funded projects in this area can cover the entire waste chain, from production reduction to collection, sorting, pre-treatment, recycling and disposal. The construction of new landfill sites and the provision of equipment for waste collection are further aspects, which entail heavy and complex infrastructure. The sectorial support approach can encompass helping to implement a regulation on waste minimisation and recycling. 
The European Commission also provides support to developing countries through the work of its in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC). The JRC provides extensive scientific and technical support, notably to forecast, prevent, assess and deal with natural and technological disasters. Currently, it is focusing one arm of its research efforts on the development of early warning systems and damage assessment systems for weather-driven disasters. It is also developing and calibrating models to assess the vulnerability of constructions to earthquakes. This research is conducted at state-of-the art facilities such as the JRC's European Laboratory for Structural Assessment, which is used to simulate the earthquake loading of buildings. All of these applications can support the design of a city's urban infrastructure.
At national level, urban development may be included in a country’s strategy paper, which serves as a framework defining the sectors on which aid will be focused in a country throughout a certain time period (e.g. 2014 to 2020). Several countries have chosen urban development as a focal sector for EC aid. In other countries, it is a component of a given focal sector, such as governance or decentralisation. Relevant cooperation programmes relating to urban development can also be carried out at regional level (e.g. the CIUDAD programme in the Neighbourhood region) or at global level (e.g. the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) in the African, Carribean and Pacific states). Moreover, technical assistance on urban matters can be provided through dedicated programmes.

Between January 2011 and December 2015, the European Commission committed €360 million per year (approximately 200 contracts/year) for urban development i.e. projects having a direct and relevant impact on the improvement of living conditions in urban areas.

The main sector DAC codes include: water, sanitation and waste disposal, reconstruction and rehabilitation, urban development, urban transport and mobility, disaster prevention and preparedness, flood prevention control, low-cost housing (including slum upgrading), site preservation and cultural heritage.


European neighbourhood countries have been the main beneficiaries of aid in the above referred sectors, closely followed by the Sub-Saharan African countries.


Please refer to the general funding page for more information on funding opportunities and details of the relevant procedures.


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