SDG 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Data extracted in April 2022.
Planned article update: June 2023.
This article is a part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context — 2022 edition’. This report is the sixth edition of Eurostat’s series of monitoring reports on sustainable development, which provide a quantitative assessment of progress of the EU towards the SDGs in an EU context.
SDG 11 aims to renew and plan cities and other human settlements in a way that offers opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and green public spaces, while reducing resource use and environmental impact.
Around 325 million people or almost three-quarters of the EU population, live in urban areas — cities, towns and suburbs — with almost 40 % residing in cities alone . With the share of Europe’s urban population projected to rise to just over 80 % by 2050 , sustainable cities, towns and suburbs are therefore essential for citizens’ well-being and quality of life. Urban areas also serve as hubs for economic and social development and innovation, and attract many people thanks to the wide range of opportunities for education, employment, entertainment and culture on offer. This large concentration of people and wealth, however, often comes with a range of complex challenges such as ensuring sustainable mobility and affordable and decent housing conditions. Another is reducing cities’ negative environmental impacts, such as poor air quality, noise, spread of settlement areas and generation of large amounts of waste in urban areas. Cities are consequently not just a source of economic, environmental and social challenges but also a potential solution to these issues. As such, they can be considered a key driver for achieving a sustainable future.
Sustainable cities and communities in the EU: overview and key trends
Monitoring SDG 11 in an EU context means looking at developments in the quality of life in cities and communities, sustainable mobility and adverse environmental impacts. As Table 1 shows, the EU has achieved significant progress in increasing the quality of life in cities and communities over the past few years, as well as in managing waste sustainably. However, negative trends can be observed in safe and sustainable transport systems, and urban land-take has increased.
Quality of life in cities and communities
While European cities and communities provide opportunities for employment, economic and cultural activity, many inhabitants still face considerable social challenges and inequalities. Problems affecting the quality of housing and the wider residential area, such as noise disturbance, crime and vandalism, are some of the most visible challenges that cities and communities can face and that impact a population’s quality of life.
Quality of housing in the EU has improved over the past ten years
Safe and adequate homes are a foundation for living an independent, healthy and fulfilling life. Poor housing conditions, on the other hand, are associated with lower life chances, health inequalities, increased risks of poverty and environmental hazards. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of facilities and overcrowding are especially dangerous.
The severe housing deprivation rate refers to the share of the population who live in an overcrowded household while also experiencing housing deprivation measures such as a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation, or rot in window frames or floor, lacking sanitary facilities or a dwelling considered too dark. Between 2010 and 2020, the share of EU residents who lived in such conditions fell by 1.9 percentage points, which indicates an improvement in the perceived quality of the EU’s housing stock.
Europeans perceive their residential areas as quieter and safer
Noise disturbance can cause annoyance, stress, sleep deprivation, poor mental health and well-being, as well as harm to the cardiovascular and metabolic system . Likewise, crime and vandalism can also reduce quality of life and housing satisfaction in a residential area, leading to even more stress and anxiety. In 2020, 17.2 % of the EU population (about 77 million people) said their household suffered from noise disturbance, compared with 20.6 % in 2010 . Crime, violence and vandalism were perceived in their area by 10.9 % of the EU population in 2020, compared with 13.1 % in 2010.
Despite improvements in perceived exposure to noise, 70 million people in EU urban areas were estimated to be exposed to road traffic noise at levels of 55 decibel (dB) or higher on an annual average for day, evening and night in 2017. Another 9 million people were estimated to be subjected to excessive noise from railways, 2.4 million from airports and 0.5 million from industry . The number of people exposed has also increased since 2007 for all sources of the environmental noise. At 55 decibels (dB) noise levels can start to have critical effects, ranging from severe annoyance and sleep disturbance to hearing impairment . The more recent WHO guidelines for Europe are even more stringent, recommending that the noise level from road traffic should be below 53 dB during the day and below 45 dB during the night .
Exposure to fine particular matter in the EU leads to many lost years of life and premature death
High concentrations of people and economic activities significantly increase exposure to air pollution, which poses major environmental and health risks and influences quality of life in cities. Pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5) suspended in the air reduce people’s life expectancy and perception of well-being and can lead to or aggravate many chronic and acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases . Every year, exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause seven million premature deaths and result in the loss of millions more years of healthy life worldwide 
In 2019, the annual mean concentration of PM2.5 in urban areas in the EU stood at 12.6 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m3) . Although this was below the limit set by the EU (25 μg/m3 annual mean) , substantial air-pollution hotspots remain. According to recent European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates, 4 % of the EU urban population were exposed to levels above the EU’s PM2.5 limit value in 2019 . If the more stringent WHO air-quality guideline is considered (5 μg/m3 annual mean), almost all EU city dwellers (97 %) were estimated to be exposed to PM2.5 concentration levels deemed harmful to human health .
In the EU, this long-term exposure to fine particulate matter was responsible for around 307 000 premature deaths in 2019, according to EEA estimates . This resulted in approximately 3.4 million years of life lost in the EU due to PM2.5 exposure, corresponding to 762 years per 100 000 inhabitants. Since 2005, the number of premature deaths and as a result the years lost have decreased, but this decrease has slowed since 2014. Additional efforts in reducing concentrations of particulate matter in air will be needed for the EU to meet its 2030 target of reducing the health impacts of air pollution by more than 55 % compared with 2005.
Despite a decline in road traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, PM2.5 concentrations have not fallen consistently across all European cities. This is because the main sources of this pollutant, including the combustion of fuel for the heating of residential, commercial and institutional buildings and industrial activities, are varied  and pollution levels also depend on weather conditions and season. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the lockdown measures introduced by European countries to fight the pandemic in 2020 led to reductions in emissions of air pollutants, resulting in better air quality . This improvement, however, was temporary, with air pollution from road transport increasing since September 2021 .
City dwellers experience more noise pollution and crime
Statistics on the degree of urbanization provide an analytical and descriptive lens through which to view urban and rural communities. Based on the share of the local population living in urban clusters and urban centres, Eurostat differentiates between three types of area: ‘cities’, ‘towns and suburbs’ and ‘rural areas’ .
The severe housing deprivation rate in the EU in 2020 was higher in rural areas (4.8 %) than in cities (4.6 %) and in towns and suburbs (3.2 %) . The perceived level of noise pollution varies greatly depending on the degree of urbanisation. In 2020, people living in EU cities were more likely to report noise from neighbours or from the street (23.6 %) compared with those living in towns and suburbs (15.4 %) or in rural areas (10.4 %) . Similarly, the perceived occurrence of crime and vandalism in cities (16.4 %) was almost three times higher than in rural areas (5.9 %) and above the level observed in towns and suburbs (8.5 %) in 2020 .
A functioning transport system is necessary for people to reach their places of work, education, services and social activities, all of which affect quality of life. In addition to availability, the type, quality and safety of transport systems are also crucial when designing sustainable and inclusive cities and communities.
Cars are the main means of transport in the EU
The EU aims to improve citizens’ quality of life and to strengthen the economy by promoting sustainable urban mobility and the increased use of clean and energy-efficient vehicles. Public transport networks help to relieve traffic jams, reduce harmful pollution and offer more affordable and sustainable ways to commute to work, access services and travel for leisure.
Since 2000, the share of buses and trains in inland passenger transport has stagnated well below 20 %, accounting for only 17.2 % in 2019. Both long- and short-term trends show that these public transport modes are losing shares (– 0.1 percentage points since 2004 and – 0.6 percentage points since 2014) in favour of passenger cars. This means most passenger journeys in the EU (in passenger-kilometres) are still undertaken by car.
While there are no official data available on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban mobility, there is evidence that the lockdown measures have significantly influenced mobility of people and traffic volumes in general. The International Transport Forum, for example, estimates that overall urban transport activity in 2020 was 19 % of the previously estimated annual demand, while cycling and walking had surged . The International Association of Public Transport pointed to a sharp increase in the share of cars in the overall modal split during the pandemic . The number of rail passengers had at least halved in most Member States in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the second quarter of 2019. The largest decrease was reported in Ireland, where rail passenger numbers fell by 90 % . However, it remains to be seen how far the pandemic influences the overall modal split of passenger transport, especially the use of private cars compared with public transport modes.
Road traffic deaths dropped in 2020 due to a lockdown-related reduction in traffic volumes
Road traffic injuries are a public health issue and have huge economic costs. Around 120 000 people are estimated to be seriously injured in road accidents in the EU each year . In 2020, about 52 people lost their lives on EU roads every day. This corresponds to about 18 800 people for the entire year — a loss equivalent to the size of a medium town. Nevertheless, the EU has made considerable progress in this respect, reducing road casualties by 36.5 % between 2010 and 2020. However the target of halving the total death toll on EU roads over the past decade was missed. Between 2019 and 2020, there was a sharp drop of 17.4 % in the number of road fatalities after a relatively long period of stagnation. This drop can be explained by reduced traffic volumes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The highest share of road-traffic fatalities was recorded on non-motorway roads outside urban areas (52 %), followed by roads inside urban areas (40 %) in 2020 . While the overall number of fatalities fell by 23.1 % between 2010 and 2019, the number of cyclists killed in urban areas actually increased by 3.1 % . Indeed, EU-wide, around 70 % of fatalities in urban areas involve vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, motorcyclist and cyclists. This is therefore a key area when it comes to introducing new policy measures to tackle road safety.
Lower traffic volumes, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued to have a clear impact on the number of road fatalities. Preliminary data indicate that in 2021 the number of road deaths in the EU rose by 5 % compared with 2020 but was still 13 % lower than in 2019 .
While cities, towns and suburbs are a focal point for social and economic activity, if not managed sustainably, they risk causing considerable environmental damage. At the same time, large and densely populated cities provide opportunities for effective environmental action, indicating that urbanisation is not necessarily a threat but can act as a transformative force for more sustainable societies . EU progress in reducing the environmental impacts of cities and communities is monitored by three indicators looking into the management of municipal waste, waste water treatment and artificial land cover.
Despite of continuous improvements in the recycling of municipal waste, the EU might miss its targets
The ‘waste hierarchy’ is the overarching logic that guides EU waste policy. It prioritises waste prevention, followed by preparing for reuse, recycling, other recovery and finally disposal, including landfilling, as the last resort. Waste management activities promote recycling, which reduces the amount of waste going to landfills and leads to higher resource efficiency. Although municipal waste accounts for less than 10 % of the weight of total waste generated in the EU , it is highly visible and closely linked to consumption patterns. Sustainable management of this waste stream reduces the adverse environmental impact of cities and communities, which is why the EU has set a target to recycle at least 60 % of its municipal waste by 2030 .
In 2020, the EU residents generated 225 732 thousand tonnes of municipal waste, which corresponds to 505 kilograms (kg) of waste per capita per year . Since 2015, the annual waste generated per capita increased by 25 kg. Although the EU has not reduced its municipal waste generation, it has clearly shifted to more recycling. Since 2000, the recycling rate of municipal waste has increased continuously from 27.3 % to 47.8 % in 2020. However, the trend has slowed since 2016, with the share of recycled municipal waste increasing by only 1.3 percentage points between 2016 and 2020. Further efforts are therefore needed to put the EU back on track towards meeting its recycling targets.
Connection rates to waste water treatment have been increasing
Urban areas also place significant pressure on the water environment through waste water from households and industry that contains organic matter, nutrients and hazardous substances. The share of the EU population connected to at least secondary waste water treatment plants, which use aerobic or anaerobic micro-organisms to decompose most of the organic material and retain some of the nutrients, has been steadily growing since 2000 and reached 80.9 % in 2019. In seven Member States, more than 90 % of the population were connected to such services. However, it may not be suitable to connect 100 % of the population to a sewerage collection system, either because it would produce no environmental benefit or would be too costly (see article on SDG 6 ‘Clean water and sanitation’).
The settlement area per capita has increased
Offering numerous cultural, educational and job opportunities, an urban lifestyle is increasingly attractive to Europeans. However, this growth in the urban population has also come with increased land take. Land take is described as the process of transforming agricultural, forest and other semi-natural and natural areas into artificial areas. It often means an increase of settlement area over time, usually at the expense of rural areas. As a result of land take, urban areas may severely hamper ecosystem functioning and the related delivery of ecosystem services .
Settlement area indicator captures the amount of settlement area due to land-take. In the EU, settlement area per capita has increased over the past few years. In 2018, for each EU inhabitant, 703.4 square metres (m2) of land was covered by settlement area (comprising both sealed and non-sealed surfaces — for example, buildings, industrial and commercial area, infrastructure but also parks and sportsgrounds), which is 3.3 % more than in 2015.
Presentation of the main indicators
Severe housing deprivation rate
The severe housing deprivation rate is defined as the percentage of the population living in a dwelling which is considered as overcrowded, while also exhibiting at least one of the following housing deprivation measures: i) a leaking roof, ii) no bath/shower and no indoor toilet, and iii) considered too dark. The data stem from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC).
Population living in households suffering from noise
This indicator measures the share of the population who declare they are affected either by noise from neighbours or from the street. Because the assessment of noise pollution is subjective, it should be noted that the indicator accounts for both the levels of noise pollution as well as people’s standards of what level they consider to be acceptable. Therefore, an increase in the value of the indicator may not necessarily indicate a similar increase in noise pollution levels but also a decrease in the levels that European citizens are willing to tolerate and vice versa. In fact, there is empirical evidence that perceived environmental quality by individuals is not always consistent with the actual environmental quality assessed using ‘objective’ indicators, particularly for noise. The data stem from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC).
Years of life lost due to PM2.5 exposure
The indicator measures the years of life lost (YLL) due to exposure to particulate matter. Fine particulates (PM2.5) are particulates whose diameter is less than 2.5 micrometres, meaning they can be carried deep into the lungs where they can cause inflammation and exacerbate the condition of people suffering heart and lung diseases. YLL is defined as the years of potential life lost as a result of premature death. It is an estimate of the average number of years that a person would have lived if they had not died prematurely. The data stem from the European Environment Agency.
Road traffic deaths
This indicator measures the number of fatalities caused by road accidents, including drivers and passengers of motorised vehicles and pedal cycles, as well as pedestrians. Persons dying on road accidents up to 30 days after the occurrence of the accident are counted as road accident fatalities. The data come from the CARE database managed by DG Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE).
Settlement area per capita
This indicator captures the amount of settlement area due to land-take, such as for buildings, industrial and commercial areas, infrastructure and sports grounds, and includes both sealed and non-sealed surfaces.
Recycling rate of municipal waste
This indicator measures the tonnage recycled from municipal waste divided by the total municipal waste arising. Recycling includes material recycling, composting and anaerobic digestion. Municipal waste consists mostly of waste generated by households, but may also include similar wastes generated by small businesses and public institutions and collected by the municipality. This latter part of municipal waste may vary from municipality to municipality and from country to country, depending on the local waste management system. For areas not covered by a municipal waste collection scheme the amount of waste generated is estimated. Each year, Member States report the amount recycled and the total municipal waste generated to Eurostat. Data collection, validation and dissemination are performed by the Environmental Data Centre on waste hosted at Eurostat.
Direct access to
More detailed information on EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as indicator relevance, definitions, methodological notes, background and potential linkages, can be found in the introduction of the publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context — 2022 edition’.
Further reading on sustainable cities and communities
- EEA (2021), Air Quality in Europe 2021, EEA Report no. 15/2021, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- Eurostat (2021), Eurostat regional yearbook 2021, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- Joint Research Centre (2021), Atlas of the Human Planet 2020, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- The Housing Europe (2021), The State of Housing in Europe 2021, Housing Europe, the European Federation for Public, Cooperative and Social Housing, Brussels.
- United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2018), The World’s Cities in 2018 — Data Booklet (ST/ESA/SER.A/417).
- UN-Habitat (2020), World Cities Report 2020: The Value of Sustainable Urbanization
- WHO (2018), Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018.
- WHO Regional Office for Europe (2018), Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region.
- 2020 data. Source: Eurostat (online data codes: (ilc_lvho01) and (demo_gind)).
- Eurostat (2016), Urban Europe: Statistics on cities, towns and suburbs, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 9.
- European Environment Agency (2019), Population exposure to environmental noise.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (sdg_11_20) and (demo_gind).
- European Environment Agency (2021), Exposure of Europe’s population to environmental noise.
- Berglund, B., Lindvall, T., Schwela, D.H. (1999), Guidelines for Community Noise, World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva.
- WHO Regional Office for Europe (2018), Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region.
- World Health Organization (2016), World Health Statistics 2016: Monitoring Health for the SDGs, p. 37.
- World Health Organization (2021), WHO global air quality guidelines: particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (t2020_rn210)).
- For PM2.5, the Ambient Air Quality Directive 2008/50/EC introduced a target value to be attained by 2010, which became a limit value starting in 2015. For more information on EU air quality standards see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/quality/standards.htm.
- European Environment Agency (2021), Europe’s air quality status 2021 — update.
- European Environment Agency (2021), Air Quality in Europe 2021, EEA Report No 15/2021.
- European Environment Agency (2021), Air quality and COVID-19.
- European Environment Agency (2020), Air Quality in Europe 2020 Report, EEA Report No 9/2020, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 6.
- Eurostat (2022), European Statistical Recovery Dashboard, Air quality.
- Degree of urbanisation classifies local administrative units as ‘cities’, ‘towns and suburbs’ or ‘rural areas’. In ‘cities’ at least 50 % of the population lives in an urban centre. If less than 50 % lives in an urban centre but more than 50 % of the population lives in an urban cluster it is classified as ‘towns and suburbs’, and if more than 50 % of the population lives outside an urban cluster it is classified as a ‘rural area’. An urban centre is a cluster of contiguous grid cells of 1 km2 with a density of at least 1 500 inhabitants per km2 and a minimum population of 50 000 people. An urban cluster is a cluster of contiguous grid cells of 1 km2 with a density of at least 300 inhabitants per km2 and a minimum population of 5 000 people.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_mdho06D)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_mddw04)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (ilc_mddw06)).
- ITF (2021), ITF Transport Outlook 2021, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/16826a30-en.
- UITP (2020), The Future of Mobility post-COVID.
- Eurostat (2020), Impact of COVID-19 on rail passenger transport in Q2 2020.
- European Commission (2020), Road safety: Europe’s roads are getting safer but progress remains too slow.
- European Commission (2022), Road safety in the EU: fatalities in 2021 remain well below pre-pandemic level.
- European Commission (2021), European Road Safety Observatory: Annual statistical report on road safety in the EU 2020, p. 13.
- European Commission (2022), Road safety in the EU: fatalities in 2021 remain well below pre-pandemic level.
- UN-Habitat (2016), Urbanization and Development: Emerging Futures, World Cities report 2016, pp. 85–100.
- Eurostat (2021), Statistics explained: Municipal waste statistics.
- European Commission (2018), Directive (EU) 2018/851 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 2008/98/EC on waste (Text with EEA relevance).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasmun))
- EEA (2016), Land recycling in Europe: Approaches to measuring extent and impacts, EEA Report No 31/2016, European Environment Agency.