Cities – Changemakers and catalysts in navigating global challenges

Image of Bhutan, LA, Surat, Texas


Global challenges, as defined by the UN, are issues that are not limited to national boundaries. The solution strategies not only address peacekeeping, human rights, and international justice but also encompass discussions on climate change, urbanization, healthcare access, inequality, unemployment, and other pertinent issues. According to statistics from 2023, 57% of the world population living in urban areas is predicted to increase to 68% by 2050. This will result in large-scale risk potentials and uncontrolled urban expansion, increasing the consumption of limited resources. Unrestrained urbanization and economic growth, stemming from irrational decision-making and resource mismanagement, have led to an increase in global problems.

Statistics states that cities account for 60% of the global drinking water, 75% of energy consumption, and around 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing challenges at the city level presents a significant opportunity for meaningful progress on a global scale. According to an article by the Chairman of Arup Group Trusts, many cities have already started tackling major issues. For example, Qatar and Mumbai are implementing new water management strategies, LA and Perth are learning ways to mitigate urban sprawl, and Hong Kong, and Tokyo are working towards making highly efficient and compact cities. As these cities succeed, they provide valuable lessons for others, promoting global collaboration in designing efficient, sustainable, and resilient urban environments, which, when aligned with national strategies, can enhance international influence significantly.

Three major global challenges

Rapid Urbanization : With more and more population moving to urban areas due to better opportunities, cities are experiencing unprecedented strain on infrastructure, housing shortages, congestion and pollution, and more waste generation. The transformation of natural land to urban has caused Urban Heat Islands (UHIs), a clear example of local climatic modification due to urbanization. A study in Mumbai, India, examined the microclimatic effects of rapid urbanization and found increased discomfort hours in new urban areas and a temperature rise of 2 degrees in suburban centers. Another study revealed urbanization induced warming over urban regions by 4 degrees Celsius in the southwestern region of the USA.

Climate change: Global warming has also caused variations in temperature and abnormal seasonal changes. Human activities such as power generation, deforestation, production and consumption of goods have significantly increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, resulting in trapped solar heat in the atmosphere. The world is now warming up faster than at any point recorded in history. This has resulted in many risks to all forms of life on earth. According to CBS News survey, 59% of the young adults are extremely worried about climate change. Another survey conducted by Pew Research in the US found that 71% of Millennials and 67% of Gen Z consider climate to be at top priority to ensure a sustainable planet for future generations. Climate change has led to many issues (hotter temperatures, increased drought, major health risks, poverty, and displacement) posing an urgent threat to future generations.

Social Inequality and Inclusivity: This issue is a result of the unequal distribution of resources and opportunities in our societies. These inequalities are most prevalent in the service sectors where differences in access to healthcare, education, housing, etc are apparent. Such differences will be accentuated in bigger cities in the future due to urbanization and gentrification leading to a destabilized society.

cities as changemakers

As the world faces unprecedented challenges, our cities have become the vanguard to innovate and adapt mitigation solutions. And young adults are ready more than ever to save their future. Cities can solve problems by leveraging local expertise and implementing proven strategies, as demonstrated by successful initiatives in numerous urban areas.

For example, the idea of ecological architecture and garden cities emerged in the 1900s, post-industrial revolution, and helped integrate green spaces within dense urban areas. Yet interest in ‘green and smart’ cities has only surged in recent years. A report highlights MSMEs’ role in fostering national development, citing urban farming in Johannesburg as a prime example. Utilizing rooftops and converting them into farms, created jobs, reduced UHIs, and expanded green infrastructure. In addition, architects and urban planners are adopting principles of efficient building use and reducing the need for extreme commutes. This has helped in conserving land for green recreational spaces in the city and promoting an enhanced social lifestyle for the people.

Another well-known example of an architectural marvel tackling global challenges is THE LINE by Neom. This project is conceptualized to run completely on renewable energy and preserving 95% of the land for nature. Its compact and efficient design has proposed to accommodate 9 million people in 34 square kilometres. The project also intends 100% sustainable transport system reducing pollution and wait time to almost negligible.

Moreover, many urban areas have marginalized communities facing barriers to accessing affordable housing, education, and healthcare. Cities like Medellín, Colombia, have implemented innovative social urbanism programs to address social inequality and to regenerate deprived neighborhoods improving the residents’ quality of life. It has invested $35 million in Metrocable’s line, benefiting residents with faster commutes, and highlighting the impact of safe, affordable public transportation in connecting marginalized communities with urban opportunities.


Our cities play a pivotal role in addressing global challenges beyond their own boundaries. To tackle global challenges, policymakers, urban planners, architects, and other stakeholders have initiated collaborations through an integrated approach and started prioritizing sustainability, resilience, inclusivity, and technological innovation to create a thriving environment that improves the lives of current and future generations.

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