Sustainable cities – gateways for people on the move

The world is on the move, and today an estimated 258 million international migrants are living outside their country of birth. While global population movements grab headlines, a quiet revolution tiptoes in the background, dramatically changing our world – the great migration of humanity into cities. From just 746 million in 1950, the world’s urban population has ballooned to over 4 billion today. The movement of people from rural to urban areas, between cities of different sizes and from one country to another will continue to affect the distribution of the global population within and across national boundaries.

The UN Commission on Population and Development will open its 51st session on 9 April 2018. With a theme of “Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration”, the session will include a discussion of the intricate linkages between migration and urbanization and the role they play in sustainable development.

Well-managed urbanization promotes sustainable development

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas today, and that share is expected to increase further. By 2030, six of every 10 people will be an urban inhabitant. By 2050, it may be two out of three. Urbanization promotes development through economies of agglomeration and specialization, efficient service delivery and greater productivity of labour.

Well-managed urbanization can improve access to education, health care and housing, increase productivity and expand opportunity. Governments should adopt strategies for future urban growth that reap the benefits of economies of agglomeration while minimizing the environmental and other adverse impacts of urban growth.

Migration is a powerful driver of global economic development

The number of international migrants globally continues to rise and reached 258 million in 2017. Since the 1990s, migration has been the primary source of population growth in the developed regions as a whole. Migration contributes to rejuvenating the populations of destination countries and helps to postpone population decline in countries with very low levels of fertility.

Migration also promotes economic growth in countries of origin through remittances, diaspora investments and return migration.

For the benefits of international migration to be maximized and widely shared, countries should introduce regulations and policies to facilitate safe, orderly, and regular migration.

Cities are gateways for international migration

Many immigrants settle in large metropolitan areas or “global cities”, which serve as “immigrant gateways.” International migration is often a key driver of city growth, and migrants make important contributions to work, entrepreneurship and cultural diversity in their host communities. However, migration also poses challenges for cities, especially if accompanied by high levels of spatial segregation and a lack of integration.

Urbanization policies should reflect the linkages between migration and urbanization. At the same time, policies aimed at integrating foreign residents should reflect the fact that most migrants tend to settle in gateway cities and metropolitan areas. Given that the drivers and impacts of migration are felt most strongly at the local level, city and local governments have important roles to play in managing migration.

Data gaps hinder a deeper understanding of the topics under review by the Commission

Accurate and timely population data disaggregated by age, sex, geographical location and migratory status are needed for planning and decision-making on sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration. Such data enable governments to anticipate needs, determine the impact of public policies and confirm the pace of progress toward sustainable development.

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