Territorial Case

Before diving into the  Territorial Agenda and its ‘universal framework theories’, we share some thoughts about the territorial situation and trends we face today – making the case for a territorial re-capitalization.


Extracted from reliable and authoritative sources[1], we briefly depict a global territorial portrait based on the past and current urbanisation trends, affecting all earth’s spaces, including rural areas and wider ecosystems.

Urban areas today occupy approximately only 2% of the total land, however

80 % of the world economy (GDP)

Over 60 % of the global energy consumption

Over 70 % of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions

70 % of the Global Waste

Urbanisation is an unprecedented challenge. While in 1900 less than 1 Billion or 20% of the population lived in cities, a century later 3,5 Billion and half of humanity was urbanised. In half of that time, it is expected that the urban population will double with a share of 70% of or more of the total population [1].

By the middle of the century a large majority will be living in small and (very) large cities.


Urbanisation and development are inextricably linked, and it is necessary to find a way of ensuring the sustainability of growth. Urbanisation had become a driving force as well as a source of development with the power to change and improve lives. Despite numerous planning challenges, well-managed cities and other human settlements can be incubators for innovation and ingenuity and key drivers of sustainable development.


The top 600 cities, with 20 % of the world’s population, produce 60 % of global GDP.


However, in search of a better life, as more people migrate from rural villages to towns and from towns to large cities; and as urban populations grow, housing issues intensify. Globally (in 2014):


More than 880 million people and 30 % of the urban population live in slums or slum-like conditions.


In sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion was 55 per cent, the highest of any region. This estimate does not include people in inadequate or unaffordable housing (defined as costing more than 30 per cent of total monthly household income). As the urban population increases, the land area occupied by cities is increasing at a higher rate.


It is projected that by 2030, the urban population of developing countries will double, while the area covered by cites could triple.


The urban centre of gravity – at least for megacities has shifted to the developing regions. In 1995, there were 22 large cities, and 14 megacities globally; by 2015, both categories of cities had doubled, with 22, or:


79% of the megacities are located in Latin America, Asia and Africa.


The fastest growing urban centres are the medium and small cities with less than one million inhabitants, which account for 59 per cent of the world’s urban population. As population growth outpaces available land, cities expand far beyond their formal administrative boundaries, primarily into prime agricultural land but also threatening green-blue ecosystems around and in between horizontally expanding cities. If average densities continue to decline:


Built-up areas of developing-country cities will increase 300% by 2030 while their populations double and industrialised-country cities are projected to expand 150 % while their populations increase by 20%. An estimated 60 % of the built environment needed to accommodate the earth’s urban population by 2050 is not yet built.



Household sizes are falling in many countries, which is contributing to an increase in the number of dwellings and the resources required to build them:


By 2025, the growth in the number of households is projected to be 2.3 times the population growth rate in the world’s top cities.



Unfortunately, high population or residential densities are not necessarily an indication that urban dwellers are faring well, as this can indicate a prevalence of overcrowded slums. Unplanned urban sprawl undermines other determinants of sustainable development. For example:


For every 10 per cent increase in urban sprawl, there is a 5.7 per cent increase in per capita carbon dioxide emissions and a 9.6 per cent increase in per capita hazardous pollution.



This illustrates the important interlinkages across the goals and targets. Likewise, managing solid waste is often problematic in densely populated areas. In fact, in many developing regions, less than half of solid waste is safely disposed of. As per capita waste generation continues to rise, the collection and safe disposal of solid waste will continue to require serious attention. Urban air pollution also challenged cities around the world, causing illness and millions of premature deaths annually.


Around half the global urban population was exposed to air pollution levels at least 2.5 times higher than maximum standards set by the World Health Organisation.



The quest for sustainable and coordinated urban development starts with national policies and regional development plans. As of 2015:


142 countries have a National Urban Policy in place or under development. Those countries are home to 75 per cent of the world’s urban population.


The current model of urbanisation is unsustainable in many respects.

Many countries and cities all over the world are grossly unprepared for the challenges associated with current and future urbanisation.

However, when well-managed, urbanisation fosters social and economic advancement and improved quality of life for all.

Cities are the platforms for global and local change in the 21st Century. Urban landscapes are the spaces of convergence of economies, cultures, political, and ecological systems. The economic and social futures of whole countries, regions, and the world will be made in cities, today’s nests of ‘emerging futures’.

In the ‘Quito Papers and the New Urban Agenda’ ample evidence is assembled on 5 main forces shaping 21st century urbanisation:


  1. Growing differences in population dynamics require focus- and speed-differentiated approaches to good urbanisation;

  2. A massive loss of habitat is accelerating and driving new flows of migration;

  3. Large-scale urban land acquisitions could de-urbanise cities and undermine public control;

  4. Lack of access to water and the risks caused by an excess of water require a rethinking on the place and shape of future urbanisation;

  5. If democracy is to survive it will have to resist internal populism and embrace external cooperation.


Also in ‘Leading Change’, world-leading planning experts raise a stark warning there is no further time to lose to fundamentally change the way we plan, shape and manage our settlements and by extension the entire planet, calling out for a new territorial approach that blends, transcends and transforms traditional urban, rural and environmental planning.

[1] Sources of data and illustrations: ‘Atlas of the Human Planet’, European Commission, 2017; Press kit Habitat III, October 2016; ‘Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals’, E/2016/75; World Cities Report, UN-Habitat, 2016 and ‘State of the World 2016: Can a City Be Sustainable?’, World Watch Institute, 2016. Source of the world map: Parag Khanna, Connectography, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/565d7420e4b0987eb9f25078/t/57221a0037013b4caba635f5/1461852693089/, Leading Change, UN-Habitat, 2018
[2] Source of illustration: Habitat III Press Kit, 2016, p.2
[3] Illustrations below from World Cities Report, UN-Habitat, 2016
[4] ‘The Quito Papers and the New Urban Agenda’, Routledge, 2018