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Modern city: sustainability vs. “mega-projects” in Latvian development

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, BC International Editor, Copenhagen, 06.03.2017.Print version
Managing urban areas has been always one of the most important development challenges for city planners. During last decades, cities have been developed in a strictly “human & sustainable” way: everything for city’s dwellers! However, nowadays it’s easy to evaluate the “optimal city” –its development has to be in line with the sustainability concept adopted by the UN and in effect from January 2016.

Cities are here to stay, no doubt about it! Presently, about 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66% by 2050. Projections show that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 bln people to urban populations by 2050, with close to 90% of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa, according to a new United Nations report.


The 2014 issue of the World Urbanization Prospects noted that the largest urban growth will take place in India, China and Nigeria. These three countries will account for 37% of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2014 and 2050. By 2050, India is projected to add 404 mln urban dwellers, China 292 mln and Nigeria 212 mln.


Accordingly, goes concentration in the Baltic States’ capital cities: e.g. in Latvian capital and adjacent territory there are already over three-fourths of the country’s population (over 704 thousand out of less than 2 mln).  

City planners & sustainable development

At the end of September 2015, world leaders during a special UN summit adopted a new strategy for global development. It was called Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" and included 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 smaller targets.

The Agenda has become a vital commitment of all UN member states to achieve sustainable development by 2030. For the first time in a world’s history, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda served as a landmark achievement, providing for a shared global vision towards sustainable development for all.  



The new SDGs came into effect in January 2016; they are going to guide most of the social-economic decisions by the national leaders over the next fifteen years. All governments and city planners will work to implement the UN Agenda-2030, as well as at the regional and global levels, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.


Sustainable urban development and management are crucial to the quality of peoples’ life. City planners have to work with local authorities and communities to renew and plan the cities and human settlements so as to foster community cohesion and personal security and to stimulate innovation and employment. They have to reduce the negative impacts of urban activities and of chemicals which are hazardous for human health and the environment, including through the environmentally sound management and safe use of chemicals, the reduction and recycling of waste and more efficient use of water and energy.


Besides, the city planners have to work to minimize the impact of cities on the global climate system. The upcoming United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development will make some other recommendations too.  



As to the Riga’s “mega projects”, it seems that financing would come from the local sources: i.e. Riga city’s budget has already millions in profit. However, until the new EU 7-year budget/ financial framework, there are chances to use the EU’s sources.

Among priorities, there are the following fields:


-“green city” concept: it has to include numerous spheres, e.g. from new parks and re-forestation, to waste collection and processing, architecture, proper isolations in the houses and thermostats in heating, etc;

- fast-track transport system between Riga and Jurmala region, with all necessary infrastructure facilities (may be a proper usage of Daugava-river connection);

- clean air on the streets and clean water in households, to name a few.   



SDG -11: make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

SDG-11 targets include several guiding points that can orient Riga city planners towards more optimal development in line with the global recommendations. Information about all 17 SDGs can be followed by the link below; here we are concentrating on the targets that are pertinent for Latvian urban development. Most important and pertinent are the following (in abridged version):


1. To ensure by 2030, access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services;   

2. By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons; 

3. By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management; 

4. By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management; 

5. By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.   

Besides, the SDG-11 includes three sub-goals, two of which are also important for Riga’s development:

a) to support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning; 

b) by 2020, substantially increase the number of cities… adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, etc. Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage; 

Reference to SDGs:


Global leaders have recognized 17 most important world’s issues to be resolve by 2030; they are called Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. And urban issues – called sustainable cities & communities - are among most vital for modern civilization.


It seems that urban issues in Latvia are generally concentrated in its capital, Riga, where most of the country’s citizens reside. That means the SDG-11 can clearly serve as a guide to Riga’s perspective development. In particular, such aims as   


It would be quite appropriate to organise a Sustainable Development Week (SDW) in Latvia (and probably in the other Baltic States’ capitals) for the “Evaluation of the Commitment to Sustainable Development Goals”. The aim of the initiative is to facilitate public-private collaborations around the promotion of biodiversity through the setting up of networks for research action and public-private partnerships.


As a platform, SDW will support decision-makers in the elaboration of Baltic Cities’ convention on sustainable and prosperous life in the cities.


Cities have been for decades the headache for economists, politicians, urban planning, architectures and social scientists. However, since UN Agenda-2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in effect from January 2016 some new visions appeared. Hence, sustainability concept could be the main “mega-project” for a modern city.

Success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of any city planning.


References: some publications on city’s issues in the BC in 2016 

- Cities for clean environment and sustainable energy. 23.06.2016. 

 - Urban issues in the EU: Eurostat’s review 09.09.2016.

- New urban agenda for Europe and the world. 24.10.2016.

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