The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have marked a milestone in the progress to having a fairer world by building a pathway to promote justice in a more global and holistic way.

Pressing global issues

The SDGs have been designed to be interdependent and their achievement is only possible by taking this aspect into consideration. This is particularly evident when dealing with health and disease prevention. The link between economic and social development to the well-being of the local population appears logical and must be highlighted to understand and prevent the possible domino effect which a poor health system can cause in the overarching socio-economic system. These arguments cannot be more current than in the present moment; amid a global pandemic, while nations are busy preventing the spread of the disease with varying results, the effectiveness of their methods has had evident effects on their economic stability which are to be a determinant factor for social equality as well.

The correct management of urban spaces is also becoming an urgent priority, even more pressing as the global population will grow to about 6.5 billion by 2050, as the SDG Fund reports. As new cities are growing and expanding in the developing world, we can recognize as a trend the migration from rural to urban spaces. In fact, as the UN highlights, if in 1990 there were 10 ‘mega-cities’ with a population of 153 million people, the numbers rose to to 28 ‘megacities’ and a population of 453 million people in 2014; we can also observe the urban population as a percentage of the global population rise from 7 to 12 in the two years taken in consideration. Consequently, safety, mobility, livability and inclusiveness are all center to the achievement of sustainable communities.

The case of Milan

Milan’s “Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan” started in 2013 by engaging different stakeholders, and was designed to reshape the city’s mobility by increasing its sustainability, safety, environmental quality, and social inclusion. The target was to complete the plan in 10 years, and after the spread of the pandemic in 2020, which has seen Lomabrdy and Milan as outbreak centers, it has gained even more relevance and mediatic attention.

As Laker explains, one of the interventions of the newly adopted “Strade Aperte Plan” would be to turn 35 km of streets into cyclist lanes and pedestrian areas. With immediate effect new cycle lanes are being introduced, pedestrian spaces widened, and speed limits are being reduced. These measures are also a consequence of Milan being one of the most polluted cities in Europe (Euronews, 2019), registering a 72.20 level of pollution with PM 2.5 (fine particles) as main pollutant .

Taking in consideration the historical moment, Ms. Khan, a former transportation commissioner working on the implementation plan, considers the moment as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a fresh look at your streets and make sure that they are set to achieve the outcomes that we want to achieve.” These outcomes are not only connected to mobility, but also aimed to zoom into the SDGs previously introduced:

-Target 3.9 By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.

-Target 11.6 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.

Another fascinating example of urban innovation in Milan is the “Bosco Verticale” buildings which were constructed as part of the rehabilitation of the historic district. The trees and plants in the towers (which measure a total of 10,000 m2) can absorb the carbon dioxide of the environment (approx. 44,000 pounds a year, World Green Building Council 2020), producing more oxygen and improving the air quality whilst serving their primary purpose of providing a residence. The green buildings have the ability to reduce the heat island effect, decreasing the thermal mass that high levels of concrete in cities can cause. On the same level of importance, they introduced 100 species of vegetation attracting more species of insects and birds and contributing to the improvement of local biodiversity. Stefano Boeri designed the buildings to be self-sufficient, and therefore can minimize the consumption needs by, for example, using design techniques like natural shading to reduce the temperature. Moreover, the towers can provide their consumption needs by using renewable energy, becoming by definition net zero energy buildings.

Writing by Lorenzo Cajati


SDG Fund

UN World Urbanization Prospects

Milano Mobility

Air pollution

Milan’s plan to prevent air pollution

Bosco Verticale