Cities of the future: European cities have increasingly accommodated cars and personal transport. Ideas like a 15-minute city have gained traction in being the future of the modern city, but high emissions, lack of funding, and lack of infrastructure have limited such ideas. How could the EU rethink its urban planning policies while keeping sustainability…

Committee on Development

Chaired by Simon Hoch (DE)

About the Chairperson

Hi everyone! I am Simon from the beautiful city of Hamburg in Germany and am super excited to be your chair for this amazing session! I have recently started dual studies in business engineering in Hamburg and have many other interests, including my love for music. I want to make this session an amazing event for every single one of you and I hope you will be able to feel the magic of EYP after this session. See you soon!

The Topic at a Glance

According to the United Nations, Europe’s level of urbanisation is expected to rise from the current 75% to over 83% by 2050. With cities accounting for more than 70% of global emissions and welfare and citizens’ quality of life becoming more of a topic of concern, the way cities are developed in the future is critical. The European Union aims to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and become carbon-neutral by 2050. Cities will be at the centre of that transformation. 

Cities have traditionally been built to accommodate cars and other personal transport, but as we enter a new day and age, those paradigms are shifting. Ideas like the 15-Minute-City have gained traction, which is designed to enable citizens to reach all their necessities within 15 minutes of their place of residence, either by walking or cycling. Designing a citizen-centred city is a crucial new approach which comes with many challenges, as the environmental, economic, social, and cultural situation needs to be taken into consideration. 

Yet, there are many burdens, as current urban planning policy fails to meet the urgent need for change and lacks the necessary instruments. Funds are available for integrated sustainable urban development, but they are insufficient for the change needed in today’s time. As Europe’s historic cities all have different needs, individual solutions for each city need to be developed, which is possible through empowering local authorities and citizens. 

The way urban areas are designed going into the future defines how the world will develop in terms of managing climate change by reducing emissions and by improving the quality of life of European citizens. 


  • The 15-Minute-City is a concept popularized by the mayor of Paris, Anna Hidalgo, which imagines a city where all necessities can be reached within 15 minutes of people’s homes. There are different variations to the concept, with the most extreme imagining availability within 15 minutes of walking or cycling, while other concepts include the use of cars or public transport.
  • Carbon offsetting describes the process of ‘neutralising’ carbon emissions by investing in projects that reduce or store carbon, for example by planting trees. Carbon offsets have grown over the years and are becoming a big market. 
  • Carbon neutrality is a state of net-zero CO2 emissions. This can be achieved by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal (often through carbon offsetting) or by eliminating emissions from processes associated with transportation, energy production, agriculture, and industry.
  • Sustainable (urban) development refers to balanced development in the way urban areas carry out their activities, such as resource use and the movement of people and goods. It is a co-evolution of cities’ social and economic dimensions in a way that compromises neither the present nor future well-being of residents.

Key Stakeholders

The European Commission is at the heart of deciding the direction sustainable development will take in the coming years, by creating funds and other projects. The Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy lies at the core of these decisions. 
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is a fund by the European Union focused on developing economic, social, and territorial cohesion and reducing inequality between

regions. For the period from 2021-2017, roughly EUR 200 billion have been allocated to this fund, with the majority of it being used for urban development. 

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) is a European institution tasked with providing the public and Member States with independent information on the environment. It regularly assesses the urban environment in Europe and holds Europe-wide urban data sets, like the Urban Atlas. Additionally, it aims to place the urban environment in the bigger context of citizens’ quality of life. 

Member States are responsible for providing the local authorities and businesses with enough funding and investment  and making it a focus of their policies in order to make sustainable urban development a possibility. 

Local authorities, like city governments and municipalities,  have the responsibility to use the funds allocated to them in a useful manner and collect additional funds from the government or other entities to increase available resources. At the same time, keeping the interest of the citizens in mind and creating an urban environment fit for the future is at the heart of their responsibilities. 

Local businesses are at the heart of the transformation, as they are able to lead the change and design with their resources and investments. 

City residents are tasked with getting involved in the process of change and making their wishes known and participating in making them a reality. 

Figure 1: City emissions

Key Conflicts

1. Environmental and economical dimension

A basic principle of a free market economy has always been growth and innovation. This has led to an increased use of resources over time. In the quest of reducing emissions and making the world more eco-friendly, these concepts cannot remain unchanged.  Cities have also been designed to accommodate cars and to make the city’s economy  thrive. In the 21st century, this vision has been heavily challenged by a more environmentally-friendly and citizen-centred approach. Managing the balance between those dimensions is one of the big challenges when considering sustainable urban design. 

2. Historical city structures and modern concepts

Creating concepts for a sustainable urban life can often lead to idealistic designs, which do not meet the reality of the situation. European cities are very unique due to their rich history and don’t usually have any systematic design. This makes creating a general scheme or concept for sustainable urban design difficult. Creating a framework for how a modern city should look like while keeping in mind the individual aspects of each European city is a huge challenge.

3. Urban development in rural areas

When considering how the places we live should develop in the future, current urban areas are not the only point of consideration. Even with 75% of citizens living in urban areas, 25% still do not, and they do not want to get left behind, as is already often the case. The future lies in cities and urban areas, as the increased rate of urbanisation and the benefits of living in cities show. Hence, rural areas must be developed with the same tools as urban environments, as that will ensure their survival and an improved quality of life. 

Measures in Place 

In the period of 2014-2020, more than EUR 115 billion of EDRF resources have been invested in urban areas, with Member States obliged to use at least 5% of their EDRF allocation on integrated sustainable urban development.  This money is used to stimulate investment in research and development, and to support start-ups working in the field of urban development and cutting carbon emissions.
Additionally, many governments have started giving the citizens and local authorities more power in deciding how they want their city to develop, with the European Union leading the use of such schemes. 

The European Union’s Cohesion Policy aims to increase unity between countries and regions based on five policy objectives, namely a more competitive, smarter, greener, more connected and more social Europe, which is closer to its citizens. It has been in place for eight years now and has recently been strengthened in order to improve urban development and include weighted climate and environmental contribution of investment, minimum targets for funds and climate adjustment mechanisms.  Still, it is not focused on urban development, but a general development fund. Poland, for example, recently had the largest Cohesion Policy programme ever approved. The country will receive EUR 24 billion, of which around half will be from the EDRF, and the rest will be for free use. 

Other measures already in place include a new European Urban Initiative that will finance innovative actions to experiment and develop transferable and scalable innovative solutions to urban challenges, as well as an Urban Agenda for the EU that is being developed as an integrated and coordinated approach to urban development and legislation. It focuses on concrete priority themes, in order to ensure effective partnerships and urban development around Europe. Within those partnerships, urban problems are discovered and solutions developed. 

A further measure is the International Urban and Regional Cooperation (IURC) programme which was launched in 2016, aimed at promoting international urban cooperation. A second phase launched in 2021 extends the programme to additional countries and local authorities. URBACT, a European exchange and learning programme, enables cities to work together to develop new pragmatic, innovative and sustainable solutions through transnational networks and knowledge-sharing activities.

Figure 2: Sources of European CO2 emissions

Food for thought

  • How can the general public be involved in creating an urban environment that suits their needs?
  • How can funding be directed more effectively to the places it is actually needed?
  • Should there be a more central approach to urban development in the European Union or should most power in decision-making lie with the local authorities?