5 October 2015 Marking World Habitat Day, which is observed every year on the first Monday of October, top United Nations officials today urged the creation of “Public spaces for all.”
“Public spaces are crucial for poor and vulnerable citizens,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement. “Improving access to them, and making them safe for women and girls, increases equity, promotes inclusion and combats discrimination.”
“High-quality public spaces encourage people to communicate and collaborate with each other, and to participate in public life,” he continued. “Public spaces can also provide basic services, enhance connectivity, spawn economic activity and raise property values while generating municipal revenue.”
But, said Mr. Ban, public spaces require careful collaboration among local authorities, local inhabitants and other actors.
The Secretary-General also highlighted the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal 11, which aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” noting that the goal represented a “broad international consensus that recognizes sustainable urban development as a transformational approach.”
The Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) Joan Clos, noting the importance of the day’s theme, said in a statement that “the character of a city is defined by its streets and public spaces.”
“Public space is a vital component of a prosperous city,” said Mr. Clos. “Well designed and managed public space is a key asset for a city’s functioning and has a positive impact on its economy, environment, safety, health, integration and connectivity.
“The quality of life for people in cities is directly related to the state of its public spaces,” he continued. “Public space provides room for social and cultural interaction and can foster a sense of belonging and pride in an area. A public space that is open to all, regardless of ethnic origin, age or gender, provides a democratic forum for citizens and society.”
Without adequate public space, cities can become increasingly segregated, noted Mr. Clos. “The result can be a polarized city where social tensions are likely to flare up and where crime and violence rises.”
He added that World Habitat Day is being celebrated this year with a partnership between UN-Habitat and the ‘HeforShe’ initiative promoted by the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). The two UN agencies are aiming to promote the role of men and women in the creation of “gender-equal public spaces for all.”
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