Planned Urbanization Critical as Cities Drive Change, Says President of Rwanda at Economic and Social Council’s Inaugural Integration Segment

27 May 2014
ECOSOC/6615

Planned Urbanization Critical as Cities Drive Change, Says President of Rwanda at Economic and Social Council’s Inaugural Integration Segment

27 May 2014
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6615
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2014 Substantive Session

14th & 15th Meetings (AM & PM)

Planned Urbanization Critical as Cities Drive Change, Says President of Rwanda

at Economic and Social Council’s Inaugural Integration Segment

Meeting Hears from Secretary-General, Vice Presidents of Council, General Assembly

With cities spawning innovations, reducing poverty and driving social change, planned urbanization was critical to ensuring sustainable development, the Economic and Social Council heard today as it held its inaugural Integration Segment.

Sustainable urbanization had moved to the centre of the development agenda, because “it is the key to the well-being of our citizens”, said President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, delivering his keynote address.  Twenty years after genocide had destroyed that country’s social fabric, urbanization was part and parcel of its unity and reconciliation efforts.  He cautioned, however, that growth without planned urbanization was a “recipe for soaring inequality”, pointing out that more people were moving to cities at a faster rate than at any other time in human history.  Africa, currently the least urbanized continent, was part of that dramatic shift and was experiencing an urbanization rate several times higher than that of any other in the world.  The shift had led to high wages that were empowering people to build a prosperous, secure future.  There was therefore an urgent need to upgrade informal settlements, provide basic infrastructure and services, protect urban wetlands and green space, and enable the private sector to create jobs.

Also delivering a keynote speech, Vice-President Angelino Garzon of Colombia said people were at the core for sustainable development, and leaders should direct their efforts towards guaranteeing their rights in all areas of development.  During the recent seventh World Urban Forum in Colombia, one outcome had been the realization that cities and other urban areas must be taken into account when setting future development goals.  The global urban population would rise to 96 million people by 2015, all of whom had a right to health, education, safe water, basic sanitation, transport, a healthy environment, decent work and access to land, he said.  The future development agenda must not discriminate against low-incomes earners, and the poor should be seen as part of the solution, not simply as “part of the problem”.

Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said that cities contributed up to 70 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, most of it from the world’s richest regions which consumed the most energy.  That made cities the frontline in addressing climate change, “the most prominent environmental challenge of our time”.  He called for a coherent policy approach, entailing local government responsibility for elaborating urban design.  Urbanization should not be seen simply as a demographic phenomenon, but as a transformative force continually shaping societies, economies, political systems and environments, he emphasized.  Because cities and towns had been and would remain crucibles of innovation and advancement, urbanization could be viewed not as a problem, but as a vehicle for sustainability, he added.

Michael Bloomberg, United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former Mayor of New York City, said the latter now enjoyed the cleanest air in 50 years due to several initiatives, while the rapid transit pioneered in Brazil during the 1960s had spread around the world.  Because mayors had executive powers, they did not have to wait for Government actions, which enabled cities to play a critical and innovative role in addressing global challenges.

Opening the Integration Segment, Economic and Social Council Vice President Vladimir Drobnjak (Croatia) stressed:  “The struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities.”  The Integration Segment would be an opportunity to consider urbanization’s transformative role in integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that cities were increasingly turning the climate change challenge into a business opportunity by exploring how to conserve and generate energy, finding ways to recycle waste and creating better living conditions.  Leaders must think of the people who would be affected by all their plans and policies, while strengthening the capacity of Governments to plan, construct and manage urban areas.  That would require a close look at how resources were consumed, produced and managed, and at impact on the overall quality of life.

General Assembly Vice-President Isabelle Picco (Monaco) delivered opening remarks on behalf of Assembly President John W. Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), saying that with cities accounting for at least 80 per cent of global gross domestic product, they must function efficiently.  Additionally, with cities and towns contributing up to 70 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, they must be prepared to deal with the effects of climate, she said, adding that the world must harness their creative energies and resources as the international community prepared to open a new chapter in development history.

The meeting heard statements on the flooding affecting the Balkans delivered by speakers representing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia.

Also today, the Council held two panel discussions, the first titled “How can urbanization policies promote integration of economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development?”, and the second “Cities as drivers of sustainable development”.

Among the participants were Japan’s Minister for Economic Affairs; speakers representing Monaco, Sweden, Albania, Russian Federation, Egypt and the European Union Delegation; and a representative of the New Future Foundation.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 28 May to continue its Integration Segment.

Background

The Economic and Social Council met this morning to begin the Integration Segment of its 2014 session.

Opening Remarks

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, opened the first-ever meeting of the Integration Segment by recalling the General Assembly’s adopting of a resolution that strengthened the Council’s function as a platform for sustainable development and a central mechanism for supervising its subsidiary bodies and coordinating the United Nations system.  The first session organized under the new structure would focus on the growing impact of urbanization trends on sustainable development, and provide a forum for seeking practical results in efforts to reduce poverty, protect the natural environment and improve disaster reduction and resilience.  “We all agree with the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda that the struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities,” he said.  The session would therefore provide an opportunity to see how urbanization could be transformational in integrating the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

ISABELLE F. PICCO (Monaco), Vice-President of the General Assembly, delivered a statement on behalf of Assembly President John W. Ashe, saying that urbanization posed both challenges and opportunities, many of which spanned all three dimensions of sustainable development.  It could be a transformative force with the potential to help address some of the world’s biggest challenges, including poverty, unemployment and climate change.  With urban areas accounting for at least 80 per cent of global gross domestic product, the world must ensure that cities and towns functioned efficiently, she said, adding that since they contributed up to 70 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, cities must be prepared to deal with the effects of climate.  Poverty had long been concentrated in rural areas, but with growing concentrations of people now found in cities and towns, the concentration of poverty was also shifting towards urban centres.  As the international community prepared to open a new chapter in development history, the world must harness the creative energies and resources of cities, she emphasized.

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that today’s Integration Segment was a step towards harnessing the power of urbanization for sustainable development.  Urban areas were at the heart of many challenges, opportunities and promise, yet weak infrastructure, unemployment and pollution continued to plague many cities, with the poorest people often the hardest hit.  Increasingly, however, cities were turning the climate change challenge into a business opportunity by exploring how to conserve and generate energy, finding ways to recycle waste and creating better living conditions, he said.  In all plans and policies, leaders must think of the people who would be affected while strengthening the capacity of Governments to plan, construct and manage urban areas.  That would require a close look at how resources were consumed, produced and managed, and how that would impact the overall quality of life.  He said he would convene a climate summit in September with the aim of shaping a collective, ambitious vision rooted in concrete action.

Keynote Addresses

PAUL KAGAME, President of Rwanda, emphasized that urbanization was inevitable and that more people would be moving to cities at a faster rate than at any other time in human history.  That dramatic shift was occurring in Africa, currently the least urbanized continent with an urbanization rate several times higher than those found anywhere else in the world, he noted.  In moving from rural to urban areas, people would also become exposed to new ideas, technologies, habits and skills, thereby becoming more productive.  Urbanization would help reduce poverty in sustainable ways that hand-outs could never match.

However, growth without planned urbanization was a “recipe for soaring inequality”, he cautioned.  “The choice is not whether to urbanize or not,” he said.  The issue was whether urbanization could be managed to the maximum benefit of citizens.  Growing productivity resulted in high wages, empowering people to build a prosperous, secure future, he said.  That was why people continued to move to cities by the millions every year, “whether we want them to or not”.  There was, therefore, an urgent need to upgrade informal settlements, provide basic infrastructure and services, protect urban wetlands and green space and enable the private sector to create jobs, especially for youth. 

Twenty years after genocide had destroyed Rwanda’s social fabric, urbanization was “part and parcel of our unity and reconciliation efforts”, he continued.   The Government had established a comprehensive legal framework for inclusive land registration and management, and had built a national database of property records and land-use maps, among other initiatives.  Rwanda had also sought financing and supply options for affordable housing, education and health for low-income earners.  “The best response to the risks and dangers associated with urbanization is innovation and cooperation rather than alarm,” he stressed.  Although social problems were sometimes more noticeable in urban areas, that did not mean they were more difficult to deal with, he said, pointing out that urban density could make them easier to solve in some cases.  For example, money spent on services went further in towns and cities than in rural areas because of the bigger scale.

Cites must work for everyone, including industries, investors, real estate developers, the middle class, environmentalists, and most importantly young people struggling to make a better life, he stressed.  It was therefore important to resist the tendency to equate ambitious urban design, particularly in Africa, with an “anti-poor agenda”.  It was not just the well-off who would benefit from an orderly and predictable urban environment.  Rwanda’s ever-improving decentralization system, entailing the participation of citizens in the decision-making, was part of that process.  In addition, African Heads of State had adopted a common position on the post-2015 development agenda which incorporated cities and human settlements.  However, solutions that had worked in other parts of the world might not work well in Africa, he warned, underlining the need for innovation and adjustment.  “But the reasons why sustainable urbanization has moved to the centre of the development agenda is clear:  it is the key to the well-being of our citizens,” he said.

ANGELINO GARZON, Vice-President of Colombia, said the international community must bear in mind that people were at the core of sustainable development and leaders must direct their efforts towards guaranteeing rights in all areas of development.  Last week, Colombia had hosted the seventh World Urban Forum, which had attracted more than 20,000 participants.  One outcome of that event was the realization that cities and other urban areas must be taken into account when setting future development goals, he said.  As a result of the Forum, the Medina Declaration highlighted the need for a new urban agenda that would promote a people-centred model.

By 2015, he continued, the urban population would rise to 96 million people, all of whom had a right to health, education, safe water, basic sanitation, transport, a healthy environment, decent work and access to land.  They also deserved to live in safe, inclusive cities without discrimination.  To ensure sustainable cities, the issues of education, health, food security and sustainable development must be taken into account.  The needs of boys, girls, women, the disabled, indigenous peoples, the LGTBI population and the elderly, among other groups, must also be respected, he emphasized.

He went on to stress that the future development agenda must not discriminate against low-income earners, and the poor should be seen as part of the solution, rather than simply “part of the problem”.  Cities must allow for peaceful co-existence and reflect policies of social equity.  It should be understood that leaders must work hand-in-hand with local and regional governments in order effectively to take the needs of the entire population into account.  All agencies of the United Nations must work together with a common purpose — to promote the completion of the Millennium Development Goals and the development of a fair sustainable development agenda for the future, he said.  Every day, cities were becoming increasingly important, representing the place where millions found their present and their future.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former Mayor of New York City, emphasized that cities were the key to the many challenges facing the Council.  Because they offered economic opportunities, there had been a drop in poverty around the world.  Cities also offered protection and a better life to many, as seen right outside United Nations Headquarters, and were centres for educational opportunities, technological innovation and economic growth, all crucial to creating environmental sustainability and challenging climate change.

Pointing out that cities produced almost 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, he said that because mayors had executive power, they did not have to wait for Government action to address such challenges and issues.  That enabled cities to play a critical and innovative role in addressing global challenges.  The work could not be more urgent, he emphasized, pointing out that monies spent addressing destruction resulting from climate change could be directed to other areas.  Furthermore, large cities in coastal areas were the most vulnerable, while those suffering the greatest losses were often located in the least developed countries.

New York City’s sustainable efforts included the elimination of dirty heating units from buildings, establishing new parks and planting trees through the boroughs, he said.  In six years, emissions had fallen by 19 per cent and the city now had cleaner air than in the last 50 years.  In addition, New Yorkers were healthier and living longer.  The city was attracting more residents and creating more jobs.  Other cities around the world were also seeing positive result from the incorporation of sustainable development into planning, he said, noting that resilient structures had been established in a city in the Philippines and that rapid air-quality assessments were being conducted in a city in Mozambique.

He went on to say that “cities have emerged as a leading force in climate change” by sharing strategies and lessons learned from both less developed and wealthy countries, such as the rapid transit pioneered in Brazil during the 1960s, which had spread around the world.  Cities could therefore help world nations address sustainable development.  They could not move forward alone, he emphasized.  Since factors varied from one city to another, it was critical that they all work together and that Governments take action to support their efforts.  The most successful cities were the ones empowered by a strong local government.  They saw reduced crime, improving health and the creation of a stronger social fabric.  Those cities would make the biggest difference in climate change. 

JOAN CLOS, Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said urbanization should not be seen simply as a demographic phenomenon, but as a transformative force that was in fact continually shaping societies, economies, political systems and environments.  The Integration Segment could help move away from fragmented views of sustainable urbanization towards a coherent view that would have a role in sustainable development.  As noted historically, urbanization had been and would continue to be a source rather than just an outcome of development.  Thus, cities and towns had been and would continue to be crucibles of innovation and advancement.

Urbanization, therefore, could be engaged in transforming production capacities and incomes in developing countries, he said.  That would require a shift from seeing it as a problem towards viewing it as a vehicle for sustainability.  Cities were a human design and therefore required human solutions.  Noting that 80 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product currently came from cities and towns, he said that was due largely to industrial production and the urban service industry.  As well, small towns and service centres played an important role in providing the physical, social and economic infrastructure necessary for rural development.

Nonetheless, poverty, once concentrated in rural areas, was now gradually shifting towards urban centres, he said.  Poverty reduction and social sustainability could not, then, be achieved without addressing the basic needs of poor urban dwellers, including clean drinking water, housing, sanitation and health services, among others.  Urban slums, in which 1 billion people currently lived, were the physical manifestation of urban poverty and inequality in developing countries, he said, adding that 2.5 billion people still lacked access to safe sanitation, and 1.2 billion people were without clean drinking water.

“The most prominent environmental challenge of our time is climate change,” he stated, noting that cities contributed up to 70 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and that the majority came from the richest parts of the world where the most energy was consumed.  That made cities the frontline in addressing climate change.  Furthermore, most urban planning had been based on post-Second World War design and had produced sprawling urban areas that were not energy-efficient and or environmentally sustainable.  In developing countries, rapid urbanization had resulted in uncontrolled peri-urbanization, most of it informal.

He said it was, therefore, crucial to undertake a coherent policy approach that would entail national policies that would incorporate urban planning into their national development plans, resulting in the maximizing of national and local benefits of urbanization.  Local governments must be responsible in elaborating urban design.  Planned city extensions must also include adequately planned future supply of land with affordable development solutions.  Optimizing land use and bringing the population closer to employment opportunities must also be incorporated into planning, reducing carbon footprints and maximizing the existing infrastructure and developing new infrastructure.  He concluded by emphasizing the importance of the Integration Segment to the post-2015 development agenda and to the preparatory process for Habitat III.

Mr. Drobnjak (Croatia) called attention to the recent flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia since mid-May.

The Council then heard two statements delivered by video from speakers representing two of those countries.

ZLATKO LAGUMDŽIJA, Deputy Chairman, Council of Ministers and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that literally thousands of people now faced the daunting task of starting their lives all over again, just as they had after the war.  Despite the devastation, however, the floods had made the country and region more united.  It was now critical that people be able to return to their homes and jobs over the coming months, particularly before the winter, he said.

VESNA PUSIĆ, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, said there had been a great sense of regional cooperation since the disaster and former animosities had “taken a back seat”.

MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia) delivered a message on behalf of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, saying the floods had taken a heavy toll on human lives, including many deaths, while infrastructure, including the main road corridor between Europe and the Middle East, had suffered great damage.

Panel Discussion

Mr. Drobnjak (Croatia), opening the panel discussion titled “How can urbanization policies promote integration of economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development?”, said the Council could serve as a platform for facilitating a consultative and inclusive process, leading to the development of integrated planning and response mechanisms that would ensure environmental sustainability and social inclusiveness as well as economic productivity and resilience.

Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul and President of the United Cities and Local Governments, was the keynote speaker, and Eugenie Birch, Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, the Moderator.  The panellists were Josep Roig, Secretary-General, United Cities and Local Governments; Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Skye Dobson, Executive Director, ACTogether Uganda, Slum Dwellers International; and David Post, Executive Manager, Global Smarter Cities, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).

Mr. Topbaş, noting that urbanization would occur primarily in intermediary cities, emphasized that sustainable urbanization was imperative for sustainable development because cities were at the core of many developmental challenges.  With many millions living in slums, city dwellers consumed great amounts of energy, contributing to rising carbon dioxide emissions.  Major changes lay ahead and communities demanded participation on all levels.  Transformation would take place regardless of the policies in place and cities could be the primary triggers of change.  Sound intergovernmental relationships were therefore of great importance, and different stakeholders must be included in the construction of urban governance.  Megacities were the real driving engines of growth, while smaller ones could contribute to regional integration while bridging the gap between rural and urban areas, he said, stressing also that local governance was indispensable.

Ms. Birch said the panel discussion would consider the transformative potential of urbanization, the short-term policy choices relating to sustainable urbanization and the role that big urbanization could play in policy integration.  The discussion would afford an opportunity to “drill down to the details”, although there was also a need to get back to basics.  It was also important to bear in mind that few countries had transitioned from poverty to prosperity without urbanizing, and that although urbanization was nearly complete in many places, progress varied greatly around the world.  When done right, cities could be magnets for environmental preservation, she said.

Mr. ROIG said that the different levels of basic government had their own unique type of knowledge, and the challenge was to coordinate them.  As in the case of flooding in the Balkans, there was a need to combine theoretical approaches with what was happening on the ground, rather than integrating good practices while incorporating them only on the local level.  Policies were inevitably integrated locally due to the presence of people and economic reality, but a mayor would nonetheless have a difficult time setting priorities.  The solution was collective and the culture was part of it.  Furthermore, cities were responsibility for the territories around them, and for local government to initiate a successful practice, it would need a strategic plan from the mayor, with participation by all stakeholders.

Mr. THIAW said that investing in ecosystems was important for cities.  “The water we drink in New York doesn’t come from the tap; the tap is a transit.  It comes from ecosystems and those must be preserved.”  Many cities faced challenges in gaining access to water and such systems required investment.  Such services were often taken for granted, but without investing, cities would no longer be able to enjoy those free services, he said.  Tree planting in New York City addressed many of the city’s challenges, not only environmental issues, but also the creation of jobs.  Furthermore, smart transport systems reduced pollution and congestion, improving the quality of life.  Again citing New York City, he said public transportation created a healthier and safer environment.  Waste management also had great benefits for sustainable development, and in Montevideo, Uruguay, it had proved economically profitable and enabled poor people to organize around the management of waste.  Because of that, they now had identity cards and were now recognized in that city.  Recycling also created jobs, as seen in China, where 10 million jobs had been created in that sector.  There were potentially 1 million waste-management jobs in the United States, he said, pointing out that 90 per cent of waste went untreated and was dumped into rivers, lakes and coastal areas, impacting health and food sources.  Local authorities had a “360-degree view” in creating integrated policies, he said.

Ms. DOBSON said that in Uganda, it was easier to create integrated policies than actually implement them.  There was a massive implementation gap and huge disparities between creative policies and the actual situation on the ground.  New policies were being unveiled in Uganda, but the strategies for implementing them were vague.  However, the implementation challenges could be addressed if urban planners put more “teeth” into their policies.  Organically, there was more integrated thinking on the local level because communities did not see issues in a purely thematic way.  A great deal of problem-solving was needed and communities were often best-positioned to come up with solutions.  In order to be successful, there must be an accurate assessment of what was happening on the ground, including up-to-date data, she stressed, noting that in many developing cities, growth was often synonymous with slum growth, which did not have to be the case.

Mr. POST said his company had completed about 3,000 projects in large and small cities around the world in order to understand how data could be used to make cities more efficient.  Most cities were in the “same business” — providing water, sanitation, public safety and other services, but there was a big gap between planning and implementation.  The local government business model tended to be segmented and did not recognize how issues were interconnected.  Data could make a big difference by providing evidence for the manner in which different city entities were performing, which would increase transparency and help citizens hold their Governments more accountable.  If different entities worked together more closely, that would provide more opportunities for collaboration and allow citizens to become more involved, he said.

The Council then held a general debate.

Ms. DOBSON said her organization had gathered data on slum dwellers in Kampala that were actually more up-to-date than the city’s data.  It had found that it was able to effect more direct, positive change by sharing the data with the city while ensuring that it was involved in projects that made use of the data.

Participants asked the panellists how something could be managed if it could not be measured.

Mr. ROIG observed that a revolution was needed to provide open data for everyone, and a system whereby it could be shared by both private and public stakeholders.  There was now a trend of mayors sharing such data, he added.

Mr. THIAW concurred, noting that the whole world was moving towards open source, with corporations providing data free of charge.  However, transforming data into actionable knowledge was critical, he emphasized.  “Most of the time we have a short-term view,” he said of city planning.  Citing Asia’s growing middle class, he asked how the changes in their lifestyles were impacting city planning and how long-term planning was being incorporated.  Without holistic, long-term planning, “we are going to get more and more unplanned cities”, he stressed.

Mr. ROIG, asked about creating systems of systems, emphasized the need to go back to basics.  “If you cannot plan water, then you cannot plan waste water management.”  Everything was linked, and that was the complexity of local government, where it was necessary to work on more than one task at the same time.  Strong participation by stakeholders and the local population lay at the core of such efforts.  Social movements around the world were looking at democracy and seeking to participate in decisions, but problems were not always solved by democratic elections every four years.

Mr. POST noted that the shape of local government was shifting, with cities engaging in a data approach while also building core capabilities and changing business processes.  With technological advances and data fundamentally interconnected, a data-driven approach to city planning was apparent.  In 30 years, however, cities would have to change organizationally, he said.

Ms. DOBSON, however, described a housing project in Kampala in which 300 acres inhabited by 30,000 people had been approved for development.  Everything was in place, but the inhabitants were denying access to workers and chasing them off the land.  “No amount of data can solve that problem,” she emphasized.  In developing cities, processes started from the top with data, but negotiations on the ground must be engaged as well.

Mr. THIAW stressed:  “Whether we like it or not, cities are drivers of change.”  Occupying 3 per cent of the land, they produced 80 per cent of gross national product and 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.  Their consumption involved products from afar, he said, pointing out that New York City was sustaining millions of lives thousands of miles away.  Local officials were elected for a term and often designed their policies according to what they saw.  They were also faced with social challenges, such as the Arab Spring, which had emerged from cities.  How cities were managed, therefore, would be reflected in national development, he said, calling for timely action and ahead-of-the-curve planning.

Mr. ROIG stressed that jobs required local knowledge and action, as well as financing, resources and capacity-building.  A flexible, symmetric Government would allow every issue to be addressed at its unique level.

The floor was then opened for questions and comments.

The representative of the European Union Delegation asked how citizen’s voices could best be heard through the urban planning process.

Mr. POST said citizens must indeed be at the forefront of decision-making, and that a new model for gathering citizens’ input in real-time must be developed.  Technology, including gaming mechanisms, would be a key method for gathering information.

Ms. DOBSON said the question reminded her of the phrase “fluff in their ears” from Winnie the Pooh.  Leaders often believed they already knew what the citizens would say and failed to recognize that they could actually provide meaningful input, she said.

Mr. THIAW said there must be transparent reporting mechanisms and open communication between groups of stakeholders.

A speaker representing the New Future Foundation asked how an inclusive environment could be created for civil society and how best to apply practices.

Mr. ROIG said it was often very difficult to make progress, even on the simplest of tasks, because of the vast diversity within communities.

Mr. POST emphasized the need for scalable solutions that cut across time and space.  Data and the effective use of technology had an important role to play in such an effort.  It was time to build capabilities and use available information so that leaders did not have to “fly blind”, he said, adding that collaboration and information were crucial.

Ms. DOBSON said it should be recognized that good plans and policies would have no effect on those living in slums unless the implementation gap was closed.

Mr. THIAW emphasized the critical importance of resource efficiency, while also stressing that leaders should think about the next generation, not just the one being managed at the moment.

Mr. ROIG said that cities, towns and regions should have a stronger presence in the new global governance landscape.  The international community must ensure that local governments were included alongside other stakeholders.

Panel Two

Moderating the afternoon panel discussion titled “Cities as drivers of sustainable development” was Andrew Reynolds, Chair of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development.  Anka Mrak-Taritaš, Minister for Construction and Physical Planning of Croatia, was the keynote speaker, and the panellists were:  Shri Karan Bir Singh Sidhu, Joint Secretary for Housing, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation of India; Hans d’Orville, Assistant Director-General for Strategic Planning, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Professor Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair of the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University; Professor Yang Kaizhong, Peking University, China; and Peter Calthorpe, Principal, Calthorpe Associates, Urban Designers, Planners and Architects.  Discussants were Professor Günter Meinert, Programme Manager, German Development Cooperation; and Lorena Zárate, President, Habitat International Coalition.

Ms. Mrak-Taritaš said her country had a long tradition of strong physical planning as well as a viable legal framework and institutions in place.  It successfully regulated the protection of physical space and the environment, as well as the use of natural and cultural goods.  Innovative projects that had an impact on urban transformation were often supported by local, regional and foreign stakeholders.  Public-private partnerships had been intensified with the aim of reducing the consumption of energy while increasing its conservation.  Local authorities worked directly with partners to manage spatial development and identify solutions, and economic entities were encouraged to improve their production capacities, bearing environmental concerns in mind, she said.  All stakeholders recognized the importance of the three pillars of sustainable development.

She said that well-planned, designed and managed cities would have an important role to play in supporting quality-of-life and development issues.  However, challenges must be addressed in an integrated way, taking the economic and social aspects of sustainability into account.  New megacities and hypercities would emerge during the next few decades, which would result in a number of emerging challenges, including security demands, resource requirements and needs relating to efficient public services.  Cities could potentially attract investment to address complex demographic challenges, create employment opportunities and increase access to basic services such as water, sanitation and efficient modes of transportation.

Mr. REYNOLDS said the Commission was focused on a number of areas, including “strategic foresight” of the post-2015 development agenda.  Strategic foresight was an effort to stay ahead of emerging megatrends, including urbanization, the growth of the middle class, the increasing number of youth, stresses on natural resources and emerging technologies.  There must be more powerful public-private partnerships, he said, adding science, technology and innovation could play a more powerful role in the future development framework.

Mr. SIDHU said that one way to view urbanization was to consider it a threat, noting that in his country, it was considered a challenge that provided opportunities.  If a State put infrastructure in place but failed to give due consideration to those without jobs or homes, then leaders were missing out on opportunities, he said.  States must come up with innovative methodologies for designing infrastructure, recognizing that State intervention alone would not be sufficient.  India was striving to create cities that were economically and socially more equitable in terms of inclusive growth, he said, stressing that Government resources alone would not be enough to fund infrastructure requirements.

Mr. D’ORVILLE said that in order for urbanization to become sustainable, capacities must be integrated with social, economic and cultural policies to create the necessary ethical and educational knowledge necessary to protect and improve the quality of urban environments.  Cities could be smart and sustainable, but that would necessitate preserving the social balance and historical heritage of communities while fostering creativity and resilience.  Vibrant cultural life was the key to sustainable cities and should be promoted, he said, emphasizing that cities should respect diversity and inclusiveness by enhancing the participation of all and protecting the well-being of the most disadvantaged groups.  Priority must be given to increasing sustainability by taking existing environmental and cultural diversity, as well as social, economy and cultural factors, into account.  Support for creativity was critical, and tapping into its own transformative power could make globalization a more positive force for the present and future.  A city’s cultural heritage, including cultural tourism, could help poverty eradication, attract investments and ensure green, sustainable jobs.  Urban centres were often vulnerable because of their coastal locations and adaptation strategies to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels and other coastal disasters, such as tsunamis, must be put into place.

Ms. SASSEN said “it is catastrophic what is coming” and described a research project that examined ways in which cities could replace chemicals with biosphere capabilities.  Biologists had discovered a bacterium, which, when placed in brown organic waters — a major challenge in cities when not disposed of in the correct manner — produced molecules of plastic that were not only durable, but biodegradable, unlike plastics currently used in everything.  From the perspective of cities, what had been considered negative and a burden could now become a positive, either through export or by producing it themselves.  Another bacterium, when placed in concrete, deposited a substance that sealed off buildings and therefore greenhouse gas emissions, and then began to purify the surrounding air.  The project was a response to the notion that existing policies and aims were not enough.  There was now a long list of discoveries by biologists interested in the environment that UN-Habitat was encouraged to engage, while mobilizing other biologists around the world to recode negative capabilities into positive capacities.

Mr. ZAIZHONG said that approximately 500 million people in his country were no longer poverty stricken, and China was now pushing to become a high-income country.  However, China’s traditional growth model was not sustainable and must be treated comprehensively.  The Government had adopted a new urbanization policy in 2014, creating a new growth and sustainability model.  Among things, it addressed the 230 million workers from rural areas and the 61 million children without parents at home by establishing new urban centres with new systems and innovations.  While traditional land appropriation had reduced the amount of available arable land, threatening the sustainability of agriculture, the new policy would encourage more high-density development, he said, adding that it would also emphasize satellite urban centres.  Many transformative measures to promote the new models were being undertaken, including land reform, ownership reform and reduced appropriation of rural land.  In addition, new urban planning systems would be initiated using market mechanisms.  The Government was also promoting better energy use and green environment policies, and supporting the efforts of local governments to manage their own affairs.

Mr. CALTHORPE said the design of future cities would determine the demands placed on economies and the environment, and it was therefore important to design smart cities.  He said that in cities where the population was once largely dependent on public transport, the current widespread use of automobiles had created congestion.  There were models available that reduced carbon emissions and created more sustainable communities, he said, noting that they were focused largely on “walkability”.  Such designs also increased revenues for towns and cities, given reduced demands for public services.  The more people drove, the greater the cost for low-income households, since driving reduced the amount of time available for family and work productivity, while lower household costs led to greater affordability for all segments of society.  Urban sprawl and increased use of motor vehicles also entailed health costs, he noted.  In the end, every city of the future should be “walkable”, with sidewalks designed in way that was safe for pedestrians.  Mixed-use must be restored as the fundamental building block of urban landscapes, with density focused around transport and transit hubs.

Mr. meinert said cities were the places where people connected their livelihoods and social interactions.  They were the places where people built their lives.  Cities provided identity and a sense of belonging for citizens.  Connectivity with cities and the development of identity through cities were public goods, rather than business opportunities.  Urbanization was transforming societies, so people and leaders must invest in urban thinking in order to enable everyone to better understand the functioning of successful cities, he said, stressing the need to promote emotional attachment to them.  Planning exercises were important, but there was also need for daily decisions, some of which may not always fit into a “master plan”.  Urbanization was progressing rapidly and the cities of the future were being built today, so the international community must move quickly to address the attendant challenges, he said.

Ms. ZÁRATE, focusing on several gaps in the afternoon’s proceedings, said not only was a there need for a paradigm shift, a “civilizing shift” was also necessary.  A cultural dimension was required in terms of words, symbols and changing concepts.  Rather than describing what was evident, it was critical to investigate the root causes of problems.  “If we don’t create conditions for a dignified life, then we cannot continue to keep having discussions on the problems of the cities,” she said.  There must be changes in terms of environmental and social components.  There was a need to deepen democracy in all sectors of society, not merely to alternate Governments, which had short-term views.

When speaking of economies, the people’s economy was not included, she said, pointing out that the informal economy often made up at least half the national economy.  A social economy was needed in discussions, “not the monopolized economy of transnationals”.  Global economic competition also failed to address social economy and justice, and often damaged the environment.  Negative views of informal settlers and squatters must change, she said, emphasizing that the poor should be present at meetings, alongside women and young people.  The excuse of climate change and natural disasters was being used to ruin people’s lives, including by appropriating their land and gentrification.  She also expressed concern over who would be handling the knowledge and information about the matters under discussion, emphasizing that it was collective and public, and not for private use.

In closing remarks, panellists called for creativity and innovation in efforts to address the challenges ahead.

Ms. SASSEN emphasized the need to bear in mind that the constituent elements of a city were complex and diverse, which must be kept in mind when discussing solutions.

Mr. CALTHORPE pointed out that it was the wealthy who decided how public city spaces would be used.  If streets were preconceived as boulevards for people rather than private cars, a stronger concept of a city would emerge, he said.

General Debate

In the concluding general debate, participants highlighted specific urbanization challenges confronting their countries, including the growth of urban slums, a lack of planning capabilities, strains on natural resources, and the need for international financial and technological support, as well as coordination and integration issues on the local, regional and national levels.  Speakers also reiterated several points made throughout the session, including the need for an integrated and holistic approach to urbanization, and its potential to be a strong force for sustainable development, if planned, governed and managed correctly.

The representative of Albania said rapid urbanization was a top priority of his country’s sustainable development agenda, as urbanization patterns had influenced environmental degradation and the misuse of resources.  In response, the Government had implemented principles of good governance, strengthened and coordinated national and local planning processes, and instituted territorial reform to bring clarity to decentralization efforts.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the rate of urbanization in his country varied considerably by region.  The country had developed programmes to support regional governments facing urbanization issues and progressively implemented legal reforms to support the sustainable development of cities.  The Government continued to strive to fulfil the housing needs of urban populations, which had proven to be a formidable challenge.

KATSUHIKO TAKAHASHI, Minister for Economic Affairs of Japan, said his country’s national development plans had always taken the importance of urbanization into account.  Harmonizing development had been a crucial goal for Japan, while the engagement of civil society and the private sector had been of key importance for the successful urbanization of many parts of the country.

Also speaking during the general debate were representatives of Monaco, Sweden and Egypt.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.