|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Economic and Social Council
2014 Substantive Session
18th & 19th Meetings (AM & PM)
Economic and Social Council Tackles Complexities of Urban Planning
as It Concludes Inaugural Integration Segment
Meeting Hears from UN-Habitat Chief, Paris Mayor, Head of Slum Dwellers Group
Concluding the Economic and Social Council’s first-ever integration segment today, a wide range of stakeholders — ranging from United Nations agencies and local authority groups to civil society organizations and slum dwellers — tackled the complex question of sustainable urban planning.
“There doesn’t seem to be a human mind behind these designs,” said Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), describing some of the world’s newer cities. Contrasting them with older ones, he said that previously if cities did not work, there was always a designer whom one could blame, adding that Mr. Penn could have been blamed if Philadelphia had not worked. “But who can we blame when these new cities do not work?” Without better urbanization, sustainable development would not be possible, he emphasized.
He went on to emphasize that urbanization did not occur by chance, but by choice and design, and it required designers. Good urban patterns were critical and configuration mattered, because a city’s form must take in the critical aspects of city life, including identity and cultural aspects, he stressed. With that kind of planning and design, everyone’s lives improved. The barrier was not insufficient funds, but insufficient political will, he stressed. Although local authorities had the legitimacy to secure urban space and design, since they were the platform closest to the people, national Governments could not pretend they had no urban responsibilities.
The points made over the past three days would contribute to Habitat III, he said, offering a tremendous opportunity to drive local sustainability, agree on a new urban agenda for the next 30 years and build consensus among stakeholders. “Urbanization is not only a cost, but an investment, and if well done, it is a very, very good investment,” he said.
Rose Molokoane, Coordinator of Slum Dwellers International, asked: “When are we going to bring the change we have been talking about?” There were conversations every day about service delivery but little action. The needs of poor people were not properly considered in the dialogue about inclusive cities, and data collection was critical to inclusivity, she said. The “Know Your City” campaign had been collecting data in more than 10,000 cities in over 34 countries, and cities must use it to develop better-planned informal settlements. Women were instrumental in bringing about those critically-needed changes, she emphasized, pointing out that the very word “women” stood for “well-organized men”.
Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, France, warned: “If we don’t act together, the promise of progress for people will be a collective failure and the cities will be reduced to horrible slums.” Because cities were the most important centres of human interaction, it was crucial to “feed” them, ensuring the most efficient and sustainable strategies that would engender social and economic opportunities. She described how subsidized housing units were heated free of charge, using excess energy from computers. Not only did that make energy and heat more affordable, but the system did not emit greenhouse gases, she noted, adding that countries must commit to tackling climate challenges. However, that must be done on the local level, where decisions were taken, so that progress could be measured and evaluated, otherwise, “it will merely be words and not actions”.
The Council also held panel discussions on “Effective governance, policymaking and planning for sustainable urbanization”; and “Imagining the cities of the future — Solutions, innovations and partnerships for sustainable urbanization”. It also held thematic discussions on sustainable urbanization and “the way forward towards a 2016 urban agenda”.
The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at a date to be announced.
Meeting this morning to conclude its integration segment, the Economic and Social Council was expected to hold a thematic discussion for which members had before them a report of the Secretary-General titled “Effective governance, policymaking and planning for sustainable urbanization” (document E/2014/67).
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), Vice President of the Economic and Social Council, introduced the thematic discussion on “Effective governance, policymaking and planning for sustainable urbanization”, saying that the integration of national urban policies into national sustainable development strategies resulted in an integrated, holistic and longer-term vision that took rural dynamics and development needs into account. Planning for sustainable urbanization provided a framework within which to define and maximize urbanization’s contribution to national development, he said, adding that adopting such an approach promoted “win-win” solutions.
Introduction of Report
NAVID HANIF, Director, Office for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that cities around the world were experimenting with different models and approaches that could address emerging challenges in a balanced manner while protecting the priorities of future generations. Structural barriers included fragmented decision-making, competing policies and insufficient resources, he said. The expanding scope of urban activities must be taken into account, and governance models must employ instruments capable of coordinating the capacities of a wide range of urban stakeholders. Various policy initiatives should be considered, including a “whole-of-government” approach to addressing complex urban challenges in a more holistic manner. In addition, a clear division of responsibilities among local authorities, as well as between local and national authorities, would promote strong leadership and accountability in the delivery of public services, he said.
Moderating the discussion was Berry Vrbanovic, Vice-President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Councillor of Kitchener, Canada, and Deputy Treasurer of United Cities and Local Governments. The panellists were: Angela Brown-Burke, Mayor of Kingston, Jamaica; Professor Hassan Radoine, Central Director of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ministry of Urban and Territorial Planning, Morocco; and Clara Irazabal Zurita, Director, Latin Lab, and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning, Columbia University.
Mr. VRBANOVIC noted that while cities provided unprecedented access for citizens, large populations placed tremendous demands on social services. Moving forward, city planners would face serious governance challenges in light of anticipated urbanization, and would be forced to address three major realities: nearly two thirds of humanity would soon live in urban areas; the bulk of urbanization would take place in Asia and Africa; and small cities would pose unique challenges in the future.
Ms. BROWN-BURKE said that three strategic laws before Jamaica’s Parliament addressed decentralization with the aim of ensuring financial autonomy. They also promoted transparency and accountability in terms of long-term urbanization issues. Emphasizing the importance of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, she said citizen engagement was crucial for identifying the most pressing ones. Engaging the public meant more than simply establishing public-private partnerships or promoting investment in big projects. It meant giving citizens a voice and acknowledging that ordinary people could provide viable community solutions. A joint approach across all spheres of governance would ensure effective participation, as would the recognition that expertise was also to be found within the community and not only among technical experts.
Mr. RADOINE pointed out that his country’s urban population had increased from 440,000 people living in cities in 1990 to the current 18 million. Morocco’s urban tradition stretched back to before the seventh century, with myriad cities marked by multicultural influences including Medina, Portuguese and French. With 20 years of national efforts in sustainable development, the Government had launched several initiatives, including the Green Morocco Plan, intended to make agriculture the main economic driver in the next 10 to 15 years since most Moroccans worked in that sector. The country also enjoyed a lot of sun and the Moroccan Solar Energy Plan was being implemented to reduce dependency on other fuel sources. “Sustainability is not a luxury,” he said. “It’s a need.”
Ms. IRAZABAL said the post-2015 agenda should have a radical focus on urban environments. Cities were the “culprit” behind many of the challenges confronting the world today, including the prevalence of greenhouse gases and poverty. The international community must reconceptualize sustainable development as the integration of social, economic and environmental dimensions of development, she emphasized, noting that the problem was that under the current capitalist systems, and even more so under neoliberal regimes, there was a lack of equilibrium between economy, environment and equity. Economy was accorded priority while environment and equity were assigned lesser importance. That model must be flipped upside-down with environment and equity placed at the forefront and economy playing a supporting role, she stressed. The world must learn from precedents, both good and the bad, so as not to repeat past mistakes or “reinvent the wheel”. There must be a focus on good leadership, good plans and good citizen participation in order to ensure successful urbanization.
A speaker representing York University said that the terms “participation” and “collaboration” were often used interchangeably, but it may be time to re-evaluate those definitions.
Ms. IRAZABAL responded by saying that strategic development could support equity, but it often did not. However, she agreed that the terms “collaboration” and “participation” did not always go hand-in-hand, and that participation did not always lead to outcomes that expanded equity.
A speaker representing the New Future Foundation said universities must open urban planning courses to community leaders in order to help meet citizens’ needs.
Ms. IRAZABAL concurred on the need to make executive education courses available, and said that metropolitan planning should be geared towards building local capacity. University collaboration should be pursued on multiple levels through expanded coursework and internship opportunities.
Ms. BROWN-BURKE agreed that training was needed and that different modalities of instruction must be explored. The idea of participation was a continuum and citizens must be encouraged to engage in different levels and frequencies of involvement.
In closing remarks, the panellists addressed decentralization challenges and the need for collaboration.
Mr. RADOINE said that realities on the ground, particularly in developing countries, must be taken into account. The decentralization of political power was a primary concern, as was determining how to ensure that regions were empowered.
Ms. IRAZABAL said there must also be a focus on the “brown agenda”, which dealt with very basic issues such as clean water and sanitation. Hopefully, the complexity of urban challenges would bring the world to realize that all nations would gain a lot more through collaboration instead of competition.
Ms. BROWN-BURKE called for a greater focus on the practicalities of decentralization, with the understanding that there was no “one-size-fits-all” model. By working together, the democratic values and trade-offs required for progress would become clearer.
Also participating were speakers representing Global Urban Development, Mega-Cities Project, Women’s Environment & Development Organization and Cornell University.
The Council the held a panel discussion titled “Imagining the cities of the future — Solutions, innovations and partnerships for sustainable urbanization”.
Moderated by Urs Gauchat, Dean of the College of Architecture and Design, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Founding Director of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, the discussion featured the following panellists: Lance Brown, President, American Institute of Architects (New York Chapter), and Founding Director, Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization; Janice Perlman, Founder and President, Mega-Cities Project; Kalpana Viswanath, Founder, Safetipin; and Rose Molokoane, Coordinator, Slum Dwellers International.
Mr. DROBNJAK (Croatia), introducing the panel, said that cross-sector collaboration could harness the potential of cities as generators of innovative technologies and sustainable development, and engaging multi-stakeholder partnerships and forums could facilitate such collaboration towards sustainable urbanization frameworks.
Mr. GAUCHAT, noting that 75 per cent of the world’s population would be living in cities by 2050, said that, among several attributes, transportation would be driverless, and everyone would be connected and living longer. There would be a limitless supply of energy from the sun. However, there would always be the poor and water would remain a scarce commodity. Bold thinking would only come to the fore through good leadership that turned political will into ideas and reality, because cities thrived when governance and leadership coexisted. “Cities are the most marvellous human invention,” he added.
Mr. BROWN cited a series of urban design principles, emphasizing that enhancing healthier liveability and making cities “walkable” should be the top priority. Design should ensure community, which invited all walks of life to engage each other. Expanded opportunity and more economic competition must also be incorporated. “Nature does not respect political boundaries and neither should we,” he said. Noting that 15 of the world’s 30 coastal cities were vulnerable to rising sea levels, he recalled that the response to Superstorm Sandy in the north-eastern United States had been to seek the intersection between natural and constructed environments in addressing climate change. Urban design should aim to protect and improve the quality of life, he said, praising the manner in which New York City’s Times Square had been taken back from cars and given back to pedestrians.
Ms. PERLMAN said that creating a sustainable city was not a “top-down” task, but a collective process that must come from the inhabitants themselves. The Mega-Cities Programme sought “under-the-radar” local initiatives and translated them into policy language. It was a partnership structure with all stakeholders seeking to shorten the lag-time between ideas and implementation, she said. An annual meeting offered a marketplace of urban planning ideas and approaches that had worked. “To plan is human, to implement divine”, she said, stressing that environmental sustainability would not be possible without urban sustainability, and that it must include the urban poor as an asset and repository of intellectual capital.
Ms. VISWANATH said that inequity, class divisions, poverty and concentrated disadvantage had been decades in the making. Insecurity deepened poverty and adversely affected the poor and vulnerable. Access to safe drinking water presented a major challenge in cities and countries around the globe, particularly since water was a finite resource. A shared city was one in which people felt joint ownership of it and had a say in its governance and decision-making, he said, emphasizing that social inclusion entailed transparency, equity, participation in democratic decision-making and respect for diversity. Participation must be encouraged and facilitated through non-discriminatory policies and practices, he added.
Ms. MOLOKOANE asked: “When are we going to bring the change we have been talking about?” Stressing the need for a change in thinking and more conversations about true participation and delivery of basic services like sanitation, water and electricity, she pointed out that every day there were conversations about service delivery but little action. She also underlined the importance of data for future planning, noting that the needs of poor people were not properly considered in the dialogue about inclusive cities. There was talk of partnership, but at the end of the day, all segments of society must join hands and bring about change. The “Know Your City” campaign was using data to change lives, she said, adding that data had been collected in more than 10,000 cities in over 34 countries. She described women as instrumental because they were organized, adding that the very word “women” stood for “well-organized men”. Cities needed to use the data that was collected through the “Know Your City” campaign to develop better plans for informal settlements.
Mr. DROBNJAK (Croatia) said the concluding meeting would focus on bringing together the Economic and Social Council system, policymakers and key stakeholders with a view to establishing a common understanding of urbanization’s role in sustainable development, and to contributing to the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in 2016.
ANNE HIDALGO, Mayor of Paris, France, and Co-President of United Cities and Local Governments, said that, because cities were the most important centres of human interaction, it was crucial to “feed” them, ensuring the most efficient sustainable strategies that would engender social and economic opportunities. Cities consumed three quarters of the world’s energy and produced most of its greenhouse gas emissions. There were also major inequalities between and within cities. “If we don’t act together, the promise of progress for people will be a collective failure and the cities will be reduced to horrible slums,” she warned.
Today’s plan was to reconstruct cities, she said, adding that parts of Paris were becoming a “formidable laboratory” for sustainable urbanization through social subsidized housing, “green” construction standards and non-polluting public transportation. Environmental networks that would incorporate nature into the city environment were being instituted, and subsidized housing units were being by the excess energy generated from computers. The reduced cost of heat and energy benefited those who had previously been unable to afford it. Furthermore, the system did not emit greenhouse gases.
However, “this rebirth of cities” could only happen through the efforts of local citizens invested in their city, she continued. Women’s participation was particularly critical to the process, especially at the local and neighbourhood levels. Women comprised 50 per cent of the municipal council and 50 per cent of the executive administration citywide. The involvement of women and men previously excluded because they were poor was also critical because they were essential stakeholders. Countries must commit to tackling climate challenges, but that must be done on the local level, where decisions were taken so that progress could be measured and evaluated, she emphasized. Otherwise, “it will merely be words and not actions”.
The Council then held “A conversation on sustainable urbanization”.
Afaf Konja, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, moderated the discussion, which featured the following participants: Kwasi Opong-Fosu, Minister for Local government and Rural Development, Ghana; Patrick Ho Chi Ping, Secretary-General, China Energy Fund Committee; Don Chen, Just Cities Initiative, Ford Foundation; Gary Lawrence, Corporate Vice-President and Chief Sustainability Officer, AECOM; and Richard Florida, Professor of Business and Creativity, University of Toronto, and Global Research Professor, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, New York University, and Senior Editor, The Atlantic.
Ms. KONJA said the panel would aim to further unravel the challenges and opportunities around sustainable urbanization. The discussion would bring together representatives from national and local governments, as well as civil society with the aim of exploring the relevant issues.
Mr. OPONG-FOSU said that under the current model, most national Governments were responsible for policymaking as well as monitoring and coordinating sustainable urbanization policies. For better outcomes, however, they should provide a strategic overview of the policy direction, whereas regional bodies should be responsible for coordination. Local authorities should play the biggest role in terms of implementation, he said, pointing out that in developing countries, the central Government often “did everything”, from creating policy to implementing it. That way of doing business was largely ineffectual, he added.
Ms. HIDALGO said many local initiatives could be implemented, but most required infrastructure and greater investment in order to be effective. Cities must support citizen-led initiatives, and decisions about the future should not come from distant places, but involve the population at large so as to be most effective. The role of mayors should be to “jump-start” the creativity existing throughout society and create a framework for problem solving. Mayors must be committed to sustainable development and possess a humanistic vision of the future, she emphasized. The world must prepare for future generations, which should not be left to grapple with the damage being done to the planet by the current one.
Mr. HO said most people did not understand complex sustainability ideas because they seemed far-fetched. The ongoing discussion on urbanization provided a tremendous opportunity for public involvement, which could generate informed debates, resulting in public buy-in. Controlling a city’s carbon footprint required the participation of every citizen; it was not just about government. Every citizen must give up something to make sustainable urbanization work. There were many personal conveniences in big cities, but they all consumed energy, he said, adding that the world needed a culture of moderation requiring self-control and refraining from excess and indulgence. The earth’s resources must be used wisely and intelligently, and there must be greater consideration of the value of public goods over individual convenience.
Mr. CHEN, recalling that urbanization had previously been considered a threat, said today’s meeting, which was being followed worldwide through the Webcast and Twitter, was a “big deal”. The Ford Foundation’s goal was to support the process of offering a better life to those seeking it, including the very poor and marginalized. Although charismatic mega-cities of 20 million people tended to draw the most attention, the real growth would occur in the smaller cities of 1 million or so. The Ford Foundation was training on regional platforms around the world, he said. “Social inclusion, equity and sustainability don’t just happen, we have to plan them.”
Mr. LAWRENCE said using natural capital to mitigate rising sea levels and storm surges was much more effective than fixing them, describing social capital as public willingness to be governed to different outcomes. The private sector was helping young students in their own neighbourhoods initiate programmes and changes, but the most important capital was human capital, not labour, since intelligence was the only capital that improved with use, rather than diminishing. Bringing communities to the table was the only way to ensure that the solutions sought would really work. Cautioning that the biggest barrier to progress was a “lack of humility”, however, he said there was an inability to understand that the future was random and chaotic, and that plans and strategies recognizing that must be developed.
Mr. FLORIDA said that cities would determine whether the world’s population lived or died, succeeded or failed. World leaders must put cities and sustainable urbanization at the very top of the agenda moving forward. “If we fail to do that, we will encounter great problems.” While promising great things for many people, urbanization left to its own devices would not “deliver the goods”. It had pushed the biggest and best-prepared cities, like New York and Paris, ahead, but the lesser-prepared ones had not enjoyed similar success and their situation would only worsen over time. Without the world community’s support, cities would not succeed. One of the biggest challenges was the absence of available data on the world’s cities and regions, he said. There was also a lack of formal education programmes to prepare mayors and civil leaders to take on urbanization’s challenges. Making sustainable urbanization one of the core goals of the post-2015 agenda would drive and orient private and public investment to help build the best cities possible, he said.
In closing, panellists highlighted the next steps that must be taken to ensure a truly durable and sustainable world.
Mr. OPONG-FOSU described political stability as a key tool for bringing the three dimensions of sustainable development together.
Ms. HIDALGO stressed that sustainable development was not possible without democracy.
Mr. HO said urbanization was about people and its principles must be built into everyday lives.
Mr. CHEN said people must be at the centre of sustainable urbanization.
Mr. LAWRENCE said the world must push past the “tyranny of experts” and truly engage communities.
Mr. FLORIDA stressed the need to place cities and urbanization at the top of the global development agenda.
JOAN CLOS, Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said that without better urbanization, sustainable development would not be possible. It was the source, not the result, and must be developed with a view to providing maximum benefits for citizens. That would require a shift from current models of urbanization, he emphasized, warning that if cities continued to grow without strong, beneficial design, their transit routes would become congested and their land use would become sprawling and segregated, resulting in dependence on cars. Furthermore, social segregation based on ethnicity and money would result in people living in gated communities.
Sustainable urbanization did not occur by chance, but by choice and design, he said, adding that it required designers. The current international model had not been developed in that way. Previously, if cities did not work, there was always a designer that one could blame, he said, adding that Mr. Penn could have been blamed if Philadelphia had not worked. “But who can we blame when these new cities do not work?” he asked. “There doesn’t seem to be a human mind behind these designs.” Good urban patterns were critical and configuration mattered, because a city’s form must take in the critical aspects of city life, including identity and cultural aspects. When changing the paradigm, one size did not fit all, he said. Nonetheless, minimum standards could be established for common spaces and parks, since they served as forums in which people could meet, work out difficulties and develop social cohesion.
Commending the Government of China for having included improved public space layouts in their policies, he underlined that such efforts cost nothing. It was crucial that fast-growing cities “get it right” in the small available window of opportunity. With planning and design, everyone’s lives improved, he said, emphasizing that the barrier was not insufficient funds, but insufficient political will. Good planning ensured street connectivity, social diversity, and various transport services, among other things. It could not be achieved through a sectorial approach. Only the public sector and local authorities could effectively secure urban space and design, and local authorities had the legitimacy to do since they were the platform closest to the people.
However, national Governments could not pretend they had no urban responsibilities, he cautioned. Furthermore, the time had come to return to the basics, he said, pointing out that cities and towns did not exist in isolation. There was a rural-urban continuum whereby rural populations ensured access to urban services and urban centres ensured markets for rural produce and services. The points made over the past three days would contribute to Habitat III, which would be a tremendous opportunity to drive local sustainability, agree on a new urban agenda for the next 30 years and build consensus among stakeholders. “Urbanization is not only a cost, but an investment, and if well done, it is a very, very good investment,” he said.
Mr. FLORIDA opened the discussion by inviting representatives of the Mayors Adaptation Forum to address the meeting via video-link from Bonn, Germany.
DAVID CADMAN, President, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICELI), said the organization was the largest network of local authorities dedicated to addressing sustainability. He emphasized the importance of local engagement and called for the establishment of new modalities to help bring local stakeholders into the sustainable urbanization discussion.
PAUL LINDVALL, Mayor, Linköping, Sweden, stressed the importance of political leadership at all levels, saying it was needed for change. In addition, local business communities must support the promotion of sustainable development solutions.
TIKENDER SINGH PANWAR, Deputy Mayor, Shimla, India, underlined the importance of examining taxation issues and the need to address financial sustainability issues. It was concerning that the poor and marginalized were being pushed to the fringes and that cities were becoming havens for the rich, he said.
MUSA NATTY, Municipal Director, Kinondoni Municipal Council, Dar-es-Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, said that rapid population increases posed unique challenges in Africa.
Mr. CADMAN concluded by saying that a stand-alone sustainable development goal on urbanization should promote inclusive, accessible, productive and resilient cities.
When the floor was opened for comments and questions, a participant representing the non-governmental organization Slum Dwellers International asked how “small” data gathered by slum dwellers would be integrated into data systems.
Mr. FLORIDA responded by saying that the data was critical to turning persistent poverty around as the United Nations and all stakeholders moved forward.
A participant from the U.S. Sustainable Corporation asked about the urban-rural continuum, recalling that it had been suggested in a previous meeting that the post-2015 agenda would be an urban one. Where would that leave rural communities?
Mr. CLOS pointed out that so-called rural areas lacked an absolute definition, and the term was, in fact, an administrative definition, an artificial reality. On the other hand, any human settlement exercising some kind of common management over common space was an urban reality. There was a belief that the services were in the big cities, but they should also be in smaller settlements, and that was up to national policies.
The representative of India said that leadership must identify “policy champions” to promote implementation of national policies on the local level. They could be from civil society or elected officials, but they must be able to communicate with local stakeholders in a language that the latter could understand.
Mr. CLOS said there was a misconception that urban planning and design required a high level of specialization, which was simply not the case. There was always leadership in any well-planned city, but it did not require specialized education, he emphasized. “We don’t need to have rocket scientists to do urban planning.”
A participant speaking for the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development said urban slums were a mega-trend and they would continue to grow without an immediate intervention. Business could be a partner in that postposition since development was being driven by private capital, but there must be greater trust in the private sector as a partner.
Mr. CLOS noted some of the worst forms of urbanization in human history were occurring right now, adding that modern technology did not guarantee successful urbanization.
Mr. CADMAN said more infrastructure would be built in the next 40 years than had been built throughout the history of humankind, and the private sector would not be interested in building it without a guaranteed return.
Also participating were speakers representing Germany as well as non-governmental organizations including the Communitas Coalition, New Future Foundation, Colby Gallery International and Archronica Architects.
Mr. DROBNJAK (Croatia) said that over the last three days, participants had witnessed the exchange of regional, national and local experiences, practices and strategies that demonstrated the transformative potential of urbanization. To address its complex, multidimensional related issues, local authorities must partner with national Governments as well as other stakeholders to promote a more holistic and integrated approach to planning and building sustainable cities. There would be a need to build capacity for more effective institutions, and long-term sustainability would only be realized with new linkages and stronger ties among all tiers of government. Cities were made of buildings and streets, but they were really about the people and for the people, he said in conclusion.
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