For the third time in its history, the United Nations organized an international conference on the growth of cities, Habitat III, from 17 to 20 October. Upsurge in migration, densification of transport, land pressure and more. As important as COP 21 on the subject of sustainable urban development, Habitat III, held in Quito, produced a New Urban Agenda for the next 20 years. What are the priorities?
More than ever, this document aims to make cities more inclusive, more resilient, safer and more sustainable. “If you ignore the human factor, cities become ugly places,” insisted Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat. The former mayor of Barcelona drew attention to this urgent issue as well as painting a disturbing picture of urbanisation over these last 20 years. The basic factor, in his view, is that “urbanisation is accelerating”, and “losing quality”.
Indeed, over 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities and, it is estimated that there will be 6.7 billion urban residents in 2050, amounting to two thirds of the world’s population. In Europe, the figure already stands at 77%. To break this down: some 12% of the world’s population today lives in 28 cities, 44% of the GDP in Europe is concentrated in 140 cities and by 2030, 60% of the global GDP will be found in 750 cities. At the same time, between 15% and 30% of the inhabitants of large cities in the South live below the poverty threshold, on less than two dollars per day. Spacial segregation in OECD cities is also very significant, the effects of which particularly undermine the chances of success of children from poorer areas.
In all the cities of the world, both north and south, prevention of illegality remains the major challenge. Cities attract and create wealth and growth. Yet too often they also produce social, economic and spatial exclusion. For the former mayor of Barcelona and the current director of UN-Habitat, this situation is not tenable. “When talking of the city of the future, much emphasis is placed on new technologies, which, however, are not so crucial and do not need to be encouraged. On the other hand, it is essential to place humanness and inclusion at the heart of urban innovation,” he explained in an interview with the economic newspaper “La Tribune”.
Smart cities in which the people who live in them are not involved would lead to an impasse. Rather than smarter cities, the UN therefore advocates the model of “linking cities”, focused more on quality of life, social links and habitat rather than data. “In developed countries, it will be essential to contain the new emergence of inequalities, to ensure that cities remain accessible but also adapt urban areas to the ageing population and the threats of climate change,” continued Joan Clos. The participation of citizens in decision-making and action is a major asset in this regard.