The evidence is clear: we are urban, period. Over 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, and that number is expected to reach 70 per cent by 2050. Without innovation and global partnerships to support this rapid urbanization, future cities will not be able to support their most vulnerable members.
This topic took center stage on 31 October when experts gathered on World Cities Day 2017 for an event on “Accessible Cities United: Enabling future cities to be smart,” the first in UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development’s Expert Discussion Series: “Towards inclusive, accessible and resilient societies,” arranged in the lead up to the 56th Session of the Commission for Social Development.
“Innovative governance and open cities highlight the crucial role of urbanization as a source of global development and social inclusion,” said Michal Mlynár, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations as he delivered his opening remarks. In other words, smart cities lead to advances in other areas of development such as education, health and energy. We need these components functioning together to create sustainable cities that work.
The SDGs play a vital role because they are people-focused. In a similar way, the panelists argued that the advancement of all people needs to be reflected in the advances of the city for development to be fully achieved.
Keynote speaker Eugenie Birch discussed the importance of considering not only the technological ways we can be smart, but also how we can measure being smart. She stressed the need for planning and management, and knowledge-sharing as some key ways to turn social policy into action. UN Habitat representative Andrew Rudd echoed that same idea by adding that location and choreography of urban development projects are key to ensuring that they are accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
One of the most important groups that was emphasized by the panelist was the youth. Their engagement is crucial for smart urbanization, and when provided with opportunities and tools to engage, the youth facilitates the creation of smart cities.
Panelist Roberto Ciambetti also said that preventing urban poverty is crucial to the development of sustainable cities. SDG 1 highlights the importance of eradicating poverty, and in urban settings it is necessary to ensure that everyone is included in development.
The panelists also agreed that innovating and creating plans for smart cities on the national, state and local level is vital. The link between creating smart cities and innovation is undeniable; there cannot be one without the other. This link provides a golden opportunity for all levels of government to invest and contribute to sharing information with each other to reach this goal together.
So, what is being done? There have been great strides made in sustainable urban development that are making cities more accessible to people with a variety of needs. Microsoft representative John Farmer discussed several projects that have been or are being created to accomplish this. One project is Microsoft Translator.
This technology allows two people who speak different languages to have a conversation in real time. It is currently being used in business and tourism, but Mr. Farmer hopes that it will soon be used in cities as a way to connect people with their local governments, as well as connect people with each other.
Despite the many advancements that have been made, much more is needed. To be successful, cooperation with partners with an invested interest is needed. Without this, it will be extremely difficult to continue to urbanize in a way that is sustainable and inclusive to all people.
The 2030 Agenda, especially Goal 11 reminds us of the need for sustainable cities. Accessible cities are important to ensuring all members of society are included and urbanization is sustainable. A common echoed sentiment among the panelists for this discussion was taken from William Shakespeare, who stated, “What is the city but the people”.
We must work together to make sure that we are growing cities that are sustainable, inclusive and where no one is left behind.