Cities will lead global transformations

Josep Roig, UCLG Secretary General


Article by Josep Roig for World Cities Day, 31 October- Josep Roig is the Secretary General of UCLG, the Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments

The international community has declared October 2014 the “urban” month; 31 days of reflection on the challenges, opportunities and future of urban issues – issues of vital importance to create a sustainable future in an increasingly urbanizing world.

According to the data presented by the United Nations, between 2014 and 2050, around 2,500 million more people will live in urban areas; almost all of these in developing countries. At present, 800 million people live in informal settlements. Who will tackle this transformation process? We cannot leave this solely to national governments and the international community, so far from the reality of citizens. They alone should not decide upon the key factors to ensure that in the future slums will no longer exist; to eliminate extreme poverty; so that citizens have access to basic services like water, sanitation, health and education; and in order to build a sustainable future. To do this, another type of participation is needed, one closer to the needs of communities.

United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the global network based in Spain representing more than 250,000 local and regional governments worldwide, has decided to make the most of this urban month to influence the inclusion of an urban development goal (#urbanSDG) in the new development agenda, with the aim of raising awareness about the challenges and potential of cities and all forms of human settlements.

Why an urban development goal? Because the world has changed greatly since the Millennium Declaration was signed 14 years ago; a declaration that managed to rally much political will and enabled the creation of the global development agenda, based on eight goals. Since then, we have learnt that without the collaboration of the bases, there are many goals that cannot be achieved. Now, faced with the draft of the future sustainable development goals, which will shape the Post-2015 Agenda, it is time to recall that the world is in the midst of a continuous process of urbanization, and signal the transformative potential and the role of cities. Without a true global urban development strategy, it will be impossible to build a future based on sustainable development.

The new development agenda should incorporate the challenges of a different and complex world, of an urban world. In order to do this, we are counting on the lessons learnt during these 14 years to help us to construct a single and universal agenda that includes all development stakeholders. The future development goals must be focused on the creation of inclusive cities, with adequate infrastructure and services for all inhabitants. Further, these goals will culminate in a New Urban Agenda in 2016, which will be drawn up during the Habitat III Conference.

Cities may be the ideal platform to shape the urban development agenda for the next 20 years; yet we must be prepared in order to do this. It is important to stress that it is in cities throughout the world where the pressures of globalization, migration, social inequality and environmental pollution are experienced. Reducing unemployment, inequalities and the impact of climate change represent the major challenges that the international community can only “solve” with policies for and with cities. Therefore, the World Organization of United Cities and Local Governments intends to facilitate the Second World Assembly of Cities and Local Authorities and their Associations, as inheritors of the first Assembly, which took place in Istanbul in 1995.

The commitment of cities with the participation of citizens will be key to the success of the future global agenda. However, in order to achieve this, it is necessary to involve all local and regional stakeholders in the future development agenda, taking local and regional governments into account as an important part of local governance. In this way, we will be able to involve citizens, in order to address the real needs of the population.

To get an idea of the importance of local and regional governments, we must keep in mind that they represent 99.9% of governments worldwide. It should be noted that there are less than 200 national governments recognized by the United Nations, of which 104 have less than three million inhabitants. On the other hand, there are now 153 cities with a population of over three million.

The urban sustainable development goal is not only important because it focuses attention on critical urban challenges; mobilizing and empowering all urban stakeholders; but because it also works from the basis of a territorial focus. National borders are not human boundaries. Cities and regions do not wish to be independent, like states, but rather interdependent, like citizens. We are all closely linked, and collaboration between governments and the community will be vital to confront the challenges of globalization.

Urban transformations are possible, but in order to do this, adequate mechanisms of local governance and financing must be established. To put an end to inequalities in the future, we must equip local and regional governments with the necessary resources and legal powers now, so that they can attend to the needs of citizens and facilitate the voices of those most in need.