On World Habitat Day, local and regional governments celebrate the role of vibrant, safe public spaces in our cities

On World Habitat Day, local and regional governments celebrate the role of vibrant, safe public spaces in our cities

On the occasion of World Habitat Day, 5 October 2015, UCLG celebrates the role of well-designed public spaces in fostering economic development, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, creativity and gender equality in our cities.

This year, Urban October 2015 kick starts on 5 October with World Habitat Day, under the theme "Public Spaces for All", and will end on 31 October with World Cities Day and its theme "Designed to live together". The theme of “public spaces for all” is an issue of long standing interest and activity for UCLG, which considers public spaces an essential element of the full realization of the ‘right to the city’.

Local governments see how public spaces affect the well-being of our citizens, particularly vulnerable individuals and groups, in our day-to-day work. Parks, markets, squares, streets, beaches and playgrounds are where a city lives and breathes. They are as spaces of social interaction, economic activity, cultural expression and political discourse. When public spaces are plentiful and well designed, they can promote economic development, social inclusion, health, cultural vibrancy, sustainable tourism, and gender equality. When public spaces are lacking or badly maintained they can lead to social segregation, economic decline, cultural poverty, poor health outcomes and violence and insecurity, especially for women. UCLG members promote using participatory urban planning to achieve equity through public space.

“As city leaders, we need to champion the development of public space policies at city, regional, national and global levels.” James Nxumalo, Mayor of Durban-eThekwini, South Africa and Co-Chair of the UCLG Committee on Urban Strategic Planning

The UCLG Committee on Urban Strategic Planning works to network, learn and develop a body of knowledge on public space, and to influence global policy debates. It has held rich and rewarding South-South city-to-city exchanges and learning sessions on public spaces, and has actively contributed to defining international guidelines on urban and territorial planning.

UCLG advocates globally for increased recognition for the role of public spaces in sustainable development, which has traditionally been undervalued. This year’s World Habitat Day comes at a time in which public spaces are finally getting increased international attention. Just over a week ago, UN Member States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable Development Goal 11 on sustainable cities and human settlements includes a target to “provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities”. This is an important first step in ensuring increased financial and human resources for improving public spaces.

Looking forward, October 2016 will see the celebration of the Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador. Habitat III is an opportunity to build on SDG11 and by ensuring access to basic and social services, mobility, public and green spaces and the enjoyment of natural and built heritage and by recognizing and protecting the Right to the City more broadly.

This World Habitat Day, UCLG commits to advocate for a central role for public spaces at Habitat III, and to support our members to play their part in the achievement of SDG11.

UCLG member and partner activities on World Habitat Day:

  • World Habitat Day 2015,  New York  –  The UN-Habitat, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, the American Institute Architects New York, UN Women, the Institute of Global Homelessness, the United Cities and Local Governments and the Permanent Mission of Grenada to the United Nations join to host a high-level discussion and celebrate the adoption of 2030 Development Agenda with stimulating panel discussions on key developments in the area of public space design and the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). [More info here]
  • A Public-Space Teleconferencing Bridge from Latin America to Italy- On the 5th October 2015 A Public Space Teleconferencing Bridge between Italy and Latin America “Puente Espacio Publico” will be organized by the Italian National Institute of Planning (INU) and the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation with the collaboration of UCLG. [More info here]

UCLG’s work on public spaces: