The head of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) said on Wednesday that a week-long conference on sustainable urban development that kicked off Wednesday in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, will open a “global conversation about our cities and human settlements.”
“With its genuine openness and inclusive nature, the World Urban Forum (WUF9) is unique on the United Nations conference circuit,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat in her remarks to the opening of the Forum, which runs through Saturday, 13 January.
“It is a chance for stakeholders from all over the world – from ministers, local government and urban planners, to civil society groups, the private sector, academia and the media – to contribute to the global conversation about our cities and human settlements,” she added.
Ms. Sharif called WUF9 a platform where people from all walks of life share their experience of finding homes, jobs and lives in urban spaces around the world and a chance for some of the world’s most marginalized to highlight their experiences in being denied some of the advantages cities pose.
For current and future partners, the UN-Habitat chief saw the Forum as an opportunity to showcase the innovative ideas and solutions to challenges being confronted in urban and rural human settlements – and to learn from experts in the field.
Ms. Sharif maintained that WUF9 is “the ideal platform to debate the contribution that positive urban development makes to delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 11, and the New Urban Agenda,” which was adopted in 2016 by the UN conference known as Habitat III.
Recent debates and studies have indeed acknowledged that sustainable urbanization is an essential tool for addressing the global challenges of poverty, exclusion, conflict and climate change.
“The New Urban Agenda comes at a critical moment, when for the first time in history over half of the world’s population is residing in cities,” she said, which, if planned and managed well, can be “the main tool for sustainable development and a solution to many of the challenges our planet is facing today.”
WUF9 is the first major milestone after the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, which lays out the vision for future cities based on the science of urban development providing tools in crucial areas.
Barely three weeks into her tenure as the UN-Habitat chief, Ms. Sharif said it is “an honour and a privilege” that the Forum, which is held every two years in different parts of the world, was being hosted in her native Malaysia, saying “Kuala Lumpur will have the chance to showcase some of its own urban innovations.”
She concluded her statement with the assertion that she looked forward to joining “the global conversation on promoting socially, economically and environmentally sustainable cities for all.”
UN population forum urged to examine ways to protect people on the move, make cities work better
A great migration of humanity into cities is under way, and with millions drawn to urban areas for the promise of a better life, the main United Nations forum on population opened its annual session on Monday examining ways to protect people on the move and help create cities that can embrace the massive number of new arrivals.
“People are moving at high rates within national borders, and international migration is growing more complex, with more countries serving simultaneously as countries of origin, transit and destination,” said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed at the opening of the 51st Session of the Commission on Population and Development.
Created to advise the UN and its Member States on population issues and trends, the Commission is meeting this year under the theme ‘sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration.’
Over the next week, delegates will tackle a host of matters related to the dramatic population shifts under way driven by the movement of people from rural to urban areas, between cities of different sizes and from one country to another. By 2030, six of every 10 people will be an urban inhabitant. By 2050, it may be two out of three, according to the UN.
Ms. Mohammed said that some of the rapid population change is due to growing drivers of displacement, including conflict, poor economic prospects and, in some cases, climate-related hazards. But much of the mobility also stems from people seeking new opportunities – better jobs, education and training, expanded social and family connections, and more.
Questions of migration and urbanization cannot be distinguished from those of sustainable development because as young people seek a better life in cities, the potential loss to communities and countries of origin can be significant, she said.
Some cities have successfully managed migration, said Ms. Mohammed
For example, since 2013, São Paulo has been successful in this endeavor through an awareness-raising campaign focused on ending xenophobia and better policy coordination. These measures have helped the Brazilian city embrace migrants and their families and provide them with assistance.
In London, the Home Secretary and the Archbishop of Canterbury have launched a new scheme to encourage community groups to sponsor a refugee family. An online service for refugees in the UK now makes it easier for any individual to support refugees, allowing local authorities to focus on the provision of public goods and services.
Data collection is crucial to improve collective understanding of the changing situation.
The Government of Zambia has partnered with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to generate district-level development indicators. Analysis of data collected have been used to inform the latest national development plan and mobilize investments in health and education for children and youth.
The Dominican Republic highlighted the contributions of Haitian migrants to gross domestic product (GDP), as well as the limited services they received.
“Because gaps in understanding are easily filled by myths and misperceptions, better data can usefully inform global discussions of migration and related issues,” Ms. Mohammed said.
“It is for this reason that the Commission on Population and Development, with its focus on population data and its emphasis on evidence-based policy-making, plays such a vital role,” she added.
Smarter roads for smarter mobility
As transport technology progresses at breath-taking speed we tend to focus on how advanced and intelligent vehicles are getting. However, of equal importance is the infrastructure that they travel on and where new technology can be used to make these roads more secure, safe, efficient and environmentally sound to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
This is the subject that UNECE is now focusing on as part of the responsibilities of the Working Party on Road Transport (SC.1). SC.1 works on the development and facilitation of international transport by road of both passengers and goods, helping to create simple harmonized transport rules and requirements. The harmonization of intelligent infrastructure is a natural subject for these responsibilities, but has not yet received enough attention. That changed this week when SC.1 held a special session which explored current practices, trends and perspectives in smart road infrastructure.
Smart road infrastructure can involve a number of factors, from using technology for better monitoring of movement, controlling traffic flow, updating travellers, or even communicating directly with cars to warn of a speed limit change. It is as essential a part of the future of transport as smarter vehicles.
“Innovative new technology in transport is revolutionizing mobility, changing how people move, communicate, and pay for transport services, as well as how transport legislation is evolving,” said Mr. Yuwei Li, Director of UNECE’s Sustainable Transport Division, who emphasized the strong links with the work of SC.1. “As countries make individual advancements in smart infrastructure, the technology may not be compatible with other countries in the region making international road travel more complicated, and also denying neighbouring countries of the chance to make greater advancements by moving forward together.”
Innovation in smart road infrastructure: a world of perspectives
A number of presentations highlighted new or ongoing projects focusing on using emerging technology for road infrastructure. One of these focused on a project called Traffic Management as a Service from the City of Ghent, Belgium, co-financed by the European Regional and Development Fund through the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative. The project seeks to transform urban traffic control centres from giant immovable buildings which are difficult to update, into virtual traffic management services that are smarter and more accessible to the public. Mr. Pieter Morlion, Project Manager of the city’s Traffic Control Centre, explained that virtual traffic management based on a central cloud-platform was being developed.
The platform integrated with a number of existing systems that hold information on real-time traffic patterns. Currently existing systems such as Tom-Tom and Google maps may be familiar to most drivers, but modern traffic control centres find it difficult to constantly monitor or include data from these systems. This new system would integrate local and global information sources and monitor them for anomalies. The advantage is that authorities will be able to access the platform and manage traffic instantly. Additionally, citizens will be able to register with the system and, by providing their commuting routes and times, will be able to receive text updates when they might encounter an obstacle.
“By organizing traffic management as an online service, cities and countries around the globe can benefit from traffic management functionality just by subscribing to this service, without prior investments or installations,” said Mr. Morlion. “They get immediately access to mobility data for their area and the tools to converse directly with citizens. I strongly believe that this will make the gap smaller between countries that have been investing for years in traffic management and, for example, developing countries.”
Additional presentations included an address from the Julius Baer bank on how new technology, regulation and changing lifestyles are rerouting energy expenditures and reshaping industries. Two alternative future scenarios of evolution or revolution of today’s trends were suggested based on population growth, a rising Asian middle class, urbanisation, fuel economy and electric mobility, autonomous driving and the sharing economy.
Hellastron (Hellenic Association of Toll Road Network) gave examples from the Aegean Motorway SA to demonstrate the continuous improvement in road infrastructure and services being provided to users. These improvements included developing a virtual traffic management centre and a National User Information System.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment in the Netherlands shared how the country is embracing smart infrastructure with an emphasis on public/private partnerships and projects. The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) provided insight into how their Smart Cities initiative came about.
The exploration of smart road infrastructure was also the chance to highlight the synergies between UNECE’s work on sustainable transport and housing and land management, as well as with initiatives undertaken by other UN organizations in this area, including the International Telecommunication Union.
SC.1 will include smart road infrastructure as a regular item on its agenda for future meetings so that all stakeholders may remain informed about emerging smart technologies for the planning of new, or upgrading of existing, road infrastructure.
How Can Water Scarce Cities Thrive in a Resource Finite World? Strategies and Solutions
Water scarcity is not a new concept, nor a new phenomenon. History provides us with many examples of cities and countries facing challenges to securing stable and reliable fresh water supplies.
However, current trends challenge water managers and decision makers in new ways – from progressive depletion and deterioration of water resources to drastic changes in hydrology due to climate change. In fact, water practitioners recently gathered in Brasilia, Brazil for the World Water Forum and World Water Day 2018 to discuss the world’s most pressing water issues. Recent crises in Cape Town, South Africa and Rome, Italy provided a backdrop and served as a reminder of the urgency with which water resilience is needed.
Despite such concerning events, water demands are skyrocketing as cities expand, draining already scarce resources — and water scarce cities are edging closer and closer to running dry. And, although a number of water scarce cities are actually beating the odds, their stories often remain undocumented, unavailable, and inaccessible.
A new World Bank report illuminates such valuable experiences to fill this important knowledge gap about the failures, successes, and innovative solutions of water scarce cities across the world. The report provides a cross-case analysis that dives into knowledge from over 20 case studies (to be published soon), to compare and contrast water resource challenges, technical solutions, and institutional mechanisms. In so doing, the report creates new knowledge and identifies the key drivers of positive change — including how governance, capacity, or technological changes were addressed.
Through a review of some of the cities and states already beating water scarcity odds, the report encourages water scarce cities to adopt urban water scarcity management approaches that include:
- Demand management and infrastructure efficiency
- Innovative surface and groundwater management
- Non-conventional water resources
- Cooperation with other users
- Adaptive water system designs and operations
Water scarce cities solutions do not have to be high-tech, expensive, or complex. However, solutions must work – and even better if solutions work together. This report turns traditional urban water security approaches on their head, and shows that there is not a one-size-fits-all pathway to urban water security.
Innovation across water scarce cities is required to beat bleak water futures. Through an analysis of urban water security in scarcity contexts, the report shines a light on existing solutions and interprets information in new and powerful ways.
By illuminating sophisticated water-secure visions and strategies, the report aims to inspire further pioneering actions across all water scarce cities – to bend the curve towards a water-secure world for all.
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