By 2050, the world will be two-thirds urban, placing cities at the frontline of global challenges and opportunities. Migration is a major factor of urbanisation, contributing significantly to economic development and cultural diversity. As people and assets concentrate in cities, these become increasingly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, disasters and conflicts. Yet if planned and managed well, cities will become an engine for sustainable development.
For cities to be inclusive, safe and resilient, governments, mayors and local stakeholders need urban policies that integrate the soft power of culture, education, science and social integration, as suggested in the New Urban Agenda adopted at the Habitat III conference in 2016. UNESCO’s participation at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 7-13 February 2018, demonstrated this with five events engaging international and local voices on how cities can forge a sustainable future.
Cities in post-conflict and post-disaster situations face numerous challenges and were the focus of the networking event on “Culture, Reconstruction, Recovery” led by UNESCO and the World Bank. “Culture should be placed at the core of reconstruction and recovery processes by embedding cultural and natural heritage as well as intangible heritage and creativity into integrated strategies that rely on both people-centred and place-based approaches,” said Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience. Experts stressed that urban regeneration strategies need to use culture as a key resource, asset, and tool, and build on the “3-Ps” approach (people, places, policies) set out in the UNESCO Global Report, Culture Urban Future.
The training event on “Creativity for Sustainable Cities: Leveraging Culture for Social Inclusion, Economic Development, and enhanced resilience” co-organized by UNESCO and UN Habitat highlighted the importance of cultural heritage, living heritage, and culture and creative industries in the shaping, implementation and assessment of culture-engaged urban development policies. “Culture is a key element to humanizing cities” said Christine Musisi, Director for International Relations in UN-Habitat. Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna (Italy), underscored that the major responsibility of mayors and local authorities is to enhance the “urban commons” and use culture to build the conditions for people from diverse social, cultural and generational backgrounds to live together peacefully. The importance of measuring the actual contribution of culture to urban development processes was underlined, to build not only on its economic value but also on its impact on education, people’s well-being, resilience and social inclusion.
UNESCO’s event on “Building Urban Resilience” focused on how cities cope with the provision of water related services and natural hazards. Water services, for example, can be acutely affected by climate change. There are many replicable best practices and solutions for water management and policies, and disaster risk reduction. Dr Nicola Tollin, part of the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at the Technical University of Catalonia, President of RECNET and Executive Director of the International Programme on Urban Resilience, RESURBE, demonstrated the need to bridge local and international climate action at the urban level, with projects that use nature-based solutions for water management and generate environmental, economic, social and climate co-benefits. The VISUS methodology, a science-based assessment methodology for school safety was also presented, along with the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme’s examples of knowledge sharing and exchange on water within the framework of the Megacities Alliance for Water and Climate (MAWaC), which are all useful tools and resources for enhancing the resilience of cities.
As the number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly in recent years, reaching 258 million in 2017 (UNDESA, 2017), and internal migration, though more difficult to determine the number of people moving, is vast, a networking event on “Integrating Migrants in Cities: Challenges and Opportunities” examined the importance of a holistic, intersectoral, and collaborative approach to integrating migrants in cities. UNESCO, in partnership with UNDP, Un-Habitat and the IOM, presented data from current research on migration trends and policy responses that can assist at national and local level to deal with the large scale movement of people, both internally and internationally. Among the findings that foster learning to live together sustainably in cities was the need for long term urban planning that integrates political, economic, cultural and social aspects of city life.
Health and well-being of communities in urban spaces were discussed in UNESCO and ADB’s “Physical inactivity and Rising Non-Communicable Diseases”side event. Experts advocated for the creation of open and safe public spaces for sport to drive socioeconomic development in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in tackling non-communicable diseases, a global issue on the rise all around the world. The Kazan Action Plan, adopted by the Ministerial Council on Physical Education and Sport in 2017, sets out a global road map linking sport, the SDGs and other important development frameworks. The panellists show-cased several local initiatives whereby cities that enhanced sport saw improvements in community well-being and belonging, especially for youth.
Building for green growth in Thailand
Thailand seems likely to emerge as a model of green building in Asia, a region that is urbanizing more rapidly than any other in the world. Last month, the country took a significant step by submitting two Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: greening Thailand’s low- and middle-income housing, and greening the country’s government buildings.
UN Environment’s technical assistance and stakeholder engagement were instrumental in helping the country work out how to promote sustainable, energy-efficient buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring affordable housing for its citizens. The assistance was provided via NAMA for the Building Sector in Asia, a project of the International Climate Initiative. The project supported Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam to design government-led interventions to boost investment in energy-efficient buildings.
The project brought together ministries, local authorities, representatives from the construction sector, civil society and developers through a series of country-specific workshops and training sessions to address barriers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stimulate action in the building sector.
Thailand is the first of the four countries involved in the project to register a NAMA in the official registry maintained by the UN Climate Change Convention.
“Thailand’s government, leading the way, aims to truly transform the building market and see green growth for years to come,” said Isabelle Louis, Deputy Director of UN Environment Asia and the Pacific Office. “This project facilitates regional action for our collective future—heralding an era of Asian leadership on global climate commitments,” she added.
Thailand’s new commitments will help to reduce poverty, create jobs and promote access to energy at the local and national levels. Both proposed actions will support Thailand’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement of 20 per cent emission reductions from business-as-usual by 2030. Thailand has translated these international commitments into national policy. Their climate actions will help accomplish the national goal, outlined in the Energy Efficiency Plan, of reducing energy intensity by 30 per cent by 2036, compared to 2010 levels, as well as their comprehensive Climate Change Masterplan, which sets out commitments through 2050.
By commissioning nationally built low- and middle-income housing, retrofitting government buildings, and instilling national green building specifications, Thailand will push the country’s housing and construction markets to move towards greener standards. The projects will address design aspects of new buildings and retrofits, including materials, energy and water-efficient appliances, and research and market stimulation to lower the costs of green construction.
The new commitment on housing will slash Thailand’s projected emissions by 304 kt of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, while the government building commitment will cut emissions by 1.6 kt of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. The action related to government building could have an even higher potential for emissions reductions, as the project may be extended to all 639 government buildings, which would bring the total impact to 98.8 kt of carbon dioxide per year. This is equivalent to taking approximately 60,000 cars off the road each year. Thailand expects to complete the government buildings retrofit by 2022 and the housing developments by 2023.
NAMAs, first introduced in the UN Climate Change Convention’s Cancun Agreements, are actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to business-as-usual emissions in developing countries. They are prepared under the umbrella of a government initiative, aligned with the country’s national development goals, and supported by finance, technology and capacity building.
It All Starts With a Road: The Key to Mobility in Haiti
This Monday morning, Jean-Douby Florville, 13, can take all his time to eat and review his homework before going to school. The eldest son in a family of four children, Jean-Douby crosses the eight kilometers that link the village of Labadie to downtown Cap Haïtien, where his mother’s hardware store and the good schools of the region are located. Before, the journey took 90 minutes on a dusty road. Since the rehabilitation of the road, the same journey takes only 30 minutes.
“Before, there were a lot of accidents on the road because it was too narrow in some places. In the rainy season, it was difficult for us to get to school because even motorcycles couldn’t get through,” recalls Jean-Douby.
This road was opened recently by the President of the Republic, Jovenel Moïse, accompanied by the Prime Minister of the Bahamas visiting Haiti to attend the CARICOM summit, and the World bank Country Director, Anabela Abreu. In his speech, the President of the Republic welcomed this achievement, the result of effective cooperation between the World Bank and the Haitian Government. “We would like to commend the World Bank for financing the construction at the request of the Haitian Government.”
A road to resilience
Residents living in communities along this main road are unanimous in recognizing that since the beginning of the construction, they no longer feel threatened by rain, which often led to flooding. Channels and drainage works have been undertaken and retaining walls have also been constructed to prevent landslides.
“Now I feel proud to live in the area. I feel like I live in Pétion-ville or the other accessible areas of Port-au-Prince. Despite the fact that our communal section generates a lot of money thanks to the tourists who come to Labadie, we were a little isolated and marginalized, especially when it rained,” said Anthony Saint Preux, a resident present at the road opening ceremony.
Revitalize the economy of the regional centers
The World Bank is supporting the Government’s integrated approach to the development of this dynamic Grand Nord region, and this investment is part of a broad, integrated program of the World Bank Group to support sustainable mobility for all.
“It all starts with a road,” said Anabela Abreu, World Bank Country Director in Haiti. “A road is a window of opportunity that opens up and facilitates the movement of people, products and services. The rehabilitation of this road shows how much this type of infrastructure can transform the economy and the lives of the residents of Cap Haïtien.”
The construction of this road is a first step toward facilitating better connectivity within the Greater Cap Haïtien area, promoting trade and the development of tourism sector.
Relocation not a viable solution to Tehran’s growing problems
The growing problems of the megacity of Tehran does not justify relocating it, councilor Ahmad Masjed-Jamei said on Saturday.
He made the remarks after a documentary named “the capital” was screened at Mehr news agency. The documentary was mainly focusing on the issues the capital, Tehran, is struggling with including water shortage, air pollution, land subsidence and traffic congestion to name a few.
The 14-episode documentary which was partly screened at the agency suggested the relocation of the capital in order to sort out some of the problems the city is beset with.
The city is fraught with problems originating from unsustainable development of Tehran, its large and growing population, depletion of groundwater resources to satisfy the need of the dense crowd of people residing the metropolitan which itself has led to land subsidence, air pollution brought about by the numerous private cars, diesel engine vehicles, carbureted motorcycle, clunker buses and taxis.
“Some 171 bird species used to inhabit Tehran which constitute about one third of the country’s bird species,” Mohammad Darvish, environmentalist and the former director of the Public Participation Office at the Department of Environment, said in the aforesaid documentary.
By cutting down the trees and removing the city’s vegetation the birds have left Tehran, Darvish regretted, adding, “Birds fertilize the soil and also can make the atmosphere peaceful for the human beings and now we have lost them.”
He went on to say that since the year 1956 Tehran has lost 70 percent of its vegetation.
The city which is stretching over 700 square kilometers is only suitable for a population of 2 to 2.3 million, however, some 8.5 million people live in the capital.
So, why is that so? The answer is simple: government provision of facilities are more concentrated in urban areas, and even more in the capital. This works like a magnet, the unemployed population opt to move to the capital in a hope to find a job and living a better life.
Having said that, Mehdi Chamran, the former chairman of Tehran City Council, also emphasized on the fact that relocating the capital does not solve the problems.
With the current policies relocating the capital would not solve the problem, it is only a matter of time for the new capital to become just like Tehran, a city suffering from some serious problems, Chamran noted.
“What we should do is to take measures to increase the livability of other cities in the country so that people won’t have to move to the capital,” he suggested.
All ministries and organizations should try to find the reasons as to why people migrate to urban areas specially Tehran, making the capital expensive does not fix this problem, people in rural areas don’t have job so that 72 percent of the population in the country are currently living in urban areas, Chamran lamented.
Walk the walk
Relocating the capital may be out of question, but we cannot pretend there is nothing wrong with the capital. It may not happen at once or tomorrow but one day the city will become unlivable and it would be too late to make a change.
The officials seems to be having all the answers but nothing actually happens. They seem to be having plans for making the city more livable and developing smart cities but having things written down on a piece of paper and agreeing upon it does not mean that the city is protected against the harms.
It’s time to do something and make a difference. Do not just talk the talk but walk the walk.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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