Top UN officials have highlighted the “extraordinary” contributions of grassroots communities in towns and cities across the world in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and urged that their unique efforts be built on, during recovery.
In a message marking the World Cities Day, commemorated annually on 31 October, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the importance of close-knit communities.
“Cities have borne the brunt of the pandemic”, said Mr. Guterres.
“With the pandemic often overwhelming public health and support services, communities have organized to keep their neighbourhoods safe and functioning, engaging with local and national governments to support the official response”, he added.
Innovation and resilience
Neighbours shopped and cooked for the sick and elderly, residents cheered health workers, and local volunteer and faith-based groups supported the vulnerable, across the world. Communities also came together, formed self-help networks, developing apps to link up those in need, with those offering help.
“Communities are innovative, resilient and proactive”, said Mr. Guterres.
In addition, with forecasts predicting that around 68 per cent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050, up from the current 55 per cent, the UN chief highlighted that communities will be all the more important for the rapidly urbanizing world to respond effectively to the pandemic and prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks.
“Let us maintain this recognition of their value [and] put our communities at the heart of the cities of the future”, he said.
Communities bring sustainable solutions
“We must recognize that communities must be at the centre of designing their own, longer term solutions and we must listen to them as their on-ground experience will help us build resilience and equity in the future”, she said.
“Valuing our communities is an important first step towards the transformational change we need to build back better and build back greener”, added the head of UN-Habitat.
The World Cities Day
Designated by the UN General Assembly in 2013, World Cities Day recognizes the significance of urban basic services as a foundation for the overall social and economic development. The Day also ties into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with Goal 11 aiming to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
This year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the theme of the World Cities Day is “Valuing Our Communities and Cities.”
The 2020 Global Observance, on 31 October, will take place in the Kenyan city of Nakuru – the first time it is being hosted in Africa. The event will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alongside, commemorative events will be held across the world, including a special event, on 29 October, supported by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) featuring health leaders and mayors on the urban response to COVID-19. UNESCO will also be hosting an “Urban Dialogue” on 30 October, with the academia, public and private sectors, and civil society.
How cities can save on commuting time, double job access
A new report released today by the World Economic Forum pinpoints how cities can use mobility options to improve social equity and economic growth.
The white paper, How Mobility Shapes Inclusion and Sustainable Growth, identifies over 40 potential solutions to improve inclusivity in mobility, with simulations of over 40 million daily trips, global benchmarking and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders.
Prepared in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group and University of St Gallen, the study identifies transportation ‘pain points’ in three cities – Beijing, Berlin and Chicago. Using a six-step transportation equity methodology, the white paper analyses the mobility challenges each city faces, their affected communities and how transportation is driving, or failing to drive, economic growth and well-being. It also offers recommendations that result in real gains.
This methodology fills a void in current transportation analysis and can serve as the centrepiece of a strategy for developing mobility-based social inclusion programmes and policies in the identified cities and elsewhere.
Beijing, People’s Republic of China
This high-density megacity can become nearly 30% more efficient, saving commuters about five days-worth of travel time per year:
- Pain point: Very high demand has overwhelmed Beijing’s public transit network, with queuing times to get into some train stations consistently over 15 minutes, leading many residents to choose driving as an alternative.
- Solution: A digital platform for metro reservations to flatten peak-hour demand and reduce commute time for rush hours.
- Benefit: This equates to a 29% average reduction in travel time for the service users in the modelling for Beijing, an average reduction of 115 hours waiting a year per user.
The report shows how this compact, middleweight city is raising $295 million more per year for inclusive mobility projects:
- Pain point: As central districts have become gentrified, populations have been pushed further from the city centre, where public transport is more limited and fragmented. Berliners in these peripheral areas take about 27% more time commuting than central Berliners.
- Solution: Creating differentiated service levels for public transit increases usage and brings in additional revenue that can be used to improve public mobility systems for the underserved.
- Benefit: A differentiated service level on public transit increased the share of public transit trips by 11% while at the same time generating 28% higher revenue for the public transport operator – an equivalent of $295 million – that can be used to improve access for underserved populations.
A car-centric city such as Chicago can give low-income neighbourhoods access to hundreds of thousands of more jobs:
- Pain point: Low-income households in Chicago spend up to 35% of their income on transportation, due to the high cost of vehicle ownership and reliance on cars for mobility. Average work commute time on public transit for individuals in low-income areas is also nearly 15 minutes longer when compared to residents in some high-income areas.
- Solution: Introducing on-demand shuttles to cover the first and last mile of transport can greatly increase access for underserved communities.
- Benefit: The solution would increase the share of public transit usage in Chicago by 26% and would broaden the number of jobs reachable in 40 minutes – the rough ceiling for a desirable commuting time – by 90%; this would result in improved access to 224,000 jobs from neighbourhoods that did not have access before.
The white paper also finds that in order to foster social inclusion through mobility, both supply and demand must be considered. Purely increasing mobility infrastructure does not always yield the desired results.
For example, adding 10 new subway cars may do little to increase ridership among people with disabilities even if they do not have other transportation options, mainly because getting to a subway station is a challenge in and of itself. Other solutions such as an on-demand mobility service for the disabled community, such as Hyundai Motor Groups’s EnableLA universal mobility service, may be the more appropriate option.
Next Steps for Policymakers
Access to transportation infrastructure is essential to social development and economic growth, and improving the mobility situation for underserved population groups needs to be one of the top priorities for decision-makers.
Since every city has its own mobility and socioeconomic challenges, data collection processes and the current understanding of rider demand must be re-examined in order to gather important information about mobility challenges affecting minorities.
Understanding the baseline conditions of the mobility conditions of each urban environment is crucial in effectively determining the appropriate solutions for individual cities.
Public-Private Collaboration Will Define New Era for Cities
At the World Economic Forum’s inaugural Urban Transformation Summit, which closed on Wednesday, global leaders underscored the need for increased public-private collaboration to capitalize on new infrastructure funding and tackle growing urban challenges around the globe.
“Our cities and our communities are changing right before our eyes. Digitization is transforming urban economies, public health and safety concerns are tearing at the social fabric of communities—and trillions of dollars of new infrastructure funding across the globe holds the potential to transform the physical environment,” said Jeff Merritt, Head of Urban Transformation at the World Economic Forum. “Now more than ever, it is critical that public and private sector stakeholders come together to shape a future that does not just work for the privileged few but delivers for all residents.”
“We have to be real about what this moment in time presents for us and not dismiss it, said Michael Hancock, Mayor of Denver. “We have to be very intentional in our efforts and say we’re going to create a new opportunity that America has not seen and give a chance to right the wrongs of some of the great epic moments in our history.”
“Climate change is not some far distant activity. It is real, and it is occurring now,” said Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Mike Duggan, Mayor of Detroit, said: “We don’t need any more think tanks, we don’t need any more papers. We need public-private partnerships.”
The summit, which comprised both in-person events in Detroit and virtual convenings, included more than 350 mayors, business executives, community leaders and experts in urban development from 38 countries in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
It marked the official launch of the World Economic Forum’s new global Centre for Urban Transformation and spurred a series of new initiatives and collaborations to support the development of more sustainable and inclusive cities.
Notable outcomes and commitments:
Two cities in Europe – Stockholm and Lisbon – were added to the roster of City Strategy Dialogues planned for 2022. In collaboration with MIT, the convenings, which include both public-facing events and more intimate workshops, pair mayors and senior city leaders with global experts and business leaders to forge new approaches to pressing urban challenges.
“New technologies are promising to transform cities in a way similar to what the automobile did in the 20th century,” said Carlo Ratti, Professor of Urban Technologies and Planning Director of the MIT SENSEable City Lab. “That’s why we need new forums – such as the Urban Transformation Summit, the City Dialogues that MIT will co-host with the Forum – to share knowledge and lessons from all over the world.”
Eight cities in Latin America, Africa and Asia – Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Lagos, Dhaka, Jakarta, Kigali, Nairobi, and Rio de Janeiro – have designated neighbourhoods as urban testbeds for new businesses, products and services that can improve quality of life for local residents and mitigate social and environmental challenges associated with rapid urbanization.
Following a four-month review of key barriers to public-private collaboration in cities, Accenture has announced plans to work with the World Economic Forum and its partners to develop new resources and tools to help cities better coordinate place-based strategies and accelerate community partnerships.
Design Core Detroit will lead a participatory design process in collaboration with the Forum to design a Fellowship Program in Detroit. The design process will identify and map new opportunities to scale community-based solutions that will connect Forum business partners to contribute technical assistance towards achieving community-led goals.
Plans for the next edition of the Urban Transformation Summit have already been set in motion. The event will convene once again in Detroit, 11-13 October 2022.
Urban leaders, influencers, chart new path for world cities
Mayors of Mexico City, Bogotá, New Orleans, Freetown, Gaziantep and Barcelona joined other urban leaders, designers, activists and thinkers from around the world on Wednesday, to chart a new path for cities.
A launch event called Cities at the Crossroads, kicked off at the British Academy in London – marking the inaugural session of the new UN-backed Council on Urban Initiatives.
The international group of eighteen mayors, activists and academics was formed in response to UN Secretary-General’s call to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an “opportunity to reflect and reset how we live, interact, and rebuild our cities.”
In a video message showed at the event, António Guterres remembered that cities large and small, “have been epicentres of COVID-19 and are on the frontline of the climate crisis.”
They also face severe risks from climate change, which will only grow, according to UN estimates.
By mid-century, over 1.6 billion urban residents may have to survive through average summertime highs of 35 degrees Celsius. More than 800 million could be at direct risk from sea level rise.
‘A bold new narrative’
For the UN Secretary-General, the pandemic “must be an inflection point to rethink and reset how” people live, interact and build cities.
“Investment in pandemic recovery is a generational opportunity to put climate action, social justice, gender equality and sustainable development at the heart of cities’ strategies and policies”, Mr. Guterres said.
The UN Chief also noted that more and more cities across the world are committing to net zero by 2050, or before.
“The sooner we translate these commitments into concrete action to reduce emissions, the sooner we will achieve green job growth, better health, and greater equality”, he argued.
Also addressing the event, the UN-Habitat Executive Director asked for “a bold new narrative now.”
“We need to bring visionary mayors to the table to help address these interlinked global crises and reframe the discourse on the role of cities, urban governance, design and planning”, Maimunah Mohd Sharif said.
The Council’s mission is to ensure a healthy global debate over urban issues, to help chart a sustainable future. The work will be organized around three challenges: the JUST city, the HEALTHY city and the GREEN city, said UN-Habitat.
The new Council starts its work as the UN’s COP26 climate conference continues in Glasgow, Scotland, trying to keep the goal of 1.5 degrees of global warming, within reach.
Being responsible for approximately 75 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, cities are at the core of climate action.
A global challenge
Also this Wednesday, at the World Expo in Dubai, the UN launched the Climate Smart Cities Challenge.
The initiative is an open innovation competition to identify climate smart solutions and reduce urban impact, between the cities of Bogotá, Colombia; Bristol, United Kingdom; Curitiba, Brazil; and Makindye Ssabagabo, Uganda.
According to UN-Habitat, “the climate ambitions of these cities are impressive and addressing them will have a powerful impact in shaping how city leaders, innovators and local communities respond to the climate emergency.”
With these four cities selected, the competition is now asking innovators, including technologists, start-ups, developers, finance experts and more, to submit their best solutions to the unique challenges identified. The application period closes on 5 January.
Up to 80 finalists (up to 20 per city) will be selected to work closely with these four cities, learn more about their challenges, collaborate on solutions, and ultimately form teams to demonstrate solutions in the real-world.
The winning teams will share up to 400,000 Euros to leverage further investment and build towards system demonstration in 2023.
Around 4.5 billion people live in cities today, but that number is projected to grow by almost 50 per cent, by 2050. By mid-century, over 1.6 billion urban residents may have to survive through average summertime highs of 35 degrees Celsius.
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