World Cities Report - Living Together

June 13, 2016
Living together is at the heart of the challenges for the future. Urbanization plays an important role in issues of living together particularly with regards to access to opportunities, economic and social progress, as well as for the creation of safe living conditions and quality of life.

By Caroline Lippé

For the first time in history, more than half of humanity lives in urban areas. This constantly evolving urbanization has radically changed the development model for cities. The World Cities Report, which has just been published by the UN-Habitat, identifies major trends that have characterized urban communities for the past 20 years: urban development, changes in family patterns, the growth of urban populations, informal settlements (e.g. slums), and the challenge of providing urban services of quality that are available to everyone. It is also observed that these issues have persisted since the First International Conference on Habitat (Vancouver, 1976).

Since then, the UN-Habitat central approach has moved from a sectoral approach to a strategic urban planning and a more comprehensive urban policy. Each urbanization element is interrelated and inseparable from the others. It is impossible to build sustainable cities without promoting living together. The plans on which the cities designs are based no longer focus solely on physical arrangements, but are built to maximize social and multicultural city planning. UN-Habitat advocates a bottom-up approach.

Housing as a structural challenge

According to this report, the main challenge for cities in the near future is housing. Housing is the foundation for the development and growth of cities in an urbanized world. The world’s urban population increased from 2.6 billion (45 per cent of the total population) in 1995 to 3.9 billion (54 per cent) in 2014. This urbanization process is far from regular in all regions and has led to the emergence of many megacities. These cities with high population densities have the challenge of providing access to housing and other urban services. Furthermore, cities are increasingly diverse (e.g. religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.), where people have to live and work with each other.

Cities:  At the heart of a series of development issues

A series of other issues are raised as new problems observed in cities in recent years. These issues involve governance and urban finances in particular. Other major issues, such as climate change, exclusion, growing inequality, growing insecurity, and the rise of international migration, have particularly attracted the attention of leaders in recent years.

Living together at the heart of urban development

Urbanization plays an important role in issues of living together particularly in access to opportunities, economic and social progress, as well as for the creation of safe living conditions and quality of life. Cities are becoming places of diversity where cultures, religions and languages ​​coexist. An overview of the past years demonstrates that 75% of cities have higher levels of income inequalities than 20 years ago. This problem highlights the growing precariousness and insecurity among the world population. Too many cities have failed in creating sustainable living spaces for all (not just physical, but also civic, socio-economic and cultural). Cities' initiatives must be guided by the objective of creating stronger living environments and maximizing everyone's contribution to the development of the community.

Towards a new urban agenda

To meet the urban challenges of the future, cities must take concrete actions. For the next Habitat III Conference in Quito in October, a few broad guidelines for cities were developed in the "New Urban Agenda" working document. These recommendations include:

  • The need to adapt local institutions to ensure peaceful coexistence in societies that are increasingly heterogeneous and multicultural. The aim is to promote mutual understanding and acceptance, and thereby reduce violence in our communities.
  • The need for a safe environment in cities in which everyone can live, work, and participate in urban life without fear of violence and intimidation.
  • The need for measures to counter negative and dominant anti-migrant sentiments.

Habitat III comes at the right moment, not only to renew cities international commitment to inclusion, but also to act as a platform for dialogue on new theories, practices and policies of urban planning in inclusive cities.