» Cities together for inclusive urban development at Habitat III
19.10.2016 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Cities together for inclusive urban development at Habitat III

© UNESCO / Thomas Croll-knight

Inclusion, participation and global cooperation emerged as key themes in UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR panel at the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador on 17 October 2016. Translating the ambitious 2030 Agenda into the context of cities and human settlements around the world, the New Urban Agenda, adopted at Habitat III, articulates a vision for sustainable urban development with inclusion, human rights and freedom from all forms of discrimination in cities as cross-cutting themes. As a global platform for advocacy, exchange and collaboration between city-level actors, the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR is committed to transforming this vision into action.

The interactive discussions in the international panel, organised by UNESCO and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, with the support of the municipalities of Quito (Ecuador) and Montevideo, (Uruguay) showcased perspectives from ICCAR Mayors and city actors from diverse urban contexts around the world. They all address key issues including, among others, the promotion of cultural diversity, the inclusion of migrants and indigenous peoples in cities, and the role of youth in advancing inclusive urban development.

Mayors of member cities from across UNESCO’s International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities - ICCAR − including Montevideo (Uruguay), Tevragh-Zeinah commune of Nouakchott (Mauritania), and Birmingham, Alabama (United States of America), and the newly proclaimed member New Lucena Municipality (Philippines) – met to share their strategies and experiences in combating discrimination and promoting inclusive and participatory approaches to urban development. These city government approaches were enriched by perspectives from research and youth-led civil society actors.

Dialogue with citizens at the local level has become an effective mechanism for instilling accountable, needs-based policy-making and service delivery that empowers all members of society. Cities are bringing social innovation into their city governance, including diverse citizen participation mechanisms and community ownership of local programmes. In Montreal, monthly meetings are held in a community that hosts local populations that speak 140 different languages. Regular face-to-face meetings with the Mayor and councillors are organized in Nouakchott, an approach echoed in the Philippines, where youth councils provide a forum for youth voices and involvement in decision-making even at the lowest administrative level of villages, also called "Barangay". The City of Birmingham proposes a comprehensive and inclusive ‘city plan’, with Mayor William A. Bell Sr. stating that “participation is about having citizens involved at every step of the way”. And in Saskatoon (Canada) accountability frameworks are developed to ensure the genuine participation of indigenous groups in city governance.

Daniel Martinez, Mayor of Montevideo – lead city of the Coalition of Latin American and Caribbean Cities against Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia – stresses the significance of respect for diversity and the role of civil society in achieving sustainable urban development. An example is the city’s ‘Diversity March’ that convenes all citizens to celebrate the rights of different social movements and groups including women, youth, LGBT communities, people living with disabilities and indigenous peoples. Nathalie Simon, Mayor of Châteaugay in Montreal, adds that "inclusion calls for dialogue with others", and that “the greatest social innovation is to get along together in order to make progress”.

Lebanese youth activist Elza Seferian underlines the transformative power of youth-led civil society action in this process. She emphasises the growing importance of social media in both local and international advocacy, citing initiatives ranging from the inclusion of refugees and migrants to sustainable waste management in cities. Professor Jovchelovitch of the London School of Economics draws attention to the key role of academia in achieving inclusive and sustainable development in cities, arguing that “research can provide civil society, activists and government with a reliable knowledge base for social innovation”.

Through these examples, the panel has brought to light the potential of the ICCAR platform for bringing together different city-level actors and building partnerships across sectors around the common goal of inclusive urban development.

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