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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jul 7 2022 (IPS) - When we think of urbanization we often end up referring to the increasing number of megalopolises that are sprawling around the world.
Yet less thoughts are given on the fact that the future patterns of urbanization will be centered on secondary cities or semi urban spaces, now becoming extensions of these gigantic cities.
It means that the world will continue to urbanize even though the world share of population living in this new urban continuum is forecasted to slow down, reaching 58 per cent in the next fifty years according to data from UN Habitat.
Yet, especially in the developing world, such reduction will still bring in a whopping increase of 76% of the number of cities in low income nations that in practically terms will mean a rise of 2.2 billion residents mostly in Africa and Asia.
These are some of the key findings of the World Cities Report 2022, the flagship publication of UN Habitat that was recently launched in occasion of the 11th World Urban Forum, the biannual event that was held last week in Poland, bringing together top policy makers, experts and activists working in the area of urbanization.
The insights and discussions enabled by these publications and events are indispensable to activate the so called New Urban Agenda, a strategically important though overlooked agenda to rethink sustainability from the perspectives of those living in the cities.
Unfortunately there is still so much to be done here and unsurprisingly there are huge constraints in terms of funding to implement this vision even though more recently, several financial commitments have been done, including a massive boost in resilient infrastructures during the recently held G7.
The international community should be indeed worried and not only in terms of bridging the resource gap for a sustainable urbanization.
Global leaders need to seize the opportunity and reconsider the ways cities are governed.
While it remains paramount to think in terms of the future of the millions of people living in big cities, the trends and patterns are pointing to the urgency of systematically thinking about governing urban spaces in terms of multilevel governance.
It means we need to work on a future system of policy making and decision making that is able to function and deliver beyond a single administrative jurisdiction.
Such a model must be capable to address the needs of the people living within and in the peripheries from three key dimension, spatial, social and economic.
The opportunity here is not only about re-thinking the existing boundaries, merging existing administrative units, creating bigger and more extended centers of power with the tools and resources of governing entire metropolitan regions.
This, in itself, would be a mammoth task because it will eat away power to different, often overlapping and certainly inadequate local bodies of governance now in existence.
The real chance we need to seize is to re-think, holistically, the way local governance works and take action on the general ineffectiveness of local bodies in terms of social inclusion.
Securing stronger and more resilient cities, able to withstand the more frequent shocks and hazards, will require a new social compact, a re-distribution of powers between local governments in charge of urban spaces and the citizenry, especially those left behind.
This latter group is at the core of the recommendations World Cities Report 2022, highlighting how vulnerable citizens must shift from being “passive victims” of current patterns of urbanization to “active urban change agents”.
Such pivot towards the downtrodden can be successful if we go beyond the traditional recipe made only by stronger social policies.
This is a formula that tends to largely be centered around, on the one hand, more sophisticated and generous social protection schemes like universal basic income and, on the other, around health coverage and housing.
These three social areas of interventions, together with quality and affordable education, are extremely important but we need to imagine a new social contract in terms of participation and engagement.
Indeed, according to the so called Urban Resilience Principles, the guiding pillars for a different vision for the future of cities, it is essential to ensure a meaningful participation of the people, especially those disadvantaged, in the planning and governance of any future urban governance system.
“With ever larger cities, the distance between governments and their citizens has increased” explains the World Cities Report 2022 report.
“Effective communication, meaningful participation opportunities and accountability structures built into integrated governance relationships are all necessary responses for addressing the trust equation”.
The document goes even further, calling for new forms of collaborative governance that involve different stakeholders joining the decision making process.
That’s why deliberative democracy, often at the fringes of the political science studies, is now being rediscovered as a possible remedy to the distance between traditional decision makers and citizens.
Obviously there is one particular group that, not only has huge stakes in the future of urban spaces but also can play a vital role to re-animate the debate about more bottom up, participatory forms of democratic decision making: the youths.
Some attempts are being made in this direction.
Over the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting held on the 27th of April to review the progress taken so far in implementing the New Urban Agenda, the Youth 2030 Cities initiative brought together youths from Ecuador, Colombia and Ghana to discuss about their role and their contributions for a better urban future.
The event was a culmination of trainings and discussions in six different countries around the world, an exercise that led to the preparation of “DeclarACTIONS”, roadmaps and at the same time real blueprints for youths driven changes around sustainable urbanization.
These are not just aspirational documents but they contain concrete and practical proposals, result of a long raging series of interventions supported by UN Habitat and the Foundation Botnar.
The Youth 2030 Cities program is an example of how it is possible to enable youth to convene and discuss.
Potentially, it can be seen, as a bold attempt at expanding the decision making process at local level.
The challenge will be on how to shift from pilot mode to an approach that systematically includes all citizens, including the youth, in the policy and decision making processes.
An institution like UN-Habitat has a very important mandate to mainstream participatory processes across the developing and emerging world, enabling new transformative ways for people to be involved and engaged.
System ways partnerships, starting from within the UN System, can harness the potential shown when youths are allowed to discuss and debate.
The dynamics facilitated by Youth 2030 Cities, can truly bring transformative changes but with them, we need bold and farsighted vision from the world leaders.
Let’s not forget that, real change will happen when people, especially the youths, are empowered, not just to be consulted and be able to express their opinion, but when are enabled to take binding decisions.
The fact that also the World Urban Forum 11 saw the same Youth 2030 Cities youth to gather for a global “DeclarAction”, is promising but the road ahead is still indeed very steep.
Simone Galimberti is co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.
IPS UN Bureau
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