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Time left to reach SDG11 by 2030 is short

The 5th edition of the event “In Focus SDG11” was co-organized by UNECE and the Geneva Cities Hub and took place on 3rd October 2022, as part of the 83rd session of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management (CUDHLM).

This year, the event focused on sustainable and inclusive urban design and architecture. It was held in a hybrid format in Geneva, San Marino and online and gathered a wide range of stakeholders, including architects, urban practitioners, academics, housing policy experts, as well as representatives of States, UN organisations and city networks. Given the ambition of SDG11 to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, the diversity of the background and expertise of participants was very much appreciated.

The indispensable multistakeholder approach required to ensure sustainable and inclusive cities was underlined many times during the event and it was embodied by the various communities that took part in the event.

It was recalled yesterday that urban development had become a global issue that affects everyone, not only people living in cities. And rapid urbanization requires enhanced involvement of planners and architects from the initial stages or relevant urban debates, incl. on climate-resilience and housing affordability.

Time left to reach SDG11 by 2030 is short. To do so, numerous participants underlined that radical shifts are required in our mindsets, in the way we conceive, plan, design our cities and in the way we think of the relationship between the built and the natural environment. Public spaces need to be organized in a way that reflects more people’s needs. There is a window of opportunity to be seized now and take the right decisions to ensure that our cities will be sustainable, inclusive, safe and healthy in the future, taken into account regional or demographic differences.

Cities are not static. They are living laboratories, complex interconnected ecosystems which have to address pressing challenges, such as climate change, natural disasters, pandemics, migration, rapid urbanization, technological development, rising inequalities and poverty, homelessness, etc. Each urban development project should be multi-purpose and offer a solution to more than one problem.

Participants shared numerous examples of good urban practices in Azerbaijan, Colombia, Denmark, Qatar, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland, which will hopefully inspire projects in other cities. These examples illustrated how social inclusion, green infrastructure and human-centred approaches which engage all stakeholders had been crucial to transform the urban space. Speakers underlined the uniqueness of each city, the local experience and knowledge that can be leveraged, the landscape and heritage that need to be woven into urban design and architecture, the alternative building materials that exist, as well as the balance between the built and natural environment that do not only fulfil aesthetic functions, but which actually improve urban sustainability, resilience to climate change and the quality of life of people.

The views expressed were unanimous in emphasizing that sustainable and inclusive urban design and architecture need to adopt a people-centred approach. People, including the most marginalized communities, need to be heard, consulted and involved to ensure that urban policies respond not only to their needs but also fulfil their human rights. It is thus not a coincidence that people-centrality is the first principle mentioned in the San Marino Declaration adopted on 3 October by the CUDHLM.

All participants expressed their support to the San Marino Declaration, which is in line with other frameworks and initiatives, such as the 2015 UN Habitat International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning or the New European Bauhaus, which relates to the European Green Deal. Participants also offered to help spread the word and engage with their respective networks of architects, urban planners, designers and other practitioners to start implementing the Declaration. Speakers agreed that the involvement of all stakeholders is key for the successful implementation of the Declaration to achieve the goals of sustainability, housing affordability and inclusion.

Architects, engineers, urban planners, and other urban practitioners are not only service providers. They are city makers who are the driving force behind urban transformation. However, they do not work in isolation. In addition to local communities who have to be consulted and engaged, the picture would be incomplete without city leaders and their administrations. Many speakers reaffirmed the role of municipalities in fostering social inclusion and sustainable infrastructure in urban settlements. They bear significant responsibility in developing cities which engage their local communities, in balancing the divergent public interest, businesses’ interest and people’s interest. However, they unfortunately often lack the financial independence and the full capacity to collect, analyse and make use of all data that would enable them to direct the investments towards ethical projects that can foster inclusive and sustainable cities.

In conclusion, the SDG11 event enabled to learn about experiences in various cities which support the implementation of SDG11, and of all SDGs more generally, given their interlinkages and indivisibility.  Particularly interesting were the local examples provided by urban practitioners within the European and Central-Asia region but also beyond, which all seek to address the global challenges of climate change, social cohesion and rising inequalities. While the tools and perspectives may differ, it was very clear that the principles provided by the San Marino Declaration – among others people-centrality, social responsibility, inclusivity, affordability and accessibility, resource efficiency and circularity, respect for nature, and inter-disciplinary cooperation – are universal and relevant in all contexts.  It is hoped that from now on, all stakeholders will join forces to implement and promote this Declaration and engage all levels of governments, urban practitioners and individuals worldwide, to ensure that cities become more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable in the future.

Presentations

Opening remarks and keynote speech

Dmitry Mariyasin, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNECE

Doris Andoni, Chair, CUDHLM, UNECE

Beatrice Ferrari, Vice-President, Geneva Cities Hub

Martha Thorne, Dean, IE School of Architecture and Design in Madrid/Segovia and Former Executive Director, Pritzker Architecture Prize

Views from architects, urban planners and other experts

Daniel Alsina Torra, Coordinador, Oficina Tècnica Superilla, City of Barcelona, Spain

Laurent Badoux, Architect/Urbanist, City of Carouge, Switzerland

Brian Evans, Professor of urbanism, Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow

David Tichy, PhD, Associate Professor Faculty of Architecture, Czech Technical University in Prague, Member of UNECE Real Estate Market Advisory Group

Alexandre Hedjazi, Director, Global Environment Policy Programme, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Views from cities and city networks

Vahid Hajiyev, Special Representative of the President of Azerbaijan, Zangilan District

Views from housing policy experts

Gyorgy Sumeghy, Associate Director, Policy and Advocacy, Europe and the Middle East, Habitat for Humanity International

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