What kind of city do we want?

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Last week, 30,000 people gathered in Quito, Ecuador, for Habitat III, the United Nations-Habitat’s flagship conference held every 20 years to discuss urbanisation and the policies that affect the quality of our lives. One purpose of this landmark event was to adopt the New Urban Agenda, which is an action-oriented document that will set global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development, rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities through drawing together cooperation with committed partners, relevant stakeholders, and urban actors at all levels of government and the private sector.

This matters because this century will see massive migration of people to cities, leading to an unprecedented strain on infrastructure and available housing, increased poverty and economic exclusion, challenges of waste management, climate change and environmental degradation. By 2050, the world urban population is expected to double, making it one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. These were the issues discussed by the participants who included heads of national and local governments, mayors and councillors of cities, various United Nations agencies staff and leadership, and not for profits and civil society, including artists.

I was glad to represent Safecity and add our voice to this important global conversation. My presentation showed how citizen engagement and crowdsourced data on sexual violence in public spaces can lead to sustainable and safe cities. If a city is safe for its women and girls, I noted, it would most likely be safe for others, and therefore it is imperative that the rights of women and girls are on the agenda in every aspect of policy making.

So whilst the governments and politicians adopt the New Urban Agenda, what can we as citizens expect and demand?

  1. Equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements. Most spaces are seen as male-dominated spaces. They must change to be safe, inclusive, healthy, accessible and just spaces for everyone including women, children, elderly and disabled.
  • Enjoy equal rights and opportunities. A public space is a place where we live, work and play. Everyone should have the right to their fundamental freedoms, guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including full respect for international law. This includes adequate housing, clean water and sanitation, access to food security and nutrition, health, education, infrastructure, mobility and transportation, energy, air quality, and livelihoods.
  • Create a sense of belonging and ownership amongst its inhabitants. Our living spaces should be participatory and foster a sense of community engagement. This can lead to a sense of belonging where no one is left behind and we take responsibility for our society, environment and its sustainability.
  • Meet the challenges and opportunities of the present and sustainability of the future. We need better planning and allocation of our resources to be inclusive and gender responsive, transportation systems that are safe and efficient, economic opportunities that are balanced and fair, environmental policies that minimise negative impact, sustainable consumption and responsible production.
  • Disaster risk management. More women than men are impacted by disasters. We need efforts to reduce people’s vulnerability arising from natural and human-made hazards like climate change and migration, and build resilience and responsiveness to cope with it.

We can each do our bit — as citizens, as consumers, as producers, as lawmakers and, most importantly, as human beings — if we want future generations to have a decent life.