July 17, 2019

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Can Big Business Step Up to the Challenge of a New Urban Agenda?

UN–Habitat calls for a new compact with the private sector to contribute to post-2015 SDGs.

Philip_monaghan

By Philip Monaghan

The previous 200 years of industrialization is not a proxy for the future when it comes to the world’s cities – this was the message delivered to over 100 business and city leaders by Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat at an inaugural dialogue event in New York in December.

Huge Challenges

As a participant at the event, which was convened by UN-Habitat in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, CSRwire and others, I was struck by the huge challenges cities face – doing more with less, voter engagement, etc. – and the appetite among the business community to collaborate with cities on new ways of working like co-designing solutions, joining the campaign Rubik's-cubefor a new kind of urbanism, etc.

Delegates from companies like Cemex, IBM, Schneider Electric and UPS heard that in an age of rapid urbanization, a ‘New Urban Agenda’ for city planning is required to optimize the benefits of urban living. As a major contribution to the successor of the Millennium Development Goals, UN-Habitat says its vision for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) harnesses urbanization as a driver of sustainable development, which requires several key policy shifts:

  1. We must once again embrace the adequate compact and mixed-use city.
  2. Reasserting urban space is a highly effective entry point.
  3. Urban practitioners must move from sectoral interventions to those that address the city as a whole and are at the scale of the problems.
  4. Urban planning and design set the critical spatial framework.
  5. Smartening land-use planning and building codes is essential.
  6. Cities must promote endogenous development.
  7. City-dwellers themselves—particularly the poorest and most vulnerable—must remain the primary beneficiaries. Shared value approaches are essential to deliver a sustainable city.

Calls for a New Urban Agenda

Delegates welcomed the call for a New Urban Agenda, but emphasized the need for the public and private sectors to join forces to co-design solutions to deliver higher-impact outcomes which better value for the public purse. But to do so requires both sectors to continue to overcome cultural differences and contract obstacles.

For instance, public procurement policies which prevent companies from adding terms of reference before a tender is issued, or companies aerial-view-Mexico-Cityfailing to understand that is difficult for cities to buy a new product if it is not yet accredited to trade standards.

What is clear from the discussion is that cities and business are already coming together to promote sustainable urbanization in ways that lend itself to a New Urban Agenda. Like the creative use of open source data to ensure greater transparency that benefits city-dwellers and encouraged new enterprise in the City of Mexico, Mexico through to Bridgeport, U.S. and the ‘Big Green’ strategy which through smart land-use planning led to the development of an eco-park with the world’s second biggest fuel cell facility.

Officials in Mexico City are alerted to problems with street lighting and waste collection, as well as to water leakages and power outages via Twitter by 600,000 residents. The Dominion Bridgeport Fuel Cell, which is being built downtown alongside Interstate 95 and the Northeast rail corridor, will produce 14.9 megawatts of clean energy – enough to power approximately 15,000 homes – using an electro-chemical process that efficiently converts natural gas into electricity.

But what is also clear is that even more could be to done to accelerate impact by scaling-up such partnerships.

And in order to respond to these unprecedented urban challenges and opportunities, UN-Habitat says it is calling for open dialogue and collaborative action with leaders in the private sector through the launch of its new ‘Urban Private Partners’ (UPP) initiative. The UPP is a part of the World Urban Campaign, which is a coalition of public, private and civil society partners united by the common goal to advocate on the positive role of cities in moving toward sustainable development. Members of the UPP already include the ARCADIS, logo-wuf7BASF, GDF Suez and Veolia Environment.

The call for action is clear.

And this inaugural New York event represented the first in a series of leadership dialogues between UN-Habitat and the private sector that will feed into the upcoming World Urban Forum (Medellin, Colombia, 5-11 April 2014), which will be one of the first milestones on the road map to the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III, 2016).

Can big business step-up to the challenge of a ‘New Urban Agenda’? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or connecting with us on Twitter or Facebook.

More information:

If you are a private sector company interested in engaging with UN-Habitat through the Urban Private Partners initiative please contact: Portia.Machancoses@unhabitat.org, Advocacy, Outreach and Communications Branch at UN-Habitat.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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