Cities in the Age of Insecurity: A Recap

by Anjali Bean

IHC Global was pleased to be part of a panel on “Cities in the Age of Insecurity.”  The event was hosted by the Atlantic Council at their headquarters, in partnership with the Atlantic Council, Woodrow Wilson Center, the US National Committee for Habitat III, and IHC Global.  It was  part of a series of events  to engage  the US audience in the upcoming Habitat III conference in October.  The well attended event featured representatives, the Atlantic Council, the US State Department and the Prevention Project as well as IHC Global each giving their perspective on insecurity in cities – the drivers and the solutions.

Opening remarks of the panel were given by Dr. Nancy Stetson, the US Special Representative for Habitat III at the US Department of State. She opened the panel noting that while cities and urbanization have not historically been considered from a foreign policy perspective, national security experts are starting to view traditional “development” issues from a security lens. Urbanization can be a threat multiplier or an agent of stabilization, depending on how it progresses, and security leaders are beginning to understand this and the importance of viewing issues through an urban frame.

Dr. Stetson was optimistic of the opportunities that Habitat III presents, and hopes that inclusion at all levels remains a priority throughout the process. She warned that success cannot come exclusively from the top down and that the New Urban Agenda, which is an important expected outcome of Habitat III, must be focused on actionable implementation where national governments marshal resources and enable sub-national and local leadership.

There followed a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Peter Engelke, a Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. The panel included: IHC CEO Dr. Judith Hermanson; Dr. Ian Klaus, Senior Advisor for Global Cities, US Department of State; and Eric Rosand, Director, Prevention Project.

The three speakers came from diverse backgrounds reflecting the complex and interrelated aspects of urban security. Dr. Klaus spoke from a national government perspective, highlighting the steps the State Department is making to address cities as a unit for the first time as they become increasing important actors on the global stage. He noted that in order for the State Department to successfully address the issue of urbanization, there has to be high level leadership well as an effort to change the culture of work at every level within the agency. To engage with cities, there is an inherent challenge to balance official diplomatic relationships with countries, while also trying to develop ties at the sub-national level and deepening understanding of their pivotal role.

Dr. Hermanson spoke about security, as it might be understood from the personal and community level, noting that for the 1 billion living in informal settlements and slums and without secure tenure, employment opportunities or livelihoods, are also the most vulnerable to national upheavals, climate change risks, and other types of violence. She stressed the importance of spatial, economic and social inclusion, leading to a deeper psychological sense of inclusion, as important aspects of addressing insecurity in cities as well as increasing agency of those most marginalized.  There is no magic bullet, but Goal 11 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, focused on cities, and Habitat III together represent opportunities for countries and cities to unharness community will and to direct resources strategically to create more inclusive secure cities for all residents. You can view her full statement here.

Mr. Rosland addressed urban security from his long experience working to combat violent extremism throughout the world. He noted that the growth of terrorism is more local than ever, and that cities represent the place where individuals choose or deny the path to violence. He spoke about the need to increase opportunities for non-state actors to engage in security-focused discussions, noting the success of the State Department’s Strong Cities Network that supports city-level peer-to-peer learning to combat violent extremism.  He noted also that availability of community services and other tangible forms of engagement between national and local levels can be a very important factor in enhancing security and preventing extremism.

All three panelists stressed the need for local-level participation, at the community level, city and municipal level. , They also noted that financing remains a very difficult challenge, and in order for cities to meaningfully participate, new funding mechanisms must be developed and directed to city governments, and investment in equitable development must be viewed as a mutually beneficial exercise.

In the lively discussion that followed the panel discussion, participants raised various issues concerning the role of secondary cities, public diplomacy, climate resilience, and new financing mechanisms among others.



UN Habitat World Cities Report: Looking Towards Habitat III

by Rebekah Revello

World Cities Report Review

On May 18th, UN HABITAT released their 2016 world cities report, and it is jam-packed with the ups and downs and challenges cities are bound to give us in the next few decades. The report is accompanied with a fun, century spanning joke: “the earth is not flat, it’s urban.” It shows that the rapid global urbanization is as much a shock to the world as the groundbreaking discovery of a spherical earth centuries ago. The report is broken down into chapters, each of which addresses certain challenges and policy priorities.

The opening chapter serves as a preamble for the event that everyone in the urban development community has been exhaustively talking about for the past year: Habitat III. The report stresses that from Habitat II in 1996 to now, the urban landscape has gone through staggering changes in climate, family patterns, growth of inequality, and access to services. Urban growth is, naturally, increasing exponentially, partly due to the massive exodus of urban migrants that the world has been dealing with for the past 6 years and partly because of the natural growth of urban populations. Along this timeline, slums have reached maximum capacity, and more and more informal settlements have popped up to accommodate the unprecedented amount of people that arrive every day. It’s commonly known that more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, but if you’re not already tired of statistics, here are a few more the report points out:

  • As health science has rapidly progressed in the last century, the decline in infant mortality and high fertility rate has resulted in an overwhelmingly young population. Forty percent of the world’s population is under 24 years old.
  • Naturally, progress in health science means that people live longer too. The global population ages 60 and over is the fastest growing population, with a rate of 3.26% per year, and in 2015 12% of the world’s population- a whopping 901 million people- fit into this category.
  • 80% of the world’s GDP comes from cities.
  • Cities, as the result of the amount of people living there, are responsible for more than 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

With these decidedly worrying facts in mind, UN Habitat has sorted out its views and priorities: the current model of urbanization is unsustainable at its best, and many cities are unprepared for the challenges urbanization presents. What is known is that a proper urbanization system promotes social and economic advancement to improve the quality of life of all. This is what Habitat III is hoping to do with the New Urban Agenda. The issues leading up to the New Urban Agenda are laid out in the next nine chapters of the report; here’s a brief look at the chapters and what’s at stake.

Urbanization as a transformative force Cities are now at the core of international development- something that was discussed by Ian Klaus at the IHC Open Forum on May 10- and their position presents new exciting opportunities.  UN Habitat outlines four issues from which cities can spearhead global change in sustainable development: the dynamic economic transition of cities in a national and global context, the evolving spatial form of cities, the capacity of cities to address environmental issues, and the emergence of smart and connected cities, driven by information and communications technologies and city and big data.

The Fate of Housing

Housing is something that IHC is particularly passionate about. IHC counts Housing as a Driver for Equitable Development as one of our key policy topics, so we will be paying close attention to how these issues will unfold at and following Habitat III. UN Habitat states that “the ‘emerging futures’ of cities will largely depend on whether urban housing is cast in decent buildings or in loads more unsustainable, ramshackle shelter.”  This means that housing must become a priority to national and international development agendas, something that wasn’t pushed during Habitat II.  One of the solutions UN Habitat presents pushes for elevating the importance of the house to make it a “home.” This is reminiscent of the goal set by Eduardo Rojas during the IHC Open Forum, where he said that cities and their nations need to expand the idea of a house, so that it’s not just a place to sleep at night but an integral part of society. But the largest challenge that many cities face are the slums and other substandard housing that bring down quality of life. Solutions to slums will lead to improved life for all, but successful solutions will need to be diverse.

The Urban Divide    

The slum issue is just one aspect of the growing urban divide. Cities by nature are hubs for different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds to interact with one another, but as more and more diverse peoples come to stay in cities, the natural divisions are becoming deeper. According to the UN Habitat quick facts, 75% of the world’s cities have a have higher levels of income inequality than two decades ago. This is rather alarming, considering it is commonly thought (or at least thought by me) that the world was actually improving in these matters. It’s clear that there needs to be a new international commitment to creating inclusive cities, and Habitat III could inspire leadership on this topic. This is probably one of the most challenging issues that cities face, because social norms have time and time again proven to be quite difficult to change. On top of that, the effort doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of officials, but on those of common people expected to change their entire social outlook. IHC believes that inclusiveness can be achieved through a combination of economic, social, service delivery and physical (spatial) policies, programs and investments that incorporate city people from all walks of life.

Environmental Sustainability    

While all of the issues noted so far are based on the human experience of the city, environmental sustainability remains the pressing matter that hangs over our heads. Understanding the connections between economic development and environmental protection is imperative for the future of cities, and urban sustainability as a whole cannot be looked at without realizing the important relationship between cities and their environments.  The hard truth is that urbanization, while good for people, has proven to be not so good for the environment. So going forward, environmental planning has to be an aspect of urban planning in general, including preparations for disasters, natural and man-made.

Urban Governance and Legislation and Reinventing Urban Planning

Speaking of which, reinventing urban planning, governance and legislation is a necessary first step for every city to take in this new development age. The new urban policies need to be inclusive, accessible, realistic and credible above all. To sum up, city laws and planning need to be effective, and in order to be effective, cities should face the harsh realities of what they cannot do. Developing countries are at a disadvantage; they do not have the same planning capacity as countries who far outrank them in GDP, and many cities struggle to incorporate women, disabled populations and other disadvantaged groups into their policies.* In general, cities should not shoot for unrealistic expectations or neglect the difficult issues at hand. As long as new policies and planning procedures are seen by the public- and any interested investors and NGOs- as credible and successful, there is a good chance that they will work, and that cities will rise.

The Changing Dynamics of Urban Economics

Urban economics are uneven due to- you guessed it- inadequate urban infrastructure that is unable to accommodate the rapid growth and resources that cities demand. Where some mega cities have benefitted from the rapid growth, many cities in developing countries are lagging under the stress. Although economic development has historically been associated with urban development, we are finding that this is not always the case today due in part to the rapid pace. The economic issues are highly dependent on the other issues named in these chapters, especially housing, legislation, and bridging the urban divide.

The very heart and soul of Habitat III is the New Urban Agenda, the “Zero Draft” of which has recently been issued and on which the UN is holding informal consultations with stakeholders.  The draft New Urban Agenda will be a blueprint for future urban development.  This new Cities report by UN Habitat provides an up to date accounting of the state of the world’s cities in 2016. It will hopefully provide another input to the process and inform the negotiations that take place between now and October.

These issues are complex and diverse, and IHC sees many of the same barriers to equitable growth in this paper as we do in our own work.  We hope that work like this will help focus attention on these barriers and transform them into the drivers of the next two decades of equitable urban development. Overall, these goals are ambitious, but the fate of urban life is in good hands. See IHC Global’s Statement on the New Urban Agenda here.

*Tune in next week for our blog post about gender and land security!

Localizing the SDGs: Reflections on Why Cities are at the Center of the 2030 Agenda

by Rebekah Revello

The Urban Sustainability Laboratory of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars convened a discussion on Monday, April 25th, bringing together experts in a variety of urban development fields to talk about “Localizing the SDGs and How Cities can Help Achieve the 2030 Agenda.”  This event was an activity of the Habitat III US National Committee and was organized in cooperation with the Urban Institute and USAID.  It was an important event because it brought “global voices” to US policy makers and influencers, a subcommittee of the Habitat III National Committee, on which IHC also sits.  With cities at the heart of what we will achieve globally in sustainable development in the 21st century, focusing on “why cities” matter in achieving the ambitious Agenda 2030 goals (SDGs) is a pivotal question.

It is also a timely question as we prepare for the global UN conference on Housing and Urban Development (Habitat III) which will take place in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016.  The New Urban Agenda, which will be a major outcome of Habitat III, will influence the course of urban development and so the future of cities around the world for the next 30 years.  It is hoped that the New Urban Agenda will begin to chart a course towards implementation of the SDGs, rooting their laudable yet abstract goals in practical approaches and solutions.

This session at the Wilson Center was a small step also in the direction of implementation, during which panelists wrestled with some of the challenges that will be faced.  The seventeen SDGs (including SDG 11 focused on cities) together have 196 targets to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030, enhance gender equality, sustainable energy, and peace and global security challenges.  The SDGs by and large will be achieved or not through local efforts – albeit efforts backed by national and global policy and commitment. IHC agrees with all the panelists in that the steps forward in urban development require cooperation between governments, NGOs and the corporate world, and that many of the issues that face urban development need cross-cutting solutions.

The issues discussed during this Urban Sustainability Lab demonstrate the cross-cutting nature of many aspects of the SDGs.  This included food security, urban health, gender equality, and inclusive housing.  Our main take-aways below do not pretend to capture the richness of the presentation and discussions. The full event was recorded and can be found here.

Food security in urban areas is an emerging topic that underscores the importance of rural urban linkages and relies on the important relationship between urban and rural areas. Rising populations in urban areas means that there is an increase in food demand — and therefore business — in rural areas. Therefore, mechanisms that benefit both urban and rural societies and their symbiotic relationships need to be put in place. Because of this increase in rural business, farmers have better access to a variety of healthier crops, thus improving the food intake of both urban and rural communities. IHC supports this perspective as one part of a multi-faceted approach to ensuring greater food security in urban areas, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

Urban Health

While urban and rural health are connected in certain ways, there are very different dynamics at play. Diseases have a much greater probability of rapidly expanding in urban areas. However, health practices in urban areas are often more advanced and efficient than they are in rural areas. Even though delivery and policy may differ, they should work together to fight diseases in this mobile world.  This would seem to be especially true of those related to environmental sanitation, such as those that can be fixed with water systems free of the mosquitoes that carry dengue fever and Zika virus (an area of IHC policy focus) as well as those that are highly contagious, such as the spread of the Ebola virus from rural to urban areas led to a major epidemic.

Gender Equality

Another heavily discussed issue is one that IHC would particularly like to see improve quickly: the state of gender in urban areas. Safety in urban areas, especially for women is seen as an important aspect of SDG 5 as well as being integral to SDG 11.  A survey done last year for example found that 50% of women in London have experienced harassment in just the last year on public transportation. This issue doesn’t just affect women’s well-being; it affects their economic opportunities as well, as they are less likely to take a job if there is a safety risk.

Inclusive Housing

Another issue that IHC is especially passionate about is inclusive housing, a platform for our organization. The rapidly rising population of slums and land access for housing and secure tenure were key issues in the ultimately successful debate about having a stand-alone urban goal. IHC agrees with the discussion’s emphasis on the potential that the improvement of inclusivity in housing will help improve many of the issues cities face, including health policy, food security and women’s rights.