Is a universal definition of the ‘city’ on the horizon?

This month, a group of urban thinkers from the United Nations, the European Commission and other organizations are meeting in Brussels to continue a curiously complex attempt: developing a universal definition of the “city”.

The meeting is a pivotal step toward ironing out a globally applicable city definition that can be used to measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those that pertain to cities, along with the New Urban Agenda, a global agreement that will guide urbanization over the next 20 years.

Article: Is a universal definition of the ‘city’ on the horizon? | Citiscope? by BRENDON BOSWORTH APRIL 5, 2017

In the eyes of many working on the issue, a universal definition of the city that can be used by policymakers and the global development community is a piece of the SDGs puzzle that is still missing. The issue underpins the 169 targets and their related indicators included in the SDGs framework.

“When you go down to targets and indicators, you will clearly see that there are quite a number of indicators for which the unit of measurement is the city,” says Robert Ndugwa, head of UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory Unit.

“The challenge here is if we don’t agree globally on what the city definition is, we’re going to have a situation where when you measure such indicators, you might … measure them in an area which is perhaps a municipality or the core part of the city, but not necessarily the whole city extent,” he said.

That’s a problem. Many of the indicators for SDG 11 — the “urban goal” — are highly sensitive to where city boundaries are drawn. These include things such as access to public transport and air quality.

“It is impossible to compare data for cities if the boundary is not drawn in exactly the same way,” said Lewis Dijkstra, with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy.

[See: Three ways cities are using data to guide decision-making]

In the absence of a universally agreed definition of the city, policymakers typically rely on guidelines that vary by country. City boundaries generally are set along administrative or legal lines.

“Usually when people use the word ‘city’, they refer to a particular administrative area but not necessarily one that’s defined in a harmonized way,” said Dijkstra.

“One city, like the city of Paris, captures only the downtown. Other cities may capture the downtown, the suburbs and maybe even some rural areas,” he said. “So even something simple like the population size of a city couldn’t be derived from the administrative area.”

For mayors, it is particularly important to have a clear definition of what constitutes their city. Think of a mayor who uses a city definition that doesn’t include the suburbs and encompasses only the central city, Dijkstra said. When people are moving out to the suburbs, it will look like the city is declining in population — when in fact the total city is growing. That has massive potential implications for planning and budgeting.

[See: How investable is your city? This index promises an answer]

There’s also a competitiveness angle. “We’ve noticed that mayors are incredibly keen to compare their cities to others – especially between countries,” he said.

And without a universally applicable definition of a city, independent of administrative boundaries, it will be impossible to compare progress across cities on the SDGs in a reliable manner. “Comparing cities internationally using a collection of national definitions will generate many distortions,” notes a 2016 report from the European Commission.

Two models

While the problems of having no universal definition of a city are well understood, how to fix these concerns has been vexing.

“Within two to three years, the groups hope to come out with final guidance to U. N. member states on which methodology to apply globally.”

This month’s meeting, slated to take place in the last week of April, will bring together thinkers who have been working on emerging city definitions as well as representation from the U. N.’s Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management, and its Food and Agriculture Organization.

Multiple teams will bring with them proposed definitions that are already well along in development, but two will receive particular attention. The European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for instance, will bring its “harmonized” city definition. This considers a “functional urban area” as the city combined with its commuting zone.

[See: Developing countries face a catastrophic lack of urban planning capacity]

What this means in practice is a city that consists of one or more municipalities with the majority of the population living in an urban centre. The researchers look at an area with at least 50,000 inhabitants, made up of adjacent grid cells, each with at least 1,500 inhabitants per square kilometre. (The commuting zone, meanwhile, is comprised of neighbouring municipalities with at least 15 percent of their working population commuting to the city.)

The E. U.-OECD team has fully applied this definition to all major cities in the European Union and in OECD countries. The approach has been endorsed by over 30 national statistical institutes, according to Dijkstra.

Now they’re seeking to expand this approach to other countries. At last year’s Habitat III summit on sustainable cities, the European Union committed to further developing a common city definition for international comparisons, based on its model. To be created in collaboration with the OECD and World Bank, it aims to present the idea to the U. N. Statistical Commission in 2019.

A second model is being developed through a collaborative effort between researchers at New York University, UN-Habitat and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. This definition is used to track the urban expansion of a sample of 200 cities, reported on in the 2016 Atlas of Urban Expansion. It also is applied to the roughly 400 cities taking part in a UN-Habitat project called the City Prosperity Initiative, said the agency’s Ndugwa.

This definition of the city considers urban areas as those that are above a built-up density of 50 percent. Suburban areas are classified as those that are 25 to 50 percent built-up, and a combination of urban and suburban areas plus open space makes up what researchers refer to as clusters. The “urban extent” is then calculated by identifying the main urban cluster and adding adjacent clusters that meet a particular rule for inclusion.

[See: Multimedia project shows the ever-changing shape of cities]

The meeting also will consider a global comparison of various methodologies that look at city extents, from a team of academics from Sweden, said Ndugwa. But these two approaches are the two main definitions being looked at, in part because they have been around the longest and have been explicitly looked at for their potential global application

“With those teams in-house, we expect that we should really come up with a harmonized definition of cities, and that might be a combination of what the European Union is proposing as well as what UN-Habitat and NYU have been applying,” said Ndugwa.

Three-year time frame

Because these two city definitions offer different methodologies, the researchers want to see how much variation there is in city boundaries when applied to different cities.

The plan is for the group to pilot both definitions on a selection of 20 cities after the Brussels meeting to see how city boundaries compare under both methodologies. Cities in the pilot include Belo Horizonte, Cairo and Cleveland.

[See: In Uganda’s small but fast-growing cities, ‘one planner is not enough’]

“[We] want to dig down into the nitty-gritties of what are the real differences, and why do we get different estimates in terms of the city area,” said Ndugwa. The plan would be to figure out “what is conceptually a better methodology, and most especially what is most simple and universally applicable both in the Global North and the Global South.”

Within two to three years, Ndugwa said, the groups hope to come out with final guidance to U. N. member states on which methodology to apply globally.

It’s still early in the testing process. But the researchers admit that while the lines of work are compatible, there are challenges in bringing the definitions together.

While the E. U.-OECD definition could undergo small tweaks, such as integrating the share of built-up area into its grid cells, it could not be radically changed, largely due to the fact that it already is being used at national levels, according to Dijkstra.

[See: How ISO standards for city data are starting to make an impact]

“Yes, it is a challenge,” said Ndugwa. “But in our view, we need to work with a global methodology that will be feasible, universal and sustainable to apply and collect this data by member states.”

Whatever happens, concrete attempts to create and refine a globally applicable city definition constitute an important milestone for the global urban development agenda. If all goes to plan, soon policymakers and others in the development community could be able to properly compare the performance and progress of cities across countries — something that to date has not been possible.

Article: Is a universal definition of the ‘city’ on the horizon? | Citiscope? by BRENDON BOSWORTH APRIL 5, 2017

Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.”

Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

New York, 29 March 2017 – At the recent 61st Commission on the Status of Women, UN-Habitat hosted a series of multi-stakeholder events at the UN Headquarters to make certain that the role of women in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda is well understood and the realization of inclusive, economically viable and sustainable cities is achieved.

Source: Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

The recently sworn-in Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, opened the first panel of gender and development leaders by emphasizing the critical role of the New Urban Agenda in achieving the vision for sustainable and inclusive societies by 2030. “Given the megatrend of rapid urbanization, achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will depend, in large part, on whether we can make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, Ms Mohammed said.

Susceptibility to poverty traps and natural disasters, unemployment and lack of opportunities for education impede women across the globe from becoming active members of their societies, therefore halting the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Space for engagement

At the second session, hosted by the Ford Foundation, member state representatives and global and local civil society leaders discussed the fundamental need for inclusive design, planning and governing of human settlements in achieving the vision of the New Urban Agenda.

The event gave stage to the distinguished panel of global experts and leaders in the fields of gender policy, public policy and urbanism. UN-Habitat’s Deputy Executive Director, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, set the tone for the evening by reminding the attendees that: “People are looking for a sense of belonging in their city. People want their voices valued. People want to have space in their cities; space for play, for debate, for engagement with their leaders and for connecting among themselves.”

Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development in Canada, discussed the critical nature of accessibility of public services, such as robust transit networks, public spaces and adequate shelter, for all urban residents.

Ana Falú, Vice Chair of the UN-Habitat Advisory Group on Gender Issues, focused on the importance of distinguishing the cultural and societal stigmas of women in the economic and social realms of cities as a crucial starting point for implementing inclusive and gender-balance urban strategies.

Cities as engines of socioeconomic empowerment

The event ignited engagement from the attendees. The representative of the Ecuador Permanent Mission to the UN highlighted the crucial nature of the New Urban Agenda for Ecuador’s sustainable urban future and urged the audience to consider the exigent need for governments across the globe to engage with the New Urban Agenda and implement inclusive and sustainable national urban policies.

Finally, the Population Council gathered a full room of scholars, policy-makers, urban leaders and urban activists to discuss the critical nature of cities as engines of socio-economic empowerment for women and girls. The event covered a wide array of topics, ranging from migration, infrastructure and social integration as they relate to girls’ successful transition to urban agglomerations and, consequently, to their vitality within the social and economic realms of their communities.

The event presented an esteemed panel of speakers, each bringing distinctive and valuable perspectives to the table. Sarah Engebretsen of the Population Council, introduced a summary of comprehensive research findings of the newly-published “Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls & Migration in the Developing World” report, where she pointed out the important distinction between the different temporal stages of young girls’ migration to urban settlements: pre-migration stage, in-transit and early arrival stage and the settling stage.

Although each of the migration stages presents a unique set of challenges, risks and opportunities for young girls, Ms. Engebretsen asserted that a number of factors, such as safe and reliable networks, access to safe shelter upon arrival, general understanding of the available resources and access to community services and groups, can largely improve the experience of such transition.

Source: Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

Carrying the Message of UN Meeting on Women in the Economy to U.S. Cities | NextCity

Karima Bouchenafa grew up in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, surrounded by history. At the intersection of Germantown Avenue and Wister Street, a sign commemorates the first protest against slavery, staged by German Quakers in 1688, 92 years before America’s first state abolition law. The Johnson House, also on Germantown Avenue, was a stop along the Underground Railroad.

Article: Carrying the Message of UN Meeting on Women in the Economy to U.S. Cities | NextCity by OSCAR PERRY ABELLO | MARCH 23, 2017

“My mom would make sure we paid attention to these historic places we walked past,” Bouchenafa remembers.

She’d soon become part of that kind of history, in her own way. Bouchenafa was among the earliest young women to enroll at Central High School. Founded in 1836 as the crowning glory of Philly’s public school system, it only started admitting girls in 1983, after a series of lawsuits and appeals going back to 1975. She almost didn’t get to go to the high school of her dreams; her parents weren’t sure at first, until they got to know the school better. One day, she says, her dad came home after making his own drive-by inspection. She remembers him saying he saw boys and girls there from all over, like a mini United Nations.

“I was like ‘yeah I know, Dad, that’s why I wanna go there,’” says Bouchenafa, who graduated from Central in 1990 (the 249th Graduating Class, as Central alums refer to themselves).

Last week, Bouchenafa found herself at the real United Nations headquarters in NYC. She joined thousands of ministers, legislators, ambassadors, policymakers and other high-level dignitaries as well as grassroots organizers and advocates for the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women. It was Bouchenafa’s first time as an official delegate.

“It’s so interesting for me to be here and see how women all around the world are asserting that same sense of yes, this is who we are, this is what we do, this is our value,” says Bouchenafa.

Bouchenafa, who still owns a home near where she grew up in Philly, applied to be a delegate to this year’s commission through her membership with the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia. Founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, the UN Association has local chapters all over the country that mobilize grassroots support for U.S. involvement in the UN. While it can be difficult to always see how such high-level, global gatherings can ultimately lead to substantive policy changes on the ground, Bouchenafa believes the networking and exposure to foreign perspectives has value for those who are lucky enough to attend.

“It’s educational to see what challenges they face and how they’re responding to those challenges,” she says.

The theme of this year’s Commission was “women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.” Besides the 18 “official” meetings to set policy priorities that shape how UN resources will get deployed to support gender equality and women’s rights going forward, hundreds of side events offered opportunities to discuss progress and status on various fronts for gender equality or women’s rights around the world.

Bouchenafa attended one particularly crowded discussion breaking down policies designed to foster gender equality in the workforce, including paid family leave (for up to three years in some cases) and Hungary’s grandmother’s pension. The latter is a relatively new program designed to encourage early retirement for grandmothers who wish to stay at home with newborn grandchildren, allowing new mothers to return to work sooner. That may not work for all nations, Bouchenafa admits, but it’s interesting to see what countries come up with when they make it a priority to consider realities for women in the economy.

At another discussion Bouchenafa attended, actress and activist Ashley Judd moderated an expert panel on making the UN more feminist. No woman has ever been secretary general of the UN, and while there has been some progress, women still only hold around a quarter of the organization’s under-secretary and deputy secretary positions. Fighting for gender equality in a historically male-dominated institution is a familiar battle for Bouchenafa, who has worked in higher education since 2000.

“This whole idea of women’s rights and gender equality, it’s interesting to me that we have to fight for it and agitate for it, because it’s almost not even a question for me, in a sense, the way I was raised and the women I’m surrounded by,” says Bouchenafa, who was born and raised Muslim.

Besides her mother, sister, other family and neighbors, since 2003 Bouchenafa has also been surrounded by the women of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), the historically black sorority with over 70,000 members worldwide, including novelist Toni Morrison, Mae Jemison (the first black woman NASA astronaut to travel to space), and Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. In 2014, AKA partnered with the UN Association, which led Bouchenafa to join the Greater Philly UN Association. She donned the sorority’s signature pink and bright green attire throughout her time in New York.

Sorority members are charged with making the group’s service priorities come to life where they live, and AKA has already asked local chapters to participate in implementing UN Association’s Global Classrooms Project, which includes the familiar Model UN programming for youth. “It hasn’t been something that a lot of students I work with have been exposed to,” says Bouchenafa, who teaches at the Community College of Philadelphia in addition to being an assistant dean at Rutgers University.

Last year, as part of the UN Association’s members day at the UN, Bouchenafa took a delegation of Rutgers students with her; after, they started a GenUN chapter at Rutgers, making it part of the UN Association’s official college campus network.

“I know so many people invested in me, in my development as a person. That’s the least I can do to turn around and do that for other folks,” Bouchenafa says.

Well, she did one more thing: Her mother joined her at the UN last Friday. They had lunch in the Delegates Dining Room.

“Being at the commission reaffirmed the vision of myself that my parents tried to give me,” she says. “I’m a citizen of the world. I’m from this country, this city, this neighborhood, but there’s a back story to how all that came to be.”

Carrying the Message of UN Meeting on Women in the Economy to U.S. Cities | NextCity

Photo Caption: Karima Bouchenafa takes in a United Nations discussion on gender equality as a strategy for development. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

UN-Habitat facing ‘considerable decline’ in core funding, assessment warns

Donor countries are applauding UN-Habitat’s pivot toward urban issues but have raised concerns regarding fundraising efforts, according to a report released this week.

The external evaluation, which has been unusually widely watched, comes as the United Nations agency is angling to take the lead on implementation of the U. N.’s new 20-year urbanization strategy, the New Urban Agenda.

The report also comes amidst internal wrangling and as key broader assessments of the agency are moving forward. UN-Habitat will host its biennial board meeting in May, where several long-simmering issues are expected to come to the fore. In addition, the U. N. secretary-general is preparing to conduct his own assessment of the agency, although the details of that review have yet to be announced.

Released on 15 March alongside reviews of 11 other multilateral organizations, the assessment was prepared by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN). The network works at the behest of 18 donor countries, including major UN-Habitat contributors such as Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United States.

“UN-Habitat largely meets the requirements of an effective multilateral organisation and is fit for purpose, although performance can be strengthened and improved in some areas,” the report’s executive summary concludes. “Fit for purpose” means that the agency is, in theory, well-positioned to deliver on its mandate.

Source: UN-Habitat facing ‘considerable decline’ in core funding, assessment warns

The analysis covers 2014 to mid-2016, during which time UN-Habitat prepared for last year’s Habitat III summit. The conference resulted in the New Urban Agenda, a voluntary, non-binding agreement on how to plan and manage urbanization.

[See: How will we monitor the New Urban Agenda? This U. N. process will decide]

The MOPAN report commends the agency for its shift from a traditional focus on human settlements, especially slum upgrading, to a more holistic emphasis on urban planning and management.

The assessment also applauds how the agency has pursued that focus, including management reforms by UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos. Clos, who also headed Habitat III, has emphasized a decentralized “matrix” approach to projects more akin to a strategic consultancy. He also has implemented results-based accountability.

Further, the agency’s “powerful new partnerships” with local governments “have the potential to be transformative,” the evaluation states. Clos, the former mayor of Barcelona, has forged alliances with key networks of city leaders around the world during his tenure at the Nairobi-based agency.

[See: UN-Habitat’s vision of sustainable urbanization is good — but not enough]

In a written statement, a UN-Habitat spokesperson said the agency welcomed the MOPAN assessment, “in particular the recognition of the organization’s understanding of, and strong leadership in the field of sustainable urbanization.”

Core funding ‘inadequate’

The report notes room for improvement, however. For one, it encourages the agency to work more collaboratively with other U. N. offices, especially on “cross-cutting” issues such as climate change and human rights. MOPAN’s analysts highlight a similar recommendation from the U. N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, which audited UN-Habitat last year.

“[Core funding] has suffered a considerable decline in recent years and is inadequate to respond to core functions and other organisation priorities.”

MOPANAssessment of UN-Habitat

In the evaluation released this week, however, the main issue is core funding. While overall funding for UN-Habitat, which spent USD 167 million in 2015, has gone up, most of those resources are earmarked for specific projects. Core funding, which pays for permanent staff, “has suffered a considerable decline in recent years and is inadequate to respond to core functions and other organisation priorities,” the report concludes.

[See: UN-Cities? Rumoured proposal gains steam]

This funding challenge has caused some full-time positions to become part-time or short-term consultant positions. The resulting staff turnover may be responsible for the agency’s poor marks in this year U. N. Global Staff Survey, which ranked UN-Habitat among the bottom five U. N. agencies for overall satisfaction, leadership and ethics.

Now, that low morale could have direct implications for the agency’s involvement in overseeing the new global urbanization strategy. James Ohayo, the president of the UN-Habitat Staff Union, recently warned that the situation could “shackle” implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Outside observers likewise question UN-Habitat’s management despite the most recent assessment’s overall positive conclusions. “The agency may be fit for purpose, but the management is not,” U. N. lobbyist Felix Dodds told Citiscope.

As for the agency’s financial woes, that is not necessarily unique to Habitat, Dodds cautioned. “There’s been a movement toward that with many agencies, where core funding has gone down and project funding has gone up,” he said. “But at Habitat, it’s been a more extreme level.”

Secretary-general’s panel

Meanwhile, the Habitat III outcome called for U. N. Secretary-General António Guterres to conduct an independent assessment of the agency with an eye toward determining how the U. N. system will follow up on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Following the December adoption a U. N. General Assembly resolution approving the New Urban Agenda, a spokesperson for the secretary-general said that Guterres’s office will appoint a high-level panel to conduct the independent review and will complete its work by June, followed by a two-day public review by the U. N. General Assembly. In January, the spokesperson said that the panel’s composition would be announced “in the coming weeks,” but as of press time, no further information was available.

[See: What should be new U. N. Secretary-General Guterres’s urban priorities?]

All of these issues and recommendations are likely to come into play in mid-May, when the 58 countries on the UN-Habitat Governing Council will convene at the agency’s headquarters in the Kenyan capital. That meeting will be the next significant milestone this year as the United Nations seeks to resolve the question of who will take the lead on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

This story is tagged under: UN-HabitatThe New Urban AgendaUnited NationsJoan ClosGovernance

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Homepage Label: United NationsHomepage Title: Report: UN-Habitat facing ‘considerable decline’ in core funding

Sustaining peace in an urban world

The conflict in Syria has turned formerly thriving urban centres such as Aleppo and Homs into landscapes of rubble and decay. Those escaping the violence in these cities and elsewhere in the country have fled to predominantly urban areas in neighbouring countries. This influx has placed intense pressures on housing, livelihoods and basic urban services, sometimes resulting in tensions between host and displaced communities.

Meanwhile, in countries such as Mali, Haiti and the Central African Republic, U. N. peacekeepers are increasingly deployed in city centres. There they often struggle to address urban warfare. The U. N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, for instance, withdrew its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme for gang members and continues to find it difficult to find a suitable DDR programme for its urban peace-building efforts.

Furthermore, the presence of U. N. peacekeepers can leave behind long-lasting impacts on the political, economic and social fabric of these cities, oftentimes negative. This can include compounds placing extra burdens on already fragile infrastructure and increasing pressure on scarce local resources.

Read more at the Source: Sustaining peace in an urban world

Each of these examples demonstrates some of the complexities of contemporary urban violence and conflict, as well as the challenges these are bringing to the international system. On the one hand, according to a study by the United Nations University, the pace of urbanization in conflict-affected countries has increased by 298 percent over the past 40 years. This acceleration has made it more difficult to achieve peace, bringing with it multi-layered conflict, urban violence and new forms of exclusion.

[See: More than half the world’s refugees live in urban areas. Here’s what that means for cities.]

On the other hand, cities also create tremendous opportunities for their inhabitants. Human development metrics are typically higher in urban areas, a trend that holds true throughout the world. Cities also consistently rank better than rural areas when it comes to health indicators and access to basic services.

Increasingly, then, U. N. and other policymakers are recognizing that the urbanization process is instrumental to societal transformation. As yet, however, the United Nations is not adequately adapting its operations and policy frameworks to the new urban reality of violence and conflict.

Breaking cycles of violence

Still, the U. N. system is rapidly creating new tools with which to deal with this reality. That includes adapting and transforming its peace and security, development and humanitarian responses to cope with the demands of a rapidly changing world.

“If the New Urban Agenda is to provide a comprehensive guide to the urbanization process, it must address urban violence and conflict and integrate efforts to sustaining peace into its own guidelines.”

Last year, for instance, parallel resolutions by the U. N. Security Council and the General Assembly endorsed the concept of “sustaining peace”, introduced for the first time by a 2015 review of the United Nations’ peacebuilding architecture. This idea has gained traction ever since. In one of his first addresses to the Security Council, new U. N. Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that sustaining peace and preventing conflict must a top U. N. priority.

[See: How will the next U. N. secretary-general address urbanization?]

So what does this concept entail? Sustaining peace means going beyond short-term responses to conflict such as delivering aid or sending troops to preserve peace. These actions are still significant, but sustaining peace focuses on the importance of having a long-term vision in mind in all responses to end conflict, primarily to prevent constant cycles of lapse and relapse into conflict.

In practical terms, this means that if the peace and security sector doesn’t find ways to address the root causes of conflict — exclusion, social injustice, violence and inequality — in places such as Haiti, Liberia or the Central African Republic, it might spend billions of dollars and many years placing bandages on unrest that erupts as soon as peacekeepers leave.

Of course, addressing root causes of conflict cannot and should not be done by external actors alone. It requires connecting better with national and local actors, including municipalities, city governments and civil society organizations.

[See: Providing shelter in urban Iraq: Where the displaced meet the poor]

But what does this mean for cities? At least in theory, it means that in a rapidly urbanizing world, addressing exclusionary challenges and stresses that cities face everyday, particularly in conflict-affected cities such as Port-au-Prince, Bangui or Kabul, becomes central from the perspective of peace and security.

The sustaining peace agenda realizes that peacekeepers, peace-builders and humanitarian actors do not operate in a vacuum in these cities. On the contrary, their actions can either contribute to or harm the future well-being of cities. This approach forces the United Nations and other international actors to take account of the increasingly urban contexts in which they operate.

Urban gaps

The U. N.’s discussion on cities is being bolstered by parallel global agreements struck over the past two years. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include an urban goal (SDG 11) that places an emphasis on achieving safe and sustainable cities. In addition, the New Urban Agenda, the vision on sustainable cities adopted in October, makes reference to “conflict and post-conflict contexts”.

“The sustaining peace agenda realizes that peacekeepers, peace-builders and humanitarian actors do not operate in a vacuum in cities — their actions can either contribute to or harm the future well-being of cities.”

Importantly, these two share common goals with the sustaining peace agenda: achieving sustainable development, fostering national and local ownership, building inclusive communities and resilience, and encouraging transformation toward durable solutions.

[See: Who’s really left behind in today’s most dangerous cities?]

Yet these frameworks also fill important gaps for each other. As yet, for instance, the city is absent from the sustaining peace agenda, while the New Urban Agenda does not provide a substantive guide for how to address urban violence and conflict.

Now is the time to devise practical frameworks that bring together the SDGs and New Urban Agenda with the concept of sustaining peace. While there have been many theoretical discussions on the importance of broadening inclusion and addressing long-term challenges in the past two years at the United Nations, the practical implications have not yet been fully understood.

Despite its significant new focus on cities, for instance, the United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian response continues to struggle to understand the impact of rapid urbanization. U. N. officials may recognize that their peacekeeping efforts are increasingly located in urban contexts and that urban actors (such as mayors, municipalities and urban dwellers) are critical to sustaining peace, but they are not framing their policy frameworks around this reality.

[See: U. N. summit on migration crisis fails to address front-line role of cities]

In order for the sustaining peace agenda to be achieved, we argue, it must attend to these urban dynamics. Likewise, if the New Urban Agenda is to provide a comprehensive guide to the urbanization process, it must address urban violence and conflict and integrate efforts to sustaining peace into its own guidelines.

Defining these linkages

We are not alone in this call for the United Nations to pay greater attention to the urban dynamics of violence and conflict. In December, experts gathered at U. N. Headquarters in New York to look at how the SDGs, New Urban Agenda and sustaining peace approach could complement each other, as well as how urban perspectives can facilitate efforts to sustain peace in an urbanizing world. (See video of the event here.)

Participants made clear that that these new frameworks would all require a major rethink, emphasizing the need for greater localization at the urban scale. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, assistant secretary-general for the U. N. Peacebuilding Commission, warned that this would require a transformation in how the entire U. N. system operates. This would include, for instance, recognizing the role of urban authorities (that remain absent in many agreements) and building local urban capacity.

[See: Post-conflict Colombia looks to its cities]

Izumi Nakamitsu, assistant secretary-general for U. N. Development Programme, noted that the different agendas present opportunities to advance integrated responses to sustaining peace. The international system needs to address the complexity of the urbanization agenda, and more emphasis needs to be placed on the localization of support, she stressed.

Typically, U. N. peacekeeping compounds and refugee camps are no longer located in rural areas, meaning that the United Nations now has missions, compounds and troops in hundreds of cities around the world. Malkit Shoshan, who lectures on “the architecture of peace” at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, noted that about 180 cities in the Sahel host U. N. bases, the structure and set-up of which have the potential to dramatically impact efforts to sustain peace.

Shoshan said that peacekeeping bases are not designed to consider the long-term needs and rights of urban dwellers in conflict-affected cities, thus often disrupting the communities they are intended to assist. She highlighted how too often U. N. peacekeeping camps are shut off from their local context, make no contribution to improving the lives of local inhabitants and can even compete for resources with them. If, however, the United Nations took design and urban planning into account, peacekeeping missions could be integrated into local contexts and spaces created for community engagement — reinforcing efforts to sustain peace.

[See: Can a new ‘global alliance’ rethink disaster response in cities?]

Better research, data and a stronger knowledge base is required to understand the dynamics of contemporary urban violence and stronger connections between the United Nations, member states, urbanists and urban communities. Participants stressed that urban violence is a complicated and under-researched phenomenon, and that more attention is required to comprehend contemporary urban violence and conflict in order for strategies to be developed to sustain peace.

Several participants also highlighted the importance of linking Goal 16 of the SDGs — on peaceful, inclusive and just societies — to Goal 11 in the contexts of violence, fragility and conflict. Urban dwellers are the most likely to fail to meet the SDGs. Importantly, if the sustaining peace agenda and New Urban Agenda are approached together, highlighting the urban dynamics of socio-economic, security and environmental stresses, connections between SDG 11 and SDG 16 will becoming increasingly apparent.

[See: How Baltimore is using the Sustainable Development Goals to make a more just city]

The December event signalled that the significance of urban perspectives and the urban dynamics of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and displacement is gaining recognition by U. N. officials, policymakers and member states. But more needs to be done to bridge the gaps between the peace, development and urban agendas and to move towards common responses.