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Habitat III: A Path toward More Sustainable Cities

The dizzying pace of urbanization and accelerated demographic growth Latin America has experienced in recent years entails enormous sustainability challenges.

Leaders have been forced to respond to the problems of mobility, public space, overcrowding, environmental degradation, insecurity, social exclusion, inequality, and poverty that are characteristic of large and medium-sized cities.

Projections indicate that 90 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean will live in metropolitan areas within 20 years. This of course is a danger sign, hence the importance of securing commitments and planning for the short, medium, and long term.

For some time, the international community has embarked on a search for solutions to these problems stemming from population growth and the challenges it poses in terms of sustainability. Several summits have been held, resulting in major agreements whose commitments are increasingly being translated into action plans with concrete goals and measurable indicators. There is more and more awareness on the part of governments and all sectors of society that it is up to us to do something to preserve the environment and safeguard resources for future generations.

It is against this backdrop that Quito is preparing to host the Habitat III conference, a leading international gathering on urban development that brings together political leaders, multilateral organizations, academics, urbanists, architects, environmentalists, economists, and others to press ahead with planning a New Urban Agenda aimed at building sustainable and inclusive cities over the next 20 years.

It is no coincidence that Habitat III is being held in Quito. In recent years, Ecuador has made strides toward modernization and development. Conference attendees will arrive at a new airport inaugurated just three years ago. The tourist sector, which also is a key engine for sustainable development, has evolved with a focus on promoting environmental protection and an awareness of that industry’s social and economic impact on communities.

Active implementation of the commitments reached at Habitat III will result in more sustainable cities where all members of the population can freely exercise their rights and have their basic needs fulfilled, where children have access to high-quality education, and where women are recognized and respected and have space to participate. Poverty-free, safe cities with jobs for young people, efficient public transportation, and inclusive, environmentally friendly economies.

Achieving sustainable development and improving inhabitants’ quality of life will require strengthening public policies to improve urban management. It is also essential to form alliances and engage in cooperative action. Governments alone cannot address all the sustainability and development challenges without the committed involvement of the private sector, civil society, and multilateral organizations.

In that regard, the financial support of the World Bank and other regional organizations like the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), are crucial and reinforce the global commitment to move forward with the construction of sustainable urban spaces. It sounds like a panacea, but with a global strategy like the one contemplated in the New Urban Agenda and the collective effort of all actors involved it is achievable.

*Senior Consultant at Newlink

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