Inclusive Cities, Habitat III, and the NUA

Our discussion of inclusive cities today recalled some memories of studying abroad in Seoul. By many standards, Seoul can be considered a smart city; it incorporates numerous apps for transportation, safety mechanisms in CCTV, and the use of innovative technology can be found in nearly every neighborhood in the city. However, aspects of inclusivity in the city were sporadically, almost as if they had been stuffed into a city-plan last minute. Side walks have walking guides for the visually impaired, but few crosswalks have lights and even fewer have sound. There are lifts that span staircases in the metro stations for wheelchair access—but only at specific stations and entrances (of which there can be up to 8 spread far apart). Even as a person without a physical disability, these lacking or heavily inconvenient features were still striking, especially when compounded with the knowledge that, despite having a strong healthcare system, poverty and homelessness among the elderly and disabled people is rampant.

Enabling and developing inclusive cities is a process which, to be most effective, must incorporate an understanding of the power of physical spaces and the spatial aspects of disability. Pineda goes into details on explaining disability as a function of an environment, contrary with traditional models of disability—medical and charity—which characterize disability as abnormalities to be fixed or tragedies to be pitied respectively. Instead, Pineda calls for a spatial model in which access and mobility are a human right and physical barriers are oppressive. This is such a critical concept to incorporate into inclusive city development because it most effectively allows for spaces to enable freedom of choice for people with disability. The spatial aspects of enablement Pineda lists can be directly integrated into a city-plan to make it more inclusive and universally beneficial by addressing topics including safety, emergency preparedness, culture, recreation, and more. A topic that I am particularly interested in (though not necessarily directly related to my project) is the intersection of smart and inclusive cities. Pineda’s spatial aspects are very complementary with the development of smart cities and, by including spatial awareness in city development, there is strong potential for inclusive and smart city development to go hand-in-hand.

The New Urban Agenda specifically addresses inclusive city development by calling for countries to revisit how they plan, design, develop, govern, and manage their cities to be harmonious with ending poverty and hunger, reducing inequalities, and promoting sustainable ideas. It references the social function that cities fill; which people with disabilities can easily be excluded from without accessibility being considered in city-planning. In particular, the NUA reiterates that “no one [be] left behind” and refers back to goals of reducing inequalities through sustainable, inclusive cities. While Habitat III and the NUA focus in particular on preventing the creation of slums, this agenda, if implemented effectively, should maximize city inhabitant’s choices for a range of items such as transportation, recreation, and housing; once again a universally beneficial plan.