Inclusive Cities and the New Urban Agenda

Our discussion of inclusive cities this week left me with a few questions regarding the equity of smart cities. While I agree that smart cities are an essential component of inclusive sustainable development, I am wrestling with how to make this a completely global conversation rather than a Westernized solution to the problem of inclusivity.  My questions are as follows: 1) When discussing smart cities, does the conversation focus primarily around industrialized cities in the west/global north? I cannot help thinking about who is fitting the costs for these smart technologies. 2) Are we approaching the idea of smart and inclusive cities from an industrialized, western perspective? And how do we bring poor cities of the global south into the conversation? 3) What about cities that are struggling with their infrastructure or social services? If a city has limited funds, is it a smart idea for them to invest in smart technologies before they have stable institutions, infrastructure, and resources? 4) When talking about accessible apps, are we assuming that everyone has access to an iPhone/smart phone? What about regions of the world where people may not have economic access to this sort of technology?

While these are the questions I am left pondering, the framework in place regarding inclusive cities serves as a roadmap for urban development. Habitat III’s New Urban Agendawas adopted at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Developmentin Quito, Ecuador on October, 20th2016. The goal of the NUA is to ensure that all people have access to the benefits and opportunities that cities offer during this time of unprecedented urbanization. The New Urban Agenda is important because it lays out standards for the planning, construction, development, management, and improvement of urban areas by embedding them in five pillars of implementation: “national urban policies, urban legislation, urban planning and design, local economy, and local implementation.”  The New Urban Agenda aligns with goal 11 of the SDGs, sustainable cities and communities, because it underlines the relationships between good urbanization, job creation, and improved quality of life.

The New Urban Agenda makes 15 direct references to persons with disabilities. Through these references, persons with disabilities are given their “right to the city.” The right to the city as described in the NUA is the right to access everything in your city of residence including, the ability to navigate the city and make decisions regarding where you shop, eat, and how you travel.  The discussion surround the transportation apps was fascinating and upon further investigation, I found that AXS Map was inspired by the creator’s own experiences of living with MS.  When speaking about what drove him to create the app he states in a Huffington Post article,“People without disabilities don’t realize all the challenges that we face, like, ‘is a restroom accessible? Is there one small step outside a restaurant that would keep us from being able to get in?”

Building inclusive cities is about raising awareness to the significant proportion of the population living with disabilities. By changing the make-up of what a city and community looks like visibly, accessibility for persons with disabilities will be more widely acknowledged as a human rights issue.