The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was created out of the United Nations Conference Habitat III to address the need to focus on the world’s most built environment, namely cities. The focus on cities is pertinent because by the year 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations. Within NUA, the focus on sustainable development and reimagining our cities to be inclusive and equitable for all is apparent but I found it interesting that the topic of creating more “smart” cities is only mentioned once. Smart cities or making a city “smart” involve integrating technologies and sustainability and or resilience measures through technology to advance, protect, and make a city more accessible for all. The 66th paragraph in the New Urban Agenda speaks to the “smart city” approach stating:
Paragraph 66: We commit ourselves to adopt a smart-city approach that makes use of opportunities from digitalization, clean energy, and technologies, as well as innovative transport technologies, thus providing options for inhabitants to make more environmentally friendly choices and boost sustainable economic growth and enabling cities to improve their service delivery. New Urban Agenda, page 19
Ambitious as well as crucially needed for a future impending the harsh ramifications of anthropogenic climate change but does not fully speak to how smart-cities would be inclusive if implemented in cities. I believe that the integration of inclusive smart cities in the future and pertinent to address in this way as to not leave any person behind in its development. For instance, how can making a city smart involve inclusivity measures for out low-income areas, update urban services and disaster risk management plans, accessibility measures for persons with disabilities and older persons, as well as overall increasing the ability for people to choose as a developmental framework?
Washington D.C. is attempting the rout of making itself a smart city and has yet to fully address the inclusivity measures that a smart city can have and therefore underutilizing the potential of integrated technologies to make the District smart. This is a lost opportunity that moving forward must be addressed and implemented in tandem with inclusivity measures for everyone as the city will be holding out the world’s future generations.
The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is a United Nations platform created in 2013 to deal exclusively with sustainable development. Under the Economic and Social Council, the HLPF meets every year to assess the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 grand challenges that are time-bound and overarching for our world to achieve. According to the UN, the SDGs were created to proceed with the 8 Millennium Development Goals that lacked more modern inclusivity measures and resiliency aspects for a world charged in addressing the negative impacts of climate change for instances. The expansive, inclusive, and resilient SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which address all forms of development – inclusive, universal, integrated, locally-focused, and technology-driven development. The goal-based planning approached that the SDGs are created on, claim that well-crafted goals are able to accomplish guiding the public’s understanding of complex challenges, unite the global community, promote integrated thinking, support long-term approaches, and define responsibilities as well as foster accountability. The SDGs are meant to have positive impacts and to turn our world for the better however multiple critiques have come out against the intent or potential impact of the SDGs. One London School of Economics posts critiqued the SDG framework for creating this agenda on a failing economic model. A Quartz article claimed that the SDGs undermine democracy due to the dictatorship governed countries apart of working groups created to monitoring and implementing of the SDGs. Lastly, Dr. Michelle M.L. Lim of the University of Adelaide claims that the SDGs goals approach should shift from goals to an integrative approach to prevent “cherry-picking” components of the SDGs in countries. Many critiques raised rank respectively in merit and in concern. However, it is my thought that only time will either confirm or deny these concerns raised against the SDGs. I think it is better to have some overarching global framework for sustainable development in place than none at all and the buy-in from nations to willingly want sustainable development for their nations, their citizens, our collective future generations is what will make the difference outside of the SDGs and the HLPF. By the year 2030, the HLPF will assess whether the SDGs were met globally and whether these concerns and the intention of every nation for wanting sustainable development will be revealed.
The term “Grand Challenges,” although I had not yet fully read the definition, reminded me of a constant focus in my study – material industries. Believed to be covered under the wings of the SDGs, our global economy is large if not entirely consistent in the material. Textiles and apparel, food and agriculture, and technology being the major three industries that are the nucleus of all material industries. Their respective supply chains cover every issue from climate change to human rights and are abundant in challenges.
For example, in the fashion industry effects and perpetuates environmental degradation, human rights violations, and tamper in good governance practices globally so that anyone could buy a $5 t-shirt and a $15 pair of jeans before it even makes it to the sale rack. I use this to preface that a “Grand Challenge” is just as Branscomb defines as a “technically complex societal problem(s) that have stubbornly defied solution.” To want to solve the challenge of restructuring material economies and industries to do better by the environment, foster job creation that is positive, and aid in good governance practices is a lofty goal to want to reach. According to the United Nation Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the clothing and textile industry contributes 2.4 trillion dollars to global manufacturing, employs 75 million people worldwide who are mostly women, are responsible for 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide originates from the fashion industry, and 500 billion dollars is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and lack of recycling. The fashion industry has an implication on almost all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and therefore I and others agree that the industry itself is a Grand Challenge.
Solutions for this industry and other material economies are not simple by any means. How do we reshape how consumers interact with material economies, how do we restructure economies to be more circular, if circularity is even the answer or a short-term solution, and how would this affect vulnerable populations in the transition periods and in the long-term are all questions that have multiple avenues for foreseeable positive impact if addressed in some collaborative fashion. But, with any Grand Challenge, if industry, government, and other stakeholders are willing to come and work together to use their expert judgment to synthesizes disparate and often conflicting sources of information from their perspectives to produce an integrated picture of success by producing viable solutions the concept of a Grand Challenge may not seem so grand anymore.