Inclusive Cities, Habitat III, New Urban Agenda

In this class we had a long discussion on what entices people to move to and continue living in cities. It’s important to acknowledge these factors when considering how to design and/or rebuild smart cities. Based on what others said in this discussion, I think smart cities have a lot to do with Sen’s idea of development in terms of freedoms and opportunities available to individuals. People want choices and opportunities no matter where they are and the more choices they have available to them, the happier I believe people will be. People want places for recreation and leisure, but they also desire security and a sense of community. When city planners and councils determine the population they wish to attract to cities, they need to make sure the area provides such opportunities. When a city lacks what its inhabitants want and need, it will quickly deteriorate as opposed to develop. Moreover, it’s important to enact “right to the city” policies and practices so that all individuals, and not just certain groups, have equal right and access to the cities’ amenities. Often this involves significant strategic planning and immersion in order to make sure all are included and no one is marginalized.

In accordance with the New Urban Agenda, developing smart cities is a political, social, economic, and environmental task. All these aspects need to be addressed in sustainable urban development. With Habit III taking placing in Quito, Ecuador this October, now is the time more than ever to reconsider and discuss how our world’s future cities will be and what policies need to be immediately implemented. Governments are the main actors and drivers of smart cities, but there are also opportunities for non-governmental organizations and partners to engage and participate in discussion of these issues. For instance, the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) was formally launched at the Seconding Preparatory Committee for Habitat III in April 2015, and allows for all stakeholders to participate and to better collaborate in the conference in order to promote and establish sustainable urbanization.


Development Theory

My previous understanding of development has been rather limited because most of the discussions and research in my other development courses have been in reference to a states’ GDP and economic factors. I now know that development can actually mean much more, and I personally find Amartya Sen’s definition of development the most compelling.

Sen explains that human freedom is both the main object and the primary means of development. Therefore, development is seen as the expansion of everyone’s opportunities and freedoms. Sen realizes that development is a crucial element in determining people’s quality of life and not just state capacities (Development as Freedom).

At its core, Sen views development as the difference in what people can and can’t do – the freedoms they have versus those that they lack. People are greatly hindered by insufficient support and resources from their economic, political, and social institutions. Institutions also intersect and depend on one another, which means they impact those beyond their direct work. For example, it is the political institutions and their politics that determine what economic institutions a country has or doesn’t (Why Nations Fail). Vulnerable groups are then further marginalized when these institutions don’t meet their needs because their opportunities and prospects critically depend on whether these institutions exist and how they function. Moreover, people need the freedom of choice within institutional frameworks in order to have personal development within their state’s development.

The shift from the MDGs to the SDGs is so significant because it takes development beyond its predetermined economic relevance and incorporates it into political, social, and environmental institutions and indicators. As we move forward, smart cities are going to become particularly necessary in achieving true inclusive, sustainable development. This makes local and municipal leaders the main actors of development rather than just high-state officials. Development has to be rooted in local needs and innovation. From an international perspective, it is then important to determine and understand how these issues and actions permeate outward. Clearly, development is not just a term but a discourse as it is incorporates ideas and processes that shape real situations (Class). It is now up to us to reconsider how our previous notions of development have hindered true inclusivity and how we can use Sen’s definition of development to provide real opportunities with long-lasting impact throughout the world.

Grand Challenges

There are many different types of challenges people face all over the world each and every day. Grand Challenges, however, typically encompass substantial issues that impact a large population and/or area. Although a formal universal definition has yet to be established, “Grand Challenges are ambitious but achievable goals” that require global acknowledgement and efforts to tackle (WHOSTP). I think the key word here is “achievable.” While these problems can be incredibly daunting, such as NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, they are indeed considered feasible when all hands are on deck. Moreover, in attempts to solve Grand Challenges, positive social change is sparked as the “social contract” between science and society is enhanced via job creation, economic growth, and multi-sector collaboration (Kalil 2012). There is also a rhetoric shift from what is possible to what is necessary, creating a much more proactive and working dynamic.

At first I found it very interesting that the majority of the Grand Challenges listed on USAID’s website weren’t the same as the ones on The White House’s page, considering USAID is a government agency. However, as mentioned earlier there are a plethora of challenges and they can clearly fall into several categories. The White House naturally has national issues as its primary concern and priority, whereas USAID has a more global and developmental scope as its main interest. Since international development is my major’s thematic focus, I find USAID’s Grand Challenges particularly compelling. Grand Challenges for Development have explicit international engagement and look mainly to science and technology as a means for problem solving. Of USAID’s eight listed Global Challenges for Development, I was most surprised and intrigued by “Making All Voices Count” because it seemed quite progressive in acknowledging social injustices beyond what is considered basic necessities (USAID). Furthermore, my studies have been largely focused on the lack of accountability and transparency plaguing different world issues and their actors.

Although Grand Challenges are plentiful, it seems many are interrelated and could be tackled simultaneously as problem solving in one challenge would likely lead to problem solving in another. The first step in combatting Grand Challenges is research to understand the root of the problem. Then further research and innovation are necessary in order to discover and adapt alternatives and solutions. Because these challenges tend to be quite complex, trial and error is an expected and essential component, as well. I believe the Grand Challenge of finding and utilizing new energy sources is one of the most pressing world issues in sustainability and international development. We simply cannot afford or rely on continuing to use nonrenewable energy sources like oil. Already there has been significant development on renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, but I think they remain incredibly underused and are nowhere near their full potential impact. I believe there needs to be a complete shift in energy production from the extractive industry to one that utilizes the natural elements in order to tackle this Grand Challenge.