Smart Cities, Habitat III, and the New Urban Agenda

The main topic that was discussed this week was smart inclusive cities.  International frameworks, such as Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda have created a guideline to make urban centers more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. These framework work with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 of sustainable cities and communities, which focuses on reducing inequalities in urban environments by supporting the development of inclusive and sustainable communities. Inclusive urban environments are metropolises where there are no barriers to empower individuals, no matter a person’s race, gender, wealth-status, etc.

This subject reminded me of the Sen’s theory of development because these cities allow for more freedom. They make it possible for individual choices to be universal. This goes with education, housing, transportation, etc. Absolute individual choice means complete accessibility, no barriers or obstacles. This is fundamental to be inclusive to persons of disabilities.

Cities or urban centers hold most of the world’s general population. They are the political, economic, and cultural engines of their respected countries. Urban Centers are where most innovations and changes happen. These international frameworks are needed for cities because they allow for the subject to be aware in society. If cities contain policies and tools that help and include persons with disabilities in their societies than this will hopefully spread to other regions. In addition, it is much easier to make an issue heard in a city than going to representatives of a country’s national government. City governments are influential and more connected to individuals than a national government is. Cities can be used as a platform to bring rights of people with disabilities to the national government.

In my research, I will be discussing inclusivity when it comes to internet access, smartphones, and people with disabilities. Articles that I have read show more internet concentrations in urban centers of developing countries, leaving rural areas without internet and disconnected to innovation. Even when there is internet in an urban center, apps and programs may not able to run because of internet service and hardware. For example, an Android Go device may not be able to run extensive Android apps that high-end Android phones can run. The most expensive service and hardware can support these extensive programs, but they are only accessible to the rich class. Apple and Microsoft are regarded as leaders in providing accessibility to persons with disabilities, but their hardware is expensive or not available in the market.  Cheap Smartphones are now being used as a tool to help connect people to the internet, but Google may have trouble in making accessibility features and apps in cheaper models. 

Development Theory

For this week’s readings, the term development was thoroughly analyzed. Historically, societies have looked at development as an economic term that translates to urban high rises, higher incomes, etc. Instead of considering “development” as an economic term, the authors associate it with freedoms. They describe development as the process of expanding individual freedoms or the real freedoms people can enjoy. This can be more access to healthy food, good education, water, internet, etc. These increased individuals freedoms are supposed to help improve the quality and, above all, the happiness of individuals in a country.

This new perspective of looking at development is very different compared to the way current governments see the term. When governments look at their economy, they look at economical metrics like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), income per capita, wealth, etc. Freedoms are not associated with measuring the current or potential state of a country’s economy. In their view, economies are already free and liberal to an extent because they allow individuals to make something out of themselves if they really wanted to. The readings show great examples that show that numbers do not capture the whole situation. For example, you can be technically richer in the U.S., but be in a worse living situation than someone in a poorer country. Other examples relating to African American completely astonished me. The fact that African Americans have lower survival rates than the average Chinese civilian is depressing and shows inequalities in the U.S. Relating development with freedoms gives a more holistic view because it shows the capabilities and advantages that people have.

People would assume that living in a very rich country like the United States would benefit people and be an advantage, but for the African American, it is not. As an immigrant, I have always thought that living in America is a privilege and that people of color are better off here. All these graphs show that I’m wrong.

Other sections of the reading discuss how institutions play a critical role in helping achieve more individual freedoms and happiness. Institutions that can make it better for individuals in society are public schools, better courts, etc. They are not described as tools that make it easier in a society, but as tools that give accessibilities to individuals so they can be stable and happy. Public schools and public health insurance do not have to be used for economic development that countries have always longed for, but for human development. If countries start putting individuals first and focus on human development, then the rest will follow. My question is though, how can governments focus on human development without first achieving economic development?