Making Cities Inclusive

This week’s readings focused on inclusive smart cities, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda. The New Urban Agenda, or NUA, was a document adopted at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, or Habitat III (Habitat III). Habitat III took place in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016. Some of the main highlights in the document include readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, and financed. It highlights a saying called “right to the city”, meaning that all inhabitants have a right to the public goods, facilities, and resources where they live. There should be equal means of access and opportunity. The document then lists several different paragraphs affirming their commitments and implementations, such as supporting local governments to determine their management structures in line with national policies. The US can take NUA and integrate its goals with US cities. An article by Matthew Cohen and Geoffrey Habron suggested that NUA can be incorporated into existing frameworks like the Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating Communities (STAR) to help improve areas such as equity. I think looking into how NUA has been applied to other cities in the US would be beneficial to understand our progress on inclusion in the last three years. Continue reading

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The Future of Cities

Cities play an astonishing role in the global community on multiple levels. Not only do the congregate millions of people within such small parameters, but they are cultural, financial, and educational hubs. Living in a city gives an individual access to a plethora of resources they may otherwise not have access to. Though they provide a large assortment of resources they are the massively unsustainable. Though cities only take up about 2% of global land, they account for more than 60% of global energy consumption, 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 70% of global waste according to the New Urban Agenda.

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Spatially equal city design

The readings for this week emphasized the point that disability, along with being a socially and culturally constructed label, is affected by spatial relations. One is only considered disabled with respect to an environment, especially the way in which an environment conceptualizes and distributes space. This is an especially important phenomenon to consider when designing, inclusive cities.

https://www.academia.edu/299654/Enabling_Justice_Spatializing_Disability_In_the_Built_Environment

When we talk about creating sustainable cities, persons with disabilities are usually left out of the conversation. We design immaculate, aesthetically pleasing cities that incorporate the newest, fastest technology, all without considering the needs of those with disabilities. Take DC, for example. Comparatively, the new metro system is faster, cleaner, and more dependable than the one before it. The cars are larger in size with more comfortable seating and wider doors. But it is still just as difficult for a person who is using a wheelchair to navigate their way through the throngs of people crowding platforms and refusing to make room for them on the cars. Don’t even get me started on the horrible state of elevators at the metro stations themselves.

The components of a city- transportation, recreation, navigability, cultural life, and the built environment- need to be accessible in order to be sustainable. Until we get this inclusive city thing right, we will just have to keep rebuilding, going back to the drawing board until we stop ignoring the needs of others. This would be simply done by incorporating those we are designing the city for in municipal governments and offices, and by getting feedback from those that have grievances or ideas of how to rework an urban space.

Designing a city to be accessible and inclusive would not only make it more environmentally sustainable, but socially sustainable as well. When we cultivate spaces for those that society has traditionally ignored, we bring them out of the woodwork and into urban cultural life. Cities are places where major life activities are carried out, and they define the circumstances under which people live. Life is a human right, and living life the way you want is a choice that all people are entitled to; everyone has a “right to the city,” so we need to design them that way.

http://habitat3.org/wp-content/uploads/NUA-English.pdf

Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

With rapid urbanization occurring all around the world, the need to create more inclusive and smart cities is more important than ever. An inclusive city includes both sustainable and equitable urban services, such as water supply, housing and transport facilities, and social services, such as education, health and public space. Ultimately, an inclusive city is a space where everyone, regardless of ability, in enabled and empowered to fully participate in the opportunities that cities have to offer (ADB 2011). Moreover, all people should have the rights and opportunities to navigate a city and make choices, regardless of infrastructure available.

The New Urban Agenda plays a significant role in helping realize this goal of inclusive cities. Developed from the Habitat III conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador in 2016, the New Urban Agenda is a road-map to promote a sustainable and equitable model of urban development that focuses on urban planning and design. This framework will be utilized as a guideline for 20 years until the next Habitat conference. Additionally, we discussed the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) and the Partner Constituent Group. The GAP is a platform for non-governmental partners and includes 16 groups. Similarly, the PCG includes 14 groups, some of which are children and youth, civil society organizations, grassroots organizations and the media. The downside to these group platforms that include other stakeholders working in inclusive urban development is that there are many different competing interests at play. Similarly, these groups must follow governing rules, expectations, and protocols of UN Habitat, which can limit their role in a way.

Yet the language around inclusive cities has become controversial, mainly due to “rights” language. Since inclusive development for persons with disabilities has been recognized by many as a human rights issue, this infers that inclusive cities must exist to follow human rights. Yet, it also suggests that not having inclusive cities is a human rights issue and that has been controversial to many stakeholders and governments.

For my capstone project, I will be conducting a case study on Malaysia where I will look at how Malaysia has responded to the CRPD Article 24. From reading through government documents regarding education, I have noticed that Malaysia strives to create inclusive spaces for all students, but especially for those with physical disabilities. This is mostly evident in their most recent national education policy, Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025. Yet, from reading general news sources and op-eds, it seems that schools in rural and poorer areas lack the resources and accessibility that other schools in larger cities have.

References:

Asian Development Bank: Inclusive Cities (2011)

Smart Cities Council at smartcitiescouncil.com

Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2015-2025 (2015)

Inclusive Smart Cities

The Asian Development Bank defined making a city more “inclusive” as: “ensuring the poor and vulnerable have access to the services they need to better their quality of life.” With the onset of rapid urbanization and growing inequality, cities and governments have taken notice and decided to make infrastructural changes that will help improve quality of life for all. The ADB lists its key elements of creating this inclusive city: urban environmental infrastructure development, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and poverty reduction measures. While these are all broad, their goals reflect those of cities around the world. Continue reading

Habitat III

One of the concepts that we discussed in the first meeting of our class was what being disabled really means. One of the concepts that was raised was that a person is only disabled once they can not do something because of their position. This means that if the world adapts itself to become more adaptive to “disabilities”, citizens across the world aren’t restricted. The idea of smart, inclusive cities is the starting marker that would allow for a wider variety of citizens to be included in society. By avoiding marginalization of any demographic of people, cities can grow and promote safe, interactive, sustainable and rich urban spaces for all residents. While all smart cities should be inclusive cities, not al inclusive cities are necessarily smart cities. Smart cities focus on using analytics and sensors to create efficiency and predict was the society needs, and often factor inclusivity into decisions that are made. However, inclusive cities do not need to be super technologically advanced to avoid discrimination. I believe this is a fact that is not often addressed with clarity, often thinking the two terms are synonymous. However, the main component that is shared between the two concepts revolves around future planning to create cities that will grow and change as the population grows and changes.

To address creating cities that would fit these dimensions, the New Urban Agenda: Habitat III conference was held in October 2016 in Quito. The NUA creates a 20-year roadmap for achieving the goal of making cities and settlements more inclusive, resilient, safe, and sustainable and echoes Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities. One large change between the Habitat III document and other the previous NUAs was the emphasis of pre-planning to prevent slumming from occurring. In previous NUAs, there was a large focus on the importance of “de-slumming”, and fixing the horrible living conditions by vacating residence, tearing down the slums and rebuilding – a timely and expensive initiative. In habitat III, there was a large emphasis placed on creating living spaces that would prevent slumming to begin with, a much more economical and logistically simpler concept. As the world’s population is rapidly urbanizing, with more than half of the world’s population now living in an urban setting, pre-planning is more influential than ever.

Specific preplanning is being focused around PWD. The NUA clarifies specific actions that ensure PWDs are included in the urban development. By designing a universally accessible building, urban spaces can improve their ability to accommodate to all members of the city. However, one thing that I wish was addressed more in the class were the environmental ramifications of smart and inclusive cities. Obviously, having inclusivity is a must, but the question arises as what is necessary for inclusive cities and what is creating more waste. The NUA emphasizes the importance of sustainability in the framework, however, all new development comes with an environmental cost. At the moment, cities consume more resources and produce more waste than any other areas of the world. (Environmental effect of cities: https://www.prb.org/urbanization-an-environmental-force-to-be-reckoned-with/) While it is impossible to deny that urbanization is continuing to occur at a rapid rate, we must think not only what is best for the citizens living in the cities, but the total ramification of urbanization and how to minimize the negative effects on the Earth.

The NUA has created a new, international dialogue. One that emphasizes, not only the importance of planned urbanization but also one that declares the “Right to Cities” and the need for planning for all citizens.