Making Cities for All

Opening remarks at High-Level Side Event during the 74th UN General Assembly

September 26, 2019


It is my pleasure to welcome you to “Making Cities for All” – an event co-hosted by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and UNDP.

Tonight, we will discuss how cities are managing the opportunities and challenges of the current development context and how cities play a central role in driving 2030 Agenda achievement.

As we know, cities have long been places of prosperity and opportunity. They define the way we live, interact, produce and consume. Some 55 percent of the world population live in urban areas, and cities are projected to account for 88 percent of global GDP by 2025.

Our cities are currently facing significant pressures and challenges – including population growth, rapid urbanization, climate change, environmental degradation, and rising inequalities.

The world’s population will increase to nearly 10 billion by 2050. Urban population growth will require a significant expansion of existing cities, as well as construction of new ones. This will continue to add pressure on natural resources and public services and can intensify critical challenges such as pollution and climate change.

Particularly, there are two major issues which cities need to play a key role in addressing if we are to achieve the SDGs: inequalities and climate change.

Income inequality, which has been rising in the past decades, is higher in cities than national averages. Inequalities in cities often lead to a spatial concentration of poor residents in certain neighborhoods. This segregation can undermine people’s chances over their lifetime, with life expectancies, for example, sometimes differing across neighborhoods within the same city. In Baltimore, London, and Sao Paulo the difference of life expectancy is about 20 years higher for those living in the richest neighborhoods compared to the poorest ones.

Today, we will hear about the experiences of La Paz, Los Angeles, New York and Kanagawa Prefecture – which all have aligned their local development plans with the SDGs. La Paz, for example, is developing a strategy to address inequalities and multidimensional poverty in the city, focused on reaching those currently left behind.

As cities increasingly embark on digital transformation, we are unfortunately seeing cities adopt smart strategies which ignore the poorest, thereby having unintended consequences.

But we also have seen where it has worked, and where technology driven solutions are targeting all segments of society. Overall, it has been estimated that smart-governance solutions can improve health, safety, environmental, and other quality-of-life indicators up to 30 percent.

In Bangladesh, UNDP has supported the Government’s vision for a Digital Bangladesh, which focuses on expanding quality service delivery to disadvantage communities through digital centres across the country – and we will hear more about it today.

And the City of Dubai has transformed itself into a smart city by leveraging the potential of big data, artificial intelligence, paperless government, blockchain, digital identity and shared services and platforms. Smart Dubai also aims to become the happiest place for living – and we will hear more about their pathway.

The current climate crisis is another critical issue, where cities need to play a key role in addressing.

Earlier this week, at the SG’s Climate Summit, world leaders were requested to come up with concrete plans to boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement. The role of cities is critical to deliver on this promise.

It is estimated that over the next 30 years, $90 trillion will be invested in urban infrastructure. We have a unique opportunity to shape these investments to ensure that they deliver the solutions cities need to promote a transition towards low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially just cities, in which people can live healthy lives.

Cities that become more resource-efficient – in transport, heating and cooling – could achieve reductions of up to 50 percent in energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and resources.

So, how do we prepare cities to deliver on the climate promise while promoting inclusive and smart policies?

We know that there are plenty of opportunities to do so, and we have seen how well managed and inclusive cities offer opportunities for their residents to move up the economic or social ladder without jeopardizing the future of the planet.

To support cities in sharing experiences and promote peer to peer collaboration and learning, UNDP and the Hilton Foundation are launching today the City2City initiative.

The City2City Network is born out of the need to connect, share, and innovate towards socially inclusive, resource efficient and sustainable cities. It will capitalize on UNDP’s network of Accelerator Labs operating across 60 countries to further experiment to solve urban development problems through the identification of concrete city experiences

Allow me to conclude by once more thanking our panelists and the audience for joining us tonight and stress how excited UNDP is to work with all partners in advancing this important agenda.

Thank you.