Urban Synergies Group (USG) hosted the Urban Thinkers workshop ‘Urban Talks: Emerging issues from Grassroots to International’ in order to contextualise the outcomes of the Habitat III agenda and the New Urban Agenda from an Australian perspective. The event took place on the 29th of November 2016, in Canberra, Australia, with academicians, researchers and practitioners in attendance. This article summarises the collective findings of the event.
During the opening contribution Gregor H Mews, founder of Urban Synergies Group, provided valuable insights and reflected on key messages from the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador. In particular, the paragraphs relating to the ‘Right to the City’ concept, Health and Well-being, Public Spaces and Sustainable Mobility were centre of the attention.
Mews stressed that cities today cover around two per cent of the total landmass, but are responsible for 70 percent of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP’s). At the same time, they are responsible for 80 percent of the global energy consumption, producing 75 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and generating 75 percent of total global waste (UNEP, 2015, Cities and buildings report). Fast urbanisation is also having an effect on lifestyle that directly affects health. As a result, health challenges such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, overweight and obesity are increasing in emerging middle-income societies.
We are living in a world of uncertainty and accelerated change. If we want to win the race against climate change and promote a sustainable urban development we all need to work together. The New Urban Agenda emphasis that a successful implementation of its vision and commitments depends on the involvement of formerly atypical agents: community organisations, marginalised groups and independent actors, such as private sector and academia. In accordance with Dr. Joan Clos, executive director of UN Habitat, the message delivered was clear: ‘We shall leave no one behind’.
The average Australian lifestyle overshoots earth’s carrying capacity. There is a growing need to rethink and readdress the way we plan, finance, develop, govern and manage cities in Australia. This is a call for action where leadership at all levels is required pushing for the adoption and implementation of a truly sustainable, people centred, aged and gender responsive and integrated approach.
In order to reflect on the visions and implementation of The New Urban Agenda participants were invited to engage in a debate around the following three questions:
How can we implement the New Urban Agenda?
What are your top three action items?
How can we at USG work with you to enable better health and wellbeing outcomes?
The participants discussed in groups and presented their ideas for adopting The New Urban Agenda principles and for achieving effective implementation of actions. The findings of the final discussions were:
Regulatory government bodies should push large developments to be thinking about public realm upgrades and corresponding long-term cultural programs, to provide ways to enable social connection and so stimulate a sense of community. Bring back the ritual of having parties in the community, places where people can celebrate and meet. The participants stressed that an improved public realm is very important for sustainable communities.
Reinvestigate different sustainable urban forms in order to provide a greater housing choice and to allow affordability with the interface dynamics of the region in mind.
Improve strategic planning and investment in productivity in peri-urban areas under the assumption that some people do want to live in those areas.
Another area for collective action was identified in relation to productive use of space in the city: the role of autonomous vehicles and future transport corridors function.
Cities need to be committed to deliver better overall sustainability outcomes. There must be an open debate and actions around optimal instead of maximum productivity.
Questions such as ‘How many resources are different population groups willing to consume and give up?’ ‘How do we want to live in this new urban world?’ and ‘What are the choices we need to make in order to ensure health and wellbeing for all?’ must be resolved.
Research and existing findings on people’s lifestyle choices in relation to sustainability must be effectively translated and communicated ensuring that people can make better informed choices. Grassroots groups, civil societies, social entrepreneurships and governments need to collaborate more effectively.
Urban Synergies Group was acknowledged as a key partner that provides a platform for these discussions and exploration of collaboration. This article was also published by our partner the World Urban Campaign late 2016 and can be accessed by clicking here.
Article by Urban Synergies Group
Photo Credits (CC): Aline Santos (CC)