#18 cities
Thomas Silberhorn

Message from State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn

Dear Readers,

Today, over half the global population already lives in cities – in 2050 more than two thirds of us will be urban dwellers. Cities are the dynamic growth centres of our time, where the opportunities and challenges of sustainable development meet and are concentrated. They are places of change with enormous powers of innovation. The German government views sustainable urban development as an important area of concern within its development policy.

It is becoming more and more difficult to offer a decent living environment in our cities. The challenges are many: providing decent housing, water, sanitation and energy for all the residents of a city is a tall order that often cannot be fulfilled. Many times, cities fall short where access to education, good income opportunities and safe working conditions are concerned. At the same time, the impacts of regional and global crises are felt all the more in cities. Not only are they the biggest producers of the greenhouse gases that harm the climate, cities are also particularly hard hit by the impacts of climate change. In 2015, there were more than 60 million displaced people worldwide, two thirds of whom had found shelter in cities.

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, the global community has set itself ambitious targets. The only way to achieve the 17 development goals defined under the Agenda – and also the Paris climate goals – is through concerted efforts, working together with cities and municipalities. That is why Habitat III, the third UN global conference on housing and sustainable urban development, which will take place in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016, is of the highest importance. The conference will decide on the New Urban Agenda, a programme for the next 20 years which will play an important role in shaping the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in and with the world’s cities.

Cities have a key role to play in efforts to achieve global climate, development and sustainability goals.

As a member of the body preparing the agenda for the Habitat III conference, we are lobbying for a New Urban Agenda that will assist in finding local solutions for the global challenges ahead of us. The German government has defined three core tasks as being of key importance in order to find sustainable ways to deal with the huge global trend towards urbanisation:

- recognising and empowering cities as development actors,
- creating liveable cities, and
- realising integrated urban development.

Cities have a key role to play in efforts to achieve global climate, development and sustainability goals. In order to find positive ways of meeting the global challenges ahead, we will need to empower cities. This will mean, among other things, that towns and municipalities must be given greater powers to make their own decisions, that they must be able to collect taxes and levies and then decide how to spend these revenues. They should involve their inhabitants in these decisions, so that people are able to have a say in shaping their own living environment. In Germany this often happens, for example, when there are decisions to be made about local public transport, waste management or energy supply.

A key concern of German development cooperation is that people, in particular marginalised groups within the population, should have better prospects for the future and that they are able to enjoy decent working, housing and living conditions. Liveable cities offer equitable access to basic services and housing, to public spaces and to opportunities for cultural, economic, social and political participation. They create the enabling environment for a flourishing economy with employment and income opportunities for all sections of the population. Reducing social disparities and inequalities strengthens social cohesion and has a positive impact on the way in which people live together in cities. Liveable cities are furthermore characterised by their sustainable use of water, food and energy resources and by urban development that seeks to reduce any negative impacts for the environment and the climate.

Intelligent participation formats, integrated planning and cross-sectoral solutions are an absolute must for cities that are fit for the future. Necessary prerequisites for success in this regard are the involvement of decision-makers and stakeholders from various levels and areas of government, and of business leaders, academics and civil society. Also necessary is cooperation across administrative boundaries.

The question of how we can carry out these tasks is a matter that we will be discussing in depth in the run-up to the conference in Quito. Of particular importance here is the German Habitat Forum in Berlin in June, which is being jointly organised by the BMZ and the Berlin Senate. It will provide a forum for practitioners and experts from all over the world to discuss the key challenges and possible solutions in the context of sustainable urban development. The outcomes of this exchange will be distilled into a document that will be published as the Berlin recommendations.

Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda constitute an important step towards a sustainable design for our common future. This edition of Digital Development Debates can tell you more about the challenges and possible solutions in the context of urban development in the 21st century. I would be very pleased if you, too, were to become actively involved in promoting sustainable development in your own home town.

Best wishes,

Thomas Silberhorn

Photo: “Taking a shot” by Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen
2014 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

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