Placing People at the Centre of Our Sustainable Urban Future

©EMILIE CHAIX

 

The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development—Habitat III—to be held in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016, will be a historic event.

I say historic because we are at a turning point in history. The gravity of the challenges facing our cities can no longer be denied, not by elected office-holders, experts or citizens. Mayors of cities are entrusted with a great responsibility towards their fellow residents, a responsibility that we are taking on in networks such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), which unites 85 of the world’s most influential cities to collaborate, share knowledge and drive action on climate change.

The question of the future of cities cannot be separated from that of responsibility; this shared awareness of shared problems must unite us in Quito. It is imperative that we enter into a dialogue leading to a common agenda that will, in turn, enable us to confront, both together and in our respective cities, the difficulties faced by the world’s urban populations. In showing that we are capable of sharing this responsibility we endow ourselves with the means to collectively design smarter cities against a backdrop of an increasing scarcity of resources, urban growth and climate change.

Recognizing the grave challenges common to global cities
Two decades have passed since the 1996 Habitat II Conference in Istanbul, twenty years in which urban growth has escalated, global inequalities have widened and environmental problems have multiplied. These acute, modern-day challenges have become a part of our daily lives.

The urban growth and climate change that have been observed around the world lead to major issues relating to energy, waste management, greening, resource supply, mobility and logistics. Natural resources are dwindling, forcing us to become more sparing in their use. This unprecedented pressure should drive us to find ways of reducing and improving consumption, and of limiting our impact on the environment.

In addition, the scale of international migration is unprecedented. The number of poorly housed and homeless people is continuing to rise, and the living environment for people residing in cities is worsening. The most recent estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that in 2012, 3.7 million deaths across the world were caused by outdoor air pollution.

Making the voice of cities heard
It is not tomorrow and elsewhere, it is here and now, and the situation is serious. We must therefore act here and now. In order to face the urgency of the situation, I want to accelerate the mobilization of cities and make local voices heard, particularly in the fight against climate change, which threatens the future of our societies but also presents an opportunity to change the way we live. As incoming Chair of C40 and Mayor of Paris, I am convinced that our cities embody the future and the possible. They constantly prove this by striving unremittingly for a fairer, more humane and more sustainable world.

Due to the urgency of these issues, and in view of the multiple initiatives put in place by cities to design a new urban model, we need more than ever to create synergies between our cities and urban areas. Together, we can build this new world, as we have already begun to do through C40.

To deal with the air pollution in our cities, I intend to set up a Global Urban Air Pollution Observatory (GUAPO) in collaboration with WHO, the greater Paris metropolitan area and partner cites all over the world. Several cities have already expressed their intention to join the Observatory; others must be encouraged to take part as well, for it is together that we will invent a new, fairer and more sustainable future.

The twenty-first century is without doubt the era of the metropolis. Cities must confront major environmental challenges, and they have the means to do so. Cities know how to create valuable synergies between citizens, enterprises and institutions. By building direct links with inhabitants and those utilizing cities for work and leisure, key communities can be unified for reflection and action. The agility of cities enables them to test out promising measures over a period of a few months, as we do in Paris. Cities are capable of providing answers based on practical initiatives and concrete and ambitious aims. We have to inspire each other and develop platforms for cooperation, skill transfer and the exchange of good practices.

Creating synergies among urban development actors
I am convinced that progress will come from collective intelligence. This is why, in Paris, we regularly issue calls for innovation and creativity; I believe that this is a particularly promising path for the world’s cities. Whether through the participative budget, under which the people affected by a budget take an active role in its creation, or calls for innovative urban projects such as “Reinventing Paris” or “Reinventing the Seine”, we aim to create synergy between multiple partners in order to liberate and stimulate our shared spaces. This approach will also be seen in other C40 cities, as we will soon issue a call for innovative projects simultaneously in several member cities. Once again, global cities are at the forefront of action.

We want to prioritize open innovation; encourage exchanges between, and training of, multidisciplinary teams; and create an unprecedented level of flexibility in dialogue with local governments. We hope to involve architects and urban planners, economic, social, cultural and artistic stakeholders, and residents in the construction of the city of the future.

Enabling inhabitants to become drivers of change
The future is made possible and built not only for citizens, but also with them. Against all the difficulties and challenges facing them, the inhabitants of our cities have frequently proven themselves capable of taking on their share of responsibility and have demonstrated remarkable resilience. In periods of crisis, people often naturally demonstrate their desire to preserve the harmony that binds our societies together, and to show that they are able to organize themselves and unite.

The intelligence of our cities comes, first and foremost, from the intelligence of their inhabitants. It is more important than ever to develop projects that will bring us together and promote our diversity, projects that will build bridges between communities, territories and sectors of activity. We must draw on our rich cultural diversity and the immense potential of our inhabitants, enterprises, start-ups, associations, researchers, craftsmen, businessmen, and all the people who make up our cities.

In Paris, this conviction runs through all of our strategies, including encouraging citizen participation, making data available and co-developing projects. It restores people to their place at the heart of the system by providing them with the means to understand and take ownership of the flow of material and data traversing the city.

In the context of governance, this vision necessitates the creation of simple, accessible mechanisms for the participation and mobilization of large numbers of citizens. It is from this perspective that I resolutely defend the principle of systematic and in-depth consultation of city residents. To increase the involvement of the population in the political life of their city, we established a participative budget for Paris, the only one of its kind in the world.

I am convinced that smart, sustainable cities are first and foremost urban platforms that place citizens, researchers and innovators at the heart of urban project decision-making, design and implementation processes. In order to create such conditions, we must make open data a driver of innovation and a catalyst of collective intelligence. Everyone should be able to propose improvements for management systems, design cross-cutting functionalities and invent new uses. The only way to find new solutions and build an example to follow is by searching for, testing and exploring new possibilities.

Exploring possibilities for progress
Creating a sustainable city is not a superficial process or a political gimmick. It requires that we reconsider all of our public action and ways of doing things. Thanks to the collective work of C40, there are already solutions available to us. We have, for example, explored particularly promising possibilities for responding to climate concerns and reducing our overall dependency on fossil fuels.

In order to preserve our natural resources, we need to make considerable progress towards a circular economy. Such an economy is designed to minimize environmental impact; it is inspired by natural ecosystems in which there is no waste and everything functions as a resource. We must go from being disposable societies to sustainable ones by adopting a principle of reuse instead of replace. Recycling waste is a fundamental part of this shift. A coherent and sustainable form of management that includes systematic recycling, in which waste is reused or transformed into energy, should be employed.

Furthermore, we cannot merely develop renewable energy systems; we must take a further step forward and invest in energy recovery. Cities are full of hidden resources, in basements, sewers, tunnels, and data centres. Even electric vehicles are able to recover energy when they brake. It is up to us to optimize and pool these sources of energy.

Urban farming, which is being tried in Paris, New York and Singapore, is another promising possibility. Contrary to popular belief, excellent yields and good-quality produce can be obtained in urban environments. In Paris, we shall continue to create new agricultural spaces to feed the city. This type of local farming is part of a broader project that encourages short distribution channels. It is vital that we streamline urban supply chains and reduce vehicle delivery traffic by focusing our modernization efforts on the last leg of the journey.

Greening the city is also a way of controlling temperature. Greening roofs and façades can bring down the temperature of a large city by 2 or 3 degrees in the summer, reducing the need for air conditioning, which consumes large amounts of energy. In our city, we have committed to creating 30 hectares of additional green spaces and planting 20,000 new trees by 2020. This will enrich our heritage of maintaining green spaces, which are already home to nearly 200,000 trees. To date, Paris also boasts 100 hectares of greened roofs and façades, of which one third is dedicated to the production of fruit and vegetables.

We must also meet the challenge of the urbanism of the future in order to adapt to the city’s changing boundaries. We need to become bolder and more inventive, and make the rules governing urbanism more flexible. Teleworking, co-working and shared services are all new modes of living that should be taken into account.

Another area of focus should be the question of urban mobility. It is vital that we reduce the use of individual cars in the city while at the same time giving them a role as a shared service. The use of diesel must be phased out, and electric vehicles must take over. We will also have to rely on new, highly innovative forms of transport, such as induction-powered trams.

Producing a bold and ambitious declaration together
This is the sustainable approach that we, as global cities, must adopt, and which C40 is working every day to make a reality. In Quito, Habitat III participants will combine the strengths and energy of the cities they represent in order to produce a common declaration, which, I hope, will be bold and ambitious.

It is up to us to work towards the city of our dreams. Together, by maintaining unwavering confidence in mankind and remaining aware of the opportunities offered by our territories and technological advances, we can create sustainable, resilient cities that are welcoming places for their inhabitants today and for future generations.