Next week, the international community will gather at Habitat III – the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – to discuss important urban challenges as the world’s cities grow at an unprecedented rate.
Today, 54% of people live in cities and towns. Cities can be magnets for population growth and offer opportunities for jobs and social empowerment; but they can also be a source of congestion, exclusion and impoverishment. Which path of urban growth will prevail depends, in large part, on the quality and availability of mobility solutions. Transport is a structuring element of cities.
The reality of mobility in today’s cities is alarming— especially when measured against the four criteria that definesustainable mobility:
- Universality of access to economic and social opportunities: Buenos Aires, for example, a resident can access approximately 34% of the jobs in the metropolitan area in 60 minutes; but, in Cairo, only 15%. . In Bogota, for example, the high concentration of jobs in specific parts of the city has caused major problems of unequal transit employment access that affects primarily the low-income population. . In
- Efficiency: , and reduce the number of kilometers traveled. In most cities, though, transport systems are dominated by personal motorized modes: .
- Safety and security: nearly half of the world’s traffic fatalities already occur in cities. . Personal security on public transport systems is also a growing concern, particularly for women and girls.
- Environmental and health impacts: cities are a major contributor to pollution, carbon emissions, and energy demand. . Fuel economy and other technological advances have improved over time, but there are significant differences between countries and regions dependent on the average size of engine displacements, their technology, and the mix of gasoline and diesel fuels used. Likewise, air pollution is primarily an urban issue. Urban air pollution is estimated to cause about 9% of lung cancer deaths, 5% of cardiopulmonary deaths, and about 1% of respiratory infection deaths.
The New Urban Agenda to be adopted at Habitat III anchors its vision in the concept of cities for all, “referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants […] are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements, to foster prosperity and quality of life for all” (see latest draft of the New Urban Agenda).
To turn this vision into reality, actions to promote sustainable mobility for all will be paramount—starting with . One such effort is the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport, which will issue its recommendations shortly. Habitat III offers other opportunities—such as supporting public transport, non-motorized options and transit-oriented development, integrating land-use and transport planning, seeking innovative financing, and using big data to help countries leapfrog to more sustainable modes.
But who will drive the agenda? Several proposals that outline a new global governance structure are on the table. For example, strengthened UN system-wide coordination, and a new Multi-stakeholder Panel on Sustainable Urbanization.
The New Urban Agenda adds another important element to the global map on sustainable development. But asglobal commitments continue to grow, with direct implications for transport—the post 2030 Agenda, Paris Climate Agreement, UN Decade of Action, and now Habitat III— and develop a solid global tracking framework. It is a matter of accountability and credibility.