LETTERS: Harness innovation to tackle urban challenges


Kibera slum in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Urbanisation is now recognised as one of the defining trends of the times. But ultimately the aim has remained constant – to promote transformative change to improve living conditions for everyone.

The theme of the UN Habitat's World Urban Forum this year; ‘Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation, provides a strategic opportunity for reflection on how how to build strong, inclusive and sustainable cities.

Cities provide a wealth of opportunities including jobs and generate over 80 percent of gross national product across the globe, according to UN estimates.

Urban areas also account for between 60 and 80 percent of all energy consumption, despite only occupying three per cent of the planet’s surface and are responsible for three quarters of all greenhouse gas emissions.

There is need for a “people-centred” development model, to “re-humanisation of cities” in the face of trends impacting them, from population growth, demographic shifts, and increasing the risk of disasters induced by climate change.

From electric public transport to renewable and energy and better waste management systems, cities are hubs of innovation and creativity, and young people are taking the lead. Embracing innovation will ensure a better life for future generations and chart a path towards sustainable, inclusive urban development that benefits all. In this case, cities must go back to for those left behind. Young people have proven to be drivers and agents of change. Nevertheless, the socio-economic inequality in many places remains high and young people way to often face significant barriers to socially, politically or economically engage.

Cities have become younger – most of the three billion people under the age of 25 live in urban areas, and it is estimated that 60 percent of urban populations will be under the age of 18 by 2030.

Hence, engaging young people in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is not just beneficial for them, it is crucial for the overall success of the Development Goals.

Therefore, it is paramount to empower young people, to get rid of barriers in institutions and in the head of people that still too often prevent young people from truly exploiting their potential to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Additionally, culture has the potential to transform entire societies, strengthen local communities and forge a sense of identity and belonging for people of all ages.

It is essential to explore and exploit culture to promote sustainable social and economic development for future generations.

Youth are often the generators of both commercial and non-commercial innovation, in particular in cultural and creative industries. There is need to harness the various ways of placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.

Culture which brings together knowledge, art, belief, capabilities, habits, morals and behaviours is widely recognised as playing a key role in the growth and development of cities.

Culture and cultural diversity are sources of enrichment, grounded in human rights principles and provide an important contribution to the sustainable development of urban areas.

Equally important, as UN Habitat's head Maimunah Mohd Sharif rightly says, there is need to improve urban basic services and infrastructure for all citizens. A central concern is also to work together to improve Access to Quality and Affordable Housing.

This means ensuring that we upgrade existing slums to ensure there is upward mobility for citizens living there and also prevent the creation and expansion of new slums. To do this sustainably, there is need to encourage innovation in improving urban economy and finance.

Ultimately, national and county governments, and city dwellers should work together for transformative change and sustainable strategies for cities, as urbanisation continues to swell.

Raphael Obonyo via email