A city’s character is defined by its streets and infrastructure,which make up its public space in the form of squares, walkways, parks, gardens, etc. These spaces add vitality to neighbourhoods. They contribute to the reduction of pollution, help to preserve biodiversity and promote healthy habits among citizens, who may choose to walk or use a bicycle in these areas.
Yet, according the UN-Habitat’s Executive Director Joan Clos, globally,urban public space has decreased dramatically over that past 20 years. A study carried out by the organisation has concluded that cities are growing too fast, with little planning, and public space does not quite make up 15% of the urban land areas. This circumstance contributes to traffic problems, inaccessible terrains, slum growth and an increase in inequalities.
These are some of the issues that were addressed during the 2-day meeting on public spaces, organised by the international secretariat of the Habitat III Conference with the support of the Barcelona City Council. On the 4th and 5th of April, more than 500 experts from around the world worked to identify strategies to improve and increase public space in cities, with the goal of making urban communities more equitable, prosperous, sustainable, just and safe.
The main conclusions of this event highlight the importance of generating platforms for dialogue among government officials, multilateral organisations, and local stakeholders from the community and business, so that collaborative solutions can be defined and implemented. The meeting ended with a declaration that will be presented to the organisers of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (“Habitat III”), which will take place in Quito, Ecuador, on the 16th through the 20th of October this year.
The goal of the Habitat III conference is to reaffirm the commitment of the world’s political leaders to sustainable urbanisation and to establish a new global urban agenda that will highlight the role of cities in meeting important international agreements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, and the global climate change agreement that came out of the Paris Summit in December.
The meeting on public spaces is one of several regional and thematic meetings that are being held around the world in the months leading up to the conference. The conclusions of preparatory events will be brought to the attention of Habitat III organisers and taken into consideration when the final version of the global urban agenda is drafted.
More information on Habitat III and the main conclusions from the Barcelona meeting can be found here.