February 27, 2015

A “Century of Cities”—here and abroad

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Do you live in an urban place? Chances are that you do or will sometime in the future. A hundred years ago, this might have been a different story. Globally, just one in every 10 people lived in urban areas a century ago. Now, for the first time ever, most people live in cities.

By 2050, the United Nations projects, almost three-quarters of the world’s population will call urban areas home. Africa, China, India and Latin America are each urbanizing at a spectacular pace. Here in the U.S., the Census Bureau projects that by 2050, our nation’s population will grow by 80 million people, 60 million of whom are likely to live in urban areas.

But why are we living in a “century of cities?” Why are people moving to urban areas? There are many reasons, but the short answer is: opportunity. Cities are the engine of regional economies—impacting suburban, rural and tribal areas. Urban living, though not without challenges, is rich with economic, educational and social possibilities that appeal to a range people. In fact, according to a 2013 study by the Urban Land Institute, some of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population (Generation Y, Latinos, renters) express a higher than average preference for living in medium or big cities. Moreover, some 62 percent of Americans planning to move in the next five years would prefer to settle in the type of mixed-use neighborhood prevalent in urban places.

In September, HUD Secretary Julián Castro outlined a vision that builds on the agency’s mission and role as the Department of Opportunity. Given the domestic and global demographic trends toward urbanization and his experience as Mayor of San Antonio, it came as no surprise that a key component of that vision is to strengthen communities in this century of cities.

HUD plans to explore the century of cities theme in a number of ways over the next few years, including building on our existing place-based efforts such as Promise Zones, Choice Neighborhoods, and Strong Cities, Strong Communities. HUD’s place-based initiatives are designed to expand economic mobility and opportunity by leveraging and coordinating federal programs to support locally-driven strategies for community transformation. Another important way we’ll explore this set of issues is through our engagement with Habitat III.

Habitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development scheduled to take place in 2016. The UN convened the Habitat I conference in 1976 in Vancouver, Canada, which sparked an international conversation on urban issues. Twenty years later, at the Habitat II conference in 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, world leaders adopted the Habitat Agenda as a global action plan to create adequate shelter for all (read the related U.S. national report and progress report on HUD USER). At Habitat III, participants will analyze progress on commitments made at Habitat II and work towards harnessing the tremendous potential of cities to promote sustainable development.

HUD, in coordination with the State Department and other Federal agencies, is leading the U.S. efforts to support Habitat III. In early December, we convened the U.S. Habitat III National Committee for the first time. The committee, chaired by Secretary Castro, includes a diverse group of over 40 member organizations representing the other federal government agencies, regional and local officials, academia, philanthropy, and civil society.

Our goal is to facilitate a dynamic and inclusive Habitat III preparatory process over the next 18-months that engages the National Committee and other partners in an open dialogue and partner-led activities designed to:

  • promote open and productive dialogue on key challenges facing U.S. cities and regions, and discuss opportunities to improve quality of life, sustainability, and resilience efforts;
  • raise public awareness and engage local communities on housing, planning, and community development issues in the U.S. and how they connect to global conversations; and
  • uplift best practices and innovations emerging from rural, tribal, suburban, and urban communities across the U.S.

The members of the U.S. Habitat III National Committees are:

  • AARP Foundation
  • American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • American Planning Association (APA)
  • California Endowment
  • Citi
  • Emerald Cities Collaborative
  • Enterprise Community Partners
  • Federal Reserve Bank
  • Ford Foundation
  • Habitat for Humanity International
  • Housing Partnership Network (HPN)
  • Huairou Commission
  • International Cities / County Management Association (ICMA)
  • John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Kresge Foundation
  • Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH)
  • National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB)
  • National Association of Counties (NACo)
  • National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO)
  • National Association of Regional Councils (NARC)
  • National Fair Housing Alliance
  • National Housing Law Project
  • National League of Cities (NLC)
  • New York University, Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy
  • Rockefeller Foundation
  • S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • S. Department of Energy (DOE)
  • S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
  • S. Department of Labor (DOL)
  • S. Department of State
  • S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania, Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR)
  • Urban Institute
  • Urban Land Institute (ULI)
  • White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC)
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

As we work with the U.S. Habitat III National Committee to lead the U.S. efforts in preparation for Habitat III, we are also inviting other organizations to join us in the work of the Subcommittees. This broad and inclusive approach will help us to raise voices and perspectives, to identify opportunities, and to work to surface issues and improve practices both domestically and internationally. The three Subcommittees that are being organized to execute the majority of the Habitat III preparatory work are:

  • U.S. National Reports Subcommittee,
  • Connecting the U.S. to Global Conversations Subcommittee; and
  • Education and Outreach Subcommittee.

Within HUD, our Habitat III efforts are based in HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R)—through the Office of Policy Development and the Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation—in partnership with HUD’s Office of Field Policy and Management.

While cities are rich with possibility, they are also the places where the challenges of income inequality, economic and racial segregation, and lack of affordability persist. Habitat III is an opportunity to think and act with a collective voice to create and sustain cities of opportunity. More specifically, we view Habitat III as an opportunity for the U.S. to leverage the collective expertise of the domestic stakeholder network to address sustainable development globally and develop shared priorities domestically.

We have our work cut out for us and we could use your help. What are the issues you think the National Committee should explore as part of Habitat III? How is century of cities playing out in your community? We’ve set up a special email address for this effort and hope that you will use it to stay in touch and share feedback as our work progresses: Habitat3@hud.gov.

Lynn M. Ross is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.

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