Cities Embrace Sustainability and Equity as Essential to Development

People who live and work in cities increasingly recognize that social justice and sustainable development are interconnected and essential in creating livable, resilient cities. 2016’s Habitat III in Quito ushered in the New Urban Agenda, signaling the world’s commitment to transforming cities and solving today’s urgent challenges.

Cities are now home to more than half of the world’s population, so transforming urban centers is necessary to tackle climate change, promote economic growth and improve quality of life for millions of people. In fact, these three goals are different aspects of the same ambition: thriving, livable and sustainable cities for all.

Last October in Quito, leaders from 167 countries came together at Habitat III to adopt the New Urban Agenda, a blueprint for urban transformation. The World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City, makes the economic and environmental case for building equity into cities’ design. Investing in services for the urban underserved, protecting water and air quality, and designing public transportation solutions will ultimately boost cities’ productivity.

WRI Ross Center—working with local and national policymakers in Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Turkey—also saw improved conditions that will enable more change on the ground. WRI and the Building Efficiency Accelerator helped Mexico and Mexico City develop energy efficiency standards for buildings. The Indian government used WRI research and its work with the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety in shaping major road safety legislation. If passed, the revamped law could cut India’s traffic fatalities in half by 2050.

Rapid urbanization in the developing world poses a growing problem: How will cities support their populations sustainably? The World Resources Report shows that improving life for the underserved population can make cities more prosperous, environmentally sustainable and socially equitable for all.

Ani Dasgupta

Global Director, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Beyond progress on international agreements and national policies, 2016 saw the first signs of a grassroots movement for sustainable cities. More than 300 car-free urban zones exist around the world. New York City’s Times Square is a famous example, but the movement has spread to Berlin, Beijing, Singapore and New Delhi. Our India cities team, working with others, brought this movement to India through Raahgiri Day, as cities closed some streets to cars on Sundays. The most dramatic transformation was in Connaught Place, one of New Delhi's busiest and most iconic shopping areas, which was closed to cars Sundays for more than a year, with considerable citizen support. More than 50 other Indian cities have embraced Raahgiri Day, representing the growing citizen demand for livable, people-centered cities.