NYC Mayor, Cities Experts Highlight Promise of Sustainable Urbanization

15 December 2011: At an event organized by the Ford Foundation on the sidelines of the Second Intersessional Meeting for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg underlined the key role of innovations in urban policies, planning and leadership in advancing global sustainable development.

The event, titled “Sustainable and Just Cities: New Priorities for the Rio+20 Conference,” took place on 15 December 2011, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Ford Foundation President Luis A. Ubiñas said Bloomberg had set an important example through his PlaNYC initiative, which has lowered New York City’s emissions and become a model for other cities in strengthening the economy, enhancing quality of life, and addressing climate change.

Bloomberg – who Chairs the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group – highlighted that the large and growing urban proportion worldwide means cities hold great potential for solutions. He said cities are always where “the future happens first,” and have been on the forefront of action on climate change because they best understand the stakes. He asserted that Rio+20 is an opportunity for States to help cities accelerate toward a sustainable future. Bloomberg outlined key steps to putting cities at the top of the Rio agenda, including by giving urban authorities a formal role in decision making on climate and sustainability.

Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), called for the UNCSD to focus on concrete actions for the present and near future, not distant generations, and highlighted the NRDC’s “Race to Rio” campaign encouraging all stakeholders to make specific commitments on sustainability. Beinecke echoed Bloomberg’s message that just as cities are where people come face-to-face with pollution, congestion and problems caused by climate change, cities also are becoming “incubators of clean development.” She mentioned the example of the anticipated elimination of leaded gas from the planet by 2013, showing that a network of concerned people and government regulations to drive technological innovations can accomplish something that seemed impossible. She expressed the hope that mayors would have a major role to play at Rio+20 in making concrete commitments to action.

Ubiñas called for cities to be “embedded” in Rio+20. He underscored that social justice issues thrive or suffer according to how urban growth is managed, noting the great potential of cities in catalyzing sustainable development. By acting on three central principles, he suggested that urban leaders can make cities into engines of sustainable growth. The principles are: density, which is known to boost creativity and jobs, mitigate climate change and reduce energy consumption; diversity, which leads to faster and smarter growth; and sound land use planning, energy use planning, and regularized land ownership for residents.

Cecilia Martinez, Director of the New York Office of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), who moderated the event, highlighted the shift toward cities as the dominant habitat for humans, as a new and emerging challenge. She said cities are a “key lever” for the transition to sustainability, and outlined UN-HABITAT’s action points to achieve this, including: planning for the enlargement of cities and preventing the growth of slums; creating urban job; promoting urban energy; and improving urban legal frameworks and economic governance of local authorities.

A submission on sustainable cities was made to the UNCSD Compilation Document by the Sustainable Cities Working Group, of which the Ford Foundation and NRDC are members. [Ford Foundation Press Release] [IIDS RS Sources]

Original article published at

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