World ‘deeply unprepared’ for implementation of urban SDG

Aromar Revi delivers frank keynote address to the UN-Habitat Governing Council.

In December, the global urban commentator Aromar Revi wowed an audience at the United Nations complex in Geneva with his TEDxPlaceDesNations talk “Cities Can Save Us.”

“Throughout history, cities are places where the poor and vulnerable have found refuge, where social transformation has been enabled,” Revi argued in a forceful presentation. “It is here where the battles against slavery, the battles for universal suffrage, the battles for human rights and the battles for equality … have been fought and will be fought in the future.”

Revi is the director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. (See here for his recent Citiscope commentary, “Sustainable cities: Key to future development and governance”.) In late April, he was at it again on another U. N. stage, this time in Nairobi, where he was the keynote speaker for the 25th session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council.

As Citiscope has reported, this was a particularly important session for the agency’s Governing Council, coming as it did in the midst of multiple negotiations around defining the Post-2015 Development Agenda. It was also the last time that the Governing Council would come together before next year’s Habitat III conference.

Revi threaded these major events together with the latest trends in global urbanization — and offered several pointed critiques and recommendations. His speech struck a chord above the noise surrounding the current debates on global development.

“Where are we most at risk? Where are the biggest challenges we have?” Revi asked during his presentation. “The first, to my mind, is a limited political conversation on the emerging urban governance frame … This needs to be addressed.”

Revi also warned of a “global institutional vacuum”. The current urban revolution is “happening after 5,000 years”, he said, “so the governance frame and the institutions that manage this process at the global scale need to be created and built.”

This includes the financing required to pay for new urban development and anti-poverty programmes. While the world is slated to meet in July to cement a major new agreement around development financing, Revi warns that “at the global scale we have no clue” about how such mechanisms will come together.

Although Revi has been a key figure in pushing through the new draft urban Sustainable Development Goal, he warned that the world remains “deeply unprepared” for its implementation. In part this includes serious institutional deficits at the national and local levels.

“If we do get an urban SDG in September,” he said, “I imagine that many, many countries in the world — and of course many cities — will be seriously challenged on the first of January next year, when we have to get down to actually doing something.”

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