Encouraging sustainable urbanization, Pope Francis lauds Habitat III

The Quito conference “could be a significant occasion for identifying ways of responding” to problems of urban poverty and inequality, the pontiff said in Nairobi.
Pope Francis greets followers in Nairobi during a six-day visit to Africa, one of the world's fastest-urbanizing continents. (David Mutua/CAFOD)

Pope Francis wrapped up a six-day tour of Africa this week, a visit that included a noteworthy stop at the United Nations office in Nairobi, where he encouraged those working on the front lines of urbanization. The pope used the opportunity to make specific reference to next year’s Habitat III cities conference.

[See: Pope Francis, the urbanist]

On the soil of the world’s fastest-urbanizing continent, the pontiff spoke at the headquarters of the United Nations Environmental Programme and Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) during a trip that took him to Uganda and Central African Republic in addition to Kenya.

Amid a busy year of international appearances, Pope Francis has staked out strong positions on issues around climate change and environmental degradation. His speech to U. N. officials on the eve of major climate change negotiations, the COP 21 conference in Paris, reiterated many of the points from his landmark encyclical, Laudato Si, released over the summer.

[See: Pope Francis, mayors pledge action on climate change and the urban SDG]

“Here I would offer a word of encouragement to all those working on the local and international levels to ensure that the process of urbanization becomes an effective means for development and integration,” Pope Francis said on 27 November. “This means working to guarantee for everyone, especially those living in outlying neighbourhoods, the basic rights to dignified living conditions and to land, lodging and labour.”

Such themes echoed a speech Francis made in September to the United Nations, in which he pointed specifically to the “Right to the City” movement.

[See: Pope Francis evokes “Right to the City” amid focus on migration]

In Nairobi, the pope talked more in depth about the prospect of using cities as a tool for development and poverty alleviation.

“There is a need to promote projects of city planning and maintenance of public areas which move in this direction and take into consideration the views of local residents; this will help to eliminate the many instances of inequality and pockets of urban poverty which are not simply economic but also, and above all, social and environmental,” Francis said. “The forthcoming Habitat III conference, planned for Quito in October 2016, could be a significant occasion for identifying ways of responding to these issues.”

The speech could prompt speculation that Pope Francis will make an appearance at Habitat III, given the extent to which he has put cities on his agenda for promoting environmental and social equity. In July, the pontiff was received by a crowd of over a million people in Quito during his first official visit to his home continent of South America.

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