Global mayors pledge collective action on inequality, sustainability

The New York Proposal for Inclusive Growth in Cities challenges local authorities to ensure that economic growth prioritizes equity and sustainability.

NEW YORK — Citing trends of deep and growing inequities in income and opportunities that challenge cities across the globe, some 43 mayors this week pledged a range of actions aimed at combating inequality and nurturing inclusive growth in their metropolitan regions.

The mayors formally launched the Inclusive Growth in Cities Campaign as a joint initiative of the Ford Foundation and the 34-country OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation). The campaign and a formal declaration, known as the “New York Proposal for Inclusive Growth in Cities”, challenges local authorities to ensure that future economic growth prioritizes equity and sustainability.

At the campaign’s kickoff, stressing the need for strong and consistent equity measures in world cities, were Ford Foundation President Darren Walker and Angel Gurría, the OECD’s secretary general. Mayors from 19 world cities were also present at the Ford Foundation’s headquarters, ranging from Bill De Blasio of New York to Khalifa Sall of Dakar, Senegal, in sessions that also included dozens of foundation, corporate, government and non-profit representatives. Overall, 43 mayors have supported the initiative so far.

The Ford Foundation, under Walker’s leadership, has focused sharply on issues of equity and addressing “the huge impacts of inequalities in cities,” including the frequent failure to invest in critically needed public goods. The priority, Walker insists, must be “to put the people first — not the streets, cars, parking garages or water systems, but the people who are the beating hearts of our cities, the people who breathe creativity, energy and culture into the civic enterprise.” (Citiscope receives support from the Ford Foundation.)

[See: Equity can help cities win the sustainability race]

Gurría, for his part, has taken a strong interest in the city initiative despite the OECD’s historic focus on nation states. “Education, skills, innovation, regulations, vocational training, lifelong learning — that’s the new currency,” Gurría insisted. “We need to promote labour markets that make the most of women, youth and the foreign-born,” with goals such as affordable housing, transit networks and quality infrastructure.

Levels of inequality, it was noted, have risen significantly in OECD countries. Thirty years ago, the top 10 percent of wage earners made seven times the income of the bottom 10 percent; today, that differential has risen to 10 times as much. The chasms are greater, often to an extreme degree, in countries of the developing world, with income gaps of roughly 50 to 1 between the richest and poorest 10 percent in Brazil and a 100 to 1 in South Africa.

Inclusivity ‘essential for development’

The New York Proposal seeks to tie together three international agreements around this issue: last year’s Paris Agreement on climate change, which saw surprisingly high levels of engagement from city officials; the new Sustainable Development Goals, which were also agreed to last year and which include a key development goal on cities; and this year’s Habitat III process, which is set to result in a 20-year global urbanization strategy in October, known as the New Urban Agenda. The proposal states that the mayors’ efforts will “inform [these] other global agendas that aim to advance more sustainable, inclusive and resilient cities.”

Worsening the opportunity gaps, participants at the campaign launch noted, sections of many cities across the world receive inferior levels of city services, ranging from poorly staffed schools to missing water and sewage systems to inadequate public transportation.

An advanced world city such as New York, De Blasio noted, faces rising inequality triggered by explosive rises in housing costs and the “double-edged sword of gentrification.” A “sense of closed doors,” he added, can eventually lead some young people to drift toward “extreme philosophies and sometimes violence.”

All cities owe their less-advantaged populations a fair break, the mayor said. He cited three initiatives his administration has started: first, to require a share of affordable units in all new housing projects, estimated to benefit roughly 500,000 residents in coming years; second, a push to raise the minimum wage; and third, for undocumented residents, a city-issued “ID-NY” identity card for which hundreds of thousands New Yorkers signed up in its first year.

[See: New Urban Agenda discussions ‘must translate into useful action’, New York event told]

Gurría, summing up the broad case for urban equity, said: “We need to break the link between one’s street address and life prospects. We need more affordable housing, effective transport networks and quality infrastructure.” The fruit of the Inclusive Growth in Cities Campaign, he said, should be “a hub of best practices — telling our stories, sharing our successes and recounting our failures.”

Individual mayors, reporting on their cities’ challenges and policies, added global flavour to the New York conference. Mayor Fernando Medina of Lisbon noted, “These are dark times in Europe, the dawn of terrorism” — crises that can pit the middle class, protecting itself, against others. “From today,” he said, “we take seriously the idea that inclusivity is essential for development. It’s not just about the poor or the middle class, but rather development to benefit all.” As an example, Medina cited transport systems that benefit the poor through highway expansion.

[See: Habitat III can help migration drive city development]

Mayor Esther Adler of Geneva described efforts of her administration to promote children’s well-being, including a booklet on the rights of children in the city. The mission is critical, she said, at a time when half her city’s population is foreign born, including many Muslims. One of her goals: to provide day care citywide, allowing women of all backgrounds to work if they choose.

Cities’ crucial role

The conference resulted in the New York Proposal. Of special concern, it proposes dealing candidly with “life outcomes disproportionately determined by socio-economic status, sex, age, or the places in which people live.” Cities, it asserts, “have a crucial role to play in making inclusive growth happen.”

The mayors agreed on means to carry out that agenda, including:

  • Educational systems that enable people of all ages and backgrounds to develop their human capital and life prospects.

  • Labour markets that make the most of women, youths, immigrants and people of all backgrounds, promoting quality jobs and inclusive entrepreneurship.

  • An inclusive housing market in safe, healthy markets.

  • Inclusive infrastructure, including a transport system that provides access to jobs and services for all.

Among the 19 “champion mayors” who signed on to the campaign at the New York meeting were the heads of such European cities as Athens, Paris, Brussels, Madrid and Genoa. Latin American city leaders participated from Mexico City, Medellín and Rio de Janeiro, as did Asian mayors from Seoul and Yokohama. And from North America, city executives took part from Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Tijuana, Portland, Birmingham and Montréal.

Partner institutions of the campaign include the C40 Cities Leadership Group, Cities Alliance, UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments) and ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability.

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