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  • Aasavari Joshi

The United Nations Encourage Action towards Sustainable Urban Development

Countries are increasingly advancing in their efforts to transform their commitment to sustainable urban development into tangible improvements in the structure of cities with the adoption of a declaration endorsed by the United Nations. The San Marino Declaration was signed by the governments present at the 83rd session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Committee on Urban Development, Housing, and Land Management, which took place from the 3rd to the 6th of October 2022 in San Marino. It seeks to "strengthen the role of architects, engineers, surveyors, urban planners and designers in guaranteeing sustainable, safe, healthy, socially inclusive, climate neutral and circular housing, urban infrastructure and cities".

Governments have agreed through the declaration to the first set of "Principles for Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Design and Architecture," which will be used in the design of all structures and urban developments. "Sustainable housing, land management, and urban development form important cornerstones for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: without them, no inclusive development is possible," UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova emphasized. Through this declaration, governments in highly urbanized regions acknowledged the importance of action at the city level in addressing our common issues and the necessity of continuing to advance robust and inclusive multilateral collaboration to do so. Its guiding principles provide a tool to assist urban practitioners in their essential role of bringing about change on the ground.

"In this moment of crisis, we may find enormous promise in the brave effort being done to make cities worldwide climate-neutral, safer, more inclusive, and resilient," said Lord Norman Foster, renowned architect and president of the Norman Forster Foundation. However, given the scope and urgency of the difficulties we face, urbanists, architects, engineers, and designers - along with other influential city-shapers including civic leaders, managers, and developers - have a special responsibility to advance transformational reforms at the necessary scale.

According to the San Marino Declaration, every city, urban infrastructure, and building must be planned according to a set of interconnected, interdependent principles that ensure:

  • People are the center of everything, social responsibility and inclusivity are encouraged, and diversity and equality are integrated while taking into account the needs of all individuals and families.

  • Respect for the cultural identity, traditions, and history of the communities, buildings, and locations.

  • Use of recycled materials, reuse and rebuilding of spaces, use of rainwater and reduction of wastewater production, and encouragement of food production through urban agriculture, orchards, and food forests, in order to restrict the consumption of energy and resources.

  • Provision of safe and sustainable mobility and transport infrastructure, including rail, road, inland waterways, and ports, as well as ensuring accessible walking and gathering spaces, green areas, and woods as important aspects to maintain people's health and safety.

  • Design that respects plants, animals, other species, and natural environments that respect nature and natural systems and processes. Ex-ante environmental impact assessments, biodiversity-friendly settings, the use of natural resources, low-impact manufacturing, and techniques for assembling and disassembling are all implied by this.

  • Achieving climate neutrality through urban design and requalification, using innovative strategies to cut down on waste and energy use, retiring unsustainable transportation systems, and incorporating green energy generation systems into city plans and construction projects.

  • People-smartness, utilizing modern connectivity and technology to enhance everyone's quality of life, even the most socially disadvantaged populations, in order to increase transparency and fight corruption.

  • Strengthening catastrophe resilience, particularly in light of climate change, and making buildings and infrastructure flexible and durable by including spatial adaptation to meet changing circumstances and uses throughout time.

  • Collaboration across disciplines and the development of networks to promote social cohesion, participation in the community, and coexistence while taking into account the various requirements of citizens

  • A commitment to fostering trust, ensuring responsiveness to needs, and consolidating shared ownership of the city's future through engagement with and participation from local communities and interested parties.

The 83rd session of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing, and Land Management is expected to produce a number of important results, including the signed declaration. In order to promote cooperation, knowledge sharing, and policy support among the 56 nations that make up UNECE in North America and Pan-Europe, the committee offers a special intergovernmental forum. A new and inclusive multilateralism has been put into action by its Forum of Mayors since 2020.


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