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A “Century of Cities,” here and abroad

Message From PD&R Senior Leadership
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A “Century of Cities,” here and abroad

Image of Lynn Ross, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development.
Lynn Ross, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development.
Do you live in an urban place? Chances are that you do or will sometime in the future. A hundred years ago, this might have been a different story. Globally, just one in every ten people lived in urban areas a century ago. Now, for the first time ever, most people live in cities.

By 2050, the United Nations projects, almost three-quarters of the world's population will call urban areas home. Africa, China, India and Latin America are each urbanizing at a spectacular pace. Here in the U.S., the Census Bureau projects that by 2050 our nation’s population will grow by 80 million people, 60 million of whom are likely to live in urban areas.

But why are we living in a “century of cities?” Why are people moving to urban areas? Well, there are many reasons, but the short answer is: opportunity. Cities are the engine of regional economies — impacting suburban, rural, and tribal areas. Urban living, though not without challenges, is rich with economic, educational and social possibilities that appeal to a range of people. In fact, according to a 2013 study by the Urban Land Institute, some of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population (generation Y, Latinos, renters) express a higher than average preference for living in medium or big cities. Moreover, some 62 percent of Americans planning to move in the next 5 years would prefer to settle in the type of mixed-use neighborhood prevalent in urban places.

In September, Secretary Castro outlined a vision that builds on HUD’s mission and role as the Department of Opportunity. Given the domestic and global demographic trends toward urbanization and his experience as Mayor of San Antonio, it came as no surprise that a key component of that vision is to strengthen communities in this century of cities.

HUD plans to explore the century of cities theme in a number of ways over the next few years including building on our existing place-based efforts such as Promise Zones, Choice Neighborhoods, and Strong Cities, Strong Communities. HUD’s place-based initiatives are designed to expand economic mobility and opportunity by leveraging and coordinating federal programs to support locally-driven strategies for community transformation. Another important way we’ll explore this set of issues is through our engagement with Habitat III.

Habitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development scheduled to take place in 2016. The UN convened the Habitat I conference in 1976 in Vancouver, Canada, which sparked an international conversation on urban issues. Twenty years later, at the Habitat II conference in 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, world leaders adopted the Habitat Agenda as a global action plan to create adequate shelter for all (read the related U.S. national report and progress report on HUD USER). At Habitat III, participants will analyze progress on commitments made at Habitat II and work towards harnessing the tremendous potential of cities to promote sustainable development.

HUD, in coordination with the State Department and other federal agencies, will lead the U.S. efforts to support Habitat III. In early December, we convened the U.S. National Preparatory Committee for the first time. The committee, chaired by Secretary Castro, includes a diverse group of over 50 member organizations representing the federal government, regional and local officials, academia, philanthropy, and civil society.

Our goal is to facilitate a dynamic and inclusive Habitat III preparatory process over the next 18 months that engages the National Committee and other partners in an open dialogue and partner-led activities designed to:

  • promote open and productive dialogue on key challenges facing U.S. cities and regions, and discuss opportunities to improve quality of life, sustainability, and resilience efforts;
  • raise public awareness and engage local communities on housing, planning, and community development issues in the U.S. and how they connect to global conversations; and
  • uplift best practices and innovations emerging from rural, tribal, suburban, and urban communities across the U.S.

While cities are rich with possibility, they are also the places where the challenges of income inequality, economic and racial segregation, and lack of affordability persist. Habitat III is an opportunity to think and act with a collective voice to create and sustain cities of opportunity. More specifically, we view Habitat III as an opportunity for the U.S. to leverage the collective expertise of the domestic stakeholder network to address sustainable development globally and develop shared priorities domestically.

We have our work cut out for us and we could use your help. What are the issues you think the National Committee should explore as part of Habitat III? How is century of cities playing out in your community? We’ve set up a special email address for this effort and hope that you will use it to stay in touch and share feedback as our work progresses:

Published Date: January 13, 2015

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.