The Group of Friends for Sustainable Cities towards Rio+20

The Group of Friends for Sustainable Cities on Monday, 21st May,  hosted the High Level Meeting event Sustainable Cities: Rio+20 and Beyond, in collaboration with UN-Habitat.

The Group of Friends for Sustainable Cities is a group of 29 countries co-chaired by Sweden and Singapore who have been leading the global dialogue on the critical role of the cities and the importance of sustainable urban development for achieving sustainable development.

The meeting held at the UN headquarters was chaired by ambassador Albert Chua of Singapore and Staffan Tillander of Sweden, with the special representation of Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil. The panelists included Dr. Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat; Mr. Khoo Teng Chye, Executive Director of the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore; Mr. David Bragdon, Director of the NYC Mayor's office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability, and Professor Robert Buckley from the New School.

Mr. Chua provided a short briefing on the work of the Group of Friends and Mr. Viotti, while providing the perspective of the host city for the Rio +20 conference, noted that cities are the contemporary form of human settlements and explained the importance of ensuring that cities are sustainable. It then moved to presentations from each of the panelists, in which Dr. Kirabo Kacyira, participated via skype from Nairobi. She stressed that creating resilient cities was integral to sustainable future development and highlighted the importance of developing national urban policies, "Cities must be more pro-actively planned. Urban design has to be embraced by strategic urban policies", she said. She also highlighted the importance of working with Habitat Agenda partners, as people need to have a stake in the planning and development of their cities.

Mr. Chye spoke on Singapore's Livability Framework, a guideline for sustainable development created from the lessons of sustainable development Singapore has learned in becoming one of the world's most livable cities. It was a very insightful look into the management of resources for a city constrained by geography, and that has grown five-fold in fifty years. Mr. Bragdon spoke on PlanNYC, New York city's plan to re-invent the city through urban policy that concentrates on creating a sustainable urban future by 2030. And finally, Professor Buckley brought the scope out to talk about what the future of cities may look like globally, and the schools of thought that have informed future speculation about cities in the past.

The panelists then fielded several questions answering concerns, such as what is the role of cities in United Nations conferences, such as Rio +20, in which states dictate policy, and sometimes sideline urban concerns, and how to create more resilient cities. The event wrapped up with a presentation by Mr. Tillander, exploring modes of participation in sustainable urban development such as through electronic platforms for dialogue and exchange, and the ability to fostering global partnerships through such interaction.