Human & Machine

UN-Habitat Debuts New Cities Initiative

Organizing around an urban lifestyle with a future.
Sharon McElwee

With roots going back to the 1970s, UN-Habitat focuses on the development of sustainable urban spaces. As part of a revitalized and strengthened mandate of recent years, the inaugural UN-Habitat Assembly will meet at its headquarters in Nairobi from May 27–31. At the meeting, whose theme is "Innovation for Better Quality of Life in Cities and Communities," participants will elect officers and discuss progress in sustainable urban development.

UN-Habitat partners with government organizations, academia, and the private sector on initiatives to improve life in the world's fastest-growing urban areas. Recent developments include the sponsorship of a Smart Cities workshop for Egyptian government officials in March 2019, and Argentina's adoption of its first-ever National Urban Policy in February 2019.

The design magazine dezeen reports that UN-Habitat regularly uses the popular computer game Minecraft to involve local residents in redesigning spaces through its Block to Block Initiative. Its most recent project, in December 2018, brought together refugees and host community residents in Northern Kenya.

UN-Habitat also works with the enterprise software provider SAP on urban data collection. Sensors and RFID tags embedded in everything from sewer systems to trash cans can stream valuable data to monitor public utilities in urban areas and detect problems during emergencies.

In October 2018 the World Economic Forum reported that measuring progress on the UN's New Urban Agenda is difficult, though it has gotten growing support from governments and large financial institutions. The May meeting will also review and approve the UN-Habitat Strategic Plan for 2020–2025, though it's not yet clear how much time will be devoted to discussing individual projects. —Sharon McElwee