Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza,
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the
at the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the effective implementation
of the New Urban Agenda and the positioning of UN-Habitat in this regard
Plenary debate: Recommendations contained in the report of the Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat
New York, 6 September 2017
Thank you for this opportunity to reflect on the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda and to discuss the report of the High Level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat.
Any sustainable urban agenda must first pass the test of the fundamental principle of “people first.” Whether in a rural or an urban setting, governments and all stakeholders have the responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum means needed to live in dignity, in a way that those in need are not mere beneficiaries but are also agents of their own dignified living. In this regard, as Pope Francis affirmed, urban planning must always take into consideration the views of those who live in these areas.
The biggest challenge in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda is therefore to achieve an urban renewal and planning that are centered on the human person, building and nurturing sustainable, inclusive, safe and peaceful cities able to provide a healthy environment for all their inhabitants.
Along this line, my Delegation welcomes Recommendation no. 10 of the aforementioned report, which calls for a focus on metropolitan regions, including the cities, towns, peripheral areas and villages that they contain, and to avoid the oversimplification of the rural-urban dichotomy and “the risk of positioning cities and rural areas in opposition to one another, in competition for scarce development resources.”
Warning against this oversimplification of the rural-urban dichotomy, Pope Francis affirmed that “through the influence of the media, rural areas are being affected by the same cultural changes” affecting urban areas, “significantly altering their way of life as well.” Moreover, in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, such an oversimplified dichotomy runs the risk of leaving the inhabitants of rural areas further behind. When investments and services are concentrated in urban areas to the detriment of the villages, this may trigger, inter alia, the exodus of rural populations to cities, resulting in abandoned villages and the formation of inhabitable informal settlements that surround cities. As Recommendation no. 5 of the aforementioned report underlines, “the core of UN-Habitat’s normative role” is “to keep in focus the directive to ‘leave no one behind’.”
The primary cell of any social development, including urban development, is the family. The many challenges facing the family in our time could be exacerbated in the context of the metropolis. It is not uncommon that parents invest hours to get to work, negatively impacting the quality of the care and education of their children. This is particularly true in families of modest means, who can only afford living quarters in distant peripheral areas or satellite cities. Bearing this in mind, the implementation of the New Urban Agenda should exert every effort to assure that families, especially those left behind, enjoy their fundamental rights, such as the right to adequate housing, which is a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Furthermore, urban living requires a community dimension, a neighborhood. To foster the social dimensions of urban living and avoid segregation, there is a need to create and protect community spaces, visual landmarks and urban landscapes that facilitate in the urban dwellers a sense of belonging, of rootedness, of ‘feeling at home’ within a city. This is an exciting challenge, especially in inner cities and shantytowns, where choices have to be made between demolition and preservation of spaces and landmarks in the process of urban renewal and gentrification. A sense of shared space and common heritage in neighborhoods can help connect and integrate the dwellers.
Living in a big city presents many complex challenges. Cities create a sort of permanent ambivalence because, while they offer their residents countless possibilities, they also present them with obstacles to their full flourishing. Yet cities are a microcosm of the tremendous riches in our world. Cities are melting pots of the cultures, traditions, historical experiences, languages, costumes and cuisine that dwellers bring with them. So let’s make them great and exciting places in which to live.
Thank you, Mr. President.
1. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 149-150.
2. Report of the High Level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat, 50.
3. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 73.