Inclusion in the urban century
Over the next 30 years, cities will shape every aspect of global development, including the way in which fundamental human rights are promoted, protected, and realized. Cities generate about 80 percent of the global GDP and account for 60 to 80 percent of energy consumption and at least 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Today, around half of the world’s population live in cities and is projected to increase to 70 % by 2050.
This is making urbanization one of the most important global trends in the 21st century. The unprecedented scale of urban expansion, particularly in low-income countries, demands a radical rethinking of what cities are, and who they are for.
Social exclusion and marginalization on the basis of socio-economic status, gender, disability, age, caste, ethnicity, and other status pose significant challenges in gaining and securing equal access, rights, and opportunities in urban areas. Persons who are blind and partially sighted, or experiencing other forms of disability face various barriers that restrict them from participating in society and accessing services on an equal basis with others (such as housing, employment, education, water and sanitation systems, public spaces and transport, information and communication technologies, etc.)
Unexpected and widespread events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, remind us that much more remains to be done to address persistent accessibility barriers that feed inequality and the exclusion of persons with disabilities and older persons across the globe. “1 in 2 WBU members surveyed during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically highlighted mobility and transportation as the critical challenge they face in their communities, especially during times of crises” (2020).
National, regional, and local governments are at a critical juncture as we enter the Decade of Action to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Recognizing the trends in and opportunities of urban transformation, including the impact of climate change, cities around the world must decide on how to adapt their structures and services to be accessible to and inclusive of persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups in all their diversity. The urgency is to act now, to find accessible, greener solutions that can create inclusive and sustainable communities for all.
The framework for inclusive and accessible urban development
“We will fail to achieve the new international development agenda if we don’t consider disability inclusion at the starting point. To advance towards development that is inclusive of all, the CRPD and the SDGs should be used as mutually reinforcing tools.” – Catalina Devandas, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Since 2006, with the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) many governments which have ratified the CRPD are committed to inclusion and responsible for providing equal access to all areas of social, economic, cultural, and political life. Accessibility is a right and a precondition for inclusion of all persons with disabilities in society requiring governments, policy makers, and stakeholders to include accessibility and universal design across all interventions, policies, budgets, and programs in both urban and rural areas (CRPD Article 9 and General Comment 2 (2014).
Universal and equitable access is at the core of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The agenda comes with a clear mandate and shared responsibility across national, regional, and local governments to leave no-one behind. All SDGs are interconnected and hold implications for cities including SDG11 on Inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities which require improving access to adequate housing and basic services, public transport, green public spaces, inclusive urban planning, and management processes.
The New Urban Agenda for Sustainable Urban Development (NUA), adopted in 2016 as the result of the Habitat III process, provides governments at all levels with a clear roadmap to localize and realize sustainable urban development for all, calling attention to non-discrimination, participation, and inclusion of persons with disabilities as equal participants in social, political and economic lives of cities. NUA along its global follow-up mechanisms, the World Urban Forums (WUF9 and WUF10), clearly calls for actions on accessibility and universal design.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) provides further guidance on inclusion of persons with disabilities and the use of universal design for building safe, resilient, and sustainable communities. In 2019 the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) adopted a Policy Paper on Inclusive and Accessible Cities to set in action a framework on disability inclusion and accessibility for regional and local governments. All these frameworks are mutually reinforcing and delivering on the commitments will necessitate true alignment with the CRPD.