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We Need To Make Our Cities Inclusive, Sustainable And Safe

11/03/2015 10:37 EST | Updated 11/03/2016 05:12 EDT
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Canada, Quebec, Montreal, Downtown Montreal

Goal 11: making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

By Mayor Denis Coderre

Cities matter, now more than ever. They're the engines that drive our economy. They're hubs of innovation and creativity. They're where we connect with each other -- and with the world. In other words, it's our cities that move Canada forward.

Yet just as our cities work hard to attract the best and the brightest, care for their citizens and protect the environment, they must also address the challenges that come with a growing population. In many cities around the world, this means dealing with a limited supply of affordable housing, outdated infrastructure and crippling gridlock. And it means making our neighbourhoods and communities more sustainable through reduced water consumption, diverted waste from landfills, and support to the green economy.

To ensure these important urban issues are recognized within the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, local and regional governments established the Global Taskforce for Local and Regional Governments Towards Post-2015 and Habitat III. Chaired by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' (FCM) international partner, United Cities and Local Governments, the taskforce worked hard to ensure the new development goals take into account the priorities of local authorities -- particularly the challenges of rapid urbanization that many regions face.

That work paid off. Thanks in part to the advocacy of this global taskforce, Sustainable Development Goal 11 focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It puts urban issues at the centre of the SDGs. The acknowledgement by UN member states of the importance of Goal 11 -- and the importance of our cities -- is a huge win for local and regional governments and sub-nationals governments around the world.

In fact, it's a win for all Canadians. It's simply not possible to talk about Canada's economy or our shared future without talking about where you live, where you work, where you shop, where you invest in a home and where you raise your kids.

Take local infrastructure, for example. Public infrastructure provides a clear and measurable return on investment and drives economic competitiveness. Reducing gridlock through improved public transit returns tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity to the national economy and improves our environment. It just makes sense.

In order to create resilient communities, access to affordable housing is crucial as well. In Canada, home prices have more than doubled since 2000, and household mortgages have contributed to Canada's record high levels of household debt. Metro Vancouver alone needs more than 6,000 new housing units per year just to keep up. This is an urgent challenge that needs the kind of attention that Goal 11 demands.

Given their responsibilities for land management, waste management, water and wastewater treatment, municipal governments are already leaders in delivering environmental sustainability to Canadians. Not surprisingly, they have been among the earliest adopters of innovative practices that deliver greenhouse gas (GHG) savings, while creating more livable and walkable communities.

The implementation of the Green Municipal Fund -- a permanent endowment provided by the Government of Canada and managed by FCM -- has enabled locally-driven green innovation in Canada. The Green Municipal Fund has supported more than 500 municipalities of all sizes in all regions of Canada over the past 15 years. Projects range from bringing contaminated sites back into productive use to building retrofits that reduce energy consumption and waste.

Canadian municipal expertise extends beyond our borders, too. Working through FCM's international programs, Canadian municipalities and partner countries work together in developing and emerging countries in areas such as democratic governance, local economic development, women's participation in the economic and political life of their community, as well as environmental sustainability. This sort of innovative partnership enables municipal experts from the City of Saguenay, for example, to team up with their counterparts in Nam Dinh, Vietnam to improve that city's land information management and taxation systems to increase the quality of life for its growing population.

The City of Montreal is also helping to strengthen institutional capacity of the City of Port-au-Prince through the Haiti-Canada Municipal Cooperation Program (MCP2) in partnership with FCM and the Union des municipalités du Québec. The program works to create more transparency, efficiency, and sustainability in the administration of Port-au-Prince, with a goal of strengthening the city's government and delivering better local services to the entire country.

Of course, these priorities are not only Canadian priorities. Every local government around the world is working towards the same goal: creating cities and communities that people are proud to call home. In order to accomplish this, local governments must be recognized as key development actors at the global level and given proper resources to fulfill their role as agents of change. The fact is, municipalities are leaders in finding solutions to national and international challenges. They have the experience and the know-how to get the job done.

Making our cities and communities inclusive, sustainable, safe and resilient makes our countries inclusive, sustainable safe and resilient. We as local governments around the world are ready to do our part to strengthen our country's future. We are asking all levels of government to join the global municipal movement.

Denis Coderre is the Mayor of the City of Montreal and President of the North American section (NORAM) of the United Cities and Local Governments

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of CCIC or its members.

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