From Mumbai to San Francisco, cities have developed into hubs for creativity, commerce and culture - while offering the promise of a better life to families fleeing from conflict and poverty. However, cities can also be home to inequality and deprivation.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals call for “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” cities, while the “New Urban Agenda” agreed to at a 2016 UN conference provides related policy guidance.
The United Nations projects that the global urban population will increase from 4 billion in 2015 to 5.1 billion by 2030.
Residents of growing cities around the world, including artists, are being displaced for economic reasons. This is unfortunate, because those cities where residents can continue to coexist irrespective of income, ethnicity, religion, age, physical ability, sexual orientation, or immigration status provide enormous opportunities for the sort of interaction that enriches the cultural and economic fabric.
Cities that are inclusive are more creative, innovative, and sustainable.
In 2020, urbanists convened at the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, to discuss topics including the use of technology and data to enable more sustainable cities.
In response to rapid urbanization, designers, architects, artists, and communities are formulating innovative approaches. In Medellín, Colombia, former Mayor Sergio Fajardo determined that the most beautiful public buildings should be built in the poorest areas, transforming the city from one of the world’s most dangerous into a more inclusive metropolis. Elevated cable cars now link outer settlements to Medellin’s central metro system, while libraries and cultural centres support civic participation.
Related advances like autonomous vehicles offer opportunities to re-purpose streets in more human-centric ways, and to incorporate mobility options that benefit everyone.
In other cities, “social practice" artists are shining a spotlight on urban inequality and revealing our shared humanity. Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, for example, transforms vacant properties in an under-served neighborhood into community-art spaces for residents.
In the urban US and much of the industrialized world, income inequality, housing costs, and limited public transportation are decreasing social mobility, as social and spatial segregation and climate change create serious challenges. Local residents, designers, artists, and advocates in affected areas are working to create more sustainable and inclusive barrios, neighborhoods and boroughs.
The French street artist “JR” has displayed photographic portraits in places like the slums of Paris and Nairobi, and in Israel and Palestine, which engage viewers with the larger-than-life faces of ordinary people who might otherwise remain relatively hidden.