Towards a Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient Urban Future

03/12/2015 06:28 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2015

For centuries cities have been organic creatures. They rise when there is a need and fall when confronted with an insurmountable challenge. While deliberate city designs existed as early as Medieval Europe, the planning profession as we know of today did not begin to emerge until the 19th century as a response to a rapidly urbanized and industrial world. During this period, Victorian cities were a playground for breeding diseases, and where it was common for multiple families to live in a single complex with no proper lighting or airflow. This, coupled with poor sanitation and health care, resulted in slum-like conditions in major cities across the world, including London, Paris, Berlin and New York. In response to this challenge was the creation of the planning profession.

In the 1800s, roughly 3 percent of the world population resided in cities; however, this share of people living in the urban setting has dramatically risen to 54 percent in 2014. With this rapidly increasing migration of people into cities, one thing remains clear: the need to take care of people and their precious lives. This exact goal is what UN-Habitat sets out to achieve.

UN-Habitat is the United Nations program with a mission to create a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient urban future. In October of 2016, it will host Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, in Quito, Ecuador. The purpose of this conference is to renew commitments made to sustainable urbanization and pave way for a "New Urban Agenda."

It is clear that there is much work to be done. Cities are still challenged with the same problems of the past: poor sanitation, health, water and electricity. Furthermore, haphazard and short-sighted planning has become an increasingly dangerous concern. Beyond this, cities with the highest rates of urbanization also share the highest population of young people, making it especially important that their voices are heard in the decision-making efforts. In order to reconcile these deficits, the Major Group for Children and Youth, the official stakeholder forum of young people at the UN, has committed itself to the Habitat III process with the objective of galvanizing young people to address these global challenges.

The Major Group for Children and Youth invites all young people and youth organizations to participate in the Habitat III process by holding open-ended consultations in their respective community, group or campus. The goal of the consultation is to have young people become aware of the Habitat III process, as well as facilitate a conversation for them to explore the many urban challenges to come up with innovative solutions. The results of all the consultations that take place will be synthesized by the Major Group for Children and Youth, and turn into our official position paper, which we will push for during the upcoming conference. So far, young people from countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Japan and India have organized their own consultations.

Our future continues to be threatened by poverty, climate change and social inequity. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that only through solidarity and cooperation can we begin to solve these dilemmas. By joining the efforts of the Major Group for Children and Youth, young people around the world can work to create a more vibrant, sustainable and resilient future.