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OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers: Urban Sustainability and Resiliency

Mayors and ministers from around the world convened in Chicago on March 8 to stress the need for sustainable urban development to promote job creation and long-term economic, social, and environmental resiliency. Cities are facing a double challenge: to green existing urban infrastructures and to develop new financing mechanisms for green infrastructure. There is an urgent need to work collectively and share innovative solutions to have lasting impact, as business as usual is no longer an option. Not only has the worldwide economic crisis opened an opportunity to reconsider new sources of long-term sustainable growth, but an economic development model based on heavy resource consumption and pollution is no longer an option, and delaying action further will only increase costs

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, and Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia Robert Doyle.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, and Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia Robert Doyle.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) partnered with HUD’s Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation (IPI) to bring this annual convening to the U.S. for the first time. This 4th annual Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers was co-hosted by Secretary Shaun Donovan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría. More than 50 mayors, ministers (or cabinet secretaries), private sector, and foundation leaders agreed that cities should be empowered to take the lead on green growth but their efforts are hampered by huge investment needs and constrained public finances.

Despite the challenge, innovative solutions and partnerships are surfacing. Mayor Emanuel spoke of Chicago’s new “Infrastructure Trust,” which will finance large scale infrastructure retrofits and development projects providing cost savings and new jobs. The Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, spoke of his goal to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020. Vancouver has achieved 28% population growth over the past decade while meeting reduced greenhouse gas emissions targets and is making innovative investments to leverage public-private partnerships for transit, green buildings, LED street lights and “smart” utility poles.

Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia described in a bilateral meeting with Dr. Raphael Bostic, Australia’s urban design protocol, a collaborative commitment to best practice urban design in Australia. The protocol is a national framework to guide cities in efforts to improve productivity, livability, and sustainability through urban design. Dr. Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) described ideas on the successes of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and the launch of the Sustainable Cities, Sustainable Communities (SC2) program.

Alignment of national and local sustainability policies and partnerships are vital for greening our economies and achieving urban sustainability. Initiatives taken at different governmental levels can at times be mutually reinforcing, but, if poorly coordinated, can undermine one another. The better the national framework, the easier it will be for cities to address their specific challenges in ways that enhance rather than undermine their competitiveness.

“President Obama’s economic and community development initiatives such as Choice Neighborhoods and Sustainable Communities, make crystal clear that inter-governmental collaboration is critical for the job growth and sustainable economic development that will power our future,” said Secretary Donovan.

The Roundtable stressed that we do not face a false choice between green and growth. Concerted action by cities, when complemented and reinforced by central governments and the private sector, can generate prosperity while mitigating environmental risks, making our cities more resilient. The Winter 2012 issue of PD&R’s Evidence Matters surveys factors that make communities resilient.

To grasp how these innovations are implemented on the ground, a group of delegates to the Roundtable also participated in a Chicago neighborhood tour organized jointly by the Urban Land Institute Chicago and PD&R to see how these community development solutions are woven into the urban fabric through visits to sites including the Resurrection Project and Chicago Arts District. The tour emphasized sustainable development and ways in which social inclusion and equity are integral to neighborhood redevelopment.

Overall, Roundtable participants agreed that the challenge is global, but the solutions are local. The aim of the Roundtable was to identify common challenges and propose practical solutions. The discussions among mayors and ministers show that there is no “one-size-fits-all” model for implementing urban sustainability. Strategies will differ across cities as they do across countries. Despite differences, cities have great potential to share local solutions, to transfer practices across national and continental boundaries, and to work collaboratively to advance innovative new approaches for financing critical infrastructure. And national governments can play a critical role by establishing a framework to foster those exchanges that lead to investments in infrastructure.