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Sustaining Peace in a World of Cities

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“Sustaining Peace in an Urban World” was the subject of a series of four panels ranging across challenges that urban environments present for UN activities, on December 14, 2016, at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Explaining the sessions’ purpose, Jimena Leiva-Roesch, Policy Analyst at the International Peace Institute (IPI)—one of the organizations co-sponsoring the event—said that, “What we’re trying to do here is embed principles in UN Charter that are now in the 2030 Agenda and in the Sustaining Peace Agenda in cities throughout world.”

She posed a few questions for consideration. “Can cities of today and the future offer sanctuary for those seeking protection? Hubs for political, economic inclusivity? Magnets attracting young to study and learn? Can they remain open to offer welcome to strangers from a long journey?”

Izumi Nakamitsu, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that a new approach must be designed which reaches beyond the UN system.

People working in the UN “have a tendency to think the UN is center of the world,” she said. “This is not the case. We need to reinforce national and local authorities, and partner with civil society.”

Yu Ping Chan, Special Policy Advisor, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), suggested ways to take up the call “to get out of the UN bubble.” She said member-states and civil society must “look for more effective partnerships beyond the UN,” in order to “forge a global partnership of entities and stakeholders.”

Sarah Cliffe, Director of the NYU Center on International Cooperation (NYU-CIC), suggested the UN look to Africa, where an unprecedentedly fast pace of urbanization has been met with a “very consistent pattern in successfully reducing violence by using partnerships with civil society and municipalities.”

She encouraged the UN to partner with local actors, rather than impose a program, based on the African example. This success “would never have been achieved through a top-down approach,” she said.

Malkit Shoshan, Founder of the architectural think tank Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory (FAST), emphasized the need to design UN bases to make them more compatible with urban areas and populations. “UN bases are engineered based on strict factional requirements, resulting in bases that sustain only the mission and its forces. How can the UN better advocate for sustaining peace when it builds bases without considering local context?” she asked.

Design and urban planning should be part of the mission planning conversation, as new structures can have disruptive effects, she said. “Bringing new structures into conflict-ridden cities disturbs the circulation of the city, collapses markets, and pollutes the ground. At the end of the mission, you’re left with rubble. Structures can be turned around if the UN reforms their planning process.”

However, just better design is not enough, Michael Sorkin, President, Terreform, indicated, continuing on the urban planning theme. “Cities are juxtaposition engines. Good cities are those that strike a balance between planned and accidental encounters,” he said.

Deen Sharp, Principal Researcher, Terreform Urban Research, said that better planning is about more than substituting municipalities for national actors. “We don’t necessarily just want a simple shift from engagement of state actors to municipal,” he said. “When you get at the municipal level, there are many levels of governance that intertwine. It is vastly complex.”

The event was hosted by the Permanent Missions of Australia and the Netherlands to the UN.

Deputy Permanent Representative of Australia, Caitlin Wilson, delivered opening remarks and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands, Lise Gregoire, delivered closing remarks.

The event was co-organized with UN Peacebuilding, UN Habitat, the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, Terreform, and NYU-CIC.

Ms. Leiva-Roesch and Gizem Sucuoglu of NYU-CIC moderated the panels.