Nicholas Rosellini: 2017 World Cities Day Global Observance, Keynote Speech

Oct 31, 2017

By Nicholas Rosellini, UN Resident Coordinator

UNDP Resident Representative


H.E. Mr. Ni Hong, Vice Minister of MOHURD,

H.E. Ms. HUANG Yan, Vice Minister of MOHURD,

H.E. Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UNHABITAT,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to first express my appreciation to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, to Guangdong Province and to Guangzhou Municipal Government for the opportunity to speak at this World Cities Day Global Observance. It is my pleasure to visit Guangzhou, which is not only rich in history and culture, but also an inspiring example of a city applying innovative governance in its urban development processes.

I strongly welcome the theme of this year’s World Cities Day – Innovative Governance, Open Cities – which was selected to highlight not only the key role of urbanization as a source of global development, but also its key role in promoting social inclusion.

As such this theme is directly linked to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that world leaders unanimously adopted in 2015. With its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, 169 targets and 232 individual indicators, the Agenda is ambitious in scope and cover nearly all aspects of development. But simply put, it aims to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. In other words, to ensure a more sustainable and resilient future, where no one is left behind.

This year’s theme also captures the essence of the New Urban Agenda, which was adopted in Quito in 2016 to serve as the implementation plan to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 11, that sets out to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. The new Urban Agenda, is putting inclusive cities as one of the main pillars for steering the world on a course towards sustainable urban development.

Throughout modern history, urbanization has been a major driver of development and poverty reduction. Cities are centers of economic, social, cultural, and political activity, and hubs of innovation and enterprise. While cities only occupy around 2% of the total global land, they account for as much as 70% of global GDP.

To take advantage of the opportunities provided in cities, people flock to them at rate never seen before. At the global level, it is expected that four out of five people might be living in cities by 2050. This trend also holds true for China. Over the past decades, China has experienced one of the world’s most rapid rates of urbanization. In 2016, it had reached 57.4%. In absolute numbers China has the largest urban population in the world.

While recognizing the opportunities that cities provide, cities are facing enormous challenges. These include access to services, disease outbreaks, crime, inequality and lack of social inclusion. These challenges are not exclusive to cities, but they become amplified due to the concentration of populations.

Today I would like to focus on social inclusion, which is at the core of the 2030 Agenda and the concept of leaving no one behind.

Urbanization provides the potential for new forms of social inclusion, including greater equality, access to services and new opportunities. Yet too often this potential is far from realized. Cities host a growing number of the world’s poor. Inequality rates are often greater than the national average and in most parts of the world they are on the raise.

Ensuring social inclusion in building sustainable cities requires local governments to address increasingly complex challenges spanning across several areas. Spatial organization, accessibility and design of urban space, as well as the infrastructure and basic services provision, can promote or hinder social inclusion and equality.

China is not spared from the challenges of social inclusion in cities.

Housing needs for low-income urban residents are not fully met; better public transport systems are needed to ensure that cities are accessible to all, and last but not least, China is faced with the challenge of absorbing the millions of migrant workers who are coming to the cities for jobs and economic opportunities. At the end of 2016, there were about 280 million rural migrant workers in China, making up more than a third of the total working population.[1]

As we have heard from the Vice Minister, the Chinese Government has taken important steps towards addressing these challenges, which can serve as examples to others. For example, provision of subsidized rental housing and renovation projects has improved the living conditions for urban residents, and central financing are being provided rebuild run-down areas. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to visit an example of a rebuilding project in Chengdu, where the Municipal Government with support from UN Habitat is renewing and upgrading the Shaocheng District. I was highly impressed by how this previously run-down area has been transformed.

The Government of China has also taken comendable steps towards addressing the challenge of social inclusion of migrants.  Through measures to make it easier for rural migrants to become urban residents the number of urban resident permits has recently expanded by 100 million. However, notwithstanding these efforts social inclusion of this group is far from reached, as many migrants are still denied access to affordable health, education, housing, and pension coverage to which urban residents have access by right.

During yesterday sub-forum on “Mainstreaming the Social Development Goals” I spoke about the importance of integrating all the dimensions covered by the SDGs into city development processes. Today, I would like to reiterate that this is the key to achieving inclusive and equal urbanization that leaves no one behind.

I look forward to listening to your ideas on how we can build cities that allow all its inhabitants, without discrimination, to reap the benefits that urbanization can offer, to lead decent, and to achieve their full human potential.

Thank you!


[1] National Bureau of Statistics of China, “Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic of China on the 2016 National Economic and Social Development”,, Last accessed Aug. 15, 2017


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