Photo of Singapore - one of the sustainable cities highlighted for world habitat day

World Habitat Day 2023

By: Paulina Zajac,

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This blog post was written by Paulina Zajac, Communications Intern at Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s HQ.

As we celebrate World Habitat Day in 2023 under the theme of “Resilient Urban Economies: Cities as Drivers of Growth and Recovery”, it is imperative to recognise the pivotal role that cities play in shaping our present and future. In an increasingly urbanised world, the ability of cities to drive economic growth, sustainable solutions, and enriching environments is not just an aspiration but a necessity.

The Urbanisation Challenge

Urbanisation is one of the prominent, defining trends of the 21st century. As more and more people migrate to cities in search of economic opportunities, better living conditions, or in an attempt to flee climate change, the challenge of accommodating this urban influx becomes increasingly apparent. According to the United Nations (UN), the current population of individuals living in urban areas amounts to 55%. This sum is expected to increase to 68% by 2020. Moreover, by 2030, our planet is projected to have 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants, with most of them being in currently developing regions. This unprecedented urbanisation demands innovative solutions to address issues like housing, infrastructure, and environmental sustainability.

Resilient Urban Economies: The Key to Growth and Recovery

Resilience in the context of urban economies refers to a city’s ability to withstand and recover from various shocks and stressors, such as economic recessions, natural disasters, and public health crises. Resilient urban economies are not just better equipped to bear the weight of these challenges; they also act as engines of growth and recovery, catalysing progress on regional and national levels.

UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour Award 2023

The UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour Award, established in 1989, is a prestigious award designed to honor both individuals and organisations for their exceptional contributions to urban development. It is one of the features that define World Habitat Day. These contributions encompass a wide range of efforts, including but not limited to enhancing the overall quality of urban life and ensuring the availability of adequate, affordable, and accessible housing for all.

Some of this year’s winners include Assembleia de Moradores of Braga, Portugal, and Fundo Imobiliário Comunitário para Aluguel in São Paulo. The former achieved the accolade through its work in municipal improvements, while the latter fights gentrification in inner-city areas. It is important to not only fixate on worrisome, negative news surrounding urbanization, migration, and climatic issues, but to also acknowledge the grassroots initiatives making significant changes on local and global levels.

The Case of Singapore

Outstanding in its indexes, Singapore has pushed its way through to the forefront of sustainable cities. The sustainable approach taken by Singapore has been nothing short of exceptional. Singapore embarked on a transformative journey with the launch of the Smart Nation programme in late 2014, positioning itself as the regional pioneer in the digitalization movement within Southeast Asia. This initiative marked the beginning of a nationwide digital revolution, setting the stage for a remarkable shift in various sectors across the nation.

Under the Smart Nation programme’s umbrella, a multitude of innovative measures were introduced, spanning several critical domains including strategic national projects, urban living, transport, health, and businesses. These initiatives represented a comprehensive approach to harnessing the power of digital technology for the betterment of society.

These initiatives not only improved the quality of life for Singaporeans but also positioned Singapore as a significant model for sustainable urban development.

Furthermore, in early 2021, Singapore’s government unveiled an ambitious plan to create Tengah, an innovative eco-friendly city in the western part of the island. This visionary project will consist of five residential districts and a total of 42,000 houses, spanning 700 hectares of land.

The main point to highlight is that Tengah’s design incorporates various sustainable elements, including an automated waste collection system to enhance environmental cleanliness. The city will prioritise pedestrian-friendly zones and underground road networks to promote efficiency and liveability. This groundbreaking endeavour aims to transform Tengah into a vibrant “forest town” characterized by expansive green spaces, gardens, and a nature reserve.

Singapore faces a unique challenge, with relatively high per-capita emissions, primarily due to the extensive use of air conditioning, a necessity in the city’s tropical climate. To address this issue, urban planners are implementing a centralised cooling system as a more energy-efficient alternative to regulate household temperatures.

Hence, Singapore is one of the cities taking the lead in sustainable development. Initiatives like this can inspire change and motivate other large cities to take a similar route in their future. This World Habitat Day, let us celebrate all of the positive changes being implemented in order to turn our shared habitat into one that will sustain us into the future.

Photo by Sergio Sala on Unsplash

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