ECOSOC Chamber, United Nations Headquarters
New York – Friday, 31 October, 2014 – 9.30 am
Your Excellency Mr. Sam Kahamba Kutesa ,President of the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly,
Your Excellency, Ambassador María Emma Mejía Vélez, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations and Vice President of the UN Economic and Social Council,
Your Excellency, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations,
Your Excellency, Ambassador Liu Jieyi, Permanent Representative of the Popular Republic of China to the United Nations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In my role of High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, I am very honoured to co-host the first World Cities Day together with UN-Habitat, the Permanent Mission of Italy and the Permanent mission of China to the United Nations.
In 2005, when the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations was created with the aim of countering polarization and extremism by promoting tolerance and cultural diversity within and among societies, most of the world population was living in the countryside.
Today, only 9 years later, for the first time in human history, more than half of the world’s population is recorded to be living in towns and cities. This number is constantly on the rise and is expected to reach almost five billion by 2030.
Given their very nature, complex geographical areas with a very high concentration of diversity, cities are the spaces where many of today’s challenges are faced for the first time. World leaders often watch carefully the ways that cities manage their challenges because local administrators can identify solutions that can be scaled up to meet national and international challenges.
Managing diversity is therefore a day-to-day challenge for local authorities. Global public debate has addressed the issue of the environmental, economic and demographic sustainability of cities. However, cultural and religious dimensions are a crucial element of this equation.
A sustainable city is one where communities with different cultural and religious backgrounds are able to contribute to the well-being of their own societies. As migrants from different cultural and religious backgrounds should contribute to the well-being of these cities, sustainable cities must also empower migrants by giving them equal opportunities and support for their social integration.
Historically, urban spaces have been the theatre of segregation and artificial separation that have been sources of violence and for long-lasting pain. Minorities and migrants have been at times limited in their freedom to select housing, resulting in the development of ghettos, their use of public transportation has been restricted. In short, they have been treated as second class citizens.
Today, the international community is well aware of the pain suffered by minorities and migrants in the past. However, issues posed by concentrated urban contexts remain a challenge for most local administrators around the world.
The riots that suddenly hit some European cities in 2005 and 2011 reminded us that marginalization could produce violent and irrational phenomenon.
The lesson we draw from what happened then is that in an era of unprecedented mobility, migration and the resulting growth in cultural and ethnic diversity have become key topics of debate on a global but also a local level.
International Organizations, national and regional governments, and civil society are all engaged in dialogues on how to address the issue of integration at the city level, ensuring that communities are establishing the right initiatives to support the successful integration of migrants into host societies.
The UN Economic and Social Council is the entity that officially deals with civil society organizations within the UN system. I am therefore pleased to see that in this ECOSOC Chamber today there is a good number of civil society organizations represented.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations relies on civil society organizations in order to listen to suggestions that can be scalable and replicable in other contexts. Some of the partners we are honored to collaborate with, such as CRT Foundation and as well some of the youth who are participating in our programmes, Entrepreneurs for Social Change and the Youth Solidarity Fund, will showcase some good practices of social inclusion in urban settings.
However, my message goes to all present in this room. The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations is an open laboratory of ideas that bridge successful civil society activities with the highest political and institutional level.
We are therefore eager to listen to other case studies and best practices, which can be an opportunity of mutual learning for all.
I thank you all for your attention and I wish you a successful continuation of this event.