blog article

Inclusive liveable cities: the fairer society mission

7th June 2023

Author: Professor Wendy M. Purcell, PhD FRSA

Dr Wendy Purcell

What happens to our cities over the next 30-years will determine the well-being of the world’s projected 11 billion people.

Liveable cities are central to the concept of a Fairer Society and we took this theme as the subject of a roundtable discussion with Bakhetsile ‘BK’ Mangena (The Independent Institute of Education, South Africa), Asa Minoz (Viable Cities, Sweden), and Jaime Moreno and Julio Lumbreras (both of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain).

As the urbanist Jane Jacobs noted in her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody. …A neighborhood is not only an association of buildings but also a network of social relationships, an environment where feelings and sympathy can flourish.”

Our discussion echoed this sentiment, as Asa spoke of the need for cities to offer “a good life”, and BK highlighting the importance of “integrating vulnerable communities” and adopting a “more inclusive approach.” Jaime stressed the importance of higher education, both as a source of solutions to the “How?” in creating liveable cities, as well as offering the convening power to support the radical collaboration needed. Julio was clear that a city operates as “a system of systems”, so we need to see the connections among services like transport, health, and education in framing liveablility. Orsa saw how the goal of creating a liveable city can be the “common mission” around which to gather everyone – connecting “neighborhoods to the planet.” She also emphasised the co-benefits of climate action in pursuit of creating liveable cities, for example, walking, cycling, easy access to local nutritious foods, and so on. Jaime’s research shows that universities are a source of the “activation energy” needed for partnership working, offering academic as well as structural innovations and contributing expert knowledge and talent. BK called for more projects with universities, especially those that focus on entrepreneurship. Julio was clear that a city offers a suitable scale to bring bold ideas to life and make positive change on a global scale.

With over half the world’s population living in cities, set to rise to around 70% by 2050 with the 100-million-person city a near reality, urbanisation is straining planetary systems and reducing the quality of life for many. As such, the concept of a liveable city is at the heart of inclusive urbanisation and a fairer society. It envisages everyone having equitable access to essential services, with grocery shops, parks, cafes, sports facilities, health centres, schools and even workplaces close by. Individual areas within the city should be able to fulfil key social functions, namely living, working, supplying, caring, learning, and enjoying.

The ‘15-minute city’, put forward by Carlos Moreno, seeks to convey the idea of a liveable and sustainable city where residents can meet their work, retail, and leisure needs within 15 minutes walking or cycling from their home. While this may be more difficult to envisage in some geographies and cultures, the central tenet is that cities are places where all people should be able to thrive. Indeed, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 11 ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ calls for inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements.

To get from where we are now to realising this goal calls for radical collaboration and trustful co-creation. Supporting a just transition towards a more sustainable and liveable city relies on being able to convene city planners, civic leaders, businesses, and other anchor institutions (such as universities and healthcare organisations), and working with residents, communities, and visitors. However, a hyper-local focus can’t just be about creating a few amenity-rich islands of privilege separated from areas of deprivation or projects that serve to reinforce spatial injustices related to racial identity or immigration status. This is a matter of social justice and equity.

Inclusive liveable cities are core to an urbanised fairer society, and creating a world that leaves no one behind.

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We are passionate about working with researchers globally to deliver a fairer, more inclusive society. This perhaps has never been more important than in today’s divided world.