Mark Ojal, of Nairobi, wants safe, inclusive & accessible public spaces.
Mark Ojal, of Nairobi, wants safe, inclusive & accessible public spaces.

Urban areas are now home to 54.5% of the world’s population, and they continue to grow rapidly, adding about 1.4 million residents per week. Cities can be powerful engines of growth and development, but rapid urbanization also poses huge sustainability challenges.

That was the focus of Habitat III , the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, held in Quito, Ecuador, on 17–20 October. More than 35,000 people from around the world participated.

The focus of the conference was to approve the New Urban Agenda , described as “an action-oriented document which will set global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development, rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities” through cooperation across all levels of government, the private sector, and the full range of urban stakeholders.

Along with researchers participating in various Habitat III activities, SEI had a booth in the exhibition hall. As a way to engage with people we encountered and expand the reach of our activities beyond the Quito conference facility, SEI Africa communications officer Sarah Odera, who ran the booth, started a social media campaign.

As people visited SEI’s booth, Odera and colleagues encouraged them to think about what would make their home city more sustainable. They gave each person a piece of paper to write down the name of the city, the country, and what they wanted to see changed or added to that city to make it more sustainable. Then they took a photo and shared it on social media, with the hashtag #MySustainableCity.

A group of schoolgirls from Quito. Their sign says “more security”.
Click the image to view the #MySustainableCity slideshow

Sohail Ahmed, of New Delhi, India, wants improved transport. Tamara Gausi, of London, UK, wants more green jobs. Christine Musisi, of Nfuka, Uganda, wants planned urbanization, good governance and rule of law, good work ethics, and safety Ana Gren, of Stockholm, wants more/better cultural integration. Jon Bickel, of Lima, Peru, wants better mobility and safety Nilda Batalha (left) and Angela Mingas, of Angola, want more public spaces.

“Key to communications at SEI is giving people a voice,” Odera says. “Out of this interest, #MySustainableCity was born. It provides a platform to let people share what they consider vital to make their cities more sustainable.”

Of course not everyone is from a city, but most people can still relate to a city that is closest to them. People also move around, from country to country and city to city. Odera let each person choose how to define “home city”, simply encouraging them to talk about a city “they hold dear to their hearts”.

The topics mirror many of the priorities of the New Urban Agenda: addressing climate change, poor sanitation, gender inequality, food insecurity, public safety, the need for green space. People from radically different cities – say, Quito and Beijing – shared remarkably similar concerns.

Although Habitat III is over, Odera says she hopes to keep building on the campaign, and invites continued contributions from around the world.

“We have managed to draw thousands of people into discussing the challenges they face as members of these communities,” she says. “As a follow-up, we plan to share these results with UN Habitat, to strengthen the discussions on the New Urban agenda – as direct thoughts and inputs from the people.”

Check out the #MySustainableCity tweets»

Want to contribute your thoughts? Write make your own sign, take a picture and share it on Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram with the hashtag #MySustainableCity. Make sure to tag us on Twitter: @SEIresearch and @SM_Odera .