Cities are now deeply rooted at the centre of development debates evidenced by the fact that over half of the world’s population resides in urban areas, with numbers steadily rising. By 2030, cities will be home to 60% of the global population, increasing to 68.4% by 2050. The projected urban growth coupled with changing global dynamics will bring about new challenges for decision makers in the pursuit of post-2015 development Agendas.
An emerging consensus among international agencies is that urbanization is beneficial; when well-planned, urbanization is associated with greater productivity, opportunities and improved quality of life for all. However recent trends illustrate the challenges faced by cities such as capacities to monitor and track progress on a variety of global targets. For many cities, moving from data collection, analysis and deriving sound policies remains a major challenge, with constraints arising from lack of access to finance, ineffective institutions and weak technical know-how. Above all is the failure to understand the intricacies and connectivity between economic, demographic, cultural, physical and environmental aspects of urban areas and the weak statistical systems/ mechanisms for tracking and measuring policies.
UN-Habitat in partnership with its stakeholders developed the urban observatory model, an innovative model for urban data monitoring, collection and analysis. Today, UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory Unit (GUO) is overseeing and coordinating 374 urban observatories worldwide: 101 in Africa, 143 in Asia and 130 in Latin. Over the past decade, systematic guidance on setting up urban observatories has been provided to Member States leading to the development of a global network of observatories. Urban observatories are well-positioned to meet the frequently expressed need for reliable, high resolution urban data sets specific to the cities and immediate city-regions in which they operate. They assist in strengthening data capacities at national and subnational levels, providing platforms to facilitate effective knowledge exchange and promote evidence-based governance built on a shared knowledge base.
The Global Urban Observatory Network (GUO-Net) is a worldwide information and capacity-building network established by the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-HABITAT) to help implement the New Urban Agenda at the national and local levels. The GUO-NET consists of national and city-level institutions that function as National and Local Urban Observatories.
The purpose of GUO-Net is to support governments, local authorities and civil society:
• To improve the collection, management, analysis and use of information in formulating more effective urban policies;
• To improve information flows between all levels for better urban decision-making;
• To stimulate broad-based consultative processes to help identify and integrate urban information needs;
• To provide information and analyses to all stakeholders for more effective participation in urban decision-making;
• To share information, knowledge and expertise using modern information and communication technology (ICT);
• To create a global network of local, national and regional platforms for sharing information about the implementation of the New Urban Agenda;
Some tools and benefits provided by the GUO network;
• Training on using the urban indicator toolkit for data collection and analysis;
• Training on how to use the results of the urban indicators data for fund raising activities;
• Conferences of the network members for information exchange and city-to-city networking;
• Access to internet resources available at UN-Habitat’s website including urban indicators databases and Urban Info system;
• Data used for evaluations done for the World Cities Report published biannually by UN-Habitat.
UN-HABITAT achieves these objectives through a global network of local, national and regional urban observatories and through partner institutions that provide training and other capacity building expertise.
The global urban observatories database lists 374 active urban observatories. Urban observatories operate at the local, national and regional level and currently there are 36 in Africa, 102 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 22 in North America and Oceania, 18 in the Arab States and 121 in Europe.