Nairobi, 30 May, 2019:  The launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs in 2015 calls to leave no one behind. The New Urban Agenda (NUA) adds the call to leave no space behind. Both address the importance of integrated urban and rural planning and development. Strengthening urban-rural linkages is increasingly recognized as a vehicle for inclusion of those left behind and integrating a spatial, place-based approach to implementing the SDGs and the NUA. Parallel to the UN-Habitat Assembly a final multistakeholder set of Urban Rural Linkages Guiding Principles and Framework for Action were launched and recognized in a resolution passed at the Assembly.

UN-Habitat, in collaboration with the Food for Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other partners, organized a side event on these topics during the first UN-Habitat assembly. Titled “Strengthening urban-rural linkages to reduce spatial inequalities and poverty by leveraging sustainable food systems actions”, the event brought together actors and partners from organizations working in both urban and rural sectors. Some work on themes of food, climate change, biodiversity, urban and territorial planning, economic development and finance. Representatives of national governments, sub-national governments, civil society and other international organizations were participants. The objectives of the event aligned with two goals of the UN-Habitat assembly,  “Reduced spatial inequality and poverty in communities across the urban-rural continuum” and “Enhanced shared prosperity for cities and regions”.  

The event was moderated by Dr. Remy Sietchiping from UN-Habitat and Tito Arunga from FAO Kenya. Panelists presented diverse perspectives on how their work addresses issues and challenges across the urban-rural continuum. There were national and sub-national government perspectives, civil society and UN agency perspectives coming from economic, social and environmental entry points. These  and other entry points are found in the URL-GP Framework for Action.  

Shipra Narang Suri, coordinator of the urban and planning design branch in UN-Habitat; gave opening remarks that emphasized the important strategic moment for UN-Habitat. The UN-Habitat Assembly saw the launch of a New Strategic Plan 2020-2023. The domains of change or goals of the plan mainstream urban-rural linkages in different approaches to sustainable urbanization, for example to reduce inequalities and generate shared prosperities for integrated territories. She introduced the Urban-Rural Linkages: Guiding Principles and Framework for Action to Advance Integrated Territorial Development, launched with the involvement of over 130 experts, organizations, and expert group meetings in Latin America, Africa and Europe. Jorge Fonseca, FAO Programme Advisor, emphasized integrated governance and collaboration not only at the global national levels, but also at subnational and local levels with governments that are prioritizing this agenda. He announced the FAO’s newly launched Framework for the Urban Food Agenda to promote rural-urban synergies and interconnect food systems with other sectors. He spoke of efforts underway in the County of Nairobi in Kenya and Lima, Peru as examples.

Nene Mariama Balde, representing the government of Guinea, spoke of strengthening urban-rural linkages to help increase capacity and awareness about the SDGs and the urban-rural agenda, and the need to incorporate into national planning rules and documents urban-rural connections, and to mobilize financial resources to support this work. Carmen Gual from the Catalonian Cooperation Agency in Spain stressed that cities should understand the importance of rural areas, without which cities will never survive. It is necessary to reverse the usual urban bias and look at the city from a rural perspective and challenge the economic, technological and resilience gap between rural and urban areas. Xu Tiantian, Mayor of Songyang County in China described a multisector collaboration to adopt an “acupuncture” approach, a planning related healing treatment for rural regions to restore their identity, open up to tourism, and stimulate economic development including food production and manufacturing. Acupuncture projects aim to activate circulation between villages and nearby cities in order to promote interaction between rural and urban areas. Diana Lee Smith of Mazingira Institute in Nairobi, Kenya addressed civil society action in support of urban-rural linkages and food systems at different levels. She highlighted the power of civil society and of coalitions of civil society organizations that influence local, national and international decision-making, often bridging gaps that otherwise are not addressed by governments alone.

Following the panel speakers, a number of discussants addressed perspectives that are reflected in the URL-GP Framework for Action. Oliver Hillel, from the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity stated in a video message that  sustainable urbanization and rural transformation can no longer be addressed separately, and that this process must be mutually reinforcing across the urban-rural continuum. Martina Otto from UN Environment addressed the importance of ecosystem services and the circular economy linking urban and rural areas to reduce pressure on ecosystems and to create more local job opportunities. Edlam Yemeru from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) focused on lost opportunities due to siloed thinking, which remains very strong in urban policy and has serious implications in terms of normative policy and investment. Daniel Günther, from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Germany spoke of financially inclusive strategies to target secondary and tertiary cities, supported by integrated governance. Stephen Otieno from C40 Climate Leadership Network mentioned working with mayors on thematic areas, such as food, soil, air quality and waste, linked with other urban issues. Other participants voiced appreciation for the URL programme as relates to core values of the UN-Habitat agenda and the necessity to integrate the rural dimension in sustainable urbanization and undertake actions to fill this gap at all levels.

Shipra Narang Suri and Remy Sietchiping welcomed the diversity of views from different levels of government, UN agencies and civil society in their concluding remarks. Key issues raised in the event included the need for a multi-dimensional and multi-partnership approach as fundamental to continue the momentum to strengthen urban-rural linkages . This is especially urgent given that urban-rural linkages and food systems are critical for climate resilience. With the new UN-Habitat Strategic Plan there is a renewed focus on territorial development across the urban-rural continuum. Important issues covered by speakers included the role of local authorities, the attention to nature, the importance of secondary cities and putting people at the center of URL assessment and policy processes. The session closed with an invitation to join a first rural revitalization forum this October in Songyang, China. 

Following the side event at the closing plenary of the UN Habitat Assembly, Member States adopted a resolution on “Enhancing urban-rural linkages for sustainable urbanization and human settlements”, calling for new mechanisms to take into account urban-rural linkages, awareness raising and sharing of good practices, including addressing migration from rural to urban areas and providing a report on progress in four years at the next UN-Habitat Assembly.