Nairobi, 31 October 2020 – Hundreds of people attended the first hybrid Global Observance of World Cities Day which took place online with live links to events in the host country Kenya as well as China and Malaysia.

Kenya’s Nakuru County was the in-country host of this year’s event with the support of the County Government of Kisumu and the County Government of Uasin Gishu.

In his keynote address, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke of the challenges of preventing the spread of  COVID-19 which, he said,  had focused attention on the importance of improving conditions for all urban residents.

He called for UN-Habitat, the co-host of World Cities Day, to “leverage its global mandate as well as its vast experience in urbanization and human settlement matters to continue taking a lead role in addressing urban-centric challenges.”

He mentioned that many African countries, including Kenya continued to contend with the negative effects of rapid urbanization including a shortage of decent housing, a strain on public services, environmental degradation, increased crime and an upsurge in urban disasters.

“We must find a better and more dynamic way to support developing nations in their quest to improve housing and urban development,” he said calling for citizens to be “the driving force in shaping their living conditions and amenities.”

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works, MR James Macharia who attended a small event at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) where UN-Habitat has its headquarters, said densely populated urban centres had been the epicentres of the spread of COVID-19.

Kenyan Cabinet Secretary launches UN-Habitat's World Cities Report UN-Habitat Julius Mwelu
Kenyan Cabinet Secretary launches UN-Habitat's World Cities Report
UN-Habitat Julius Mwelu

“The fear of contagion has made many weary of crowded cities, and more and more people are moving to less crowded suburbs and rural areas,” he said.

In his video speech, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke of the World Cities Day theme – Valuing our Communities and Cities - saying the United Nations recognized the contributions of grassroots communities who were supplementing government efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nakuru’s Governor Lee Kinyanjui said the pandemic had shown that cities need to forge partnerships within the country and with the rest of the world

“Cities have the potential to make their economies recover and thrive by leveraging on enormous opportunities that can grant the current generation economic and social renewal,” he said.

UN-Habitat Executive Director Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif spoke of the importance of appreciating communities and cities.

She said it was in cities like Nakuru, where the bond between urban and rural communities was strongest, that the world would find the best model for the socio-economic recovery from the pandemic.

The live link up to celebrations in Shanghai included the launch of the Shanghai Manual 2020, virtually by the Executive Director and in person by the Shanghai  Party Secretary Li Qiang. 

Mayor Alexander Vysokinsky of Russia’s Ekaterinburg City, last year’s host of World Cities Day, said the theme of this year’s celebrations was in line with the philosophy of his city’s administration.

UN-Habitat Deputy Executive Director Victor Kisob said it was historic that the Global Observance World Cities Day was being held in Africa for the first time.

Ms. Lyazzat Kaltayeva, Chair, Association of Women with Disabilities “Shyrak”, Kazakhstan called for more support for people living with disabilities  particularly during the pandemic.

The occasion also saw the launch of UN-Habitat’s World Cities Report 2020 on the theme of the Value of Sustainable Urbanization. Minister Macharia, who launched the Report on behalf of President Kenyatta, said the Report affirmed that “well-planned, well managed and well financed cities and towns create economic, social, environmental and other unquantifiable value that can vastly improve the quality of life.”

The Opening Ceremony, attended by around 600 participants online with many more following on a live link, was followed by four Roundtables on different aspects of the day’s theme and on the World Cities Report.