Today, at the Second United Nations Habitat Assembly, the Global Observatory of Sustainable Proximities was launched to support the implementation of proximity approaches in cities worldwide. 

The Global Observatory of Sustainable Proximities will serve as a go-to knowledge and capacity building platform collecting information about local initiatives while supporting and promoting urban proximities at a global scale. Urban development based on proximity – or the idea that urban dwellers should be able to meet essential needs without venturing far away from home – has been proven to promote social, economic and environmental sustainability.  

Through the Observatory, major global urban actors join forces by placing the theme of proximity at the heart of urban strategies. The four founding partners – the Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation Chair of the IAE Paris Sorbonne Business School (Chaire ETI), C40 Cities, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) – are jointly leading the work to fulfil these objectives. 

“This global joint initiative allows us to drive large-scale change by informing urban strategies in cities worldwide that contribute to building local ecologic, economic and social value creation,” says Chaire ETI Professor Carlos Moreno.

Together, the Observatory partners will develop a globally applicable concept based on proximity, official measures and indicators, a global centre for knowledge sharing and capacity building, and a global network to support cities in implementation. In addition, the Observatory will boost international scientific research in related fields. 

According to UN-Habitat Deputy Executive Director Michal Mlynár, “Through the Observatory, we aim to establish a global network of urban actors to join forces by placing the theme of proximity at the heart of urban strategies.”

Ideas around proximity in urban planning have been shaped over the past century by a number of thought leaders, and gained renewed attention in recent years after Professor Moreno popularised the idea of a “15-minute city” that allows urban dwellers to meet most of their daily needs within a short walk or bike ride from home, if they so choose. 

It has inspired action in diverse urban contexts around the globe, from Paris’ “La ville d’un quart d’heure”, to Shanghai’s “15-minute community life circles”, Bogota’s “Barrios Vitales”, or Glasgow’s “Livable Neighbourhood” approach.

“At a time when the combined effects of the environmental crisis, socio-spatial inequalities between and within countries and acute political tensions and polarisation are increasingly impacting human lives, urban proximities offer us a new sustainable model caring for the wellbeing of our communities,” says UCLG Secretary General Emilia Saiz.

By placing people at the centre of the urban plan, this concept focuses on ensuring an equitable distribution of all essential social functions of the city, freeing both time from constrained mobility and space from vehicular traffic. 

C40 Executive Director Mark Watts says: “This exciting new initiative will facilitate the development and scaling up of the proximity approach globally. This is a pivotal moment in urban planning – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that compact cities can help cut urban emissions by around 25%. The Observatory will be key to enabling the transformation of global cities, improving quality of life for urban dwellers and reducing emissions.”

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