At the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, General Motors unveiled "The Futurama" exhibit, a captivating model that displayed a vision for the not-so-distant "future" of 1960. Visitors to the exhibit, most of whom did not own cars, were left in awe of the “ideal city of tomorrow,” imagining themselves riding in a vehicle amidst breathtaking skyscrapers on concrete multi-lane highways, speeding toward a previously untouchable countryside with a sense of personal freedom.
The exhibit proved prescient, perhaps inspirational, but with many unforeseen and adverse effects on the American city. Today, our cities are faced with overdevelopment that has simultaneously damaged our environment, isolated low-income communities in the urban core, and maintained an unsustainable economic model.
Government has a responsibility to make smart investments and encourage smart planning. We can no longer continue developing our cities and metros with 20th century plans. We need to fundamentally change the pattern of urban development to reflect the way people live – a 21st century vision based on new realities, both in America and around the world.
By mid-century, 70% of the world’s population, approximately 6.4 billion people, will live in cities and metros. There will also be 27 megacities with populations greater than 10 million, and that doesn’t just include Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris; it also includes Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Seoul, Buenos Aires, and Lagos.
President Obama understands the importance of rising to these challenges today, because tomorrow will be too late. He understands that urban and metropolitan areas are the engines of our national and global economy, and will be the foundation of a more sustainable future. That’s why on February 19, 2009, the President took a bold step toward realizing a new vision by signing an Executive Order that created the White House Office of Urban Affairs.
Our new urban agenda will focus on making regions and urban areas more economically competitive, environmentally sustainable, and expand opportunity for everyone. And our new approach will no longer look at urban problems in isolation. Instead, it will coordinate federal investments to address the reality at the local level, encouraging local leaders to develop comprehensive strategies to build strong regional economies, responsible and sustainable infrastructure, and opportunity-rich communities that bridge the social and economic divide.
I am thrilled to join the senior United States delegation to UN-HABITAT’s Fifth World Urban Forum because for President Obama, the Forum is about innovation, sharing ideas, listening to best practices, and building consensus on how, as global partners, we can most sustainably and inclusively plan our future.
Adolfo Carrión, Jr. is the Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs and Deputy Assistant to the President