After two years, Human Cities Coalition (HCC) discontinued its pilot cities work in September 2018. André Veneman, AkzoNobel’s Director of Sustainability and one of the founders of HCC, discusses what ideas and resources will live on from HCC’s work.
What would you like to say about HCC’s work these past two years?
Mr. Veneman: Right now, many city governments are focusing a lot of time, resources and energy on sustainable and circular cities but pay little attention to human cities aspects. For example, it is common to speak about city development, building business districts, opening new airports or harbours, and yet in the same breath, state that 60-80,000 people will need to be relocated (breaking up local business and local community ties). Moving forward, ensuring that local populations do not suffer as a result of infrastructure development projects is something we need to continue to improve upon. In the two years of its operation, HCC has worked to create new insights and a new perspective, and HCC has witnessed and shared plenty of opportunities to turn this typical way of working upside down.
While the private capital and sectoral expertise are in place, now is the time to start building with people. Instead of a little shift or small, incremental improvements, as HCC demonstrated, we need a large-scale transformation in the way that city development is approached and who is involved in it. HCC’s work has also shown that we can change, that multi-sector parties are willing to work together, and that companies are willing to work together with governments and local people.
In your opinion, what was the HCC coalition able to achieve?
Mr. Veneman: HCC has created a sense of urgency, an understanding that the way infrastructure development is undertaken needs to change. During its inception phase, HCC brought together a coalition of leading Dutch private sector companies that are eager to start working on inclusive development. HCC went even further, bringing together many partners across the globe including local partners in Asia and business partners like AkzoNobel and Arcadis in Europe.
Different sectors that were not used to operating together, now not only have a path forward but have committed to doing so in collaboration. Many leaders in the private sector now have a willingness to change their practices because they understand that shared value creation is a better option. I think what HCC did is that they built a crucial triangle between local communities and NGOs, the private sector and governments.
HCC has demonstrated that there is no need for people to work in their silos. When people work in silos they cannot tackle the enormous challenges megacities face and HCC has, through its assessments and pilots, shown that a systems change is required. HCC also worked hard to bring private sector actors together to establish a protocol where inclusivity is well-integrated. This should not be viewed as an idealistic approach. It is not about charity. Charity is upgrading slums; while inclusive cities represent a new way of doing business in this world.
What work is left to be done?
Mr. Veneman: Often the voices of people living in cities are not heard. You could wonder why, given that we’ve seen excellent protocols from the World Bank about how they want to include social elements like inclusivity and social cohesion – and how they want to include this in tendering processes. Nevertheless, many on the local level are saying that these protocols are fine on paper, but that they are hardly implemented.
There is a significant opportunity for the private sector to play a role in bringing about positive transformations in large-scale city developments alongside local inhabitants – I fundamentally believe this. As of now approximately 3 trillion EUR will be invested in infrastructure development annually, and this gives us a huge opportunity to prevent the repetition of past mistakes. The private sector should take its responsibility, it’s corporate social responsibility seriously, but it should also be a proactive agent in developing the competitive advantage of working together: working in partnership with governments, with local peoples, with the investors and other stakeholders.
What are some of the challenges encountered and lessons learned along the way?
Mr. Veneman: It’s been quite a cultural change for governments, for the financing sector, the investors and for the private sector to work closely together with the local communities in Manila and Jakarta. In close collaboration with one of its core partners Slum Dwellers International, HCC has tested many of the elements regarding how best to go about this. HCC has demonstrated to key players the approach of building together with people through stakeholder engagement and by supporting city governments. The reality is that governments and the private sector will need to work together to turn this into a practice that eventually becomes a sustainable business model.
Do you have any concluding remarks?
Mr. Veneman: I have no doubt that HCC has developed a community with many enthusiastic and inspired partners from all sectors. And, many of these individuals are eager to continue what we’ve started here and support the wholesale transition to inclusive infrastructure development in megacities. While HCC worked hard on SDG11 (related to sustainable cities), we’ve also been making progress towards SDG17 (related to working in partnerships). HCC has been tireless in its efforts to bring vital parties together and laid crucial groundwork when it comes to conceptualising and testing viable ways forward for some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing cities.
>> Read the the thank you letter from HCC staff
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>> Read another HCC article with AkzoNobel’s André Veneman