Regional, rural and urban development

6th OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers: Opening remarks


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD 

Mexico City, 16 October 2015

(As prepared for delivery)



Minister Rosario Robles Berlanga, Mayor Miguel Mancera, Director-General Alejandro Murat, Ladies and Gentlemen,


It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 6th OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers in this beautiful Palacio de Minería here in Mexico City.


Allow me to take this opportunity to thank our hosts: the Government of Mexico City, the National Workers’ Housing Fund (INFONAVIT), and the Ministry of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development (SEDATU). They have been tremendous partners in the preparation of this event. Our thanks also go to the Latin American Development Bank (CAF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for their support, as well as the United Cities of Local Governments (UCLG) for mobilising their network of leaders to take part in the Roundtable.


I am also pleased to announce that just this morning the OECD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UCLG to strengthen our collaboration on a number of topics of mutual interest.



Today we are living in the “Metropolitan Century”


By 2100, around 9 billion people will live in cities, compared to just 1 billion in 1950. While urbanisation continues almost everywhere, it is especially rapid in developing and emerging economies. Since 2000, China has been urbanising at the equivalent of almost one Australia per year – that is more than 22 million new urban dwellers per annum!


This current wave of urbanisation has tremendous potential to benefit people, countries and the planet at large – but it also comes with major socio-economic and environmental challenges. Cities must be seen as integral partners on the path towards more competitive, resilient and inclusive societies. And national governments need to re-think the range of policies that affect cities.


For decades, the OECD has been working with governments to develop better tools to co-ordinate policies across neighbouring cities and towns, to create stronger linkages between urban and rural areas. Since 2010, we have worked with countries like Poland, Korea, Chile, Mexico and China to develop a national urban policy framework that can help boost the performance of urban areas and shape the cities we want to live in.


For example, the OECD national urban policy report helped Mexico chart the path to implement its ambitious, cross-cutting structural reform agenda that affords unprecedented attention to housing and urban policies. This new policy approach marks a critical shift from quantitative objectives for housing to a more qualitative focus on housing and the urban environment.



Urbanisation decisions last


It is vital that we succeed in this Metropolitan Century, because urbanisation decisions last. The choices we make over the coming years are likely to shape the way people live for centuries to come: people in Europe still trek the roads built by the Romans!


The durability of urbanisation choices means that if we get things wrong we risk being locked in to urban forms that may be socially, economically or environmentally undesirable. If we build sprawling, car-based cities for the next five billion urban dwellers, the environmental consequences will be disastrous. On the other hand, the emergence of entirely new cities, or the development of large new tracts within existing cities, offers unprecedented opportunities for reform and innovation. Fortunately, we are not short of good ideas for reform and urban innovation. That is what we are here to discuss.



Four priorities for action


How can we make this Metropolitan Century a success? Which roles should national governments play? Four priorities for action will shape discussions throughout the day:


First, while cities are cementing their status as global economic players, many of them are becoming inaccessible to all but the wealthiest. For example, our forthcoming report “Measuring Well-being in Mexican States” shows that the number of poor people living in urban areas reached 38 million in 2014, corresponding to two-thirds of Mexico’s poor.  Moreover, the urban population is not significantly better off in the access to health services than rural population.


At the same time, current global crises are putting the very notion of social inclusion to the test. Such is the case of the historic migration crisis facing Europe. Cities and national governments must work together to meet the immediate needs for housing and sustenance, while devising longer-term solutions to ensure that new migrants and their children are integrated into education and labour markets. OECD work shows that when managed well, migration can play a positive role in the economy spurring growth and innovation.


Cities must be places of opportunity for everyone, and it will take a range of policy responses at all levels of government to meet this challenge. Inclusive growth won’t be possible without inclusive cities. Since 2014, jointly with the Ford Foundation, we have been measuring the Multi-Dimensional Living Standards (MDLS) – our welfare measure that jointly considers income, unemployment, longevity and income inequality – in cities, including the mechanisms to reduce rising inequalities and promote more inclusive growth at sub-national level.


Second, there is an environmental imperative to ensure that cities are an integral part of the solution to climate change and the protection of our planet. Creating sustainable cities is now a global agenda and recognised as a shared responsibility among all levels of government, private actors and members of civil society.


As the international community prepares for COP 21 in Paris next month, today’s discussions between national and local leaders can shed light not only on what states and sub-national actors are doing to address climate change and environmental challenges, but on what they are doing together in the spirit of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda. New alliances are also emerging, like the recent joint programme between the U.S. and Chinese cities, which have committed to ambitious reductions in carbon emissions.


Third, housing remains at the top of the urban agenda as migration to cities continues, whether in response to global urbanisation trends or to geo-political events that originate beyond our borders. How can governments ensure that all urban residents have access to quality, affordable housing in proximity to jobs and services? In many places, housing policies need to be better co-ordinated with infrastructure investment and urban planning – in other words, housing policies should aim at building cities, not just houses. These questions will be at the heart of the global housing agenda at Habitat III next year.


Finally, urban transport that is accessible, affordable and environmentally sustainable is a critical ingredient of economic growth and individual well-being. The ability of national and local governments to respond to environmental and housing challenges depends in part on how people and goods move around cities. Environmental, housing and urban transport challenges are intrinsically linked – yet, too often, the policies designed to address them are not.



The work ahead of us


These four priority action areas are at the heart of our work on urban policies at the OECD. We are on the cutting-edge of data tools that map well-being and inequalities across and within urban areas. We are measuring the economic costs of administrative fragmentation, and the gains to be made by better governance. We are measuring the key dimensions of inclusive growth in cities, including the mechanisms to reduce rising inequalities. We are working with governments at all levels to design and implement policies for more competitive, resilient and inclusive cities.


And we are not doing this alone. The OECD is proud to partner with the the European Commission, UN-Habitat, UCLG, Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and so many others, as we collectively aim to ensure that tomorrow’s cities are resilient and inclusive.


As we approach a “once-in-20-years” opportunity with UN-Habitat III, we must work together to help foster better national urban policies. The OECD will be co-chairing with UN-Habitat III the work on national urban policies – a key input to the “New Urban Agenda” which will address urban policies at all levels of government. We look forward to contributing to the realisation of our collective goals in this area, including achieving Sustainable Development Goal 11 on cities, as well as the other SDGs agreed last month in New York.


Mayors and Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,


Today I encourage you to bring your experience and your candour to the table as you discuss among peers how you are overcoming these challenges at home. How can national and local governments work together to meet the challenges of the Metropolitan Century? What works? What does not?


The OECD stands ready to support you and your work on the road ahead so that together we can promote better urban policies for better lives in Mexico and beyond. Thank you.