November 09, 2019

The Cost of Building a Better Future: A Mercy Global Action Perspective

Cities have become the epicenter of our global reality.  Most of our vital socio-economic systems run through and on the infrastructure of urban areas.  Yet, cities are home to serious issues: discrimination, violence, and environmental degradation to name a few.  Therefore, solutions for a more just and merciful society must include urban planning.  To this end the UN established World Cities Day to focus attention on the prominence and potential of urban areas.  The theme for this annual celebration, “Better City, Better Life,” underscores the importance of transforming urban centers as a keystone for achieving most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  To foster collaboration in urban design the UN-Habitat co-sponsored a panel for World Cities Day on October 31st. 

Experts and Ambassadors came together on this panel to engage on the intersecting issues localized in our cities.  This is crucial because more than half of the world population lives in cities, and that number is expected to double over the next thirty years[1].  With population concentrated in urban areas, issues like climate change, gender equality, and homelessness are guaranteed to erupt.  Our cities were not built to withstand the threats now assailing our world and fundamental redesign can build justice, equality, and environmental protections into our future.

Possible solutions include technological advances, as well as sustainable architecture and transportation with environmental protection and resilience at its core.  As panelist Jaya Kader from KZ Architecture pointed out, “It costs the same to build a building with good design.”[2]  A shift to intentionality in urban planning can help alleviate the stress that cities now struggle under and address a spectrum of intersecting concerns created by profit driven systems.

Profits over people in corporate urban planning has exacerbated issues of climate change resilience, women and children, and the urban-urban divide between socioeconomic statuses which prevents the poor from accessing public resources.  Nidhi Gulati, panelist from the Project for Public Spaces, pointed out that public spaces, parks, and municipal services are plentiful but frequently far removed from poor urban neighborhoods, which aggravates the struggle of vulnerable populations dwelling in cities.  This experience of intersectionality, where key issues inevitably overlap, is a focal point for activism. 

Working collaboratively where Mercy International Association’s (MIA) thematic areas intersect with systemic injustice amplifies our advocacy efforts.  Interdisciplinary collaboration illuminates the causes behind MIA’s concern for environmental degradation and displaced persons.  This is a tool frequently used in our ministry at Mercy Global Action (MGA) and around the world.  As MGA advocates for persons experiencing homelessness, we are more effective in our efforts by examining the causes of homelessness in relation to the urban-urban divide which forces vulnerable populations out to the margins.  In other areas, we examine the impact of extractive industries on women in relation to the upcoming Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 25) in Madrid.  Additionally, MGA could not work successfully on human trafficking without exposing the discrimination, power, and intersecting issues of education and poverty which impact this issue. 

Our key themes are already connected with one another, and by working within the framework of intersectionality in our world infrastructure we increase our reach and affectivity.  We know it is not enough to fight each issue separately.  In answering our call to be responsive to the cry of the poor and vulnerable, including our earth, we hold all of our concerns together as one living system in the hope of healing the whole.


[1] World Cities Day Changing the World: Innovations for Better Life and Future Generations 2019. United Nations, October 31, 2019.

[2]  Kader, Jaya. “Celebration of World Cities Day: ‘Better City, Better Life.’” Oct. 31, 2019.

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