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United Nations urges architects, engineers and city shapers to put sustainability principles into action

Signature of Principles of San Marino Declaration

Countries have taken a step to translate rising commitment for sustainable urban development into concrete changes to the fabric of our cities with the adoption of a UN-backed Declaration.   

Today, governments attending the 83rd session of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management have signed the San Marino Declaration, committing “to bolstering the roles of architects, engineers, surveyors, urban planners and designers in ensuring sustainable, safe, healthy, socially inclusive, climate-neutral and circular homes, urban infrastructure and cities.” 

Through the Declaration, governments have agreed on a first-of-its-kind set of “Principles for Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Design and Architecture”, to be applied to the design of all buildings and urban developments. 

UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stressed that “Sustainable housing, land management and urban development constitute fundamental corner stones for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: without them, no inclusive development is possible. Through this Declaration, governments in our highly urbanized region affirm the centrality of action at the city level to addressing our shared challenges and the need to continue advancing strong and inclusive multilateral cooperation to address these. Its shared principles offer a tool to support the crucial role of urban practitioners to achieve change on the ground”. 

Uptake by leading practitioners signals potential for broad roll-out  

By symbolically signing the Principles, leading architects Lord Norman Foster, President of the Norman Forster Foundation, and Stefano Boeri, Founder of Stefano Boeri Architetti, together with the Order of Architects of San Marino, as well as of Rimini and Pesaro in Italy, have signalled their readiness to translate them into action. 

Lord Norman Foster stated “In this time of crisis, we can find great hope in the bold action being taken to make cities worldwide climate-neutral, safer, more inclusive and resilient. Yet, with the magnitude and urgency of the challenges before us, urbanists, architects, engineers and designers - along with other key shapers of our cities such as civic leaders, managers and developers - have a unique duty to drive forward transformational changes at the scale required. I call on all to harness their creativity and expertise with a commitment to put the Principles of the San Marino Declaration into action.” 

Stefano Canti, Minister of the Territory of the Republic of San Marino, stated: “Architects, Engineers and Planners are essential to guide choices towards a new model of sustainable development for cities, territories and communities. I congratulate the Order of Engineers and Architects of the Republic of San Marino for promoting the principles of the Declaration aimed at housing and urban regeneration policies that aim to guarantee quality and safety of living both from a social and environmental point of view, inviting also other States to support its implementation. " 

Stefano Boeri stated “Architects and urban planners, at this moment in the History of the human species on the Planet, have a fundamental responsibility: that of minimizing carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption, maximizing renewable energy capturing devices, integrating increasing shares of biological and green surfaces into buildings, and adapting to a sustainable, electrified mobility model based on the public transport system. We will take the Declaration, as a call to action for architects and planners, to COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh in November, pledging to gather as many endorsements as possible.” 

New principles for sustainable urban design 

The San Marino Declaration sets out the goal for every city, urban infrastructure and building to be designed in line with a set of integrated and indivisible Principles, aiming to ensure: 

  • People-centrality, social responsibility and inclusivity, by fostering and support social responsibility and integrate diversity and equality through due consideration of the needs of all individuals and households. 

  • Respect for cultural identity, values and heritage of places, buildings and communities. 

  • Resource efficiency and circularity to limit energy and resource use and, to the extent possible: use recycled materials; reuse and requalify spaces; use rainwater and reduce wastewater generation; and encourage food production through urban agriculture, orchards and food forests. 

  • Safety and health, adhering to internationally recognised quality standards; providing safe and sustainable mobility and transport systems, including rail, road, inland waterways and for ports, as well as ensuring accessible walking and meeting spaces, green areas and forests. 

  • Respect for nature and natural systems and processes through design that respects plants, animals, and other organisms, and natural habitats. This implies conducting ex-ante environmental impact assessments, allowing spaces for biodiversity, using natural materials and low impact production, assembling and dismantling processes. 

  • Climate neutrality through urban design and requalification, adopting creative solutions that reduce pollution and energy use, phase out unsustainable mobility systems, and integrate green energy generation systems in city designs and buildings. 

  • People-smartness, harnessing new technologies and connectivity to improve liveability for all, including the most socially disadvantaged groups, to bolster transparency and curb corruption. 

  • Resilience, durability, functionality and foresight, to strengthen disaster resilience, especially in the context of climate change; and to make buildings and infrastructure durable and flexible by incorporating spatial adaptability to accommodate new conditions and usages over time. 

  • Affordability and accessibility for all citizens.  

  • Inter-disciplinary cooperation and networking to foster cohabitation, community involvement, solidarity and social cohesion, taking into account citizens’ diverse needs. 

  • Engagement, through consultation with and participation of local communities and stakeholders, to foster trust, ensure needs-responsiveness, and consolidate shared ownership of the city’s future.  

The Declaration is among the key outcomes of the 83rd session of the UNECE Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management, which continues in San Marino until 6 October. 

Note to editors 

About the Committee on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management 

The Committee provides a unique intergovernmental platform for cooperation, knowledge exchange and policy support on sustainable urban development in UNECE’s 56 member States in the Pan-European region and North America.  Since 2020, its pioneering Forum of Mayors has been putting a new and inclusive multilateralism into practice. 

By 2050, an estimated 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. The UNECE region is among the most highly urbanised regions on earth - with around 83% of people in North America today residing in cities, 75% in Europe and close to 50% in Central Asia. 


Photo credit: Simone Maria Fiorani Photographer 

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