NEW YORK (AP) -- With much of the world's population and its poverty shifting to cities, leaders of urban centers are at the forefront of battling inequality and creating sustainability, attendees at a global mayors conference argued on Tuesday.
The World Cities Summit Mayors Forum came to New York for the first time, granting Mayor Bill de Blasio a giant stage to outline his liberal vision for a 21st-century city, one that he says must not forget about those at society's margins and is increasingly without help from national governments.
"We innovate and we create because we must," de Blasio, who's serving his first term as mayor, said in his opening remarks to the conference. "We see too many times when national governments look away rather than taking them on directly."
In such an environment, de Blasio continued, mayors become even more important.
"We become the bright shining lights," he said.
De Blasio, the first Democrat to be mayor of the United States' largest city in 20 years, devoted much of his remarks to his administration's One New York plan, which merged a previous environmental sustainability program with his anti-poverty vision.
Though just two years ago de Blasio was an obscure local official, he has hurled himself into national and international urban debates, crisscrossing the country to discuss his fight against income inequality and increasingly weighing in on global causes. On Tuesday, he did not shy away from seizing the spotlight or promoting big ideas.
He stressed that the world's changing demographics call for bold action. In 1800, only 3 percent of the world's population lived in cities. Today, it's more than 50 percent.
"We are the center, the focal point, more than ever before in history," de Blasio said.
The roster of cities represented at the three-day conference, hosted at a Manhattan hotel, spanned the globe, ranging from Singapore to Petra to Pittsburgh. Attendees will participate in workshops and lectures and trade ideas and best practices to combat urban problems, organizers said.
United Nations Deputy Secretary Jan Eliasson said their mission was urgent as more than 1 billion people in cities live in what is considered "dire poverty."
"We need policies that safeguard equity and opportunity for all," Eliasson said. "We must leave no one behind."
This story has been corrected to show the event lasts three days, not two days.