The New Urban Agenda Approved at Habitat III in Ecuador
From October 17-20, 2016, over 36,000 people from 167 different countries descended on Quito, Ecuador, to attend the Habitat III conference. Subtitled “The New Urban Agenda,” the conference was organized by the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.
The goal of the conference was to set a new longterm course for sustainable growth for urban areas. These regions, which now represent around 54.5% of all living areas,
• produce 70% of the world’s GDP
• consume over 60% of all global energy
• generate 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions
• are responsible for 70% of all global waste
The driver for the conference was made up of two parts. The first was to build on the progress of two past Habitat conferences, starting with one 40 years ago, in Vancouver, Canada, when only 37.9% of the world’s population was in urban centers, and then a second Habitat event, held in Istanbul in 1996, when 45.1% lived in the same regions. The second was to build on the earlier 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, voted on by member states of the UN in 2015. With such a large percentage of the world’s population living in urban centers – and the contribution of those centers positively to the GDP but also at a cost of consuming most of the world’s energy and generating an even higher percentage of the world’s waste products – there was no question from conference organizers and participants as to how critical it is to agree on a plan.
And they did jointly agree and set in place detailed next steps for the plan. The event also featured extensive side discussions on the importance of public spaces, how to provide more inclusion for women in the new urban environments, what it might take to get youth more actively involved in the cities and even how to pay for what had already been proposed in previous draft agreements.
But the landmark outcome of the event – and the one for which those 167 different countries involved will now be taking detailed actions going forward – was the passing of that plan.
The New Urban Agenda
The agenda itself is quite involved and dense, but because so many cities and people around the world will be affected by it, it is still important for concerned citizens throughout the world to be familiar with some of its major statements. The selections below come summarized directly from the full document, available online.
The vision is perhaps best provided exactly as the organizers wrote it:
“We share a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements, to foster prosperity and quality of life for all.”
Within those cities, the organizers emphasize the need for such cities to fulfill their social functions and provide for basic human needs, including access to food, shelter, water, education, waste management and security, among others:
• A style of living that is participatory and promotes civic engagement.
• The achievement of gender equality and empowerment.
• The support of long-term sustainable growth. • Protection of the environment.
• Management for disaster-risk reduction, including considerations of climate change, which is already very much with us.
As part of making this a reality and less just a call to action, the plan also notes that:
• Eradicating poverty is one of the biggest imperatives in any environment but especially so in the cities. No one must be left behind as growth continues, regardless of age, sex, physical health, presence of disabilities or background. Respect for human rights must underline every aspect of planning.
• There must be specific reinforcement of the importance of providing adequate housing to all tiers of society.
• Access to affordable infrastructures such as renewable energy, safe drinking water and sanitation, sustainable mobility and health care is critical.
• Open spaces and connections with the natural environment must be built into all mass planning. Education including both formal schooling as well as access to historical sites and museums, along with celebration of indigenous peoples and their cultures, must be planned for.
• There must be inclusive access to financial resources and infrastructures (such as digital payment systems) for all.
• Government and legal systems must support keeping the infrastructures running, safe and fair for all.
Other items of note in the agenda include: • The need for access to meaningful work for all.
• Providing the means of collaboration among all populations and governmental units, both within the urban centers and between those of different nations.
• The importance of understanding how our ecosystems intertwine.
• Developing resilient and thoughtful means of dealing with both natural and man-made disasters.
Other specific points in the agenda include:
• Provisions for supporting the Smart City concept, with digital and information infrastructures for all, within every urban center.
• Fostering sustainable consuming patterns within the community, including how waste management is handled.
• Demanding the use of recycled and recyclable materials in every aspect of urban life.
• A move from reactive to proactive planning everywhere, including consideration of long-term climatic shifts, demographic changes, educational and job changes as the world evolves and more support of the Paris Climate Change accords.
• Providing access to what the organizers refer to as “multilateral funds” – including the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility, the Adaptation Fund and the Climate Investment Funds – to deal with climate-change issues that at this point are accelerating at a rapid clip.
• The importance of mixed-income living and work environments to encourage active living and working in truly diverse environments.
The agenda concluded with numerous steps related to the study of best practices in each of these areas, developing governmental and Ngo-based means of testing out new urban solutions and actively working together to find ways to collaborate among and between each other.
What’s next for the group? Taking it all home and making it happen in every one of the delegate communities represented at the conference. It’s an ambitious agenda, but with careful thought, dedication and attention to the core principles embraced by the group, it could make a major difference for the future for all of us, but only if we do our part and elect intelligent, capable and honest public servants.
The dire state of many cities is not due to a lack of financial resources or effective policy but corruption. Voters consistently choose people who are unqualified and should never be in public office.
American cities like Chicago and Detroit are prime examples of how voter choices can result in criminal activity by city staff, theft of tax dollars, higher taxes, rotting infrastructure and high crime rates.
Until voters wake up and start thinking for themselves and making better choices, the Utopian ideals of the Habitat conferences will remain out of reach.