Live from Habitat III: Inclusive and Well-planned Cities For All

Quito, Ecuador hosts Habitat III. Photo by Sakeeb Sabakka / Flickr

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is reporting on Habitat III from Quito, Ecuador. Follow our daily coverage on TheCityFix.

Habitat III, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, officially began on Monday, October 17th in Quito. On the second day of the conference, governmental leaders from around the world gathered for two plenary sessions. Speakers addressed country-specific urban challenges and strove to unite the participants toward implementing a strong, robust and effective New Urban Agenda (NUA).

With Habitat III fully underway, Ministries of Housing from around the world gathered for two high-level plenary sessions. The speakers discussed what Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda can do for global cities, the status of urban development in their countries as well as desired outcomes from the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. These remarks often centered on specific national policies, but three themes resounded throughout the day: inclusive cities; accessible and affordable housing and the importance of integrated planning.

1. Inclusive Cities: Leave No One Behind

Throughout the proceedings, participants noted that inequality is often exacerbated in urban centers, where economic opportunity and social services cannot keep up with the rate of urbanization. Therefore, the success of Habitat III is dependent on the ability to promote inclusive growth while implementing a robust vision of future cities in the New Urban Agenda. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development of Canada, explained that creating: “inclusive communities means promoting diversity, protecting needs of underrepresented groups and ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Following Duclos’ remarks, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro urged plenary participants to invest in inclusive communities that promote shared prosperity for all urban residents. He noted that cities where residents value inclusivity are often the most innovative and successful in accomplishing global goals like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To Maria Nuñez, Minister Executive Secretary of the National Secretariat for Housing and Habitat of Paraguay, the mark of an inclusive society is participatory planning. She called for the NUA to inspire “participatory processes from the outset” that take into account diversity while managing solutions at the local scale. Similarly, Eneida de Leon, Minister of Housing of Uruguay, noted the importance of “bringing the decisions back to society; this is what will strengthen coexistence.” The delegate went on to say that this shift in approach must also promote the notion of buenvivir, or “living well,” for all who live in cities today, or will do so in the future.

2. Housing as Entry Point to Equality

A global deficit in affordable housing also came to the forefront in delegates’ addresses. But, many cities are taking action to close the gap. Jan Claude Mbwentchou, Minister of Housing and Urban Development of Cameroon noted: “building housing for all social groups” as one of the most crucial challenges, occasioned by “rural exodus and population growth.” As a result, the Cameroonian government is re-launching public investment to reduce a deficit in housing, and demonstrated collaborative effort within its plans to; “build and plan for 50,000 housing units,” while providing “new incentives…to combat unhealthy and unclean housing.”

One solution that many country representatives highlighted was the integration of a plan for affordable housing into broader national plans. Diene Farba Sarr, Minister of Urban Renewal, Habitat and Living Environment of Senegal, detailed the country’s plans for a broad-scale “new policy of economic and social development… and framework of the Emerging Senegal Plan.” This policy framework “attaches importance to urban renewal,” and is poised to “produce 15,000 new housing units each year,” while also strengthening slum upgrading programs. This comprehensive approach to development planning can ensure that burgeoning cities are better able to accommodate an influx of new residents and provide a better quality of life for those already living in urban areas.

3. Integrated Planning Ensures Stronger Communities

This devotion to implementing more integrated planning was the another common thread in Tuesday’s plenary sessions. Ministers highlighted the importance of integrating planning measures across governmental levels, metropolitan areas and sectors; Minister of International Affairs of Kiribati Atarake Nataara described how the NUA “acknowledges the significance of building partnerships at the global, regional, national, subnational and local levels.” It is this multi-level and multi-sectoral coalition-building that can lead to widespread buy-in on more comprehensive policies.

Julian Castro, on the other hand, urges participants to embrace integrated urban planning specifically across metropolitan sectors. He said that by integrating policy and focusing on how communities are connected, cities will become more resilient and sustainable. For example, Castro noted that as cities continue to grow, they will increasingly rely on the rural agricultural lands that grow their food. By planning across these areas, he claimed, food security will improve through advanced coordination.

However, by the end of the conference proceedings, what most participants are hoping for is the establishment of robust follow-up mechanisms. Nearly all participants in Tuesday’s plenary sessions described the desire for a robust monitoring, reporting and implementation platform and proclaimed their support for this enhanced implementation in their countries, to ensure cities are inclusive, well-planned and provide adequate housing for all. Long-term vision and sharing of results seems to be something that all participants can agree on.

Follow our daily coverage of Habitat III on TheCityFix.

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