Reflections on Habitat III
November 17, 2016
Many voices rang through Quito’s Casa de la Cultura as it hosted the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) on October 17-20, an all-UN meeting convened every 20 years. The Ecuadorian halls buzzed as more than 40,000 participants attended a dizzying array of plenaries, roundtables, side events, and networking activities. Their voices also filled the extraordinary exhibits in the Asamblea Nacional where Penn IUR had a well-placed and well-attended display of faculty and student urban-focused work and hosted more than twenty speakers. Wherever one went in those few days, the expectant enthusiasm, buoyant passion, and hopeful anticipation were noticeable as the conference participants debated and discussed the Habitat III outcome document, the New Urban Agenda, a roadmap for creating an enabling environment for the planning and management of urban spatial development worldwide. After the UN General Assembly’s 193 members ratify the agreement, urban governmental and non-governmental leaders will begin its implementation.
Non-governmental actors have a special role in implementation. For example, in the university world, researchers and academics can begin the ongoing work to create and share knowledge; pilot innovative strategies and solutions; offer monitoring employing qualitative and quantitative tools; and provide capacity-building instruction for the work at hand. Other groups have additional skills to contribute. Likely, they will continue to find areas of mutual collaboration.
Armed with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s message that the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in cities, urbanists are prepared to engage immediately and thoughtfully. They will, however, have to temper their expectations. While ultimately extraordinarily rewarding, achieving the New Urban Agenda’s goals will take time and be fraught with challenges. Nonetheless, the aim is to build a world where cities and human settlements are inclusive, safe, productive, resilient and sustainable, where urban-rural synergies are maximized and nations have mastered balanced territorial development. The overall goals of these aspirations are: to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions; to promote equally-shared opportunities and benefits of urbanization; and to facilitate the sustainable management of natural resources in cities and human settlements in order to protect and improve the urban ecosystem and environmental services, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and promote disaster-risk reduction and management.
The University of Pennsylvania sent a 24-member delegation to Habitat III. Among them were Penn IUR Advisory Board member Paul Farmer, faculty members: Stefan Al (City and Regional Planning), William Burke-White (Richard Perry Professor of Law and Director, Perry World House); Mark Alan Hughes (City and Regional Planning, Director, Kleinman Center); Wendell Pritchett (Presidential Professor of Law); Eduardo Rojas (Historic Preservation, School of Design); Daniel Aldana Cohen (Sociology, School of Arts and Sciences); and nine doctoral students from the Graduate Group in City and Regional Planning. Below are reflections from the delegation about their experiences and the challenges ahead.
–Eugenie Birch, Penn IUR Co-Director and Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education Chair of the Graduate Group in City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania