The New Urban Agenda is the defining document of the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, where urbanists from around the world gathered to discuss solutions for future urban development. It has been intensely negotiated over the last months and has gone through many changes, but the final version, found here, was ratified at the Habitat III conference.
The document is 24 pages long, which is a significant change from the last Habitat conference which took place in 1996 in Istanbul – the resulting document was over 100 pages long in that case, which made it much more difficult to follow and implement – the New Urban Agenda is thought to provide more straightforward indicators about what cities should aim for in the years to come.
Here are the main takeaways from the New Urban Agenda:
Many experts, cited by Citiscope, insist that the New Urban Agenda is not particularly innovative, but rather transformational – as Holger Dalkmann and Alyssa Fischer at the World Resources Institute put it, innovation is expected in its implementation, and it is not seen as being focused on disruptive change. The fact that it is comprehensive and inclusive is seen as both a strength and a weakness by Judith Hermanson of IHC Global – she fears that the effort to ‘get everything in’ could lead to issues in prioritization. The importance given to subnational government and local leadership in the New Urban Agenda is also applauded by many, as urbanists have long argued for the principle of subsidiarity and decentralization to be applied to city development.
The ‘right to the city’
The most striking novel element of the New Urban Agenda is the notion of ‘the right to the city’. It is a model of urban development that includes all citizens, a concept that is already present in the laws of Ecuador and Brazil. According to Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau, the US and China rejected the idea for the right to the city to be written into the Agenda, but they were eventually forced to do so by other countries who supported it. She also thinks that cities have a long way to go before they can be called inclusive in the true sense of the word – they are still underestimated and underfunded, patriarchal, and reflect neoliberal politics which she sees as damaging. Lorena Zárate, President of Habitat International Coalition (HIC), summarizes the most important principles of the right to the city:
- the respect of all human rights and gender equality for all;
- the social function of land, the public control of gentrification and speculation processes, and the capture and distribution of land value increments generated by urban development;
- the promotion and support of a broad range of housing options and security of tenure arrangements;
- the recognition of the contributions from the informal sector and the social and solidarity economy to the urban economy as a whole;
- the commitment to a sustainable and responsible management of natural, heritage and cultural goods;
- the integrated vision of the territory, understanding regions interactions and responsibilities beyond administrative boundaries.
Experts were also asked by Citiscope to identify the weaknesses of the New Urban Agenda. Some think that it operates without much awareness of present issues, such as the refugee crisis or other pressing problems, and that it does not do enough to prepare cities for future shocks through building resilience and social cohesion.