Habitat of the Future: UN tackles New Urban Agenda to Build Sustainable Cities in 20 Years
While in the midst of the Habitat III conference in Ecuador, world leaders are expected to reach consensus on a 20-year urban development plan termed "New Urban Agenda." The 24-page document will be discussed among the presidents, vice presidents and ministers of the attending UN state members which will hopefully lead to sustainable cities in the future.
Prior to the Ecuador gathering, the New Urban Agenda has undergone two years of gathering information and additional four months of political debates. According to Reuters, United Nations Environmental Programme Executive Director Erik Solheim said that the Agenda should establish means of quantifying its success.
"We need definitely to move towards targets, otherwise it will be very difficult," Solheim said. "You need to compare, and (for that) you need targets."
On the onset of the Habitat III conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon started off with the potentials of the cities. “As you know, cities are increasingly the home of humanity. That is why it is important that this agenda, this New Urban Agenda, be fully implemented,” Ban mentioned. He also highlighted that cities are the "engines of growth, centers of diversity and hubs of creativity" but it seems that improper planning has led to cities as problem generators.
“All these major cities, that’s where you can build good settlements, but at the same time, they create a lot of problems: pollution, crime, sanitation, water, health issues, slums, very dirty and very difficult human settlements,” Ban Ki-moon added.
The New Agenda Document was also regarded by Eugénie Birch, Urban Planning Professor of the University of Pennsylvania, as more concise and focused compared to the document of the Habitat II conference in 1996. Trimming down the pages from 109 to 24 already indicates the latter's focused and strategic approach.
Meanwhile, Michael Cohen of The New School- New York, who was also a participant of the Habitat II as World Bank's urban analyst said that the Agenda is not transformative. “The New Urban Agenda is a list of what needs to be addressed in thinking about cities, but it does not provide guidance on how these needs can actually be addressed,” Cohen emphasized. He was also arguing about the scenarios included in the Habitat III discussions wherein political values, the technological changes, globalization and disasters were not considered over time. “In my judgment, the Habitat III process has not advanced global, national or local urban awareness,” Cohen strongly disputed in an article.
But all in all, the fate of the agenda still lies on the hands of the political leaders who are now discussing its components. It may have some strong aggressive sections to curve the trend of urbanization on cities but since the New Urban Agenda is non-binding and voluntary, what counts will be the decisions of the key policymakers and how these will be implemented.