Smart Cities, Habitat III and New Urban Agenda

What is an inclusive city and does it relate to international development? Used by many organizations from the the World Bank and United Nations to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the idea of the “inclusive city” is obviously an important concept in international development. The World Bank writes that the inclusive city provides “opportunities and better living conditions for all” and involves spatial, social, and economic factors. In addition, sustainable development goal (SDG) 11 is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.” In short, the inclusive city is here to stay in policy and development practice.

A city can be un-inclusive on many levels. One way is by being spatially un-inclusive for people with disabilities (PWDs) – as described in Enabling Justice: Spatializing Disability in the Built Environment by Victor Santiago Pineda. Pineda’s main argument is that cities are often non inclusive to PWDs through the ways they conceptualize and distribute space (Pineda, p. 111). For example, stairs with no accessible alternatives to climbing an elevated surface exclude individuals that are physically handicapped from accessing that space. In the same way, cities that do not have audible crosswalks, prevent visually impaired citizens from crossing traffic safely.

In addition, cities can also be socially and economically un-inclusive to individuals living in slums. According to the Asian Development Bank in the report titled “Inclusive Cities”, the region had an “economic miracle” following World War 2 that resulted in a massive influx in investment and economic development. This “miracle” caused citizens to flood urban areas. Urban developments and city planners could not handle such a quick population boom and urban slums exploded. According to the ADB, the average proportion of urban dwellers living in slums ranges from 33.2% to 50% (p. 5).

Several of my classmates in their blog posts and during class discussion brought up the idea of a smart city that drives and attracts innovation. Smart cities draw young people and intellectual adults to a community that fosters intellectual development and can be at the forefront of creating inclusive cities. However, as the ADB highlighted (and several of my classmates), while smart cities and inclusive cities can – and often – do coincide, sometimes they do not. A city can be extremely inclusive and participatory for all people but not be a central hub for innovation and progress. On the other hand, a city can be the center of intellectual progress but physically be inaccessible to those with disabilities.

To address this discrepancy between inclusive and smart cities, Habitat III (the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development) created a plan of action called the New Urban Agenda (NUA). The NUA, introduces the concept of “Right to the City” meaning that each person must have equal access to all amenities – physical and intellectual – that a city has to offer. The Habitat III conference held in Quito, Ecuador on October 20, 2016 officially adopted the NUA marking a landslide victory for stakeholder groups that were previously excluded from safe and successful urban dwelling.