Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

Habitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. The conference took place in Quito in October and as the name suggests, it is the third meeting on this subject. The conference meets every twenty years to discuss how to improve sustainable urban development on a global level. The main outcome of Habitat III was the adoption of the New Urban Agenda (NUA). The NUA was developed in an effort to refocus efforts on urban sustainability. The population of people living in cities is expected to double by the year 2050 and this will have dramatic impacts on the economy, political society, the climate, and much more. The NUA is designed to provide new ways for nations to design and manage cities to better address these impacts and reduce their negative effects. Urban development is essential to reducing poverty and addressing issues of health, education, food/water security. For a variety of reasons, urbanization impacts the world in major ways both positively and negatively. If neglected cities can become centers of crime, disease, and poverty. But if governments play an active role in engaging with their cities and creating institutions that redirect the resources of the city then they can be major sources of new ideas in science and technology, culture, and economic havens.


While studying abroad in Copenhagen this past semester I had the opportunity to learn about sustainable cities and visited a variety of European cities to learn more about their functioning and about the idea of a smart city. Smart cities are designed to meet people’s needs through technological innovation. They create self-sustaining systems that make urban life easier and more affordable for the average citizen. A primary example of this is transportation.  A well designed transportation system allows people to get to work/school/etc on time without clogging up the city and creating unnecessary waste. An appealing transportation system brings more people into the city, which means more money for the city as a whole. Designing transportation to be responsive to people’s needs can create an entirely new culture in a city.


We learned about housing designed to maximize comfort and enjoyment while still providing housing for as many people as possible at an affordable rate. Most cities develop in limited spaces and as result natural areas are destroyed to make room for further housing or industry. But green spaces can be highly beneficial for urban life and the community. Parks and other green spaces create areas for people to socialize and meet and can foster new ideas while benefiting the environment. But doing all of these wonderful things to improve quality of life in a city creates another major problem: gentrification can push people out. As quality of living rises, so does the cost of living. Lower income families are forced to leave these spaces and rather than fixing problems of income, education, and health the problems are just pushed somewhere else. Addressing these issues means fixing the underlying causes, not just the surface ones. Therefore, the NUA must address the economic and political issues that lead to poverty while simultaneously improving quality of life in cities.