Habitat III, NUA, and Smart Cities

The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Agenda (Habitat III) met in Quito, Ecuador in October of 2016. The two previous habitat conferences were held in 1976 and 1996 respectively. During Habitat III the New Urban Agenda (NUA) was passed. The New Urban Agenda seeks to bring about more inclusive, sustainable development to cities. While officially passed at the Habitat III conference, the majority of the writing and negotiations occurred at preparatory meetings that occurred in the lead up to the conference. Among the New Urban Agenda’s most championed ideas are those of “smart cities” and “inclusive cities” both of which strive to make cities and their amenities more accessible to all. The New Urban Agenda seeks to complete all of this in a twenty-year time frame. This means that the next Habitat conference should be held in 2036.

Smart cities represent a new way of talking about and perceiving inclusivity within cities. By using new technologies, the New Urban Agenda hopes to inspire and advocate for a more inclusive approach to urban planning and development in order to create “smart cities.” Smart cities utilize information and communication technologies (ICTs) that allow more people to utilize recourses within a given city. For example, smart bus systems allow users to check online when busses are arriving to reduce wait times outside and to allow for better trip planning.

I believe that smart cities and many of the perspectives championed by the New Urban Agenda are the future of urban development. As cities rapidly expand, the reality of mega cities and the social, political, and economic inequities that exist within them must be addressed. In today’s model of urbanization recourses are concentrated in wealthy areas while poorer areas often struggle for access to basic societal goods such as transportation and recreation/communal spaces. Beyond this, as the proportion of countries’ populations living in urban areas expands, it becomes more and more critical to address the most vulnerable groups among us. Many of concepts contained within the New Urban Agenda speak to these vulnerable groups. One group that was explored thoroughly in class was persons with disabilities. Smart city initiatives allow for great access to societal recourses and therefore more involvement in the community as a whole. However, even once smart city or inclusive initiatives are implemented within a city, it will be exceedingly important to maintain these systems and ensure their continued use.