Habitat lll, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, took place this year in Quito, Ecuador from October 17-20. The purpose of this conference was essentially to move towards the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, which was derived from the Surabaya Draft of the New Urban Agenda (which was the outcome of the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the Habitat III Conference in Surabaya, Indonesia 2016). The New Urban Agenda is one of the various globally adopted frameworks for international development projects, and appears to be more specifically targeted towards the urban population that consists of over half of our world’s population today. The New Urban Agenda delves into core issues such as adequate and sustainable human settlements, democratic development, as well as key emphasis on the importance of establishing global monitoring mechanisms to ensure that development projects and funding are being used productively. Some of the values that are expressed by this framework include emphasis on community engagement and capacity building within new urban developments since it encourages more sustainable development projects, that promote capacity building for future resilience from the bottom up. A bottom-up approach often seems like one of the keys in more successful development projects (as well as long-term solutions) since it helps ensure that local members of affected communities will have a more powerful voice in the decisions that will affect their future living situations.
The concept of community engagement reminds me of a class I previously took on development in India. Often time, when trying to urbanize slum settlements in order to “improve” a city’s aesthetic, project designers often do not take into account the ways in which slum dwellers lives can be heavily disrupted by development projects. For example, existing community social systems are often at risk of being destroyed as layouts for new settlements a lot of times are not designed to take into account the necessity for certain families or worker groups to be kept within close proximity. Additionally, there are various cases in which slum dwellers will not necessarily even want to be moved into “new and improved” establishments, because of the sentimental values that their homes may carry for them. Thus, if the purpose of development projects is to improve the wellbeing of those who are in need, one must take into account the opinions of the locals themselves in order to mitigate any wasteful spending of resources.