“Unnecessary barriers continue to limit disabled people’s mobility and access to public resources; planning practitioners have failed to fully recognize the enabling or disabling powers of physical space” –Victor Pineda. Pineda argues that one is only disabled in respect to an environment, pushing for mainstreaming of disabled persons’ needs in everyday accessibility. This line of thinking directly influenced the global conversation about Smart Inclusive Cities and urban development in international policy making and guidance like Habitat III.
Habitat III was the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador, October 2016, focusing on sustainable urbanization. Building off of the 1996 Habitat II in Istanbul, Habitat conferences decide strategic frameworks for the next 20 years. Habitat III also welcomed the participation of all stakeholders, including the general assembly of partners (GAP). UNDESA, who is responsible for economic and social activities in the UN, reports that “urban areas are projected to house 60 per cent of people globally” by 2030, making this a crucial area for accessibility.
The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was Habitat III’s outcome document, which commits itself to preparing for a sustainable and equal urban future that includes “the rights and needs of women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and local communities, as appropriate, and to those of others in vulnerable situations”. This document is, instead, a call to action. NUA epitomizes the UN process as well: all influencers had the chance to contribute to the outcome document, but their last opportunity to do so was the Surabaya draft in Indonesia. This means the conference of Habitat III itself is actually an opportunity to discuss implementation, despite the general perception that the conference is where the outcome document is written. WUF9, held in Malaysia, also focuses on implementation of NUA goals, particularly banding around the role of technology. Its goals were 1) to advocate and raise awareness of sustainable development, 2) to improve collective knowledge, 3) to increase coordination and cooperation, and 4) to create a platform to incorporate the input of different organizations.
However, the representative nature of NUA is limited by those who are at the table. Despite the multi-stake holder involvement of Partner Constituent Groups (PCGs), civil society members must have rare ECOSOC accreditation to participate. Plus, the GAP started with the UN’s 9 major groups, slowly expanding to 16 (most recently, persons with disabilities); the GAP is pulled in many directions and is expensive, limiting access. Monitoring progress becomes even harder because NUA is not legally binding. These show that there is a long way to go for representation. Implementation of the progressive vision of the New Urban Agenda will require even higher multi-stakeholder buy in and a cultural mainstreaming of Pineda’s mindset that the only limit of a disabled person is their environment. It is the duty of the UN, complemented by the private and civil society sectors, to change that.