Smart Cities, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

In October 2016, the Habitat III Cities Conference saw the creation of the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document that will guide the efforts of global urbanization for the next 20 years. This document is essentially supporting and reinforcing the idea that sustainable development and urbanization are interrelated, doing so by including aspects that accomplish both of these concepts simultaneously while at the same time promoting social agenda items. The New Urban Agenda includes concepts that touch on all aspects of the spectrum, from participatory communities to gender equality to disaster risk reduction. All of this is done in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner and in the name of the “vision of future cities”. Although this initiative is a phenomenal effort in striving for global development while simultaneously striving for sustainability, there are many flaws within it that make it undesirably accountable. For instance, it is a non-binding agreement and therefore does not include clearly stated measurements to strive for, making it very difficult to rely on.

A good example of this can be observed in 11.A where it’s main goal is to “support positive economic, social, and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning.” The indicator that is associated with this aspect of the New Urban Agenda is problematic because it does not account for areas outside of the cities. This is a large problem because there is a constant form of communication between urban and rural areas, even if a minute one at that. The indicator states refers to the “proportion of population living in cities” and nobody else, intrinsically limiting the overall scope and reach of this protocol.

According to World Bank data, between the years 2015 and 2020, the population of people living within cities will grow at a rate of 1.84% per year, an incredibly fast pace given the fact that already 54% of the world population resides within urban areas. This factor coupled with the fact that 15% of the world’s population is made up of persons with disabilities, modern urban agendas for sustainable development around the world have increasingly been making efforts to include this part of the population. Because of this, international policies have begun to include access to cities for persons with disabilities. This can be found within countless parts of the Sustainable Development Goals. The crux of this is SDG 11, “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”, which directly references persons with disabilities and seems to put an intense amount of emphasis on their access to public spaces and transport systems. Although this and other efforts are being made to include persons with disabilities in the agendas, there is still room to grow due to the fact that in many cases they do not have direct access to the discussion table. It should be a requirement that those who are being directly affected by these measures be allowed direct access to the decision-making processes and initiatives. A solution to this problem is found in different collaboratives such as the Disability Inclusive Development (DID) Policy Collaboratory that allows persons with disabilities to participate in governmental processes. It is a seemingly simple solution to a very important issue. Policies and initiatives can’t expect to be in full support of the global population if they exclude such a large, important portion of the population.