Inclusive Cities, Habitat III, New Urban Agenda

This blog post discusses the idea of inclusive cities and the New Urban Agenda.
With the rapid urbanization of the world, as 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas today and UN DESA projects 68% will by 2050, it is important that there is a focus on building inclusive, smart cities for these people to live in. Sustainable Development Goal 11 is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, but there is a longer history of UN commitment to urban development that began in 1978 with the creation of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat) as an outcome of the 1976 UN Conference on Human Settlements and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat 1). After Habitat Conference 2 in Istanbul 1996, there was Habitat 3 in 2016 that was held in Quito, Ecuador. The conference was supported by the General Assembly of Partners whose 16 Partner Constituent Groups represented stakeholders by contributing language to preparatory committees and attending the conference. It is the New Urban Agenda that is the outcome document of the Habitat 3 conference.

The New Urban Agenda is the framework for urban development in the Sustainable Development era. It follows the “right to the city” movement and defines this as “a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all.” In this way, planning inclusive cities for sustainable development means doing so in a way that improves the quality of life for marginalized peoples (including the disabled and poor). There are, overall, an incredible amount of ways to work the SDGs into inclusive cities; part of the difficulty of the issue is that much of the urbanization that has already occured in the world was not planned and therefore has been slum creation.

Activist and scholar Victor Pineda provides an important background framework for understanding the importance of creating inclusive cities. In the U.S. the Americans with Disabilities Act states “a person is considered disabled if she or he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”  – with the last part being specified by Pineda as “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking,breathing, learning, and working.” Pineda argues the definition should be expanded to state that “A socially constructed environment disables an individual to the degree that it fails to maximize the transformation of specific functions of daily living for the individual.” In this sense, building an inclusive city is about spatially enabling people to be able to function individually in their daily lives. Paragraph 36 of the NUA incorporates this by committing to “facilitate access for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment of cities, in particular to public spaces, public transport, housing, education and health facilities, public information and communication (including information and communications technologies and systems) and other facilities and services open or provided to the public, in both urban and rural areas.” I think it is awesome that the mindset of “nothing about us, without us” has been put into practice and is able to be successful through the GAP process.