In 2016, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) occurred in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the future of sustainable urbanization. Around 30,000 people participated in the conference, representing member states, civil society, organizations with accreditation from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) which includes members from the Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS). There was also an emphasis on having representatives from local and regional governments as these are key actors when considering urbanization.
The outcome of Habitat III was the New Urban Agenda (NUA). The purpose of NUA is to act as a guide for the next 20 years of sustainable urban development. There are several key concepts that NUA addresses as vital to a successful sustainable urban development framework. First, NUA emphasizes the importance of acknowledging all aspects of sustainable development in order to work effectively. The framework makes references to and is meant to work in conjunction with other frameworks related to sustainable development including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Climate Agreement. Understanding the intersectionality between all sectors of sustainable development is the key to creating a successful structure to address it.
Another important element in NUA is the endorsement of the smart-city model. A smart city is an urban area that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as sensors, to create a more efficient, accessible and overall better city. NUA encourages the adoption of the smart-city approach which encourages clean energy use, digitalization, and innovative transportation technologies to improve environmental sustainability, economic growth, and overall quality of life for residents. NUA also puts forward a new vision for cities, referred to as the “right to the city”, which essentially makes equal access to the use and enjoyment of cities a human right. Especially in a smart city, this would mean that both the built environment and the technological environment of the city must be accessible for everyone. The idea of the “right to the city” is an incredibly important step towards creating a more inclusive and accessible world. Future meetings and documents should continue to focus on the idea of the “right to the city” and promote it among local and regional governments around the world. I believe if cities are developed using this mindset, cities in the future will be far more accessible and inclusive for all residents.