Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

With rapid urbanization occurring all around the world, the need to create more inclusive and smart cities is more important than ever. An inclusive city includes both sustainable and equitable urban services, such as water supply, housing and transport facilities, and social services, such as education, health and public space. Ultimately, an inclusive city is a space where everyone, regardless of ability, in enabled and empowered to fully participate in the opportunities that cities have to offer (ADB 2011). Moreover, all people should have the rights and opportunities to navigate a city and make choices, regardless of infrastructure available.

The New Urban Agenda plays a significant role in helping realize this goal of inclusive cities. Developed from the Habitat III conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador in 2016, the New Urban Agenda is a road-map to promote a sustainable and equitable model of urban development that focuses on urban planning and design. This framework will be utilized as a guideline for 20 years until the next Habitat conference. Additionally, we discussed the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) and the Partner Constituent Group. The GAP is a platform for non-governmental partners and includes 16 groups. Similarly, the PCG includes 14 groups, some of which are children and youth, civil society organizations, grassroots organizations and the media. The downside to these group platforms that include other stakeholders working in inclusive urban development is that there are many different competing interests at play. Similarly, these groups must follow governing rules, expectations, and protocols of UN Habitat, which can limit their role in a way.

Yet the language around inclusive cities has become controversial, mainly due to “rights” language. Since inclusive development for persons with disabilities has been recognized by many as a human rights issue, this infers that inclusive cities must exist to follow human rights. Yet, it also suggests that not having inclusive cities is a human rights issue and that has been controversial to many stakeholders and governments.

For my capstone project, I will be conducting a case study on Malaysia where I will look at how Malaysia has responded to the CRPD Article 24. From reading through government documents regarding education, I have noticed that Malaysia strives to create inclusive spaces for all students, but especially for those with physical disabilities. This is mostly evident in their most recent national education policy, Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025. Yet, from reading general news sources and op-eds, it seems that schools in rural and poorer areas lack the resources and accessibility that other schools in larger cities have.


Asian Development Bank: Inclusive Cities (2011)

Smart Cities Council at smartcitiescouncil.com

Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2015-2025 (2015)

Disaster Risk Reduction and Inclusive Practices

The Sendai Framework is one of the most inclusive UN conferences. Adopted at the 3rd global UN Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, the Sendai Framework outlines four priorities, seven targets, and thirteen guiding principles to adopt a people-centered approach and to recognize disability inclusive in Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The Sendai Framework ultimately shifted the focus from disaster management to disaster risk reduction with the primary focus on reducing the risk of both natural and man-made disasters while planning to rebuild cities in a sustainable, inclusive and resilient way. Following the Sendai Framework, the Dhaka Declaration on Disability and Disaster Risk Reduction took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2015. Two important points discussed here are the recognition that persons with disabilities are most vulnerable during disasters and how poverty and disability can intersect. Its primary focuses were on ensuring a people-centered approach, engaging meaningfully with persons with disabilities at all levels, strengthening governance and partnerships, integrating gender, age and disability data, and promoting empowerment and protection. What stands out about the Dhaka Declaration is that it reemphasizes the issues raised from the conference, but also provides specific actions that can be taken by the countries involved. This provides clear goals for the future to guide governments and organizations towards inclusive disaster risk reduction that includes persons with disabilities in the decision-making processes.

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction of 2017, which took place in Cancun, Mexico, redefined accessibility in the modern age (UNISDR). To ensure that all persons with disability had access and were included in the decision-making processes of the conference, the GP2017 provided International Sign Language translators for support during sessions, offered remote participations at hubs in Bangladesh, Fiji, Belgium, and the United States, and introduced the use of robots to connect these remote hubs to the conference. Although live webcasting does not always give access to discuss topics and ideas further with other attendees, the robots gave more access to those not able to participate in person to virtually engage with the conference.

I am blown away by the use of technology in this way, because of its role in promoting accessibility and inclusivity. Yet, I recognize its limitations because all may not have access to this technology and technology might not always be reliable. With my capstone project on inclusive education in Malaysia, I am intrigued by the idea of using this technology in teacher training programs to promote an exchange of ideas and learning.

The SDGs, HLPF, and Sen’s Approach to Development

Developed from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the target year 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have made tremendous strides in emphasizing inclusivity. As discussed in our first two class sessions, the MDGs had a one-size-fits-all approach to development that lacked consideration of cultural, political, and historical contexts as well as the lack of inclusivity in its goals, targets, and indicators. Ultimately, the MDGs did not specifically consider the almost one billion people in the world with disabilities in the conversation regarding development.

The SDGs, however, have expanded from 8 goals to 17 goals that include persons with disabilities. This expansion allows countries to customize their focus depending on their own needs and goals, which essentially allows more space for the expertise and engagement of non-profits and NGOs to enter the development conversation. With clearly defined goals, targets, and indicators that work to include persons with disabilities in development, the SDGs have been crafted with articulate language that can be easily read and understood by all persons.

This language is developed through the High-Level Political Forum with actors such as NGOs and interest groups of member states, national institutions, and the major groups. The UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which was formed in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 is a highly inclusive and participatory forum of the UN that is responsible for overseeing the progress of the SDGs around the world. The HLPF meets annually for eight days under the Economic and Social Council and every four years under the UN General Assembly, which convenes with the heads of state.

Through these forums, the voices of the major groups are pushed to the fore front of the discussion. The major groups include women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, civil society, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, and the scientific and technological groups. Similar to Amartya Sen (1999) in his work Development as Freedom, the HLPF and the SDGs emphasize the importance of empowering the voices and agency of marginalized groups. The work of Sen (1999) has helped shift development approaches from a focus on GDP to a humanistic and inclusive approach that considers a person’s opportunity to live a long and healthy life, obtain knowledge, and have a decent standard of living. Without the individual at the center of development, it is difficult to truly understand whether development practices are aiding a country in an inclusive manner.



Sen, A. (1999). Freedom as Development. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.