A Global Commitment to Sustainable Urban Development

Quito, Ecuador, where Habitat III will take place in October 2016 image: ashokboghani via Flickr
Quito, Ecuador, where Habitat III will take place in October 2016
image: ashokboghani via Flickr

Last year, ASLA endorsed the sustainable development goals that were launched during the U.N. General Assembly on September 25, 2015. The 17 goals—including climate action, biodiversity, sustainable cities and communities, and clean water—address the interconnected elements of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection in all countries to be achieved over the next 15 years.

Later this year, another U.N. General Assembly conference will be taking place: Habitat III. This bi-decennial event has taken place previously in 1976 and 1996, and this year the third U.N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development will be held in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20.

When Habitat I took place 40 years ago, 37.9% of the world’s population lived in cities. In 1996, the world urban population climbed to 45.1%, and now in 2016, 54.5% of the population can be found in cities. The Habitat III website cites several other illustrative statistics, such as the fact that, though cities occupy only 2% of total land mass, they account for:

  • 70% of the economy (GDP),
  • over 60% of global energy consumption,
  • 70% of greenhouse gas emissions,
  • and 70% of global waste.

Given the clear, longstanding, and continuing trend of urbanization, Habitat III aims to update the Habitat Agenda adopted 20 years ago with a New Urban Agenda. This outcome document will be “concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented.”

To that end, the process is already underway, with a first draft of the New Urban Agenda—known as the Zero Draft—released on May 6. There will be three rounds of discussion, with the first comment period ending Monday, May 23. Those interested in sharing their thoughts can participate in the  online Urban Dialogue. There are currently two topics, each with three subtopics, open for discussion:

Topic A. The Transformative Commitments for a Sustainable Urban Development:

  • Leave No One Behind, Urban Equity and Poverty Eradication
  • Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Prosperity and Opportunities for All
  • Foster Ecological and Resilient Cities and Human Settlements

Topic B. Effective Implementation:

  • Building the Urban Structure: Establishing a Supportive National, Subnational and Local Framework
  • Planning and Managing the Urban Spatial Development
  • Enhancing Means of Implementation of the New Urban Agenda: Financing and other Tools of Implementation
Old town of Quito image: Simon Matzinger via Flickr
Old town of Quito
image: Simon Matzinger via Flickr

In addition, allied organizations are collecting comments on specific aspects of the Agenda. US/ICOMOS, for example, is now gathering feedback to help shape their comments on the document, with the aim of establishing the role of historic preservation and culture in global efforts to achieve safe, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient cities. From their call for comments:

So, how well does the Zero Draft capture the role of heritage in Development? Does it align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? To help with the review process, an ICOMOS Task Force has been developing a Habitat 3 concept note. The note identifies three major roles for heritage:

Cultural Heritage and Creativity as a Driver for Inclusive Economic Development

Cultural Heritage as an Enabler for Social Cohesion, Inclusion and Equity

Cultural Heritage and Historic quarters of cities as sources to improve livability and sustainability of both older and new urban areas

To be certain, the Zero Draft addresses cultural knowledge, heritage and historic landscapes—itself a major accomplishment. Most notably is Zero Draft Section 124:

Heritage and Culture
We will place urban culture and heritage as a priority component of urban plans and strategies through the adoption of planning instruments, including master plans, zoning guidelines, and strategic growth policies that safeguard a diverse range of tangible and intangible cultural assets and landscapes and mitigate the disruptive impact of development. We will also conduct a comprehensive inventory and/or mapping of these tangible and intangible assets, utilizing new technologies and techniques and involving local communities, as appropriate.

Other important discussions can be found in Sections 38, 47, 61.

Do these references suffice?

As stated in the preamble of the Zero Draft, the “battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in cities.” These are urgent issues that require attention on a global scale, and as such should involve the input of as wide an audience as possible. The only way to create “cities for all” is for all to take part.

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