Originally Posted 10/21/2016
Habitat III is the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. The first Habitat conference was held in 1976 and the subsequent conferences have been held every 20 years (1996, 2016). In 1976, the concept of “rapid urbanization” was a new idea: mass migration into cities was beginning as a global phenomenon and the provision of shelter for the growing populations was an emerging issue. In 1996, the conference identified the increasing deterioration of shelter in urban centers and called for shelter for all. It also sought to ignite a global effort, based in local participation, to address the sustainability of cities in terms of consumption, production, population size and distribution, poverty, infrastructure, environment, etc.
This year, 2016, according to the Habitat III webpage, the objectives of the conference are “to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments to date, address poverty and identify and address new and emerging challenges. The conference will result in a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document.” This document is entitled the “New Urban Agenda” and is intended to be a document that will be officially adopted in Quito, Ecuador this week.
In addition to representatives from the 200 UN governments, other stakeholders, governments, researchers, members of the private sector, and non-governmental organizations will be in attendance. But other than the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, what are the intended outcomes of these conferences? The conference intends to act as a forum to get everyone “on the same page” in terms of sustainable development goals, to serve as a public opportunity for nation states to make commitments in their respective countries, and aims to steer funding agencies towards prioritizing and supporting the goals outlined within the New Urban Agenda. However, though the adoption is structured as a participatory conference, it will be interesting to see whether participants have influence or primarily act as observers of the process (see this article for an interesting perspective on the role of scientists in this process:http://www.nature.com/news/scientists-must-have-a-say-in-the-future-of-cities-1.20760).
The New Urban Agenda is highly relevant to the work of MEGADAPT both topically, in terms of water related issues, and in its statements relating to the role of research/researchers. The agenda calls for cities that “provide universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation” as well as for the conservation of water. It recognizes that urban centers are increasingly vulnerable to climate change, flooding, extreme weather events, water scarcity, water pollution, and drought — all issues that are encompassed within the scope of the MEGADAPT project.
The agenda commits to “long-term urban and territorial planning processes and spatial development practices that incorporate integrated water resources planning and management, considering the urban-rural continuum at the local and territorial scales, and including the participation of relevant stakeholders and communities.” MEGADAPT’s ambition to incorporate and visualize the different perspectives on the problems and solutions of water related risk in Mexico City will contribute directly to this goal. The New Urban Agenda also promotes sustainable water usage via revitalizing urban water resources, treating waste water, reducing water losses – all issues that are highlighted in MEGADAPT’s synthesis of stakeholder knowledge and experience, and in the scenarios of solutions that are planned in MEGADAPT for the coming year. Additionally, the Agenda proposes investment in all categories of water infrastructure in order to reduce water-related disasters and health risks and to eliminate inequalities related to water provision.
Thinking of infrastructure broadly is critical: cities need to rely on innovative strategies that incorporate green and grey infrastructure as well as “soft” infrastructural solutions that focus on governance and institutions. The Agenda calls upon research organizations to work with governments to improve the governance process and to promote effective participation in decision-making. It supports “science, research, and innovation, including a focus on social, technological, digital and nature-based innovation, robust science-policy interfaces in urban and territorial planning and policy formulation, as well as institutionalized mechanisms for sharing and exchanging information, knowledge and expertise, including the collection, analysis, standardization and dissemination of geographically-based, community-collected, high-quality, timely and reliable data…” We hope that MEGADAPT will play such a role in helping Mexico City meet its water and urbanization challenges.
Ultimately, the challenge at hand requires investment in transdisciplinary research, collaborative implementation, and, an approach to the science-policy interface that helps articulate the disparate meanings, values, and understandings on sustainability and development associated with the inhabitants of the world’s cities. Cities embody the complexity of values, politics and social relations that define society, and circumscribe the relationship of people to place and to the environment. Solutions to the challenges of cities this century must place the nexus of social equity, human rights and environmental integrity in the spotlight. Habitat III will articulate the challenge and outline possible solution pathways, but where do we begin? We hope that MEGADAPT will contribute to the debate, and build on the New Urban Agenda to help articulate some pathways for change. Are you on board to help?
The official website: https://habitat3.org/
The New Urban Agenda:https://www2.habitat3.org/bitcache/97ced11dcecef85d41f74043195e5472836f6291?vid=588897&disposition=inline&op=view
A look at inclusion within the New Urban Agenda by our collaborators at the STEPS Centre:http://steps-centre.org/2016/blog/the-new-urban-agenda-and-its-47-inclusions/
A helpful overview of the history and current events of the UN’s Habitat Conferences:http://citiscope.org/habitatIII/explainer/what-habitat-iii
A collaborative project seeking to improve capacities for risk management in Mexico City and to serve as a model for climate-change adaptation in developing countries.