The one-year countdown to Habitat III has begun!

The next 12 months will need to foster international commitment to a new agenda on housing and sustainable urban development that will transform the urban paradigm into a source of global development. Today, everything seems aligned for this to happen.

The Old Town of Quito as seen through the towers of the Basilica del Voto Nacional. (Rafal Cichawa/Shutterstock)

This morning I woke up in New York with a message on our Habitat III Secretariat group chat from a member of our team based in Jakarta that read, “In only one year the New Urban Agenda will be real!!”

This was followed by a series of happy emoticons from the rest of the team members as they read the news and added their reaction. As each woke up around the world, one could track the different time zones: cities in Asia, Nairobi, cities in Europe, New York, and finally an emoticon from Quito — ☺.

And this is what it is. In less than a year, the Habitat III conference will be underway in the Ecuadorian capital, scheduled for 17-20 October. At that point, hopefully, we will have in our hands a global commitment to implement a challenging and visionary strategy on housing and sustainable urban development that will transform the urban paradigm into a source of global development — the New Urban Agenda.

Following the milestones achieved over the past year by the international community, today everything seems aligned to allow for this to happen. In September, the United Nations adopted “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, a document that presents a new opportunity to end poverty and ensure prosperity for all.

[See: Urban SDG campaigners celebrate success, acknowledge shortcomings]

In particular, the power of urbanization to accelerate prosperity and well-being was successfully recognized by Sustainable Development Goal 11, which aims to “to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. This is an unprecedented context for improving the lives of the majority of the global population.

I am also convinced that cities will have a major role in the discussions at the COP 21 climate summit that begins in November in Paris. Cities consume over 70 percent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 percent of all carbon dioxide. As such, the summit will be a key opportunity to rethink urbanization and to promote critical partnerships that can unleash the role of sustainable urbanization.

The timing of the start of this one-year countdown could not be better, as between World Habitat Day and World Cities Day we are celebrating a month called Urban October. This period is dedicated to raising awareness, promoting participation, generating knowledge and engaging the global community toward the New Urban Agenda.

[See: Integrating urban ‘living rooms’ into global development]

For this year’s Urban October, we are reflecting particularly on the importance of public spaces and good urban design, under the World Cities Day motto, “Designed to live together”. The significant number of events and organizations working together this month to create synergies and join efforts, led by UN-Habitat, offers a strong benchmark for the months ahead.

Broadening participation

Meanwhile, the Habitat III process is picking up significant momentum. This past week saw the third in an important series of regional and thematic meetings.

“The coming months will see a broad spectrum of inputs come together into a single ‘zero draft’ of the New Urban Agenda, expected for release by the end of April. The journey until then will be a key period for engagement and gathering contributions from all sides.”

This series began in September with a thematic meeting on civic engagement, held in Tel Aviv, followed by a meeting on metropolitan areas in Montreal earlier this month. The most recent of these was the Asia-Pacific regional meeting, held in Jakarta. Now, we are all excited as we approach the sessions on intermediate cities, to be in Cuenca, Ecuador, during the second week of November.

[See: Habitat III process turning to intermediate cities]

Part of the responsibilities of the Habitat III Secretariat is to create spaces for the broad participation of all actors to contribute to elaborating on the details of the New Urban Agenda. These regional and thematic meetings constitute an inclusive platform that makes it possible to bring together representatives from U. N. member states, regional and local governments, civil society organizations, multilateral institutions and the private sector.

This process is extremely valuable in order to develop independent policy recommendations for the New Urban Agenda and, beyond that, to provide the expertise needed to reach consensus on the eventual outcomes of Habitat III. In order to achieve this, over 200 experts have now been organized under the guidance of leading organizations within 10 “policy units”. The results of their meetings and discussions will be published in 10 policy papers this winter.

In addition, the entire United Nations system has shown a strong commitment to the New Urban Agenda. The U. N. Task Team on Habitat III, which integrates over 30 U. N. bodies, was responsible for expanding on the series of 22 “issue papers” published early this summer. The members of the Task Team make up the main voice of the U. N. system, encompassing the broad perspectives of development and humanitarian affairs.

The coming months will now see this broad spectrum of inputs come together into a single “zero draft” of the New Urban Agenda, expected for release by the end of April. The journey from now until then will be a key period for engagement and gathering contributions from all sides.

I personally encourage all organizations and individuals to join this thrilling effort. Mechanisms such as the General Assembly of Partners are innovative platforms that are already allowing for bottoms-up discussion, taking input from those who have previously participated in the Habitat I and II conferences as well as from new participants that will build and manage our cities into the future.

[See: Major umbrella group of Habitat III stakeholders holds second meeting]

Other platforms to bring urban challenges to the global agenda include the national urban forums and related campaigns, the online Urban Dialogues, the Urban Journalism Academies aimed at the media, the Urban Thursday gatherings in New York and more.

Toward Quito

Starting with the public release of the New Urban Agenda zero draft and leading up to next year’s conference, member states will take the lead in facilitating the third session of the Habitat III Preparatory Committee. These important final preparations are slated to take place in Surabaya, Indonesia, on 25-27 July.

[See: Citiscope’s calendar of Habitat III-related events]

In Quito, work toward Habitat III is already underway, with the host government engaged in conference preparations literally at the street level. In one year, participants will walk through the capital’s unique Old Town and will be given the opportunity to experience a live showroom of urban solutions throughout the city. Indeed, Habitat III will offer such an exhibition in its natural environment — the city.

I expect to see you all in one year with big smiles on your faces, having achieved a successful Habitat III. However, I will also welcome you the following day with an even bigger smile, as we take our places to start implementing the New Urban Agenda and, together, building the legacy of better cities for many generations to come.

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Ana B. Moreno

Ana B. Moreno is coordinator of the Habitat III Secretariat in New York.