Habitat III ‘issue papers’ provide backbone for New Urban Agenda

Documents offer expert-level snapshots of today’s urban issues.

The United Nations has made public the final thematic reports offering a comprehensive, expert-level view of the processes of urbanization that characterize today’s century of cities — and look forward to what could and should come next.

The 22 “issue papers” were submitted 31 May by a range of multilateral institutions, including many of the United Nations’ specialized agencies as well as the World Bank and others. The collaboratively written research documents will eventually make up a key technical backbone of the New Urban Agenda, the landmark new global urbanization strategy that will come out of next year’s Habitat III conference on cities.

The papers fall into a half-dozen broad themes, meant to cover the substantive scope of the New Urban Agenda’s focus. These include rubrics that focus on many of the traditional urbanization concerns — planning, law and finance, the environment, as well as housing, transport and other urban services.

They also include some more non-traditional priorities. The very first thematic area, for instance, looks at issues of social cohesion and equity, under the title “Livable Cities”. That area includes four issue papers, taking deep dives into inclusivity, migration, safety, and culture and heritage.

The prominence of this focus is deliberate, in line with the fact that equity has been moved to the centre of the discussions in the lead-up to next year’s Habitat III conference, in Quito.

Other issue papers that will receive significant attention given the broader prioritization of the Habitat III process will be those on municipal finance, climate change and infrastructure. With some parts of the development community still uncomfortable with the significant new international focus on cities and urbanization, also sure to generate interest will be the paper on links between urban and rural areas.

The issue papers were formally prepared by an umbrella grouping known as the United Nations Task Force on Habitat III.

Shorter draft versions of the papers were released in mid-April, just ahead of major Habitat III preparatory negotiations in Nairobi. Indeed, the papers were released so soon before the “PrepCom 2” meetings that several member states issued statements expressing frustration that they were unable to offer substantive response, given the tight timeframe. That frustration resulted in a rejiggered schedule, including the 31 May deadline.

Unlike the first drafts, which were mere placeholders, the new papers are now around 3,000 words each. In addition to backgrounding, each paper offers analysis on structural obstacles to realizing hoped-for reforms within these areas. They also make recommendations for needed research and response within the Habitat III process.

Member states will now have until the end of June to submit written comments on the issue papers; these inputs will be published online but will not change the current issue papers. Starting in early July, a one-month consultative process will involve stakeholders and local authorities, with UN-Habitat hosting moderated online forums for discussion in each of these areas.

The issue papers will ultimately be used to guide discussion by 10 formal “policy units”, which will focus on the six thematic issues deemed important for the Habitat III process. Made up of independent experts, these units touch on housing, resilience, equity and other issues. Eventually, they will each provide formal input regarding the crafting and, especially, implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

The policy units will be created by the end of July. Under the new agreement forged at PrepCom 2, the policy units will publish their papers by the end of December, with comments from member states and stakeholders expected in January. Finally, the “zero draft” of the Habitat III agenda will be made available no later than six months before the conference — so, sometime in April 2016.

The full list of the 22 issue papers is as follows:

Area 1. Social Cohesion and Equity: Livable Cities

Inclusive Cities

Migration and Refugees in Urban Areas

Safer Cities

Urban Culture and Heritage

Area 2. Urban Frameworks

Urban Rules and Legislation

Urban Governance

Municipal Finance

Area 3. Spatial Development

Urban and Spatial Planning and Design

Urban Land

Urban-Rural Linkages

Public Space

Area 4. Urban Economy

Local Economic Development

Jobs and Livelihoods

Informal Sector

Area 5. Urban Ecology and Environment

Urban Resilience

Urban Ecosystems and Resource Management

Cities and Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management

Area 6. Urban Housing and Basic Services

Urban Infrastructure and Basic Services, including Energy

Transport and Mobility


Smart Cities

Informal Settlements

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