6 great ideas from the Habitat III Urban Dialogues

A key early phase of public input wrapped up this week in the process that will lead to next year’s Habitat III conference on cities. The Urban Dialogues, sponsored by UN-Habitat, offered a level of stakeholder input that was almost without precedent in the U. N. context.

The virtual message board that allowed anyone, anywhere in the world, to debate the future New Urban Agenda — the urbanization strategy that will come out of Habitat III — ran through much of July. Some 10,000 users from 179 countries reportedly registered for the discussions. Together, they yielded hundreds of posts on the six broad themes of the 22 issue papers published by the Habitat III Secretariat at the beginning of the summer.

Those full discussions will now be condensed into a report for the thematic groups of 200 experts known as policy units (These experts are likewise supposed to be named any day.) The policy units will then take these stakeholder ideas and concerns into account as they’re crafting final recommendations on the drafting and implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Before that, however, Citiscope has kept tabs on the debate and pulled out the following great ideas. These have been edited for spelling and clarity.

1. Social Cohesion and Equity

Adapted and worker-integration enterprises

From Laura Espiau Guarner, Global Social Economy Forum, from Quebec:

“Adapted enterprises aim to create permanent jobs for handicapped people rather than the maximization of economic profit (for example, thanks to the Catalan dairy producer La Fageda, the ratio of unemployment among people suffering mental illnesses or handicaps in its region, La Garrotxa, is near to zero). Worker-integration enterprises offer on-the-job training and social support to marginalized people (immigrants, ex-convicts, recovering addicts, etc) in order to help them reintegrate into the labour market. Some social economy organizations, such as Regional Development Cooperatives in Québec, will also in some cases support the development of enterprises by these groups, ensuring in this way that they have their place in the community and enabling a more inclusive territorial development.”

2. Urban Frameworks

Urbanization vs. municipalization

From KK Pandey, scientific officer, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, India:

“Developing economies have a major disconnect between urbanization and municipalization. Urban areas do not have municipal structures or a governance system due to a range of vested interests. In India, for example, nearly half of urban centres do not have a city government and are still governed by rural local governments. These are known as census towns.”

3. Spatial Development

Public spaces are workplaces

From Edmundo Werna, International Labour Organization, Switzerland:

“There are large numbers of people who actually use public spaces as workplaces. Street vendors constitute one large group. Other examples are waste pickers and recyclers, local transportation workers, vendors in public markets, urban farmers who use public land for cultivation and many times also service providers. It is common to see open areas in developing countries with hairdressers, typists, entertainers and other professionals.

“Like in the case of workers and entrepreneurs who operate in private areas, it is also important to understand the needs of those who use public areas as workplaces. And many of them are poor, operate informally and have no other option of place to work than a public area.”

From Vera, architect, Brazil:

“This is a so very present — and often neglected — reality along most of major local and feeder roads and streets in Brazilian urban centers. Street vendors are allowed, most of which are legal, and they significantly contribute to attracting people and livelihood in these streets, which are used by private vehicles, public transportation system and pedestrians. Local vendors attract economic and social life in the neighbourhoods where these streets are located. When street vendors [operate] in squares and parks, they also attract users for longer periods of time, with positive consequences for the safety, social and economic vitality of these spaces.”

4. Urban Economy

Question the nation state

Markus Appenzeller, urban planner/adviser, the Netherlands:

“Everybody keeps talking about the creative class as a job and growth generator, and rightly so. These jobs are genuinely ‘urban’ and are key to solving the challenges we are facing globally. But as a recent report of the Martin Prosperity Institute titled “ The Global Creativity Index 2015” points out, this is not a global answer.

“If we want to fight global inequality, we need to either help the weaker economies to become more creative, or we have to come up with an alternative model. In both cases, urban economic development strategies need to become more local and more globally networked. Authority needs to be shifted from national governments to local ones, and the local governments need to establish more and deeper ties on a local level with other cities. Any urban agenda that does not question the nation state as the relevant system of coordinates is doomed to fail in quickly internationalizing economies.”

5. Urban Ecology and Environment

Plan cities with green corridors for animal migration

From Vandana Singh, associate professor of physics, Framingham State University, United States:

“Urban settlements should not be in the path of animal migration routes but planned around them. Green corridors throughout the city would allow for urban wildlife, with proper precautions maintained for the mutual safety of humans and animals. These would moderate temperatures, relieve stress and encourage biodiversity. Lawns would be absent due to their high ecological footprint, and instead native shrubs and trees would provide beauty, habitat and coolness in summers.”

6. Urban Housing and Basic Services

Make research relevant to least-developed countries

From Sustainable Energy Africa, South Africa:

“Much of the research and policy development undertaken, while well meaning, does not have any impact on sub-Saharan African urban challenges, largely because the detailed situation and complex dynamics at the local government level are not adequately understood by these higher-level efforts, leading to approaches and recommendations which are very often ineffective in practice at the local level. This detail is only understood in walking the path of implementation with local governments, which is not quick and is seldom done by such research and policy development efforts.

“Capacity building of sub-Saharan local governments is of course very important, but not easy to achieve. Effective capacity building requires long-term plans and partnerships with local governments, needs to be undertaken incrementally and sensitively. This should build not only the capacity of local governments themselves, but of locally based support organizations that can act as resources for local government.”

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