Ecuador’s president offers forceful vision on rights for New Urban Agenda

Statement came as Correa and the U.N. secretary-general formally invited world leaders to Habitat III.

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sign a formal letter inviting world leaders to attend Habitat III in Quito in October, 12 April. (Loey Felipe/UN Photo)

In an appearance at the United Nations in New York, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa offered a brief but forceful vision around economic equity and protecting natural resources, issues he says will need to receive key attention at this year’s Habitat III conference on sustainable urbanization, which his country will host in October.

“In Habitat III, we must seek to guarantee the right to the city, to public services, to basic services, to sustainable urban development that respects the rights of nature,” he said Tuesday, speaking extemporaneously in Spanish and enumerating several proposed rights that advocates hope will be reflected in the New Urban Agenda, the 20-year strategy that will come out of the conference.

[See: Tension points emerging on details of the New Urban Agenda]

Correa also highlighted the fact that Ecuador is the only country in the world with a constitutional right to nature. He emphasized his hope that the New Urban Agenda reflect the Ecuadorian concept of “buen vivir” or “living well,” an indigenous concept that has been adopted as the country’s guiding principle for sustainable development.

In his comments on the right to the city, Correa also touched on a controversial issue that some hope will be enshrined in the new urbanization strategy: the “social function” of land. This concept, already a part of existing legislation like Brazil’s City Statute, stipulates that privately held land must have a “social” function, such as housing or community development, and cannot sit idle purely to accrue value for an eventual sale.

Calling such profits “rather illegitimate gains”, Correa asserted that the topic must be “one of the fundamental principles of urban policy.” He explained, “This implies fighting the illegal occupation of land, speculation.”

[See: The challenges of land and inclusion for the New Urban Agenda]

In his solutions to these “problems”, as he called them, Correa encouraged financial shared responsibility, citizen participation in public affairs, and equilibrium between urban and rural development. He also singled out the needs of “vulnerable populations” as highlighted by Pope Francis, such as migrants and the disabled. Last year, the pontiff visited Ecuador and also made mention of Habitat III in remarks at the U. N. office in Nairobi, raising speculation that he may attend the conference in October.

Correa concluded with an ode to his country’s natural beauty and biodiversity. “The only danger is that you won’t want to return to your countries and will want to come live in Ecuador,” he said.

[See: How is Quito preparing for Habitat III?]

Implementation opportunity

Correa spoke at a news conference with U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, where the two formally invited world leaders to Quito in October to attend the Habitat III conference. Also speaking Tuesday, Ban underscored the significance of the New Urban Agenda.

“We live in the urban century. When planned, built and governed well, cities can be massive agents of positive change,” Ban said. “That is why we need a new vision for urbanization — a New Urban Agenda.”

These were Ban’s first extended public remarks on Habitat III. He connected the dots between the urbanization conference and last year’s historic agreements on sustainable development and climate change.

“Habitat III is a historic opportunity for change,” he said. “It is happening during the critical first year of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The success of this ambitious endeavour will be largely determined by how we live in, design and manage our cities.”

[See all of Citiscope’s reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals from an urban perspective]

He subsequently underscored the main arguments of Habitat III Secretary-General Joan Clos, who has argued that cities are key to implementing the U. N.’s new major initiatives — the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement on climate change that came out of the global climate summit in the French capital in December.

Touching on those two key aspects, Ban said, “[Cities] can be catalysts for inclusion and powerhouses of equitable economic growth. They can help us protect the environment and limit climate change.”

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