Talk it Over: Day One at Habitat III

October 15, 2016

Consensus, conflict and dialogue are essential to urbanization – and the implementation of the New Urban Agenda

“Urbanization is never a peaceful process. There’s always negotiation, and eventually, hopefully, there’s consensus.” This statement by Dr. Joan Clos, Secretary General of Habitat III the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, from a Twitter live chat today in Quito, encapsulates why Habitat III is essential to creating positive change in terms of urban development. The complexity of the New Urban Agenda, a guiding document to implement sustainable urbanization, will require an extraordinary effort from an unprecedented range of actors. Dr. Clos’ words illuminate what will inevitably be a complex path forward, one that requires the dialogue and cooperation that Habitat III supports.

Two Assemblies kicked off the first day, following the symbolic handover of the conference grounds from host country Ecuador to the United Nations in a flag raising ceremony. Four Assemblies are a central part of Habitat III — the World Mayors Assembly, Business Assembly, Women’s Assembly, and Children and Youth Assembly— all serving as forums to discuss and present commitments, strategies, and innovations, identify institutional roles, as well as pursue partnerships, in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. The Women’s Assembly and the Children and Youth Assembly ran from morning until evening.

The ideas of conflict, negotiation and consensus ran through both assemblies as common threads. This is the inevitable result of gathering people from across the globe, fundamentally different backgrounds and contexts, all striving to achieve common, and often universal, goals for the betterment of human settlement and therefore society. As part of the Children and Youth Assembly, Dr. Clos took questions from children, who are recognized as essential voices in the negotiation process to shape cities now and into the future.

“It is not that we are closing a period of time, we are opening a process,” said Ana Falu, coordinator of the UN-Habitat UNI Gender Hub, during a plenary panel of the Women’s Assembly. Habitat III marks a beginning, in the adoption of the New Urban Agenda. It is not a coda, nor a defined and detailed path dictating the entire process of implementation. The timeframe required for the New Urban Agenda, and the scale of change it proposes make this impossible. The ceaseless transformation process of urbanization makes this undesirable, or even ill advised. In many ways the New Urban Agenda is a living document, a base for further development, as well as a clear statement of a set of goals and suggestions about how to implement them, and means to assess implementation. In this way, the implementation of the New Urban Agenda mirrors the natural process of urbanization; cities, villages, rural areas are never “done,” instead they are constantly undergoing transformation, never in stasis.

Habitat III is a forum for the discussion and planning of the first steps in realizing the goals of the New Urban Agenda; a place for making connections, continuing and expanding the dialogue required. It is also a chance to hear voices previously unheard, to find questions unaddressed. The New Urban Agenda will engage both conflict and consensus. Without the two, urbanization cannot move forward as a force that builds a better world for everyone.

As part of Habitat III coverage, select paragraphs of the New Urban Agenda will be featured, related to the topics covered, so that the connection between the Habitat III and the content of the agenda is clear – and to encourage further thought.

#13c. We envisage cities and human settlements that achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making, and by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value for all women, as well as preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces

#21 We urge all national, sub-national, and local governments, as well as all relevant stakeholders, in line with national policies and legislation, to revitalize, strengthen, and create partnerships, enhancing coordination and cooperation to effectively implement the New Urban Agenda and realize our shared vision.

#155 We will promote capacity development initiatives to empower and strengthen skills and abilities of women and girls, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as persons in vulnerable situations for shaping governance processes, engaging in dialogue, and promoting and protecting human rights and anti-discrimination, to ensure their effective participation in urban and territorial development decision-making.