Urban Dialogues Draft Zero Summaries

JULY 6-31, 2015

Urban Frameworks

Moderators: Fabienne Perucca and Kodjo Mensah-Abrampa

Summary of the Dialogues:

The “urban frameworks dialogue” deals with the enabling environment and frameworks conducive to sustainable urban development, covering issues such as (not exhaustive): urban rules and legislation, national urban policies, governance, capacity and institutional development, municipal finances, legal frameworks, the distribution of responsibilities and resources, fiscal and financial arrangements as well as political, managerial and administrative processes in place to respond to the citizens’ needs. The three Issue Papers related to this area are: Issue Paper on Rules and legislation; Issue Paper on Urban governance; Issue Paper on Municipal Finance. The dialogue will inform the following Policy Units: National Urban Policies, Urban Governance, Capacity and Institutional Development’ Municipal Finance and Local Fiscal System.

Two main questions were proposed for the participants:

  • What are the good practices in developing urban governance frameworks and systems that are tailored to specific contexts?
  • What are the main challenges and/or constraints of existing urban frameworks that would have to be addressed in order to advance sustainable urban development?

Along the e-discussions, more specific questions have been asked such as would be required to ensure local governments’ sustainable financial resources and capacities? Could you share any specific examples of incentives or best practices in regard to transparency and accountability mechanisms to improve tax recovery and reduce the trust deficit between communities and local governments? Is the informal sector a response to certain urban conditions or a coping mechanism; can the challenges of the informal sector be responded to without “formalizing”? Is it time for new models when a significant proportion of legal frameworks for urban development are based on ‘international models’ but are often ineffective in terms of implementation?

Key Themes and Takeaways:

Spatial Design:

The relationship between spatial design of existing parts of cities and integrating newer, developing areas was discussed. Constraints in developing urban frameworks were cited with respect to the lack of acknowledgment by some city governance structures of the value of existing and well-functioning informal spatial frameworks.

Urban-rural linkages and metropolitan coordination:

Participants highlighted that there was a need to address the fact that labour markets, business flows, private and public services, resource flows as well as ecological impacts of urbanization often span over various municipalities or even provinces. Thus, cities often present functional linkages that may overcome traditional administrative boundaries, which requires new coordination frameworks appropriate for managing the functional area level beyond city boundaries.

Local Governance and Local Economic Development (LED):

Local governments were heavily discussed and were said to have a critical role in urban frameworks. Yet, they are often under-funded, poorly respected, and lack the capacity and resources to fulfill their potential.

Participants mentioned that the ‘Urban Governance’ issue paper is ambivalent about informal systems of service provision, despite the job-creation potential and urban services that these provide. Brazilian cities, however, have shown how inclusion of waste-pickers in municipal service delivery can improve working conditions and social protection and provide much-needed urban services. The paper also argues that ‘tax evasion produced by the informal economy is one of the major threats to good governance’. In practice, informal businesses often pay considerable amounts both officially and unofficially in taxes, licenses or daily fees, including bribes and protection money. The problem is for local governments to eliminate the need for payments to non-state actors by providing effective legal protection in exchange for existing taxes and fees, produce transparent accounting, and provide identifiable benefits in return.

Additional comments were made concerning competitive sectors in LED (Local Economic Development) that should be promoted in the background of traditional skills and productivity, as well as industrial location and development policy. Technical expertise with local governments should also be facilitated with intergovernmental support. Transparency was also cited as an important element in LED to avoid any sort of corruption on urban development projects. Governments need to also ensure that the projects stay free of politics, with a third party independently overseeing development projects.

Decentralization of national governance systems and the empowerment of local governments were cited in allowing for improved urban management, better consideration of citizens’ needs and larger representation of migrants, indigenous, youth, women, and minority communities. The promotion of multi-level governance came into the discussion in various occasions. Comments also included calls for states to adopt a sound national urban policy, while operating links between grass root level and intergovernmental system to support provincial and city governments deliver basic services.


Cities grow because of migration. Cities in developing countries with weak capacities in urban planning and governance already struggle to provide basic services for their residents and lack response mechanisms for greater influxes of migrants due to conflicts and environmental disasters.

Urban Health:

Urban health and governance for health at scales from global to local was another topic of discussion. One point that was emphasized was that urban development should be human-centered, and particularly, should focus on the health and wellbeing of citizens as first among a plurality of important development objectives. Participants discussed the need for an expansion of the conceptualization of the goals of development to embrace health. For example, the paper on urban law lists key functions of towns and cities in regards to “…urban planning, municipal finance, urban land administration and management, infrastructure provision, mobility and local economic development,” but not health. The paper on governance mentions a wide variety of outcomes which governance must support, including economic and social development, efficiency, security, sustainability, resilience, climate change, ecosystems and diversity… but not health. The participants argued that there was a concern for human wellbeing throughout the Issue Papers, but that health should be more explicit in the texts. Past experience shows that an emphasis on economic development does not necessarily lead to improved outcomes. Conversely, an emphasis on health and wellbeing over the long term will always encompass other development objectives.

Social Accountability:

Social Accountability was one topic that was discussed in terms of urban governance frameworks. Through social accountability mechanisms, nearly all aspects of municipal activity can be tailored to the actual needs of citizens and thereby improved. “Social accountability is a form of accountability which emerges from actions by citizens and civil society organization (CSOs) aimed at holding the state accountable, as well as efforts by governments and other actors (media, private sector, donors) to support these actions.”(UNDP 2010). Hence, social accountability is the overarching theme for many concepts of Urban Governance such as civil society participation, sustainable development, access to political representation, formalization of the provision of basic services, decentralization, capacity building, transparency, and performance monitoring.

Due to the comprehensiveness of the concept of social accountability, it has become a guiding element at the World Bank, UNDP, and other international agencies. The media plays a crucial role in this form of accountability, as they act as a watchdog and disseminator of information on government actions and basic service delivery on the local level. Although the Habitat III Issue Paper 6 on Urban Governance targets the most important issues concerning urban governance, it omits the overarching concept of social accountability, which could combine most of the urban governance issues into an integrated approach. The importance of citizens’ participation is explicitly mentioned in the issue paper; however, it would be important to stress the significance of participation in the context of urban governance. Citizen participation is crucial to identify the most important governance issues, to monitor service provision, and to legitimize government actions.

Informality and ‘data challenge’:

It was raised that there is a need for territorial-based data and indicators disaggregated by sex and age to be readily available to support local planning and monitoring of urban development. National and local governments are often not up to date on the latest data on informal developments or the needs of informal communities. It was mentioned that grassroots, especially women’s groups, have been particularly effective in mapping these informal communities. Mapping puts grassroots women in the centre of information collection by empowering them to undertake critical evaluations of the state of their communities and once they have collected this information, local governments are pushed to provide access points through which the information can be easily shared.

Metropolitan Governance:

Metropolitan Governance was a big topic of discussion throughout the Urban Frameworks Dialogue. Noted in the discussions was the weakening of decentralization and local governance in several cities around the world that have led to a significant increase in poverty and marginalization. There is an assumption that governance is an expression of the commitment by national governments to strengthen the coordination of local authorities between various actors that interact with city agencies. These include business, academia, civil communities, and NGOs towards a shared vision for a livable and sustainable city.

One participant, however, commented that in the case of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas in Venezuela, the mere existence of representative institutions does not guarantee the achievement of the conditions of governance needs. The participant noted that the institutional design for handling a metropolitan area incorporate not only regulatory-legal or governance structures, but also include the political power for local governments to govern effectively. There were calls to establish a stable institutional framework, less dependent on the situation or willingness of political actors and to endow mayors with skills and political power to meet the targets set out in the New Urban Agenda.

Suggestions were made to metropolitan governance including the creation of metropolitan institutions that may be responsible for coordinating the delivery of public services (transport, water, waste management) and urban planning, in which the participation of the central and regional governments can facilitate cooperation between municipalities. In addition, incentives should be created for cities to ensure sufficient financial resources for urban development. Some measures for discussion could include the expansion of the sources of revenue through reform of the property tax and user fees, improving equity transfer system and promoting public-private partnerships. Regulations were also suggested to be approved between the municipalities of a metropolitan area instead of continuing to support the creation of municipal planning institutes. The central government can help in creating such metropolitan planning institutes, shielded from political cycles and professional career service.

Ownership and the need for urban expansion:

Informal settlements are about the dynamics of relationships and tensions that occur between landowners and the settlers. When talking about legal frameworks, it must be acknowledged that owners also have legal rights and have to be taken into account when addressing informality. In this sense, eminent domain and participatory and inclusive land readjustment were some of mechanisms mentioned to deal with landownership and the need of urban expansion and development, which require adequate legal frameworks. Along these lines, it was also raised that there are existing tensions between informal settlers and local authorities, which have immense pressure to provide services without suitable financing and cost recovery mechanisms.


It was discussed that a major failure of city governance is the inability to address needs of the poor. Water, sanitation, housing, and transport are not available to an increasing share of urban population. This may be attributed to the fact that some of these disbursed and decentralized requirements are undertaken through centralized solutions that are expensive and unsustainable.

Furthermore, it was discussed that local governments ultimately hold the key responsibilities for local actions, and therefore need adequate managerial and fiscal instruments to develop and implement local solutions.

Capacity Building and Social Participation

The lack of capacities at the local level has been a recurrent issue throughout the discussions and it has been considered a priority for efficient urban governance. Capacity building presupposes an institutional framework capable of undertaking the assigned tasks in a democratic and participatory manner. It was highlighted in various comments that there is a need to make adequate institutional arrangements, framed rules, and procedures to facilitate civil society participation.

Inclusion and local economic development

Strengthening the rights of women, youth and workers in informal economies, as well as establishing functioning good urban governance structures, was mentioned to be a crucial prerequisite for sustainable urban development. It was also mentioned that local economic strategies work and succeed where there is a projection of effective economic governance – fiscal policy, transparency, accountability, and inclusive decision-making at the local level. A National Urban Policy can set up a link among the key elements such as comparative advantages of urban centres, expected role within the national system, and infrastructure requirements. Governance is the software that enables pieces to hold together and to function adequately.

Right to the City:

Many participants promoted the idea of Right to the City to build just, democratic and sustainable cities. This include the social function of land /property and the city, democratic management of the territory, the right to produce the habitat and economy for life (not for accumulation, speculation and profit), the responsible and sustainable management of the commons (natural, energy, historic, and cultural assets) and the equal enjoyment of public spaces and community facilities. The Right to the City also includes the need of a framework for the decentralization of public administration (office, technical ability, resources) and an active role of local authorities, ensuring democratic and participatory mechanisms in decision-making processes.

Local governments’ role is to ensure all citizens the Right to the City. Public policies must correspond to the population’s needs and aspirations. It is essential that local public authorities assure institutionalized spaces that facilitate citizens’ participation in public administration. This participation should be wide, direct, equitable and democratic. Citizens should be similarly included and consulted in all stages of the decision-making process: planning, preparation, approval, investment decisions, project management, implementation, and evaluation. Governments must also ensure transparency and access to information to the population in order to facilitate monitoring and accountability.

Civil society and social movements participation in public governance is essential to define a comprehensive and integrated analysis of public policies for the territory. Besides representing the interests of the population before public authorities, these participation models may also play a management role of public services along with the government. Once the main existing models of civil society participation in territory management are identified (for example: popular initiative bills and urban development plans, citizen mobilization platforms, etc.), it is possible to assess civil society interaction with local authorities and how its actions will complement the institutional mechanisms developed by the government. It is important to observe which are the main obstacles to civil society participation in public management to better understand how to overcome them.

UN Major Groups:


Some NGOs highlighted the important challenge of austerity in achieving sustainability. Austerity policies (for instance as elements of structural adjustment policies) imposed on many countries and cities by governments, international agencies, supranational institutions and international treaties substantially reduce the provision of decent housing and other basic services and have an extremely negative impact on equity and livability of human settlements.

Missing from the Issue Papers is a critical review of impacts of public private partnership (PPP) agreements – as recommended at Habitat II – and of the privatization of essential public services like water, transport and electricity on service quality, costs, municipal finances and the living conditions of citizens, specifically those with lower income. There should also be reporting on the consequences and risks of existing and planned international free trade agreements (like TTIP) on housing and cities.

Several NGOS defended the idea of the Right to the City as a central concept to development. These NGOs included ActionAid, Avina Foundation, Brazilian Association of Municipalities, Cities Alliance, Global Fund for the Cities Development (FMDV), Ford Foundation, Brazilian National Urban Reform Forum, Habitat for Humanity, Habitat International Coalition (HIC), International Alliance of Inhabitants, Pólis Institute, Shack Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights (UCGLU), and WIEGO – Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing.

In a statement written on behalf of all the NGOs listed above, Right to the City was put forward as a key element in the Urban Frameworks discussion. They are opposed to the current model of urban development, in which a neoliberal logic prevails, benefiting the economic interests of a minority. This logic allows the commercialization of the urban land, the gentrification of traditional and popular neighborhoods, the privatization of collective spaces, and the use of public funds to promote major infrastructure. All of this ultimately undermines the development of decentralized, inclusive, and sustainable cities that ensure job opportunities, health, education, leisure, and culture in the different neighborhoods.


Youth participation and inclusion was one area of focus during discussions. Comments highlighted the fact that urban frameworks should better recognize the role of youth, prioritize their effective representation, and expand their access to information and city resources.


Many issues were raised with respect to the Urban Frameworks Issue Papers on Municipal Finance, Urban Governance, and Urban Rules and Legislation. First, participants noted that the Issue Papers could do a better job in adding more language and examples of innovative partnerships of women related to governance (e.g. local-to-local dialogues and the need to enhance training and capacity building around these strategies). Within the Urban Governance Issue Paper, participants noted the lack of women and gender equality issues throughout the paper. The access to basic services for the urban poor women must be acknowledged by government agencies. It still receives little attention, with thousands of slum dwellers living in everyday fear of eviction.

Women need to be heard in their demands through all levels of governance. For this to take place, it is important to include the training practices for women in local and state programs regarding issues of land and housing access rights.

The paper does not address the issue of women’s rights to land ownership and inheritance or ability to enter into legal agreements. Although ethics in civil services is mentioned, there is no specific reference to combating the practice of taking advantage of women’s access to urban services. Such inappropriate behavior should be easily reportable, investigated seriously, and disciplined swiftly.

Engagement does not specifically deal with involving women, especially grassroots women who have different needs and perspectives in community needs. Their points of view are highly valuable in policy considerations and should be integrated into the process.

Overall, the Issue Papers do not address the issue of local rule deciding a particular policy that is then reversed or superseded by state or national law that removes the right of local control from urban dwellers.

There were also suggestions to conduct participatory budgets with a gender perspective, as is largely happening in many Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay). The information related to Urban Governance is vital in taking into account the work of the women as actors of development in their communities. The inclusion of women must be mentioned in all levels of governance.



Urban planning and governance, without taking migrants’ voices into account, lack the capacity to develop concrete solutions that recognizes how migrants transform, expand, and diversify a city. Including migration in urban development will not only make cities more resilient in enabling them to respond to the physical, social, and economic challenges that increasing urban migration poses; but they will also allow cities to harness the potential and benefits associated with migration.

Good platforms/programmes/initiatives identified and discussed:

Spatial Development

Moderators: Sebastian Lange and Seongho Kim

Summary of the Dialogues:

There is a global consensus that urban planning strategies and policies contribute to economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability and resilience. The recent debate on the post-2015 development agenda emphasized the development of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable human settlements; and urban planning and design was acknowledged as a positive means for shaping a sustainable and equitable future.

Despite the fact that urban land has been a central focus of work and thinking on human settlements starting with the Vancouver Conference (“HABITAT I”) in 1976, inappropriate rural and urban land policies and land management practices remain a primary cause of inequality and poverty in many cities around the World today.

Urbanisation is a process that profoundly reshapes peri-urban and rural areas and has the ability to both positively and negatively affect spatial economies, inclusiveness and sustainable development. Urban, peri-urban and rural areas are increasingly recognised as interlinked, complementary and mutually reinforcing, in this way also suggesting an integrated planning approach that breaches the urban-rural “dichotomy”, both in theory and practice.

Streets and public spaces define the character of a city. From squares and boulevards to neighbourhood gardens and children playgrounds, public space frames city image. Public space generates equality. Well-designed and maintained streets and public spaces help lower rates of crime and violence and make space for formal and informal social, cultural and economic activities.

The “Urban Frameworks Dialogue” deals with the Issue Papers on Urban and Spatial Planning and Design, Urban Land, Urban-rural linkages, and Public Space. Four questions were proposed for discussions, such as:

  • Which spatial development strategies and policies are most effective to create equitable, compact, connected, and socially inclusive cities in different contexts?
  • How can governments and their partners ensure sustainable urbanization in the context of the urban-rural continuum?
  • How can cities create public space that adds value and quality to urban social and economic life?
  • What are the challenges in managing urban land for equitable and sustainable development?
Dichotomy between urban and rural areas:

A main dichotomy between urban and rural areas was raised through the security concerns in rural areas. When asked about the factors that promote the dichotomy between urban and rural areas as opposed to urban rural linkages, one participant from Afghanistan remarked that rural areas in his respective country are not secure compared to big cities. As a result, more people are migrating from villages to urban communities in order to seek safety. Thus, security concerns should be addressed in both rural and urban areas.

Another dichotomy that was raised was the presence of the state in urban versus rural Areas. Some participants suggested that there is a greater influence and presence by the state in the construction of space in urban areas. The imbalance that develops from the process of globalization reveals the existence of a so-called “other company” that limits access to benefits of the city in rural areas. Governments and their partners should ensure sustainable urbanization in the context of an urban-rural continuum through greater participatory planning. This would enable stakeholders to address trans boundary issues such as flooding in a more sustainable manner.

The expansion of towns is gradually encroaching common spaces and agricultural land. Farmers are being marginalized for greater infrastructure demand. Participants commented that the real challenge now is to retain the profile of rural areas as rural, while also maintaining the urban characteristic of urban areas. At the same time, rural areas must be developed in a way that they are able to afford urban services. Urban areas should similarly be developed with spaces that sustain “rural characteristics”.

Reduction in Public Space

The world is witnessing a reduction in public space, and consequently, has had negative effects on the urban spatial environment. A reduction in public space can lead to a rise in crime, health issues, and economic disparities. Spatial development must guarantee an adequate amount of public spaces comparing with the growing urban population. This public space must be of quality, safe, free to access and within a walking distance from any residential area. The indicator can be introduced for creating good quality public spaces and the role of legislation, regulation and enforcement can be a key to securing the provision of public spaces.

Mixed-use public spaces, which promote sports, recreational activities, cultural activities, have a transformative power. They can help to (re)establish social life, land values, surveillance and socially sustainable cities. Participants noted that cities should create a greater public space that adds value and quality to urban life through proper urban planning and management. Planning is often a secondary thought for many local and regional leaders in Least Developing Countries (LDCs) as employment generation and poverty reduction are priority urban development challenges. The participant raised the point, however, that good urban planning that create public space should an intertwined aspect of urban poverty reduction. Mixed-use public spaces, which promote sports, recreational activities, cultural activities, have a transformative power. They can help to (re)establish social life, land values, surveillance and socially sustainable cities.

Public Spaces and Livelihoods:

The topic of public spaces and livelihoods was raised as an important factor within the theme. Public spaces have distinct roles in a given settlement and should therefore be approached from different perspectives. From a labour perspective, public spaces play an important role in the local economy with implications for workers. One example can be illustrated by the existence of roads, itself a public space, that is vital for connecting living and working areas. The quality of the road system in relation to comfort, safety, and accessibility has a significant impact on the standard of living and local economic development.

An additional point was made on public spaces as workplaces. Examples of workers who are employed in public spaces include waste pickers, local transportation workers, and vendors in public markets. It is imperative that we understand the needs of those who use public areas as workplaces. Many of them are poor and operate informally with few options to work elsewhere. Public space therefore has an important role in protecting the livelihoods and employment of many workers.

Housing and Land:

There was a call for Habitat III to include a rights-driven approach on the restructuring of cities in view of climate change. The issue of climate adaptation as a pretext for anti-social legislation, profitable business strategies, and urban transportations, was raised as a result of governments justifying evictions. It is therefore suggested that Habitat III include a clear statement in favour of the need to democratically control the use of urban land and to provide sufficient land for social housing purposes in city centres, close to job opportunities, and social facilities.

Master Planning Approach:

Issue Paper 8 re-stated that spatial planning should be a participative, flexible, and a continuous process rather than the implementation of a rigid blue print. Questions were thus raised as to the relevance of a Master Planning Approach. Several participants stated that the Approach has been wrongly interpreted as a rigid blue print and development control rule rather than development guidance or management. This guidance includes the promotion of compact densification, scaling, and fine grain diversity so that cities can easily adapt to a redistribution of urban functions. For example, community re-densification initiatives like Transferable Development Rights (TDR) increases the Community Global FAR, protects cultural or historical heritage, increases the number of inhabitants, and reduces per capita costs of utility distribution.

The outcomes of these initiatives would lead to highlight connected networks, mixed-use, high-density areas, and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. A Master Planning Approach is able to guide participatory discussions, inputs, and contributions from urban residents and civil society organizations in how local governments manage development.

Traditional Settlement Patterns:

There is a need to promote and revive the value of historical settlement patterns, landscape forms, and traditional building techniques, while protecting the integrity of the historical urban fabric in new spatial development and redevelopment. Investments in core historical and surrounding areas can be made through tax incentives and economic development strategies that revitalize cities’ inner core. Design guidelines that maintain and preserve the inner historic city, especially in providing walkable neighbourhoods should also be adopted. These can serve as models for the spatial development of outlying neighbourhoods. Integration of new developments within the traditional street, public space, and cultural heritage patterns should also be promoted. Regulations and financial incentives should discourage urban sprawl in the rural countryside and encourage the revitalization and reuse of existing infrastructure. A strategy of adapting traditional and historical patterns while establishing a balance in the regional level was said to be a key element for inclusive and spatial development.

Secondary Cities and the Concentration of Economic Activity

Other factors that were addressed regarding the dichotomy between urban and rural linkages included the regional imbalances in the levels of urbanization. This includes the lack of basic social and economic infrastructure in rural areas. There is similarly a concentration of economic activities among mega cities and metro areas (eg. Eastern and northern Chinese megalopolises vs. China’s inner regions). Low productivity also promotes rural-urban divides, as surplus labour tends to migrate to more productive zones in urban enclaves.

Secondary cities can play a special role in the process of urbanisation in the 21st century. They are absorbing a high proportion of the new urban population, as well as migrants, and therefore require a special attention to enabling policies, but also to technical and financial assistance for meeting the urbanisation challenges. In addition to services, secondary cities must offer economic opportunities for newcomers. The reinvigoration of secondary urban centres (small and medium-sized towns) will re-establish an essential balance in the urban-rural relationships, ensuring social cohesion, equity, inclusiveness, and sustainable development of the population, and its activities. In small towns across the world, there is growing trend in absorbing more rural-to-urban migrants than actual urban dwellers that exist in those towns. Small and medium cities/towns hold the key to balance regional growth. There is limited capacity, however, for local officials to divert the flow of migrants from megacities unless adequate policies and programmes are in place to stimulate economic growth in these small and medium towns.

Another aspect of spatial development and economic activity is the reorientation of political economy to recognize the importance of planning, and accordingly, ensure that planning is followed by occupation and urbanization, rather than the other way around. The pace of development therefore requires that planners and formal sector developers create more flexible tools that allow for growth to be better organized. Action plans and laying out parameters for growth are just some tools cities will need to adopt in order to develop sustainably.


Good platforms/programmes/initiatives identified and discussed:

Social Cohesion and Equity

Moderators: Joseph D’Cruz and David Martineau

Summary of the Dialogues:

The Social Cohesion and Equity discussions highlighted several practical approaches that can help make cities become more inclusive. These include better urban planning in the creation of public spaces where residents of the urban community not only feel safe but also valued. Education, health, clean water, employment, housing, justice, among other basic needs of a livable and sustainable community, were all discussed while addressing the needs of residents in urban environments. Community-led planning approaches, universal design, slum upgrading and wider local participatory governance strategies were all offered as innovative ways to promote inclusion and to ensure that all residents, new and old, strengthen their sense of belonging.

The discussions similarly raised the importance of recognizing the rights and needs of youth, migrants, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and other disadvantaged populations within an urban context. The inclusion of these groups in the planning and decision-making processes can foster the integration of these residents by effectively share and address the needs of their respective communities.

Guiding questions included:

  • What can cities do to promote social cohesion, inclusion and equity?
  • What practical approaches or solutions have you encountered that have helped make cities more inclusive and cohesive for all their populations?

Key Themes and Takeaways:

Migrant Communities in Urban Environments:

It was mentioned that integration policies need to be firmly featured on the agendas of local city authorities and should be multi-dimensional in nature involving employers, employee groups, town planners, and civil society organizations.

In order to integrate migrants into all aspects of urban life, integration policies should be specific to the needs and abilities of the individual and local communities. Cities must therefore have the relevant powers devolved from national government to set their own integration policies that are determined by local labor market needs and the scale of migration.

Cities should ensure that all services that foster integration be made available. These include language courses, assistance with employment, skills transfer, education, housing, and health.

Cities should similarly remove obstacles for migrant communities towards civic participation and provide opportunities for human mobility.

Participatory Planning and Empowerment:

The Right to City was mentioned as not only the right to access cities’ services and infrastructure, but also about empowering citizens and promoting a bottom-up approach of governance. This governance would involve all urban groups, regardless of their gender, race, religion, or social states in the everyday decision making processes and policies that affect their lives.

Cultural Aspects:

There was also a mention of how art and culture can be a space for reflection on how to achieve more inclusive and cohesive cities. The cultural wealth of cities needs to be promoted through both multi-cultural strategies to promote diversity and inclusion, and inter-cultural strategies to strengthen social cohesion.

The United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) also raised the importance of culture and education. The participant raised questions as to how cultural diversity should be integrated within formal and non-formal education. UCLG’s Agenda 21 for culture document provides guidance for local cultural policies concerned with sustainable development. The aim is to enable local governments, civil society organizations and other stakeholders to self-evaluate existing policy exchange experiences and adopt new measures including other dimensions of sustainable development.

Examples of cultural aspects fostering social inclusion and community cohesion in cities were given through the Reemdogo Music Garden in Ouagadougou and cultural policies of the city of Medellín.

Related to both culture and gender, comments were made on the absence of how cultural erosion impacts women’s lives, livelihoods, and identities within the Issue Papers’ themes. Thus, there is a need to discuss gender or women’s relationships to cities, culture, and urban heritage. Some commentators noted that it was good to see the cultural heritage aspects of cities recognized not only in the buildings, but also in other intangible elements like processes and traditions.

Related to health and culture, one comment highlighted another missed opportunity to recognize the critical role cultural factors play in influencing health. For example, food cultures are a determining factor in the global epidemic of obesity that has tremendous consequences on health, economic, environmental, and social aspects of urban life. Culture influences health-seeking behaviour and community cohesion toward sustainability, as well as healthier lifestyles.

Other commentators noted that the idea of “cultural heritage” must be understood in its broader, modern sense. More specifically, heritage has the power to strengthen communities in which citizens associate the historic environment with a shared identity and marking their everyday life. Minority populations and the disadvantaged feel a sense of attachment that ultimately improves their sense of belonging.

Cultural impact assessments should similarly be integrated into national and local urban development plans. More urban land should be allocated to public open space and public sheltered facilities. In order to broaden cultural access, there must be cultural spaces to access.

The New Urban Agenda should ensure that urban spaces reflect cultural diversity, as they are spaces where formal and non-formal cultural education is provided. Public spaces that may be historic parks or plazas offer something meaningful and attractive to the citizens to get involved in the city culture and to participate in public activities among diverse members of the community. They add vibrant, accessible places for incremental and harmonious transformation through multiple cultural values and should therefore be highlighted in the governance and planning processes.

Infrastructure, Concentrated Growth, and Urban Morphology:

The lack of social cohesion in urban areas could also be attributed to unplanned, rapid growth and crumbling infrastructure. One commentator mentioned that as more time is lost to commuting, urban residents have less time for social activities in the neighbourhood. Careful urban planning, with development focused on the peripheries of urban areas, was suggested in maximizing cohesion among urban residents. City officials and urban planners should continuously strive for better infrastructure to keep up with rising migration. At the same time, it was suggested that concentrated growth should be dispersed to satellite cities so that migration could be diverted away from congested city cores. An example was given by Manila, which houses 33% of Philippines’ population, but has been struggling to create decent quality of life standards for its urban residents. Cohesive cities can perhaps thrive if growth was dispersed and infrastructure was maintained to keep up with rising migration volumes.

Urban morphology was another topic of discussion that highlighted how neighborhood morphology (open spaces, building) and functions (human activity) exhibit certain patterns, with a goal towards a better planned future. This should not be limited solely to a demographic analysis but should include studies on urban patterns, density, and other factors that help in the formation and sustenance of multiple community-based neighborhoods.

Public Space:

Access to public spaces was one of the main issues of the discussion on how to bring greater social cohesion and equity into cities. Creating public spaces through small public gardens and children’s play areas were said to provide both a safe space for children to play and a space for families of various cultures and backgrounds to interact.

The discussions highlighted the importance of making cities more inclusive by providing greater access to public spaces that would enhance the social, cultural and material development of city residents. It was noted that public spaces are not only places to encounter, but also fertile grounds to boost innovation and entrepreneurship.

Some cities, however, do not have sufficient public spaces and are therefore not well prepared for the demographic growth and increased density. Cities must take into consideration these factors in their urban planning processes. They must expand public space availability and accessibility to serve the present and future needs and interests of all residents.

Promoting inclusion and cohesion needs smart planning programs that include safe spaces for children to play and encourage households to interact and forge bonds across cultures, languages, and backgrounds. One commentator also mentioned that upgrading public spaces should be taken into consideration when discussing the inclusion of immigrants in cities. The process of education by urban residents of immigrants from various cultures begins in the streets and squares. The interaction between residents continues into formal and non-formal educational structures, where new values of coexistence are incorporated and shared.

However, just as cities become good places for education and social inclusion of marginalized populations, they may be also creating places of exclusion with invisible barriers that segregate populations based on origin, social class, immigration status, and other factors. Public spaces if not well thought can result in being a site of exclusion in which women fear for their safety, young people have nowhere to play, or undocumented migrants have no stake in the social spaces they interact in. Thus, there is a need for city planners and officials to factor in these social, cultural, economic, and spatial issues when designing urban public spaces.

A specialist at UNDP in Bangkok raised the importance of public spaces as a means of social cohesion by providing an example of public spaces, or lack thereof, in Male in the Maldives. The absence of commons in the capital city has created long-term social problems with residents seeking to fill the absence of a physical commons with a virtual commons. Increased Internet and mobile phone penetration is indicative of the need for creating physical commons’ for residents to physically interact with one another. Only when public spaces are available can residents have an opportunity to engage with one another and promote socially inclusive societies.

As a tangential theme to the topic of public space, the issue of defensive architecture was brought up in which public and private local planning schemes create impediments to social cohesion and equity in cities. Defensive architecture describes how local authorities and building owners use a range of measures to deter the homeless, youth, or other ‘unwanted’ groups from using public facilities or congregating in public spaces.

Persons with Disabilities:

The importance of including disabled people in the New Urban Agenda was another area of focus for discussions. People with disabilities have specific needs that should be taken into consideration to enable them to fully develop their potential to participate in the development of cities. Urban planners should find ways to eliminate all physical barriers that can hinder movements of people with disabilities. This could help people with disabilities have better access to land, housing, and public transportation. This would, in turn, improve their economic situation and allow them to be better represented in decision-making positions.

Some examples that were given of discrimination towards persons with disabilities within the urban environment include access to land rights for persons with disabilities, housing opportunities that are limited due to inaccessible design features, lack of access to public transportation and increased use of individual motorized transport, as well as the general lack of participation in the decision-making and voting processes. An advisor for Accessibility from Canada also highlighted challenges faced by disabled people in refugee or IDP camps that are often not adapted to their needs. With refugees spending an average of 17 years in temporary camps (UNHCR), the inclusion of universal design principles in camp construction should similarly be considered.

The issue of disaster risk reduction, which strongly overlaps with the theme on Urban Ecology and Environment, was also discussed within the context of persons with disabilities. The example highlighted was the Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2011, in which the death toll of persons living with disabilities was double that of persons without. The lack of access to early warning systems, transportation, and barrier-free housing thus impedes the full social integration of persons with disabilities. Several solutions were offered in establishing barrier-free environments to promote both access to public buildings and information, reducing the vulnerability of persons with disabilities in disaster-prone areas. Examples include creating wide escape routes, covering open manholes, and posting written and pictorial routes to assembly points.

The Elderly:

Discussions highlighted the fact that the Issue Papers provided little mention of the concerns for the elderly and the barriers placed by the urban environment for those in their older age. As many as 60% of urban resident will be under the age of 18 by 2030, but nearly 24% of today’s urban residents are already aged over 50 today. The Habitat III framework should explicitly recognize the reality of a rapidly growing urban ageing population and articulate specific ways in which the elderly face inequality and exclusion based on older age. This includes calls to challenge negative and damaging stereotypes around ageing and make a firm commitment to build physical and social urban environments that protect and promote the rights of the elderly.

In addition, there were calls to promote universal age and gender responsive access to quality basic services, as well as to disaggregate data based on sex and age in order to ensure that city authorities have the necessary information to respond to the realities of their ageing populations. As a final point, commentators noted that we must move beyond seeing the elderly as another vulnerable group, rather we need to understand the ageing process in the urban context and how it will impact livability for residents. The ageing experience requires a range of responses to ensure that urban residents enjoy the benefits of urbanization throughout their lives.

Socio-Economic Equity:

Discussions centered on what cities and their administrations can actively do to minimize the growing gap between poor population groups and upper and middle classes. Inclusion should specifically address how low-income households could compete on the market to make their living in areas with high urban Gini coefficients. More often than not, people living in informal settlements are threatened by forced evictions and are exploited for their cheap labor that benefits enterprises and factories with low production costs. It is therefore imperative that public and social housing, social control of urban land use, the use of public space as a common, and the public provision of basic services are effectively planned to be viable instruments to reduce growing social inequalities in cities.



Discussions also questioned a supposed lack of gender mainstreaming throughout the Issue Papers related to Social Equity and Inclusion. There should be greater emphasis made on gendered urban citizens related to social capital, crime prevention, and urban safety. Additionally, there were comments attributed to the differential impacts of crime and violence against women and girls compared to men and boys. There were references made to the differential gender issues regarding public transport, housing and tenure, access to essential services such as water and sanitation, and harassment of women and girls as part of the spectrum of gendered behavior that affects the lives of women in cities.

The importance of the role women play in creating more gender inclusive cities was also an area of focus. The complementary nature of urban development, decreasing inequality, and women empowerment were similarly touched upon in discussions. It was mentioned that cities that develop more equitably can be major vehicles of growth. Women’s economic empowerment is a key to growth of cities and for essential in enabling citizen empowerment and meaningful participation. Urban planning and design must take into account gender disparities. The Issue Papers do, however, discuss the issue of ‘placemaking’ and ensuring that the needs of diverse groups are taken care of.

Additionally, there were discussions centered on the inclusion of migration and refugees in urban areas from a gender perspective. While the Issue Papers deal with the right of migrants and refugees and address these rights within a framework of human rights, more specific vulnerabilities, such as gender, are not articulated. Although the Papers discuss vulnerability factors such as poverty, disability, and migrant status, they could offer a more women-centric view of various urban social equity issues.

An overarching theme of discussion from female participants and civil society organizations was the issue of safer cities. Greater participation by women was said to be needed in both the planning and governance process. A few participants mentioned that they did not feel there were enough concrete proposals in the Issue Papers that addressed the needs and issues of urban minority groups in relation to gender and emphasis on grassroots women’s organizations. Comments were equally made about the empowerment of women. The Issue Papers were said to rely too heavily on the voluntary adoption by governments of inclusive approaches. The linkages between securing inclusive forms of urban governance, empowering women (especially grassroots women) and socio-economic development are neglected.


Youth was a key demographic group during the discussion addressing social cohesion, equity, and inclusion in cities. The cycle of child poverty that then feeds into long-term economic and social inequality was a topic of discussion in which political leaders must address. Related to the topic of public spaces, one youth delegate on urbanization from Norway pointed out that youth often encounter numerous difficulties in accessing public spaces for their social, cultural, and material development. Urban public spaces are critical for youth development in facilitating community innovation and entrepreneurship. Ensuring that youth engage in the design and governance of public spaces fosters not only community ownership of those spaces, but provides a fundamental competent to safe urban environments.

In addition to the access to public spaces in the urban environment, the issue of child poverty was also brought to light. Child poverty was said to threaten the integration of poor urban children in cities, most notably in developing countries. Child poverty threatens the integration of future generations, as children continue to grow up in informal settlements, become exposed to toxins and pollutants in polluted urban areas, and are most prone to direct and indirect impacts of climate change. An NGO called the Action for Children’s Environments similarly noted that children in informal settlements are typically confined to small, overcrowded homes with little opportunity for physical activity and exploration.

To better integrate youth in the urban environment, there is a general need to upgrade the quality of slum environments, while avoiding displacement of the population and resettlement in under-serviced peripheral areas of cities. These upgrades were said to include improvements in basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, water, sanitation, and drainage.

Another NGO, The One Stop Youth Centre, a partnership between UN-Habitat and local governments, was also cited as an example of an integrated approach to youth development in urban settings. The centres offer safe spaces in urban environments where youth can meet and access information and resources critical to youth-led development. These include skills training that contribute to a pool of skilled and employable young labour force focusing on arts and sports, entrepreneurship, health services, and ICT. The objective is thus to increase employment opportunities for youth through skills development training and link them to apprenticeships with local businesses. The centres offer an integrated approach that allows it to cope with a broad spectrum of youth-related issues.

World Vision elucidated the point that cohesive and equitable cities must take into account a child-rights approach in strengthening the capacities of duty bearers and understand and fulfill children’s rights, as well as empower children and young people to advocate for and claim their rights to these duty bearers. Two examples were given in both Indonesia and Bangladesh. In Surabaya for instance, the organization worked with the Municipal coordinating body for Community Planning to implement a Child Friendly City Framework and worked with children’s groups at the village level to support their ability, express their opinions, and contribute to local development.


One of the discussions was about labour and livelihoods in urban humanitarian crises. A labour expert mentioned labour and livelihoods in urban and humanitarian response as an important topic that should be considered in social equity. The comments underlined the challenges for migrants, minority groups, and refugees in the context of urban crises. Among other things, comments addressed the lack of skills recognition, access to education and skills learning schemes for refugees and IDPs, in particular in the case of women.



Comments were also made in which migrants were said to significantly contribute to innovation that fuels urban centers. Migrants and refugees can become key players in city development, growth, resilience and sustainability as bridges between destinations and origin cities, with skills and resources and acting as transactional traders, business partners, philanthropists and investors.

Good platforms/programmes/initiatives identified and discussed:

Urban Economy

Moderators: Marco Kamiya and Edmundo Werna

Summary of the Dialogues:

The Issue Papers covered under this thematic issue include Local Economic Development, Jobs and Livelihoods, and the Informal Sector. The main questions asked were, “What economic sectors have the greatest potential for promoting urban economic development that includes creating decent jobs in cities? What urban economic development strategies would be required?

Key Themes and Takeaways:


Migration was a main topic of discussion regarding the promotion of urban economic development in cities, as migration becomes more of a salient phenomenon given the trans boundary nature of the matter. Migrants come to urban areas in search of economic opportunity but also create economic opportunities. As such, immigration should be a vital consideration in promoting urban economic development.

Local Economic Development:

Local Economic Development (LED) should be adopted in global urban policies with the aim of financial inclusion and skills development for households of all income brackets. We have to see that employment elasticity of production is maintained in the larger interest of the urban poor. LED can therefore act as a tool to achieve balanced economic growth in urban areas. For example, Indian cities such as Hyderabad and Bhopal are using community structures in resettled areas to organize skills training in association with respective industries such as health care nursing for hospitals and IT for business processing operators.

NGOs can similarly play a role in LED by engaging with local government officials and community-based organizations (CBOs) to develop skills-training programs. City governments can also extend loan financing through credit and thrift societies, as was the case in India through the National Urban Livelihood Mission and NGOs like the Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA).

Conducting economic development at the local level, and as part of a larger participatory process, can help build coordinated decisions that are supported by a broad partnership between local governments, the private sector (workers, employers and cooperatives) and NGOs. LED can be applied to cities, municipalities, and districts. What changes is the approach and emphasis. In general, LED is a combination of competitiveness, planning, and finance. For LED’s scope and influence, there must be a clear financial capacity to fund activities.

There is no template for LED, but there are components that are all encompassing. LED should firstly include sustainable finance for local governments.

Secondly, sectoral policy and support should be provided to local authorities, but also by the central government. Thirdly, competitive sectors must be in place in urban areas, as well as in urban-rural linkages. These components must be present in all aspects of LED, but requires a certain level of technical expertise both within local governments and the private sector.

Informal Sectors:

The informal sector in the urban economy was a key theme throughout the discussions. Many participants mentioned the need to mainstream the informal sector and make it an integral part of the development process. Allocation of space (working and living); rehabilitation of slum dwellings; access to drinking water, roads, social services, and other basic amenities should all be included in such policies. Mainstreaming the informal sector into the urban economy should be looked at in a holistic perspective; in terms of their characteristics, their linkages, inter-relationships with the organized sectors, and linkages with institutions of trade and risk management. Chennai’s 2009 Revised City Development Plan was one example given in which the informal sector was pushed to the urban periphery in favour of Special Information Technology Economic Zones. Many of the allocated lands that were set aside for high skilled IT jobs now lay vacant as the informal sector in the city has gradually expanded and the space for informal economic activities has shrunk. The New Urban Agenda should therefore aim to reverse such trends and transform the informal sector as a tool to make cities more economically vibrant.

An additional comment was made regarding the linkages among informal workers and other social movements such as environmental degradation and homelessness. Informal workers who demand better working conditions often combine and channel their issues together to form a joint social movement in order to strengthen their voices. Such was the case with protests in São Paulo that saw numerous groups of informal workers band together to voice their concerns about decent work. There is thus a need to address the concerns of informal workers through urban social movements and other movements such as the Right to the City.

Discussions also focused on the need to disentangle the concepts of informal sector, informal employment, and informal land. Firstly, a participant suggested that the informal sector refers to enterprises owned by individuals or household that are not constituted as separate legal entities independently of their owners. Enterprise operators and local governments can do more to provide effective protection of these livelihoods through licenses, ID cards, and regulations designed to be less punitive, until such enterprises become more financially secure. This definition, however, differs slightly from the concepts outlined in the Issue Papers in which informal sectors were defined as being made up of informal production units or informal sector enterprises. Secondly, informal employment refers to jobs in which employee’s employment relationship is not subject to standard labour legislation, taxation, social protection, or entitled to certain benefits. National governments, such as those in India and Brazil, can intervene in creating basic protections for certain occupations that are characterized by high levels of informality (i.e. street vending or home-based work). Lastly, the participant suggested that informal land refers to land that does not have clear property ownership. Local governments should consider that the urban poor often view this land as a livelihood resource. The discussion also referred to the Issue Papers on the informal sector, which includes the standard definitions for the above-mentioned terms.

Comments also included how different operative elements of informality could be addressed in household vulnerabilities, enterprise risks, and sector-specific legal vulnerabilities. Examples include whether a member of a household has no health insurance or pension, whether there is no formal land tenure arrangement for a business or residence, whether there is an ability to earn income when sick, or whether there is any legal protection of livelihood rights among those who work in public spaces. Separating out these elements can help public officials in directing policy interventions in addressing these issues.

Health: Economic Impacts on Jobs and the Workplace

Investing in a healthy workforce leads to improved wellbeing and increased productivity, with optimal economic returns. Failure to address issues of health and safety in the workplace leads to illness, sick days, and death. A few comments noted during discussions included broadening the issues mentioned within the definition of “decent work” to include matters relating to a safe and healthy environment. With an estimated 2.3 million people dying every year from work-related accidents and diseases, it is imperative that the New Urban Agenda address issues around poor working conditions. Reducing the exposure of asbestos, pesticides, and radiation in the workplace can mitigate detrimental effects of poor working conditions. Improving nutrition and encouraging physical activity in the workplace are similar schemes that can be adopted by public and private officials in generating healthy work environments. Failure to address issues of health and safety in the workplace leads to illness, sick days (absenteeism), and death. The World Health Organization notes that most of the exposure risks for occupation cancers are preventable. Most of the workforce is employed in “vulnerable” conditions, without adequate health and social protection measures- primarily in the informal sector.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship:

A general strategy was put forward by one commentator in promoting innovation and competitiveness in all sectors of the economy (being it housing, public infrastructure, urban agriculture, tourism, or manufacturing). This would allow cities to constantly reinvent themselves in order to keep up with the pace of innovation and progress globally. A local strategy for development should be further developed given limited political, economic, and legal resources many local governments face. General frameworks for urban development should be created as general guidelines, with an emphasis placed on understanding the local context to develop urban areas more sustainably.

Some commentators mentioned that promoting a culture of entrepreneurship in societies would help in creating new jobs in urban areas. Local governments should offer technical training courses to citizens in order for them to gain new skills and develop their own businesses. Governments should similarly provide working space on reasonable terms to those most in need, as a way for them to start new businesses and create jobs. Providing raw materials at reasonable rates could also help develop urban economies. Thus, providing technical and financial training is one economic strategy tool that can help cities facilitate urban job growth. Information technology and telecommunications sectors were said to be some examples of optimal economic sectors that have the potential to generate thousands of decent paying jobs.

Cultural Industries:

Participants emphasized a sector of the urban economy: cultural industries. There is a fundamental linkage with culture itself and also an interesting forward linkage with tourism. The cross-section of art/culture and labour/capital was brought up with an interesting example of engaging artists to improve labour conditions in specific cities. Artists have increasingly found new cultural agency in seeking to spark radical change through examples such as the Occupy Movement and protests in Tahrir Square. New social movements are looking at different mobilizing efforts by worker’s organizations, migrant rights groups, trade unions, and other activist groups to facilitate economic and social change. Examples were given of migrant rights organizations in the Gulf region and unions in São Paulo.

Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID):

Industrial development is closely entwined with urbanization as the majority of industrial production occurs in urban, suburban, or peri-ubran areas. As such, municipalities can profit from agglomeration economics concentrated in special economic zones, research hubs, and business parks. These concentrated zones pool the collective resources and knowledge of business, academic, and governmental actors for high-value production in the science and technology sectors. Value added through these production sectors can provide wealth creation and increased revenues for municipal authorities, as well as job creation targeted at vulnerable urban demographics such as migrants, young people, and women. These groups often suffer disproportionate levels of under-employment, unemployment, or low-paid employment. The promotion of entrepreneurial curricula and training in urban areas is invaluable in this regard.

Role of the State in the Urban Economy:

The role of state was mentioned as crucial element in addressing jurisdictional (outside city limits) and distributional (across a city region) aspects of governance and business promotion. Productivity in non-agricultural sectors are in need of support from higher levels of governments including access to finance, raw materials, technology, and marketing (local, regional, national, and international).

The state would subsequently benefit from the productive functions of their investments through developments in urban infrastructure and housing. This makes the case for intergovernmental transfers. Therefore, as one commentator noted, states and city governments are interdependent and interconnected as part of the wider development in welfare states.

Land and LED:

The majority of poor urban families are landless as, more often than not, they squat or pay land rents. They are financially and legally insecure as they can be expelled at anytime from their homes, even if they have lived on the land for many years. Slum and squatter upgrading schemes should generally include the transfer of land titles in the policy and project schemes. With the security of tenure, new plot owners can invest in improved housing for their families and should be willing to pay for local infrastructure services. In return, there would be improvement in the individual’s health, safety, and living environment. With this land asset as collateral, he/she an obtain bank finance for a mortgage or for seed capital to jumpstart a business.

Eco-Cities and Environmentally-Friendly Technology:

While cities still have a significant impact on the environment, there is an economic opportunity to invest in low- or hopefully zero impact technologies. Renewable energy sources could be some of the best economic sectors for promoting urban economic development (e.g. biohydrogen as an alternative for petroleum and solar energy for electricity generation).

Additionally, Eco-cities are areas where urban planning and environmental tools can be applied to pursue synergies in resource utilization, waste management, environmental preservation, industrial development, and a healthy living environment. The construction of eco-cities can be developed as part of a strategy of inclusive and sustainable industrial development that can facilitate cross-dimensional outcomes and opportunities in urban areas. This can range from cleaner energy and waste management systems to greater employment opportunities and skills development.



Many suggestions were made regarding women’s issues in the urban economy. Child care, safety for women in terms of transportation, proper toilets and sanitation facilities for women, and the recognition of discrimination again women in terms of pay gap and unemployment were all addressed. Missing from the Issue Papers was an understanding of the barriers and contributing factors that influence the effective participation of women in LED. Additionally, comments were made as to how women’s participation can contribute to LED and what solutions, policies, and programmes can increase the effectiveness and quality of women’s participation in LED. There is thus a need to to evolve solutions to increase women’s participation in LED, as well as a need to understand barriers to their participation and evolve policies that create an enabling environment for women’s increased participation.

Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment can be made through effective mainstreaming in policy, providing both access to skills development and financial services to women. A gender needs assessment was suggested as a way to improve economic opportunities access to resources for poor women, given their livelihoods in domestic responsibilities and other barriers. Although the Issue Papers recommend partnerships and local participatory economic development can consequently increase the voices of women and other marginalized groups in LED.


A few NGOs pointed out that the Issue Papers fail to take a critical review of impacts of public private partnership (PPP) agreements and of the privatization of essential public services such as water, transport, and electricity. Additional comments were made about the inadequate reflection on the disastrous consequences of subprime lending, mortgage securitization, and private equity on housing and land markets. NGOs similarly noted their concerns on the urban roots of the 2007 global financial crises. These concerns include the destructive path of commodification, privatization, and deregulation of our urban commons, land, housing, and infrastructure. Other NGOs similarly drew attention to the global financial crises and the need for urban economic resilience. Indeed, the prospect of crises is one of the facts that make urban resilience important. When crises happen, it is more difficult to rely on external economic connections, making LED even more important in providing sustainable economic strategies.



It was also noted that in order to develop migrants’ full potential to contribute to economic development, it is important to have measures in place that protects their human rights, including raising awareness on fair recruitment practices

Good platforms/programmes/initiatives identified and discussed:

Urban Ecology and Environment

Moderators: Marcus Mayr and Kulwant Singh

Summary of the Dialogues:

The Urban Ecology and the Environment thematic discussed the need for broader participation of all urban stakeholders in environmental planning, climate action, and disaster risk reduction. Many examples were provided in which improvements in urban climate action influenced urbanization patterns in various countries. Issue Papers for this thematic topic include Urban Resilience, Urban Ecosystems and Resource Management, Cities and Climate Change, and Disaster Risk Management. The two main questions posed were: What measures do you think are required for cities, businesses, academia, and civil society to encourage broader participation of all urban stakeholders in environmental planning, climate action and disaster risk reduction? How do you think improved understanding and progress in urban environmental planning, climate action and disaster management are influencing urbanization patterns in developing and developed countries?

Key Themes and Takeaways

Inclusion and Participation:

Stakeholder engagement and multi-stakeholder processes were strongly emphasized throughout the discussions. Measures that would facilitate greater stakeholder engagement would include identifying how to engage stakeholders in a productive way, outlining a modus operandi of their engagement, placing a time frame for planning and implementation, and delegating responsibility with strong oversight.

Discussions also addressed the issue of resilience and participatory governance. As much as resilience is a technical issue, it is also a governance issue. Some argued large-scale evictions should cease to take place in the name of resilience. Participants argued that measures to ensure resilience and upgrading of settlements can be implemented together, but needs strong political will and the acknowledgement of existing settlements. People living in informal settlements should be given tools to assist them in documenting their presence and existence in settlements.

Infrastructural justice was another topic of inclusion where residents who do not use large energy resources and do not emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, should not suffer from climate protection measure in favor of adaptation and mitigation. It is therefore crucial that poor people’s interests and rights are explicitly linked to include strategic planning and implementation regarding infrastructure. Rapid urbanization processes need anticipatory planning, including the provision of basic infrastructure and access to clean energy for all residents.

Migrants and Participation:

Climate change policies and actions should integrate migration related matters. Migration is one key response to climate change impacts on people’s livelihoods. As long as there are migrants and migration issues out of the climate environmental planning, climate action and disaster management, they will continue to face urban exclusion, unsafe informal settlements and voices circles of poverty and environmental degradation

Local Community Empowerment and Design:

Local geographies should inform and inspire building systems, city layout and architecture. Buildings that take advantage of ‘localness’ for building materials can reduce energy consumption in urban environments. Every city has different alterative energy resources, so their energy sources should be a mix of local alternatives to fossil fuels (i.e. solar and wind in one area and geothermal in another). European experiment in community ownership of the power grid are at least partly responsible for the increasingly of renewables in countries like Germany. Local communities should be empowered to make decisions on their energy use and needs.

Issue Paper 17 stated, “national governments are the lead actors in the global climate response.” Many argued that this is not necessarily true and that engagement in environmental response should be taken across all levels of government. Urban environmental planning, climate action and disaster management are all influencing urbanization patterns in developing and developed countries in a way that they are now focusing on having more environmentally prone initiatives. Cities are beginning to think about securing clean water, processing their waste, having more trees, and reducing the pollution. This will help their upcoming generations in having the safe and healthy environment that can lead to more sustainable and resilient cities.

Urban Planning and Disaster Risk Management:

Discussants state that the economic values of ecosystem services – within and beyond city limits – should be taken into account for urban planning and disaster risk management. The irreversible loss of ecosystems or their malfunction due to damages always results in long-term costs for human societies. Local and national leaders should avoid these future costs by integrating ecosystem-based approaches in urban planning today.

Other comments included an urban strategy that focuses on compactness and connectedness. Compact cities share many resources such as common spaces, low-rise development, and regulated entry or exit into the city limits. Such characteristics of cities make them safe, livable, socially acceptable, and energy efficient. In these cities employment and residence are situated within the same neighborhoods, thus curtailing the need to use motorized vehicles. Hence, compact or connected cities use less energy and therefore can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was cited as a framework to encourage broader participation of all urban stakeholders in disaster risk reduction. These include establishing and strengthening government coordination forums composed of relevant stakeholders at the local level, such as national and local platforms for disaster risk reduction. Collaboration should also be facilitated among people at the local level to disseminate disaster risk information through the involvement of community-based organizations and non-governmental organizations. The use of traditional, indigenous and local knowledge and practices should also complement scientific knowledge in disaster risk assessment and the development and implementation of policies, strategies, plans, and programs of specific sectors. Support should be given towards the development of local user-friendly systems and services for the exchange of information on good practices, cost-effective and easy-to-use disaster risk reduction technologies.

Additional suggestions were made in promoting regular disaster preparedness, response and recovery exercises, including evacuation drills, training and the establishment of area-based support systems. This would be done with a view of ensuring rapid and effective responses to disasters and related displacement, including access to safe shelter, essential food and non-food relief supplies, as appropriate to local needs.

Comments on disaster risk management also touched on the importance of improving understanding in urban environment planning and its influence on urbanization patterns in both developing and developed countries. For example, developed countries have better environmental planning, mitigation, and adaptation measures in place because they have a better understanding of these issues. As a result they have relatively sustainable urbanization patterns. Developing countries, by contrast, have no sustainable urbanization patterns. Such haphazard patterns of urbanization in least developed countries are underpinned by a poor understanding of issues in environmental planning, climate action, and disaster reduction. It was suggested that developing countries should mainstream integrated climate action and disaster reduction strategies into national and local policy frameworks.

Transport Planning:

Transport planning is key to reduce the level of traffic and CO2 emissions, while continuing to facilitate growth in urban areas. One example was given by the Norwegian municipality of Asker that is seeking to reduce the level of private car traffic, contributing to 75% of the municipality’s CO2 emissions. The municipality has facilitated the location of housing, jobs, public and private services close to public transportation hubs. The municipality is ensuring that pedestrians, cyclists, and bus travelers are prioritized, while improving access to public transportation hubs.

Adaptive Capacity:

A few commentators noted that the definition of urban resilience in the Issue Papers fails to include the concept of “adaptive capacity”. The concept of “adaptive capacity” can provide a productive method to foster resilience thinking and build real capacity in the built environment, as well as in our social system to raise the topic of urban resilience. It was also mentioned that the resiliency, however, is not an adequate substitute for sustainability or for adaptation.

Urban Sanitation:

One topic of discussion was the adequate management of urban sanitation and fecal sludge management. Sanitation issues pose one of the greatest challenges to sustainable development of cities, which were not constructed with well-planned sewer systems. If managed well, the treatment and reuse of fecal sludge can provide a great source of organic nutrients for urban or near-urban agricultural activities. Solid waste management is similarly having a serious impact on the livability of urban centers. Due to inadequate solid waste systems, drains are being blocked and are leading to urban inundation and disease risks. Septic systems are also being made ineffective due to the disposal of plastics and other inorganic materials. Water bodies such as rivers, creeks, and lakes are being chocked with waste. As a result, many of those water bodies are seeing a growth in eutrophication and the loss of ecosystem services.



NGOs in the discussions voiced their concerns that the New Urban Agenda could put a strong focus on the restructuring of cities in view of the impacts of climate change, but may not seek sufficient solutions that combine larger social and economic questions such as poverty and inequality, homelessness and insecurity of tenure, discrimination and social exclusion, expropriation, and expulsion. Climate adaptation could become a pretext for anti-social legislation, urban transformation, and profitable business strategies. Government may use elements of the New Urban Agenda to justify evictions in their pursuit of restructuring cities for climate adaptation.


Providing a safe, healthy, and clean urban environment is critical for the improvement of the well being of children and families around the world. The role of schools in the urban ecology and environment dialogues should also be much broader to incorporate urban ecosystems and environmental protection into school curricula. Also mentioned in the discussions was the issue of schools as key locations for behavior change around waste, hygiene, and environmental actions. Schools play a critical role as public institution in spreading knowledge on urban ecology. “Safe Schools” were also mentioned as being an integral part of any urban development plan as schools and young populations are extremely vulnerable to both pre-mediated and natural disasters.

Air pollution and childhood health issues were similarly addressed. There were calls for better public transport and a reduction on the reliance on automobiles. There is an urgent need to bridge knowledge and capacity gaps in relation to crucial urban and territorial challenges such as climate change, protection and security, disaster resilience, ecosystem connectivity, green infrastructure, food security, health, diet and nutrition. The health of the youth must be considered in increasing the quality of life of urban dwellers through improvements in air quality and reduction in noise.


Women are not more vulnerable by nature to climate change, however, their status and position in urban societies position them in vulnerable situations. Climate change policies must include areas of economic, scientific, and human rights with a gender perspective. They must develop the capacity for adaption, mitigation, and climate change financing to allow women to leave the state of vulnerability. Women’s access to land was also mentioned as a key focus within the discussions. Engendering the New Urban Agenda is key to engaging women to play an active role as advocators for their rights and defend their rights to land and housing.

Comments also included the fact that the Issue Papers treated urban resilience in largely physical and technical terms, but lacked any sensitivity to the fact that individual groups’ (i.e. women) innovations contribute greatly to making urban systems more resilient. The Issue Papers fail to recognize that grassroots women organizations are at the forefront of resilience-building initiatives in the global South. There is no mention of the reluctance of governments and experts in incorporating women’s knowledge and providing resources and support to enhance their capacities. Additionally, there is no acknowledgement of the importance of supporting resourcing local communities and grassroots women’s initiative in creating resilient communities.



Migrants, whether internal or international, are often excluded from participating in environmental planning, climate action, and disaster risk reduction. Yet, they face specific issues of access to rights and inclusion. If policies do not give specific attention to migrants and to their specific needs, they will leave out large numbers of populations from their action. Policies can create conducive environments for migrants to allow them to invest, contribute, transfer funds and create business that contribute to the fight against climate change and to adaptation efforts.

Good platforms/programmes/initiatives identified and discussed:

Housing and Basic Services

Moderators: Pireh Otieno and Claudio Torres

Summary of the Dialogues:

Issue Papers for this thematic topic include Urban Infrastructure and Basic Services, including energy; Transport and Mobility; Housing; Smart Cities; and Informal Settlements. The Urban Dialogue on Urban Housing and Basic Services aims at gathering views from all interested players – including the broadest range of urban stakeholders as well as citizens – to bring forward new and emerging thinking on adequate and sustainable provision of housing and urban services in the elaboration of the New Urban Agenda, and to discuss the related Habitat III Issue Papers. Through this dialogue, participants shared their experiences, perspectives, and questions on urban housing and basic services in the context of the New Urban Agenda. The discussions were guided by two leading questions: “Based on your experience and expertise, what progress has been made since Habitat II in advancing strategic frameworks for urban housing and services? What has enabled such progress?”

Key Themes and Takeaways:

Investment in Human Capacity and Infrastructure:

Accompanying infrastructure investment with capacity development will allow urban service providers to address future challenges confidently, to innovate their practices and to adapt lessons learned from peers to their own particular contexts. Within a wider context, the need now is to instigate a more precise discussion about what new tools are required to enhance integrated governance and strategic partnerships within cities, and what mediums can be used to achieve this. New tools for decision making that consider all stakeholders and sectors are essential to efficiently use resources and streamline efforts. These tools should encourage bottom-up practices and participatory processes to increase user engagement and ownership. Specific innovative strategies are required to better foster new approaches and initiatives that work for public interest. These strategies should also be well-oriented and fit within new cross-sector urban agenda resulting from Habitat III.

Linkage between urban housing and employment

Discussions on urban housing pointed to the need and opportunity to combine housing programs with employment-generation and decent work conditions, including self-construction initiatives for the provision of adequate housing. Participants were of the opinion that integrated urban development programs should encourage the provision of jobs in tandem with housing.

Focusing on the need to ‘Move people-Not vehicles’

Participants encouraged the use of public transport and non-motorized modes of transport. Discussions touched on the need to involve the private sector, putting in place innovative financing mechanisms to enhance efficiency, and reduction in travel demand by encouraging a better integration and use and transport planning. Progress in low carbon mobility, particularly examples of car sharing to reduce the need for individual car ownership and the need for greater uptake of electric mobility were discussed.

National Urban Housing and Habitat Policies

Participants noted that national urban housing and habitat policies should provide the basic framework for achieving the objective of ‘shelter for all’. The policies should evolve with the long-term goal of eradicating “houselessness”, improving the housing conditions of the inadequately housed, and providing a minimum level of basic services and amenities to all. It might be formulated to address the issues of sustainable development, infrastructure development, and for strong PPPs for shelter delivery with the objective of creating surpluses in housing stock.

An example of national urban housing provisions was given through a Brazilian government program called “Minha Casa Minha Vida.” The program has built 3.7 million houses and 1.87 million units, benefiting more than seven million people. It was mentioned that refugees could be integrating into the local market with guarantees of mortgage offerings and can be hired as employees of companies that build the housing for the program.

Urban land policies and land management practices

Participants observed that the failure to adopt, at all levels, appropriate urban land policies and land management practices remains a primary cause of inequity and poverty. They recommended the removal of all possible obstacles that hamper equitable access to land and ensure that equal rights of women and men related to land and property are protected under the law. They noted that urban planning tools, including master planning, zoning, and regulations are not enough to make land available in pace with the rapid urbanization, resulting in insufficient land supply and increase in land prices. It is important to have flexible land policy wherein conversion from one use to another is cost effective and efficient. Computerization of land records and data and e-governance should also constitute important elements of the urban land policy.

Trends in urbanization were noted to include variations in spatial patterns of urbanization across the States and cities, spatial polarization of employment opportunities, and the growth of rural settlement in acquiring urban characteristics. This phenomenon has led to pressures on civic infrastructure systems, water supply, sewage and draining, parks and open spaces, transport, among others. Therefore, it was suggested that policymakers should focus on new ways to achieve the results and on different benchmarks that capture efficiency, effectiveness, quality, and sustainability in governance, service delivery, intergovernmental municipal finances, and social development.

Smart Cities and Electrified Transport:

One participant from China noted that we should give priority to building smart cities rather than relying on changing fuel usage of public transportation as a means to reduce pollution in cities. This idea was closely related to the Issue Paper on Transport and Mobility that makes reference to an initiative on Urban Electric Mobility Vehicles Initiative (UEMI).

Slum Upgrading and New Shelters:

The issues of housing must support new shelter options. Participants noted that slum upgrading was necessary but not sufficient for the future growth of cities. New shelters should reflect both the need to adapt to climate change in terms of green construction and not have to sacrifice the contribution low income families have made in solving their shelter requirements through self-help processes. There is thus a need for higher density walk-up structures and planning concepts that anticipate future growth. One single approach will not be enough to guide the growth of cities and maintain an adequate housing stock for urban populations. Housing programs and urban planning duly contribute to adequate housing provision through inclusive financing and innovative housing solutions.

Transportation and Mobility:

Regarding the topic of transportation, discussions focused on the need to change transport practices following Habitat III, focusing on means of transport and infrastructure. Advances in ICT will enable more rapid and robust travel demand assessment for better public transport planning. Electric Mobility and car sharing can be viable transportation alternatives to single-use and fossil fuel automobiles.

Today, road transport accounts for more than 40% of annual global oil consumption, more than twice as much as any other sector. Around 80-90% of the energy consumed by road transport comes from oil. The growing market for electric cars may not necessarily improve the situation, as the increased demand for electricity is often met by burning coal. Electric Mobility – encompassing public transport, e-bikes, and cars should be promoted in the context of better and more compact urban planning and a transition to cleaner sources of energy. A transition to post-carbon mobility systems was suggested as critical solution to the New Urban Agenda.

Transport equity and urban health were also cited as key topics in urban transportation and development. Transportation equity refers to the extent to which any given urban transportation system provides equal access to people of varying age, fitness, gender or income group. Moving on foot or bicycle are the least expensive and easy to access means of individual transport. Fostering active transport is thus a very effective investment into creating social equity. Urban health refers to the extent to which an urban area’s living system shows a functioning metabolism and non-dangerous levels of environmental pollution. The health of a human urban population can be measured by indicators such as life expectancy, physical and emotional well-being, individual fitness or population diversity. Transport and mobility were discussed as key drivers for urban health, actively promoting physical exercise of urban populations, as well as providing a means to manage and (positively) influence levels of air pollution in cities.

Many comments supported the creation of compact, walkable neighborhoods that combat socioeconomic inequalities related to health, education, and jobs. It was recommended that the Issue Papers should make specific reference to how walking and cycling have also deteriorated in recent years with increasing urbanization. Benefits of public and active transport should be framed in particular as an opportunity for development for smaller cities in developing countries, which are not yet reliant on such high numbers of private vehicles. Other participants referenced “polluter pays” principles, including congestion charges, tolls, and parking fees. City inhabitants could be still further encourage the use of alternative forms of transport by reinvesting these funds in schemes for shared city bicycles which are particularly common in Europe.

Reference should be made regarding the need for vehicle safety standards and road traffic regulation. Penalties and enforcement ought also to be included to reduce road crash injuries and deaths. In particular, pedestrians and cyclists tend to bear the greatest injuries in the absence of ample road safety regulations, and effective regulations have a dual benefit of improving the environment for these forms of active transport. 
Fuel pricing and taxation on vehicle import fees, in particular for private vehicles, should be mentioned as specific examples of effective national policies to reduce emissions. In addition, there is need for favorable taxation policies for clean fuels, which in particular can be prioritized for use by public transport. 
One area that should also be included as a driver for action is social marketing, as it is critical that the inhabitants of cities support policies that will benefit them in the long term. Hence, strategic communication campaigns that change social norms and behaviors will be critical. 

Home-based Workers:

For many citizens, their home is their workplace. Home-based workers are directly affected by basic infrastructure services, or the lack thereof. Most notably is the high cost and irregular supply of electricity. Accessibility and cost of public transport is also a key factor for home-based workers. Self-employed workers have to commute to markets on a regular, if not daily, basis to buy raw materials and other supplies, to negotiate orders, and to sell finished goods.

Home-based workers, both self-employed and sub-contracted, are affected by the macroeconomic environment. Fluctuations in demand and prices. Workers are exposed to unpredictable and unfair value chain dynamics including irregular work orders, irregular supply of raw materials, and delayed payments. Most home-based workers are included in markets on unfair terms. They are isolated from other workers in their sector (apart from those in their neighborhood) and with limited knowledge of markets and market prices. These factors limit their ability to bargain in the market for more favorable prices and piece rates or to negotiate with government for basic infrastructure and transport services.

Supportive urban policy environments that recognize the complex and dynamic employment potential of informal settlements can enable these vibrant local economies to make significant contributions to local economic development, urban service delivery, and employment for women, young people, and other vulnerable urban groups.

Sub-Saharan African Urban Challenges

While urbanization globally has often happened in association with economic growth in urban areas, this is generally not the case in Sub Saharan Africa. Demand for urban services has not been matched with local government capacity growth to meet the demand. Much of the research and policy development undertaken within the sustainable energy field does not have any impact on urban challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is largely because the detailed situation and complex dynamics at local government levels 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.

Effective capacity building of Sub-Saharan local governments requires long-term plans and partnerships with local governments, needs to be undertaken incrementally and sensitively, and should build not only the capacity of local governments themselves, but of locally-based support organizations that can act as resources for local government. Embedded in both the Post-2015 SDGs and New Urban Agenda is a strong call for the localization of data collection and analysis- a critical approach and step for the development of sound localized strategies that can guide the necessary up-scaling of successful initiatives.



Several NGOs noted their concern of the practice of forced evictions and the destruction of people’s settlements. These inhuman practices increasingly impact millions of people in African and Asian cities and are strongly present in other continents, including Europe and North America. Forced evictions are serious violations of Human Rights and a constant threat for all inhabitants of self-built settlements as well as for low-income tenants. NGOs raised the need to develop policy proposals to stop and revert growing social inequalities, which are the main reasons for urban poverty and social exclusion, for autocratic governance and insecurity, for unsustainable urban growth and transformations, for real estate speculation, and for economic instability. The NGOs discussed the need to define production pattern, management models, funding needs, and roles of state, cities, and civil society in the social production of habitat. They similarly highlighted the need for government officials to regulate mortgages, real estate investments, and financial industries.


Women are seen as part of the “most poor and vulnerable” but not as partners in the development process. Many of the provisions proposed in the Issue Papers, like site-and-services, are not new, nor are there new ideas to accelerate construction. There is a need to highlight women as a special interest group of people. Inclusion of women and youth in the urban planning, implementation, and monitoring of land administration is key. There were also calls for the inclusion of women as an element of change in Smart Cities. The Issue Papers were said to have no new ideas regarding development or inclusion of women. Greater inclusion of grassroot women organizations should be made with respect to Smart City agendas.

Comments also focused on the need to improve access to adequate housing for women, migrants, refugees, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and minorities. Increased subsides and incentives on the supply side should be given. Technical, legislative, and financial efforts should also focus on the right to adequate housing for all, especially the poor and vulnerable groups.

Whilst disadvantages of slum dwellers are noted in the Issue Papers, there is a missing gender analysis in which women are starkly the most vulnerable. As the paper emphasizes physical issues, such as socio spatial exclusion, there is no mention on how women are affected disproportionately due to gender “disadvantages”. Informal sector jobs are noted, but there is no reference to the fact that women make up this important sector and how policies must center on women’s access to formal employment, and how informal workers can be better protected. Women are seen as part of the most vulnerable groups at slums, but there is no reference that women have in housing microcredits, and also their role (and challenges) in community participation at informal settlements.

Similarly missing from the Issue Papers is no mention of gender, race, or class concerns. There is reference to businesses and citizens without any mention of who the “citizens” are. Some suggestions were made to integrate housing and gender relationships. This includes discrimination and historical exclusion of women in issues related to housing, as well as access to a living wage. This then allows for the greater affordability of housing.



The important issue of refugees and other displaced people living in urban areas was also raised. Discussions centered on how the world’s cities and towns should incorporate them into their social and urban fabrics, preventing their engagement in informal housing solutions while benefiting from their potential contribution to the prosperity of the urban environments was also discussed.

Good platforms/programmes/initiatives identified and discussed: