More than half the world lives in cities, and much of Habitat III was focussed on the use of data networks for better urban planning and development. This, however, leaves many questions unanswered.
The agenda provides a 20-year “roadmap” to guide sustainable urban development globally.
The text of the New Urban Agenda itself was agreed well before Habitat III at the UN General Assembly in September, during an extraordinary informal negotiation session that lasted for more than 30 hours.
This allowed the focus in Quito to shift towards commitment and action. Under the banner of the “Quito Implementation Plan”, commitments ranged from the development and enhancement of national urban policies, to integration between different levels of government.
The conference also saw announcements of new sources of international development assistance for countries to provide better access to housing and shelter for millions more people worldwide.
Sustainable urban development for all
The 2030 agenda is built around a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most relevant to the New Urban Agenda is SDG 11, which aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. However, the New Urban Agenda has been criticised for lacking direct links to the targets set out within Goal 11.
Unlike their predecessors the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs apply to all UN members states equally.
While most of the world’s rapid urban growth is in the Global South, challenges abound in the cities of Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and East Asia. In these regions, upgrading existing infrastructure and avoiding “carbon lock-in” – where old, carbon-intensive structures prevent the adopting of lower carbon alternatives – will require significant transformative efforts.
Much of Habitat III focused on the application of new technologies and the harvesting of big data, particularly in these established urban centres. Under the umbrella of smart cities, using open data networks for better urban planning provided an optimistic, technology-based future for cities. However, questions about the security, ethics, and oversight of large-scale information gathering remain largely unanswered.