Almost six months after the United Nations adopted a new 20-year urbanization strategy, U. N. Secretary General António Guterres this week made his first official pronouncement on cities.
As part of the ongoing effort to reshape how urban issues are addressed within the international body, Guterres announced Wednesday the composition of a highly-anticipated eight-member panel that will assess the future of the lead agency on urbanization, UN-Habitat. The result of the panel’s assessment will have a significant impact on oversight of that 20-year strategy, the New Urban Agenda.
While the agenda, a non-binding document approved by 167 countries at last year’s Habitat III summit, was formally adopted by the U. N. General Assembly in December, that process left up in the air two key issues: the fate of the Nairobi-based UN-Habitat and, relatedly, formal responsibility for overseeing implementation of the New Urban Agenda. Potential reforms to UN-Habitat had become increasingly contentious during the New Urban Agenda political discussions — threatening even to scuttle the entire process.
So, in approving adoption of the New Urban Agenda in December, the General Assembly simultaneously called on Guterres to conduct “an evidence-based and independent assessment” of the agency and its work, which ranges from slum upgrading to comprehensive planning, municipal finance strategies to national legislation for cities.
“We live in the century of unprecedented urban growth. For the first time in history, over half of world’s population is living in cities,” Guterres, who took over as secretary-general at the beginning of the year, said Wednesday in a statement. “[At Habitat III], participating states adopted the New Urban Agenda as a collective vision and political commitment to promote and realize sustainable urban development, and a paradigm change, rethinking how cities are planned, managed and inhabited.”
That “paradigm change” is likely to require further repositioning of UN-Habitat. Making recommendations on the details of that new mandate will be the task for the eight-member panel.
The panel includes several key global figures in urbanism, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Indian slum activist Sheela Patel, United Cities and Local Governments President Mpho Parks Tau, and Peter Calthorpe, founding member of the Congress for New Urbanism.
The new body is rounded out by national-level ministers and diplomats from Indonesia, Lesotho, Mexico and Slovakia. Of those four, Lesotho sent its head of state to Quito — one of only three at Habitat III — and the other countries played key roles in the preparatory process for the conference.