Habitat III and New Urban Agenda: The Right to the City campaign

Habitat III was the third edition of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, held in follow-up to previous conferences held in Vancouver (1976) and Istanbul (1996). The UN hosted the Habitat III final summit in Quito with the main goal of renewing the global commitment towards sustainable urban development through the adoption of a New Urban Agenda. Our Committee, the UCLG and the Global Platform for the Right to the City provided a platform for local governments and civil society to jointly advocate in favor of the inclusion of the right to the city as guiding principle for the New Urban Agenda: A recognition which would be partially achieved, requiring further efforts to bring about its original vision.

Context of the Habitat III process

Habitat III marked an important step forward in the increasing recognition of local and regional authorities as pillars of more effective development at the local level. Several challenges were identified in advance by local government and urban stakeholders participating in this process, including:

  • Renewing high-level political commitments in favor of sustainable urban development;
  • Measuring progress made since Habitat II;
  • Exploring new solutions to urban poverty and the rise of inequalities;
  • Identifying emerging urban challenges.

The UN member states would play a central role in defining the final outcomes of the summit. Many other relevant stakeholders would be invited to take part in the process, including: civil society, local governments, experts, women and youth associations, trade unions, the private sector and many UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations.

Habitat III right to the city

The Habitat III process would play a key role in localizing sustainable development in urban agendas.

Habitat III was held in parallel to other key UN conferences, such as: the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (Sendai, 2015), the Summit on Financing for Development (Addis Abeba, 2016), the General Assembly of the UN on Sustainable Development Goals (New York, 2015), the World Summit on Climate Change  (Paris, 2015). The New Urban Agenda would turn the results of these conferences into policies and actions for sustainable urban development.

The UCLG-CSIPDHR strategy

The UCLG-CSIPDHR strategy focused on gathering local governments political support towards the right to the city. Earlier initiatives led by the Committee already identified this concept as key to favor fairer, more inclusive, democratic and sustainable cities. Political dialogue and joint action around the right to the city aimed ultimately at achieving its recognition by the New Urban Agenda. To achieve this goal, the Committee would develop a twofold, intertwined strategy:

« In  2050,  seventy  percent  of  the  world’s population  will  live in urban areas. This means that within the next thirty years,more than two billion people will move to cities, especially to the largest metropolises in  the  world.  In  an  age where one per cent of the population holds more than half of the global wealth,  urban  areas will see tensions  and  inequalities that are unsustainable. In this context, local governments and their people are urgently claiming for the Right to the City as a necessary step to build a fair, inclusive, democratic and sustainable urban world »

Final Declaration of the Mexico City International Seminar of Local Governments for the Right to the City

The Habitat III Preparatory process

In addition to the contributions made by UN member states, the Habitat III preparatory process counted with various ways which allowed other types of stakeholders to formulate recommendations in the drafting of the New Urban Agenda.

Habitat III right to the city

The right to the city campaign defended transformative concepts of urban governance such as the social function of land

An initial set of issue papers aimed to identify research fields within policy units. In 2015, the CSIPDHR, UCLG and the Global Platform for the Right to the City presented their own commentaries to the issue paper dealing with the Right to the City and Cities for all. In January 2016, the policy paper frameworks defining the structure of the final policy papers was issued. The Committee participated in the comments issued by both the Global Platform and the Global Taskforce.

The final Policy Papers were released in March 2016. They were later used as official inputs to be considered by the Habitat III Bureau to write the New Urban Agenda’s zero draft.

Habitat III right to the city

The right to the city campaign brought together a wide coalition of stakeholders, from local government to civil society

In May 2016, the first draft of the New Urban Agenda was released, based on contributions made by the policy units, UN member States and civil society organizations.Local governments had the chance to officially position themselves regarding the draft on the Hearings to Local Authorities.

The Second version of the draft (18th July 2016) was released on July 18th 2016, and the third one on July 28th, after the third Preparatory Committee in Surabaya. Finally, after the last round of intergovernmental informal talks in New York (September 7-9), on September 10th, the final text for adoption at the Habitat III Conference in Quito was released. 

The Habitat III Summit and Follow-up

Between 16 and 21 October 2016, a UCLG-CSIPDHR delegation was in Quito to attend the Habitat III final summit and the alternative forums that were organized by civil society. One of the main highlights of this Conference was to have the right to the city unanimously defended by Mayors gathering in the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments, and therefore supporting the mention of such right in the Habitat III Agenda.

Through its participation in the Summit, the Committee recalled how the right to the city is rooted in internationally recognized human rights. The right to the city campaign aimed at guaranteeing that cities were fulfilled as common goods, not a commodity. The Committee also recalled how public finances – especially local ones - and multilateral funds were key for a universal implementation of the New Urban Agenda. It also invited relevant stakeholders to set up a mechanism to monitor this agenda from a territorial perspective which involved also all urban inhabitants.

[ See the dedicated report on the UCLG-CSIPDHR action plan during the Habitat III final summit ]

Habitat III right to the city

The Quito summit hosted a significant amount of meaningful discussions between urban practitioners and experts.

Several challenges ahead were to define the implementation phase of the New Urban Agenda:

  • Making sure that the Right to the City does not become the “obligation to the city” – this is a real risk in a principally urban world in which national and international migration to cities is usually not freely chosen and where the city is seen to be the only alternative, given the abandonment of rural development policies, land grabbing and climate change.
  • Laying the legal foundations for the Right to the City so that it becomes a legal body rooted in human rights recognized by international treaties. Guaranteeing the necessary public funds both at local and global levels so that cities are realized as common goods – faced with current privatization trends.
  • Setting up an Habitat III monitoring programm, based on local stakeholders and realities and rooted in indicators measuring the guarantee of the Right to the City Strengthening the global movement in favor of the Right to the City.