People at the center of development

For all around the globe more than 40.000 people from different backgrounds and continents are getting together with one common goal: to discuss the future of cities around the world, and the New Urban Agenda that will guide the cities through their journey. This October, Quito will be the host of The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III).

To understand how this conference evolved we can go back to 1996, the year that Habitat II took place. This conference put on the spotlight the link between urbanization agenda and the urgency to promote sustainable development. Ensuring adequate shelter for all was a major goal of Habitat II and was a starting point to change the paradigm to view cities not as part of the problem but a solution to address sustainability. Despite important progress in the past 20 years, low-income urban residents continue to struggle with the lack of affordable shelter, services and unequal opportunities.

In the course of the Habitat III preparation, and in a world that is increasingly urbanizing, there are dual and sometimes contradicting realities that we have to consider. First of all come unsolved issues such as the existence of urban areas such as slums, where populations have lower well-being compared to other urban residents, especially in terms of access to health, basic services, transport or housing. These areas do not receive the direct benefits of agglomeration economies. However, another urban reality is the strong, positive correlation between urbanization and income gains and the fact that urban agglomerations enhance productivity, providing our cities with an enormous potential for employment generation and better public services provision.

In order to deal with the complexity of urban realities, cities have been assigned with their own goal to reach by 2030. Habitat III is therefore also connected to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and especially the “urban SDG”, SDG 11, on housing and sustainable cities.

“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”

SDG11, as well as most of the SDGs, cannot be achieved without the creation of a nexus of aims. Improving urban well-being, making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, involves the interaction of aspects from other SDGs, plus integrated and coordinated policy discussions. It is difficult, almost impossible, to examine urban issues in isolation.

 The Habitat III conference will provide a unique opportunity to view the Sustainable Development Goals within the context of urban development, economic growth and coordinated policies. The place where people live and their basic needs, including housing, water and sanitation, electricity, transport, and security are inseparable from employment and economic activity. For this reason, economic development and urban development require simultaneous attention having in the center of the discussion the people who live in cities, the number of whom is increasing every day.