Question of the Day: How do you hope the world’s cities will have changed in two decades?

25 experts weigh in on the 20-year time frame of the New Urban Agenda, the sustainable urbanization strategy adopted this week.


In early September, 193 countries agreed on a final draft of the New Urban Agenda — a global 20-year vision for how to create cities that are sustainable and equitable. This week, presidents, ministers and others are gathering in Quito, Ecuador, for the Habitat III conference, where they will formally adopt that strategy and unveil commitments on how to implement its details.

Citiscope reached out to 25 thinkers and organizations that have been keen participants in the process that created the 24-page document. Now that the dust has settled, how do they see its final text? And more importantly, when we look to the next 20 years of implementation, how do they think the New Urban Agenda can improve the lives of those who live in cities?

We asked each expert to respond to five questions. We’ll be publishing their answers, lightly edited, each day this week. We want to hear from you, too. Write your response in the comments section at the bottom of this article.

Monday’s question: Innovations in the New Urban Agenda?

Tuesday’s question: Gaps in the New Urban Agenda?

Wednesday’s question: How will we know if Habitat III was a success?

Thursday’s question: Biggest obstacles to implementing the New Urban Agenda?

Question of the Day: The New Urban Agenda is supposed to guide global urbanization for the next two decades. How do you hope the world’s cities will have changed at the end of that period?

By increasing the number of sustainable, resilient and smart cities.

— Aliye Celik, NGO

Innovation in the design, construction and management of African cities will make a disproportionate global impact in meeting the SDGs.

— Susan Parnell, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town

Simply, the way we measure what works is different. After two decades when we think of a prosperous city it is not in terms of economic output, but we think of cities in terms of the wellbeing of its inhabitants.

— Charles Ebikeme, International Council for Science

I hope that cities will have shifted back to the traditional, diverse, dense, mixed-use, vibrant models of cities a century ago, and away from the destructive, isolating, energy-inefficient sprawls that have been created in many places in the 20th century

— Joseph D’Cruz, United Nations Development Programme

If we succeed in bringing the commitments of the New Urban Agenda to life, this will be reflected through cities that are green, clean, resilient and peaceful where economic and cultural activity thrives. We have less than 15 years to realize the SDGs. This clearly indicates how fast we need to implement the New Urban Agenda.

— Irge Olga Aujouannet, Director, Global Policy Affairs, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

There are so many initiatives currently ongoing in cities around the world mapping out urban resilience challenges and making plans to address those. I would hope that by the time of the next Habitat conference these are starting to bear fruit and that, in line with SDG 11, cities really are safer places, for all their different population groups and in all senses of the word.

— Lucy Earle, Global Alliance for Urban Crises

That’s an easy one. Hopefully in two decades, the New Urban Agenda is no longer aspirational but descriptive. The norm will be a sustainable, equitable and inclusive city, and the rare exception will be a city that is on the way to becoming such a place. The New Urban Agenda will describe Lagos and Dhaka and Caracas, as well as Tokyo and Paris and Toronto.

— George W. McCarthy, President and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Evidence across the world’s cities of less-siloed approaches to dealing with urban sustainability and climate change issues, meaning greater collaboration across sectors and governance scales to tackle these issues comprehensively alongside development. Also, the greater use of mechanisms that encourage democratic and participatory approaches to finding solutions; these would include, in particular, the voices of marginalized and disadvantaged groups so that sustainable futures are shaped based on the needs and desires of those affected.

— Corrie Griffith, UGEC Project, Arizona State University, USA

Two decades is a short period of time in the history of a city, but it also long enough for a lot of change. The city we want should be inclusive, equal, transparent, sustainable and green, and where all inhabitants can help shape public life. Anyhow, this is what we have been advocating for in the last year by pushing for the inclusion of the concept of the “right to the city”. It promotes the fact that everyone should have access to the resources, services, goods and opportunities that their city brings in a fair, universal, democratic and sustainable way.

— Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)

The aspirations of SDG 11 will have been realized and, if not fully manifested in the shape and nature of cities, at least that the pace of urban growth and the rate of urbanization will be surpassed by investment in infrastructure for adequate service delivery and by economic growth strategies that will enable greater, more equitable prosperity and lessen inequality. Significant increase in number of people living in decent housing and neighbourhoods; significant increase in jobs, innovation and economic growth; significant decrease in “economic” migration. Short version: Cities as the foundation for an equitable, secure, sustainable and peaceful world.

— Judith Hermanson, IHC Global (Coalition for Inclusive Housing and Sustainable Cities)

I very much hope that there is a global, city-led increase in data capacity, and data-driven decision-making not just for the reasons laid out in previous questions but to build more open and transparent governance at the city level. Additionally, I believe that better knowledge sharing, coordination and dialogue between different levels of government will be essential. With a strong focus on open data, cities around the world will be able to foster greater citizen engagement and increase accountability. I believe that this shift will help to create a more sustainable, smart, inclusive, resilient and prosperous world.

— Patricia McCarney, President & CEO, World Council on City Data

We’re facing a pivotal moment for the future of cities and our world, and have a very clear choice to make. We must either transform our cities and their growth to reflect more compact, connected and coordinated patterns of development that are inclusive and more accessible for all, or we will fail to reach our climate and sustainable development targets. It is up to countries to realize their commitments, or else there will be rapid increase in poverty and environmental devastation as the impacts of climate change intensify. The New Urban Agenda should not be seen as another request from the international community. Rather, all countries and stakeholders should see the New Urban Agenda as a critical opportunity to create the real change that our world will need in the coming decades.

— Holger Dalkmann and Alyssa Fischer, World Resources Institute

We hope to see a world where inequalities have been drastically reduced, one of the major challenges for urban life today. As a network of local governments that engages in international cooperation, we would want to see cities committed to assisting one another in the achievement of sustainable development, in an open and self-critical manner. This could be through decentralized cooperation partnerships, such as peer-to-peer exchange, thematic networks, policy co-production. Networks like PLATFORMA will continue to advocate for the relevance of city to city cooperation for cities and for the global goals.

— Wouter Boesman, Policy Advisor, PLATFORMA — The European Voice of Local and Regional Governments for Development

Surely, there is no “silver bullet”, but we are certain of something: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else”, as Yogi Berra famously said. So the New Urban Agenda is a roadmap of where we want to go. We hope cities, national governments, civil society, business and individuals will use it to guide them wherever they want to go. If they use it well, all cities and human settlements will go somewhere near towards achieving the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda. They will be healthier, safer, more inclusive, more resilient and sustainable. For policymakers, the New Urban Agenda is a political, social, economic and environmental tool that will enable them to achieve better urbanization, which, in turn, will provide better conditions for economic activities, enhance productivity and, at the same time, improve local governments’ technical capacities to deploy better services and infrastructure. When the model is scaled up, then prosperity will increase from neighbourhoods to regional, to metropolitan level. In this case, good maps and senior explorers are needed, but necessity generates demand, so more specialists, policymakers and dialogues will emerge. With cities growing and expanding, these explorers — the city leaders — will be able to transformatively change the landscape of the world’s cities.

— Marco Kamiya, UN-Habitat, head of Urban Economy and Finance Branch

We hope that in 20 years’ time, local governments will have substantially advanced on all of ICLEI’s 10 Urban Agendas, which aim for sustainable, resilient, resource-efficient, biodiverse and low-carbon cities with smart infrastructure and inclusive, green urban economy that ultimately create healthy and happy communities. Our network is using these agendas as a pathway for localizing the Sustainable Development Goals, among other global sustainability frameworks. We also hope that in this time, the interaction between local governments and global and national frameworks will have improved in at least one key aspect: that local governments will have better mechanisms for building their capacity, assisted through substantial and sustainable funding and national policy frameworks. In the next 20 years we need to ensure we keep moving — and ever faster — in the right direction. What is at stake is not just the urban development of the next 20 years, but the balance of the planet for the next 200.

— Yunus Arikan, Head of Global Policy and Advocacy, ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability

Over the next two decades, cities will keep on growing and expanding, room will be needed to host urban dwellers and activities. The major change to ensure urbanization is sustainable mainly lies in the way public policies tackle the issue: from considering informal urbanization a problem to a solution, from considering expansion as uncontrollable to an opportunity to prepare for liveable and inclusive places, from applying standardized planning solutions to accepting various realities. The major change to happen is in the way we approach urbanization and develop new models, new tools, new frameworks, new partnerships to work with cities the way they are, rather than trying to make them fit in international models. This is the only way innovation and alternatives can emerge to leave no urban dweller behind. The world’s cities must change their policy and management frameworks — that would be the best accomplishment from international and local communities to improve urban living conditions for all.

— Laure Criqui, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI)

We expect in 20 years to be able to report back (accountability) on the commitments that are generating today. From TECHO, the main symbol of success will be in overcoming the injustice of informal settlements as the highest expression of inequality and exclusion in the cities of Latin America and the world. We must commit ourselves for the Habitat IV summit, to live in more equalitarian, solidarity and participative cities. This commitment is especially important for the younger generation, since today we are the youths who will have to answer the result of the challenges that are currently set. And in that sense, youths must play a leading role in both the conference and the implementation of the New Agenda Urbana. In two decades, Latin America and the world must be different. And for that we need to transform our societies of privileges into societies of rights, where any citizen will be in the obligation to live in an informal settlement. We see this as the only possible way to meet in 2036 with a different scenario, the result of broad participation in the effort to change our reality.

— Luis Bonilla, Chief Operating Officer, TECHO International

The just and sustainable city of the new century will be a city in which the decision-making processes are not monopolized by a few “representatives” and political parties, but are in the hands of the communities; the land, the infrastructure, the facilities and the public and private resources are distributed for social use and enjoyment; the city is recognized as a result of the productive contributions of the different actors and the goal of the economic activities is the collective wellbeing; all human rights are respected, protected and guaranteed for everyone; and we conceive ourselves as part of nature, and nature as something sacred that we all should take care of. In an urban century, the just city would be the result of, and at the same time the condition for, a just society on a healthy planet. A real change of paradigm will necessarily include a serious questioning of the current production, distribution and consumption patterns, of goods and services in general and of human settlements in particular. Social mobilization and community innovation will be the key condition to make it happen. HIC and the Global Platform for the Right to the City are committed to that.

— Lorena Zárate, President, Habitat International Coalition (HIC)

Cities and towns will be the focus of civic life, each different from the other. Human settlements will be net carbon sinks. There will still be a hierarchy of property values but prices will be stable and boring — ending the cancer of gentrification and “up and coming” neighbourhoods that decays urban fabric. Public transport will be cheap, comfortable, frequent and multi-modal with increasing use of water. Food will be carbon priced, therefore urban farms will predominate and advanced cities will resemble villages with livestock and poultry in open view — sharing some spaces with people. These features will be common to all cities. Political choices will be about smart cities vs. individual agency. Some will favour super-smart cities in which the aspirational daily life no longer requires mobility, decision or danger. Others will prefer going “human” and favouring cognitive engagement, physical commuting and muscular movement. Opening the window by hand rather than by blinking will be seen as trendy and edgy. Dumb apartments will be a niche but growing market. Innovative efficient mechanics for sash windows will be the type of cutting edge technology driving employment.

— David Hugh Jackson, Director of Local Development Finance, United Nations Capital Development Fund

In 20 years, cities will prioritize renewable energy and maximize energy efficiency; many cities will run on 100 percent renewable energy production and consumption. City development will start with a focus on people-centred planning, ensuring access to: housing, neighbourhoods and urban infrastructure that support quality of life for all of a city’s residents; safe and varied public spaces; employment opportunities in close proximity; and sustainable mobility systems, including active transport alternatives, such as cycling and walking, to access these places. City planning will better integrate the natural environment in and around cities, wherein the benefits of green and blue spaces are better understood for their contribution to: more resilient cities, improved air quality, healthy active citizens, and access to local food from urban and peri-urban agriculture. Planning and policy will mainstream the use of renewable resources, building circular economies based on closed-loop systems, where wastes are resources. Finally, the perception of urban slums will have shifted. Cities will realize that their inhabitants provide vital contributions to the city and deserve the same access to basic services and quality of life as other residents, thus integrating these areas fully into the urban fabric.

— Jeet Mistry and Jennifer Lenhart, WWF

Unprecedented urban growth will generate tremendous opportunities but also extraordinary challenges. It is worth recalling that the most explosive forms of urbanization over the coming decades will occur in Africa and South Asia, especially fast-growing small and medium-sized cities. Yet these are precisely the parts of the world least equipped to manage the urban transition. The extent to which municipal authorities are empowered and resourced to address massive urbanization — including the provision of services — is unclear. The agenda offers a forward-looking and action-oriented set of prescriptions to help shape more sustainable urban growth. If implemented with fidelity by national, state and city authorities, it could help lay the foundations for more inclusive planning in those parts of the world that most urgently require support. It could also help reshape incentives for multilateral, bilateral and private investment in cities as engines of democratic renewal, green growth and improved livelihoods, rather than a new generation of fragile cities that set development back generations.

— Robert Muggah, Igarapé Institute and SecDev Foundation

I hope that cities and villages (and all areas in between), are equitable and just spaces where the human rights of all are fulfilled. I hope there is a restructuring of the macroeconomic paradigm to incorporate human rights principles, and that the market does not control people’s lives and livelihoods the way it does. I hope that states focus on investing in rural areas and promoting a more balanced form of development, not merely one that focuses on urbanization. I also hope that we can develop de-urbanization strategies that promote the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainability while respecting people’s choices over their lives/livelihoods. While the population of cities will grow, the world needs to ensure that rural areas are not left behind and that rural populations, including indigenous peoples, small farmers/forest-workers/fishers and others, are not exploited/displaced to sustain the global urbanization paradigm. Given grossly inadequate living conditions, land grabbing, homelessness and chronic displacement, it is essential to develop durable solutions with people’s movements, affected communities and local governments. States must meet their legal obligations and not retract on commitments. I hope that states work to reduce consumption, invest in social/public/low-cost housing, promote human rights-based urban/agrarian reform, develop human rights indicators to monitor progress, and create human rights habitats in urban and rural areas.

— Shivani Chaudhry, Executive Director, Housing and Land Rights Network, India

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