U.N. opens Urban Dialogues summaries to public comment

Stakeholders can comment on report of first major New Urban Agenda engagement for one week, through 24 August.

Following three weeks of open debate hosted on an online platform, the Habitat III Secretariat has released synthesis reports of the discussions for a one-week public comment period. The debates, called Urban Dialogues, took place during most of July, and reportedly drew the attention of some 10,000 users from almost 180 countries

Now, the Habitat III Urban Dialogues Draft Zero Summaries have collated ideas from the six discussion forums. These forums explored the central topics to be included by the Habitat III discussions, covering social cohesion and equity, urban frameworks, urban ecology and environment, urban housing and basic services, spatial development and urban economy.

These six themes were drawn from the Habitat IIIissue papers”, a series of documents highlighting the central concerns of 21st-century urban development. In turn, the papers and these six themes will constitute a core of the New Urban Agenda, the 20-year urbanization strategy that will come out of next year’s Habitat III cities conference in Quito.

[See: Six great ideas from the Habitat III Urban Dialogues]

The newly released summaries underscore the wide-ranging debates that took place through the Urban Dialogues, as well as the many cross-cutting issues that were raised.

For instance, public space, a topic that found its way into the new Sustainable Development Goals — specifically in Goal 11, the urban SDG — came up in conversations about social cohesion and equity as well as spatial development. Examples included the growth of a virtual commons in Malé, the capital of the Maldives, in lieu of adequate physical gathering spaces.

[See: Toward a global action plan for public space]

Migration has also become a hot-button topic in recent years, given the global rise in asylum-seekers and the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe. The issue and related concerns came up in the Urban Dialogues around the role of migrants as important actors in cities — and ones whose livelihoods should not be forgotten in discussions of social equity and the urban economy.

In addition, women, youths and labour received special mention in the online debates, as these demographics are officially recognized U. N. stakeholder groups (known as major groups). The discussion around social cohesion and equity also raised concerns about the plight of the disabled and the need for safe spaces in cities for LGBT communities.

The debate about urban frameworks included a spirited discussion on a number of key trends in contemporary urban thought, such as the importance of metropolitan governance and the Right to the City movement. Urban-rural linkages, a likely negotiating point among U. N. member states in the debate over the New Urban Agenda, were brought up in the spatial development discussion, drawing examples from Africa to Afghanistan.

The role of cities in the climate change debate has assumed prominence ahead of COP 21, the Paris climate summit that will begin in November. However, the Urban Dialogues discussion on urban ecology and environment focused more on resilience in the context of natural disasters under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was struck earlier this year. While it is true that such disasters are increasing in frequency because of climate change, the online debate did not address cities’ ability to mitigate climate change so much as look at ways to adapt to its most destructive effects.

[See: Cities can lead on climate action ahead of 2020 pledges]

Informality and transit

Multiple issues provided fodder for a rich conversation about urban economies — local economic development, promoting a culture of entrepreneurship, the role of informality, cultural industries, sustainable industrial policy and more. Case studies from Brazil and India provided examples, both good and bad, of how cities have addressed informal workers.

Informality was also a central theme of the debate on urban housing and basic services in light of the persistent challenge of informal housing. In addition to ways of ensuring adequate housing for the urban poor, users highlighted the importance of connecting housing, jobs and access to transportation — collectively, an idea known as transit-oriented development (TOD).

With responses and views being offered from established NGOs as well as individual users who could share experiences from their city or country, the Urban Dialogues covered a gamut of perspectives. Future such online debates will likely focus on the work of the “policy unit” experts, the 200 individuals who will study both the issue papers and Urban Dialogue debates and eventually offer thematic recommendations on the drafting and implementation of the New Urban Agenda. These 200 experts are expected to be announced next week.

The Habitat III Urban Dialogues Draft Zero Summaries are open to public review and suggestions until 24 August.

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