Major umbrella group of Habitat III stakeholders holds second meeting

The General Assembly of Partners now has chairs and co-chairs, official legitimacy, and is looking to pour its recommendations for the New Urban Agenda into a single document.

Members of a Habitat III General Assembly of Partners constituent group gather during the body's second meeting, 2 October in New York. (Laura Toledo/Huairou Commission)

NEW YORK — Room 407 looks like the average university lecture hall. Desks with wooden armrests for taking notes are crammed together amphitheater-style in a windowless room. But its humble appearance belies the history of the Alvan Johnson/J. M. Kaplan Auditorium at the New School, a university here known for its progressive bent.

“This is a room of big ideas and activism,” explained Michael Cohen, director of the university’s International Affairs Program. “This is the auditorium where Hannah Arendt gave lectures and where Occupy Wall Street was planned.”

Grass-roots activists took note of this history as business leaders squeezed past them for a seat. Cohen wasn’t addressing students on 2 October but rather the second meeting of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP), the key stakeholder body created in the run-up to Habitat III, next year’s United Nations conference on cities in Quito, Ecuador.

[See: New General Assembly of Partners aims to broaden global focus on Habitat III]

As a conference under U. N. auspices, Habitat III will be chiefly negotiated by the global body’s 193 member states. Local government — mayors and local officials — will also likely have some kind of seat at the table, as they did in Istanbul at Habitat II in 1996. Already, they have organized into the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, which is planning to host a second World Assembly of Cities and Local Leaders at Habitat III.

The GAP, meanwhile, is a special initiative of the World Urban Campaign, with a goal of amplifying the voice of all those who are interested in sustainable urbanization but are not a national or local government. That represents a broad group. Hence, a Jamaican women’s rights activist settling in next to a Dutch engineering executive at the GAP’s recent second meeting.

But with a constitution and structure in place following the group’s first meeting, which took place in April during formal Habitat III preparatory negotiations in Nairobi, President Eugénie L. Birch (also chair of the World Urban Campaign) is confident that “Mind the GAP” is quickly become more than just a catchphrase worthy of a chuckle.

“We know how to play and how to organize,” Birch told the auditorium.

[See: Civil society must ensure equitable inclusion in Habitat III]

Since the Nairobi sessions, the Habitat III Bureau — the body, composed of eight member states, that is shepherding the process through the U. N. bureaucracy — has acknowledged that the GAP’s eventual input, a document known as The City We Need, will be a formal contribution to the New Urban Agenda, the 20-year urbanization strategy that will come out of next year’s conference.

The Habitat III Secretariat has also thrown its support behind the GAP, agreeing to fund the travel of all chairs and co-chairs for the 14 constituent partner groups that make up the body. (See below for a full list of these groups, chairs and co-chairs.) The GAP will also serve on the advisory board for the remaining regional and thematic meetings, providing them with influence on one of the biggest formal contributions to the New Urban Agenda.

[See: Habitat III stakeholder umbrella group to receive official financial support]

“We hope that The City We Need is not a lobbying document but will remain forever,” said Habitat III Secretariat Coordinator Ana Moreno, who is already looking beyond Quito. “We know how to organize parties, but [we’re] not so good on the post-party,” she said.

Moreno continued: “I hope we are all thinking about the day after. We need to implement. This is a conference about legacy, not about organizing a conference.”

Social movement

If the GAP has its way, that legacy will include the concerns of the poorest urban dwellers, those most in need of a sustainable urbanization paradigm that takes root worldwide. Among them are workers in the informal economy, which represents 70 percent of the global economy, according to activists with Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).

“The informal economy is growing, and this is an opportunity,” said Gloria Solorzano Espinosa of the National Self-Employed Workers of Peru, speaking through an interpreter. “I want to make sure that the voice of informal workers is brought to the table.”

“We hope that The City We Need is not a lobbying document but will remain forever. We know how to organize parties, but [we’re] not so good on the post-party.”

Ana Moreno
Coordinator, Habitat III Secretariat

But part of the challenge is getting everyone to speak the same language — across cultures, class, profession and education.

“This house should be ready to help us understand your language,” urged Rose Molokoane of Slum/Shack Dwellers International’s South African chapter and a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement. She emphasized that local governments in the developing world must work with grass-roots leaders to ensure that urban-development projects are implemented sustainably and equitably.

[See: Bridging the GAP: Urban advocacy for children and youths]

The downtown Manhattan setting for the GAP’s second convening was very much an urban context for a movement about cities and human settlements. According to Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute of Housing Studies, that is no accident. “Social movements like the abolition of slavery and the workers movement — all of them have been fought in cities,” he reminded the crowd.

As for the features of this particular social movement, Birch asserted, “We will only be strong if we stand together.” She emphasized three goals of the movement in the year ahead of Habitat III: legitimacy, engagement and operations.

Bridging the GAP

In the coming months, Citiscope will spotlight how the 14 GAP constituent groups are preparing for Habitat III, with a focus on why sustainable urban development matters to the members of each. Here is where the elected GAP chairs and co-chairs stand at the moment.

1. Local and subnational authorities

Interim co-chair: Yunus Arikan, ICLEI; and organizing partner, Local Authorities Major Group (Germany)  

Interim co-chair: Emilia Saiz, Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments (Spain)

2. Research and Academia

Chair: Sahar Attia, University of Cairo (Egypt)

Co-chair: Enrique Silva, Lincoln Institute for Land Policy (USA)

3. Civil Society Organizations

Chair: Jane Katz, Habitat for Humanity (USA)

Co-chair: Greg Budworth, Compass Housing (Australia)

4. Grassroots Organizations

Chair: Gloria Solorzana Espinosa, National Self-Employed Workers Network (Peru)

Co-chair: Rose Molokoane, Slum/Shack Dwellers International (South Africa)

5. Women

Chair: Katja Araujo, Huairou Commission (USA)

Co-chair: Theresa Boccia, Association des Femmes de l’Europe Méridionale (Italy)

6. Parliamentarians

Chair: Jerko Rosin, Habitat Agenda Partner Parliamentarians (Croatia)

Co-chair: Peter Goetz, Habitat Agenda Partner Parliamentarians (Germany)

7.  Children and Youth

Chair: Hirotaka Koike, UN Major Group for Children and Youth (Japan)

Co-chair: Joyati Das, World Vision International (Australia)

8.  Business and Industries

Chair: Carina Larsfälten, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (Switzerland)

Co-chair: Bert Smolders, Arcadis (The Netherlands)

9.  Foundations and Philanthropies

Chair: Oscar Fergutz, Avina Foundation (Panama)

Co-chair: Ana Marie Argilagos, Ford Foundation (USA)

10. Professionals

Chair: Didier Vancutsem, ISOCARP (Germany)

Co-chair: Ishtiaque Zahir Titas, (Bangladesh)

11. Trade Unions and Workers

Chair: Albert Emilio (Ambet) Yuson, Building and Woodworkers International (Switzerland)

Co-chair: (TBA)

12.  Farmers

Chair: Mildred Crawford, Caribbean Network of Rural Women Producers (Jamaica)

Co-chair: Martha Andzie Yeful (Martha Ansah Conduah), ACAIRWF Advocacy of Climate Change and its Impact on Rural Women Farmers of Ghana (Ghana)

13.  Indigenous People

Chair: Ndinini Kimesera Sikar, Masai Women Development Organization (Tanzania)

Co-chair: Analucy Bengochea, Garifuna Emergency Committee of Honduras (Honduras)

14. Media

Chair: Nicholas You, International Mayors Communications Centre (Kenya)

Co-chair: Richard Forster, Cities Today (Great Britain)

Other GAP officers

President: Eugénie L. Birch, University of Pennsylvania (USA)

Vice president: Shipra Narang Suri, ISOCARP (India)

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