U.N. marks Urban October, one-year countdown to Habitat III

This year’s month-long series of events will focus on public space.

October is especially meaningful in many countries as marking a definitive change in the seasons. Now it’s supposed to be city lovers’ favourite month, as well.

Last year, UN-Habitat declared the whole month “Urban October”, building on its longstanding custom of celebrating World Habitat Day on the first Monday of the month. The expanded celebration will now also be bookended by a newcomer, World Cities Day, on 31 October.

In between, the organizers of next year’s Habitat III summit on urbanization will host a thematic meeting on metropolitan areas in Montreal (6-7 October) and the Asia-Pacific regional meeting in Jakarta (20-21 October). A variety of Urban Thinkers Campuses are also scheduled to take place.

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UN-Habitat will also host a design competition in illustration, photography and infographics. In turn, the agency hopes that its global partners will make an extra strong push to advocate for urban issues this month — especially in light of the recent passage of the Sustainable Development Goals, which include a landmark focus on cities and human settlements, the urban SDG.

Last year’s Urban October generated 120 events worldwide, according to UN-Habitat. “Through your partnership and support in raising awareness of events held over the years, we have kept the discussion on sustainable urbanization alive,” UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos wrote in a letter announcing the initiative.

While World Habitat Day is in theory a global event, this year UN-Habitat’s headlining efforts will take place in New York City, where a daylong celebration under the theme “Public Spaces for All” will take place on Monday. The event will interrogate global case studies and theories on public space, especially in light of the urban SDG’s target on the topic: “By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”

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

Indeed, many observers suggest that the inclusion of public space in a global development agenda is even more exceptional than the stand-alone urban goal itself.

This year’s World Habitat Day hopes to define the best way to measure public space, given that the United Nations’ next task is to agree on a set of indicators for benchmarking its new development goals. The target’s emphasis on women has also led to a partnership with UN Women, which has a longstanding campaign to promote gender-equal public spaces where women and girls can be free from sexual harassment and violence.

[See: Habitat III is a critical opportunity for grass-roots women]

UN-Habitat’s celebration on 5 October will earn its global chops with guests from Argentina, Brazil, Grenada, Italy, Singapore and Sweden. But it really shines with experts from the field based in its host city, such as architect Daniel Liebskind, planner Mitch Silver and sociologist Sassia Sasken.

To close out Urban October, UN-Habitat will mark the final day of the Milan World Expo with a roundtable on the theme “Designed to live together” at the Palazzo Reale. World Cities Day will be the last of three U. N. days to have been held during the months-long expo.

More information can be found here.

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