Nordic region will be first to implement New Urban Agenda, declaration states

Stockholm hosted the first regional post-Habitat III gathering. Now, plans are afoot to have the Nordic region take first-mover steps to put into action the New Urban Agenda. (Nikolaev Mikhail/Shutterstock)

Cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen regularly top global quality-of life-indices, and now Nordic countries are hoping to share their success with the world.

A Swedish think tank is declaring that Nordic countries will be first out of the gate to implement the New Urban Agenda, a voluntary United Nations agreement adopted last year.

A declaration, released last week by Stockholm-based Global Utmaning, makes the case that delivering on the New Urban Agenda is essential meeting the broader ambitions of the U. N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). After all, the document notes, so many of the SDGs intersect with urban issues.

This argument was central to the Nordic — and broader European — position during the four months of negotiation that led to the adoption of the New Urban Agenda. Sweden, a major international donor, in turn appears to be making good on this position by spearheading Nordic strategy for turning these agendas into a reality.

The declaration highlights political leadership and a multi-stakeholder approach as essential to generating citizen participation, protecting the natural environment in cities, ensuring socio-economic well-being, offering a wide variety of housing choices and providing adequate mobility.

Initial steps were taken in December in Stockholm, at what was billed as the first regional gathering in the aftermath of Habitat III, the global summit at which the New Urban Agenda was adopted two months earlier.

[See: With Habitat III finished, what are cities’ next steps toward implementation?]

Sweden’s housing minister and Finland’s agriculture minister joined with the Swedish National Centre for Architecture and Design to hash out some of the key ideas presented in the Nordic Urban Ways report. That study, presented at Habitat III, sought to offer a set of principles that have made Nordic cities so appealing for everyone from stylish travel guide writers to refugees desperate for a better life.

“We have been determined to make this conference as a support and a tool for implementation, and a platform for sharing Nordic experience in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda,” said Global Utmaning senior adviser Inga Björk Klevby.

Throughout 2017, Global Utmaning intends to be the main civil society actor pushing for the incorporation of the New Urban Agenda and SDGs into Nordic policy, as well as fielding requests for assistance from abroad.

[See: How do we involve the public in implementing the SDGs?]

Within the region, the think tank will be formulating a proposed new national urban policy for Sweden that would incorporate the global agendas. It also will be cooperating with the Global Goals Lab, an initiative to jump-start data collection pertaining to the SDGs.

Why, not what

But the aim doesn’t stop at Nordic borders. Overseas, Global Utmaning hopes to distill and translate these experiences for broad applicability.

A key example could be the region’s decentralized governance system, where local municipalities have taxing authority that allows them to raise revenue. With tweaks, such a set-up could work almost anywhere.

[See: How will we monitor the New Urban Agenda? This U. N. process will decide]

“In comparison to many others that showcase good examples, we prefer focusing on the why instead of the what — that is, the conditions permitting certain measures to be taken and therefore can inspire others in dramatically different contexts,” said Global Utmaning project manager Elin Andersdotter Fabre.

In particular, the Swedish government is hoping to export its first-in-the-world “feminist foreign policy” in the urban sector.

“Girls and young women, particularly in disadvantaged urban areas, are those who risk lagging behind if we do not put particular focus on that group,” Fabre said. “This is a reality in Swedish suburbs as well as in slums in sub-Saharan Africa. If we build the city for girls, it will work for everyone — but not the other way around.”

This year, Global Utmaning hopes to organize a Nordic Urban Forum to deepen understanding of the region’s urban lessons for the world.

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Gregory Scruggs is a senior correspondent for Citiscope. Full bio

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