The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Greg Foster, Area Vice-President, Habitat for Humanity EMEA.

Habitat III, the third United Nations conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, will take place in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016. The influential global forum that happens every 20 years seeks to reinvigorate commitment to sustainable urbanization and adopt a New Urban Agenda.

But Habitat III does not attract as much publicity or passion as the climate change talks and climate commitments adopted in Paris. Many ask why we need a New Urban Agenda, what is new with housing and cities that has not been there for the past 20 years, and why should the EU care?

The answer is straightforward. If we do not focus on urban development and planning now, we will deal with failed cities and metropolitan chaos in the years to come.

The world is witnessing unprecedented urban growth. The UN estimates that by 2050 more than 60% of the population will live in cities mainly in Asia and Africa, and in the countries least prepared and able to meet the growing needs of urban residents. In Africa alone, more than 350 million people will move into cities. This is more than Europe’s current total of city dwellers. The big difference is that these new city dwellers will not have homes. Many end up in informal settlements where poor living conditions, corruption and exploitation are commonplace. If they find land or houses, it is often on slopes that are subject to landslides, on beaches, or in areas that are not safe.

Up until now, international development has looked at housing and land rights as a rural problem. People need land to grow their crops, farm and generate income. However, with the increasing numbers of people moving from rural areas into cities, addressing urban land is crucial. If the Sustainable Development Goal 11 of achieving ‘resilient cities’ is to be realized, we should solve urban challenges and need policies to do it.

In March, the governments of Europe signed the Prague Declaration as a lead up to Habitat III. The document calls for “inclusive and safe cities” and says that urban poverty can be reduced and prevented through “inclusive decision-making, equal access to affordable housing, transparent and efficient delivery of basic services including water and sanitation, mobility and public and green spaces, safeguarding tenure security.”

Now we need to put this into action. The EU, as the biggest development donor and a knowledge “power-house” for urban development, can play a leading role in shaping the New Urban Agenda. European states have experience of urban development with the rebuilding of the continent after WWII. The EU has played a role in reintegrating and reinvigorating Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It can share its experience of good urban governance, transparency and rights based approach, especially related to gender rights.

The EU member states have been working on developing Europe’s Urban Agenda. Why not link this process to the global Urban Agenda of Habitat III and climate change commitments? EU aid policies should consider tenure rights in the urban environment, promote development of secondary cities and involve communities and women into the process.

If we get this New Urban Agenda right and come up with the specific measures to trace progress, we can start to solve existing problems and ride the approaching urbanization wave. Otherwise, let’s prepare for more troubles and failures for the next 20 years. And it will cost us more.

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