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Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

Habitat III was the third edition of the “United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development”, held previously in Vancouver (1976) and Istanbul (1996). After a long preparatory process, the United Nations hosted Habitat III final summit in October 2016 in Quito (Ecuador). Its main goal was to renew the international community's commitment towards sustainable urban development through the adoption of a “New Urban Agenda” (finally adopted in Quito's Summit). Our Committee, UCLG and other partners took an active role in this process with a view to offer a platform for local governments participation, as well as to defend the inclusion of the “Right to the City” and human rights-related concepts in the final version of the New Urban Agenda (NUA).



The Habitat III Summit relied on the resolutions already adopted at the Habitat II Conference held in Istanbul back in 1996. This event provided an important step forward in regards to the increasing recognition of local and regional authorities as pillars of more effective development at the local level. In order to know more about earlier editions of the UN Habitat Conference, you can refer to this publication by Habitat International Coalition (focusing mainly on civil society contribution).

Several challenges were identified in advance by local government and urban stakeholders: Assuring the renewal of political commitments for sustainable urban development; measuring the progress made since Habitat II; exploring new solutions to urban poverty and the rise of inequalities; as well as identifying new emerging urban challenges. 

UN member states would participate in the Summit and play a central role in defining its final outcomes. Many other relevant stakeholders would nonetheless be invited to take part in the process: civil society, regional and local governments, experts, professionals and researchers, women and youth associations, trade unions, the private sector and many UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations...

Habitat III came after the conclusion of several UN summits, such as the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (Sendai, March 2015), the Summit on Financing for Development (Addis Abeba, July 2016), the General Assembly of the UN on Sustainable Development Goals (New York, September 2015), the World Summit on Climate Change  (Paris, December 2015). The New Urban Agenda would turn the results of these conferences into policies and actions for sustainable urban development.

The UCLG CSIPDHR strategy 

On the basis of members’ commitments and the participation of civil society and academia groups in the network, our Committee focused its “Habitat III strategy” in promoting networking around the notion of Right to the City. Earlier initiatives led by Committee members led to identify this notion as key to build just, inclusive, democratic and sustainable cities. Networking around the right to the city aimed ultimately at achieving its recognition by the New Urban Agenda. To achieve this goal, the Committee would develop a twofold, intertwined strategy:

  • Participating in civil society initiatives for human rights and the right to the city, advocating for the inclusion of these concepts in the final version of the New Urban Agenda, mostly within the Global Platform for the Right to the City;

[ Know more on our Committee's approach to the Right to the City during the Habitat III process ] 

Habitat III Preparatory process

In addition to the contributions made by UN member states, the Habitat III preparatory process counted with three main ways to formulate recommendations in the drafting of the New Urban Agenda to be adopted in the Quito Conference: Regional and Thematic Meetings, Preparatory Committees and Policy Units – formed by experts that elaborated policy papers on 10 areas identified by UN Habitat: Right to the City and Cities for All; socio-cultural urban framework; national urban policies; urban governance, capacity and institutional development; municipal finances and local fiscal systems; urban spatial strategies, land markets and segregation; urban economic development strategies; urban ecology and resilience; urban services and technology, and housing policies.

[ Know more on Habitat III’s preparatory process and UCLG CSIPDHR Contribution on it ]

Habitat III Summit and Follow-up

Between 16 and 21 October 2016, a UCLG CSIPDHR delegation was in Quito to attend the Habitat III final summit and the alternative forums that were organized meanwhile. One of its main highlights was to see that the Right to the City – which the Committee had been advocating for the last four years – was unanimously defended by the Mayors gathering in the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments, and therefore supporting the mention of such a right in the Habitat III Agenda.

Through its participation in the Summit, and alongside its partners from the Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C), the Committee recalled how the Right to the City is rooted in internationally recognized human rights, aiming at guaranteeing that cities and human settlements are common goods, not a commodity. The Committee stressed how the Right to the City doesn’t mean an “obligation to the city”, and that the only sustainable urbanization model needs to lay upon the urban-rural continuum.

Finally, the Committee recalled that public finances – especially local ones- and multilateral funds are key for a universal implementation of the NUA. It also invited all stakeholders to set up a mechanism to monitor this agenda from a territorial perspective and involving inhabitants.

[ Read the report on the UCLG CSIPDHR participation in the Habitat III Summit and UCLG World Congress of 2016 ]

New challenges emerge in the implementation stage of the New Urban Agenda and other international instruments such as the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development:

  • Making sure that the Right to the City does not become the “obligation to the city” – this is a real risk in a principally urban world in which national and international migration to cities is usually not freely chosen and where the city is seen to be the only alternative, given the abandonment of rural development policies, land grabbing and the consequences of climate change.
  • Laying the legal foundations for the Right to the City so that it does not remain a mere vision, but a legal body rooted in human rights recognized by international treaties.
  • Guaranteeing the necessary public funds and resources both at local and global level so that cities are seen as common goods – faced with the current privatization trends and the Smart City model.
  • Setting up a Habitat III monitoring programme, based on the local level and rooted in indicators measuring the guarantee of the Right to the City.
  • Strengthening the social basis of the Right to the City and broadening the global movement advocating for it.