Three Reasons Habitat III Matters for Successful and Sustainable Urbanization

Posted by Nancy Stetson
October 10, 2016
The United States will participate in the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016. [State Department graphic]

Next week, 36,000 people will convene in Quito, Ecuador at Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on urbanization, to adopt the New Urban Agenda. This internationally negotiated agenda lays the foundation to address the challenges and opportunities posed by urbanization. The creation and adoption of the New Urban Agenda is the first opportunity for the global community to implement the COP 21 Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development. Importantly, the agenda reaffirms the principals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and emphasizes that no development issue stands alone. We cannot address SDG 11 on cities without simultaneously addressing all of the SDGs. Similarly, we will not be adequately prepared to welcome a growing world population and rapidly expanding cities without taking a comprehensive, integrated and locally-based approach.

Cities Matter

The world’s population is growing quickly and that much of that growth will occur in urban areas.

By 2030 it is estimated that 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. City growth at this scale is unprecedented and provides tremendous opportunities to shape urban environments around the world.

Manhattan skyline behind a Brooklyn Grange rooftop garden in New York City [AP Photo].

Urbanization is a megatrend with profound implications for climate change, economic growth, political stability, and security around the world. To meet the opportunities and challenges of the coming decades, the international community must enable and encourage an inclusive approach to sustainable urban growth. Habitat III provides an opportunity to share solutions for sustainable and positive urban development, and to build an approach to urbanization that is inclusive.

People Matter

Great ideas and best practices to address urbanization must come from all over the world. National governments, city leaders, civil society, and the private sector play an important role in enabling and encouraging sustainable urbanization.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi pose with U.S. and Chinese mayors after both diplomats delivered speeches on June 7, 2016, at the Beijing International Hotel in Beijing, China, during the U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit following a two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue between U.S. and Chinese officials. [State Department photo/Public Domain]

Successful urban solutions are tailored to local conditions and should include input from citizens and community leaders alike. National governments will play a critical role in developing principles and standards that cities can follow. But, the most successful solutions to urban challenges will originate locally and address local conditions.

The #NewUrbanAgenda can help cities get on track to a sustainable future

Conversations, events and forward planning during the Habitat III Conference next week will go far beyond the New Urban Agenda.

Traffic jams during rush hour at the main business district in Jakarta, Indonesia -- a megacity with over 9 million inhabitants. [AP Photo/Dita Alangkara]

As the United States Delegation prepares for next week’s conference, we know there is not a single approach for urbanization. We actively promoted six themes to address sustainable urbanization within the New Urban Agenda.

Climate Change: The rapid pace of urbanization means that urban areas are critical for action on climate change.

Resilience: Urban areas have unique vulnerabilities and opportunities related to food security, the delivery of health services and health security, and issues related to natural disasters, economic shocks, and migration. Identifying and addressing gaps in resilience will make our cities stronger and safer.

Good Governance: Urban capacity will need to increase in order to meet a growing list of governance challenges, including the basic delivery of services. Many of these challenges are specific to each city and will be critical to urban planning, regulation of service delivery and support of inclusive communities that enhance security.

Data: We must do more to improve and refine the availability, uniformity and accessibility of urban data globally so that scalable solutions can be developed based on sound evidence.

Financing: Urban areas have extensive needs, many of which may call for innovative finance that leverages all available sources of capital, ensures sustainability, and fosters partnerships with a variety of stakeholders. Expanding access to such financing is crucial to advancing priorities around development, governance and resilience.

Voice & Inclusiveness: We know that the only way to address the growing and complex challenges of rapid global urbanization is to engage all interested and vested parties in the process of finding and implementing solutions. Policies and practices need to be inclusive of all residents and stakeholders, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, economic status, national origin, age, disability, familial status, gender identity, and sexual orientation (including LGBTQ).

I am encouraged by the conversations, activity and preparations that have produced the New Urban Agenda and will provide for an exciting and impactful Habitat III Conference. I look forward to participating in the side events hosted by the U.S. Government and to achieving the New Urban Agenda.

About the Author: Ambassador Nancy Stetson serves as the U.S. Department of State's Special Representative for Habitat III.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on the Habitat III: Quito Comes to You publication on

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