The official Habitat III conference has not yet started, but a whole range of initiatives and representatives of organisations already shared their views on how to implement the New Urban Agenda once it has been adopted.
The tasks to implement the New Urban Agenda after its adoption at the Habitat III conference are a challenge not only for national governments. Local governments and municipalities need to develop strategies to achieve the sustainable development goals on a local level. They cannot succeed on their own: Any progress and any change will promise a larger impact when cities work hand in hand with their surrounding areas. How to foster inter-municipal partnerships as well as rural-urban cooperation was discussed by representatives from Germany and Latin America at the German Pavilion at Habitat III on Sunday morning.
Cities and their surroundings differ in multiple aspects, and they all maintain different relationships with their suburbs and surrounding areas. Local authorities and organisations that are engaged in cooperative partnerships across city boundaries have to be aware that each city is unique with regards to a whole variety of aspects. Many cities already see themselves as players in regional partnerships – but many do not.
It is usually bigger cities that have a stronger interest in working together with rural areas, especially in terms of housing or commuting. In particular, cooperation is sought when cities and their surroundings share a common social identity. Without common values, a successful cooperation is hard to achieve. Smaller cities do not always feel the same need for deepening rural-urban linkages, since they tend to not regard cooperation as necessary as their bigger sisters do. But it is especially the smaller cities that often lack the capacity and the financial resources to realise sustainable development. Here, such inter-municipal cooperation and partnerships can be a real advantage. Providing a political framework and incentives at national level that facilitate and promote such localised partnerships may thus turn out to be very helpful to form different forms of cooperation in order to achieve the sustainable development goals.
Gender-sensitive urban development
But how can the New Urban Agenda be implemented in fragile countries like Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon? For the speakers of the event “Gender-Sensitive Urban Development in the Middle East” it was clear: not without women. The three countries have to deal with extreme political tension, they have rural areas with high unemployment rates, and the ongoing refugee crisis has put further stress on the countries’ infrastructure as well as on their political administrations. Though gender equality in Lebanon, for example, has made it into the constitution, women are still underrepresented in politics and leadership.
Without recognizing women as important actors, for example in politics, the New Urban Agenda will not be successfully implemented in the respective countries. The fact that urban development has not always been centred around sustainability can in parts be attributed to the exclusion of women from politics and leadership. The panelists explained that women in the Middle East are experts in serving their communities. They understand how important it is to have water at home and to provide medical support to their families and other citizens. In the region, women are regarded as leaders in the domestic domain, but they are not necessarily considered as leaders in politics – also because many women believe politics to be a male domain. By empowering women to take action and be part of city councils they begin to see politics and leadership as female domains, too. Their empowerment makes the whole society stronger. Empowering women to take part in politics and decision-making processes on different levels of governance thus also supports the successful implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
Early movers and how they work on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda
So, how exactly is the New Urban Agenda going to be implemented at national level? This remains a major challenge for the future. Though the Agenda heralds an urban paradigm shift it refrains from giving practical information on implementation. Early movers from South Africa, Egypt and Ecuador shared their experience in developing national strategies to bring the New Urban Agenda to life. When Ecuador, for example, was announced to host the Habitat III conference, it soon became clear that one of the country’s challenges was urban planning. The need to educate and train urban planners was so obvious that Ecuador started to open training facilities for urban planning. Thus, becoming the host country for Habitat III triggered a change in thinking about urban development on the local level. Since then, Ecuador took concrete steps to work on a national legal framework on urban development.
Egypt, on the other hand, is planning the process to implement the New Urban Agenda with a variety of stakeholders. However, it does not yet have a roadmap for the implementation. Moreover, the panelist made it quite clear that the country does not have enough own resources for implementing the Agenda, although it acknowledges the necessity of a national action plan.
South Africa is already one step further: it has already finalised an action plan and a National Urban Policy. In order to learn what is needed to create livable cities South African metropolitan regions are eager to build partnerships, not only locally but on a global scale. To provide solutions for questions like how to manage transport problems or how to provide the financial means for i.e. infrastructure projects, knowledge sharing is key. The South African experience shows that implementation policies laid out by single actors will inevitably fail. Processes that include a broad variety of stakeholders might be more difficult to handle and take more time, but they are ultimately bound to succeed because different voices are heard and represented in the decision-making processes. This, in turn, creates ownership and legitimizes political action.
Financing the sustainable infrastructure of the future
Implementing the New Urban Agenda in order to achieve the sustainable development goals always include the provision of sustainable infrastructure – which is costly. There is a need to invest in climate sensitive, inclusive and equitable solutions, be it carbon-neutral transportation, efficient waste management and recycling systems, heating, housing or almost any other infrastructure project to be launched. The estimated costs of sustainable infrastructure to be built until 2030 will exceed the total value of the already existing infrastructure – globally! There is a whole new world to build, but who is going to pay for it? Cities, that much is clear, need investors.
Institutions such as the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA), C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) all work with similar approaches to help cities. They provide project preparation support and build the bridge between financiers and municipalities to implement tailor-made solutions. All three initiatives are financed and coordinated by several donors, working across countries and directly with cities. While the three initiatives differ from one another – C40, for example, working on a global scale while the other two are working regionally – they share a unique approach: they do not only provide advisory services to cities and their representatives and match promising projects and financiers. They also build up capacities and share knowledge to enable cities to plan and implement future projects all by themselves. In that regard, these initiatives truly follow the idea of empowering cities as key development actors for realising sustainable development worldwide.