From October 17 to 20, the capital city of Ecuador, Quito, hosted Habitat III – the United States Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. During that time, heads of State and their representatives, in addition to hundreds of mayors and representatives of civil society and of national and local governments, came together to finalize the document and the action plan for the “New Urban Agenda” to be implemented over the next 20 years.
Clima e Sociedade took part in the meeting, which was attended by its Coordinator of Urban Mobility Portfolio, Walter Figueiredo de Simoni. Additionally, the institute supported the attendance of four of its grantees – representatives of the organizations Cidade a Pé , Bike Anjo , A Cidade Precisa de Você and Corrida Amiga .
Several other institutions and entities that are partners and grantees of Clima e Sociedade, such as Casa Fluminense, WRI, ITDP, Avina and Fundação Ford, also took part in the conference. The debates during the Conference were focused on the progression of the development of cities around the world, since 3.9 billion people (nearly 50% of the global population) live in approximately 1 million urban centers. They are responsible for the generation of roughly 70% of the global GDP.
“The expectation of our attendance was not so much related to the official programming, since we were all familiar with the New Urban Agenda and the discussions were focused on the process of its implementation. Our focus was on the parallel events that took place concomitantly to the official discussions held by the diplomats”, says Walter.
De Simoni was also invited to moderate a parallel panel organized by the European Cyclists’ Federation, which took place in the same venue as the official discussions, dealing with climate changes and bicycle use.
“A few days before the opening of Habitat III, an event known as Youth Habitat was held, with many interesting discussions and moments of exchange occurring between the academia and the private sector. During the Conference itself, one point drew attention: there is a real attempt to bring together different long-term points of discussion of the United Nations, such as climate change, with the urban agenda. But this is still not very clearly discernible when you go down to the level of cities and civil society. This creates a concern, since numerous short-term problems such as quality of life and sanitation, among others, have been identified. You have to think about how to bring all these issues together”, he says.
One option is to reflect on the urgencies of cities dealing with resilience and adaptation, says Walter. The Quito Conference reinforced the perception that two narratives are more evident – the first, which emphasizes the social issue at the center of the debate, involving accessibility to everyone and more human public spaces; and the other, which is technology-oriented, targeting so-called smart cities and focusing on solutions such as the use of electric cars and the democratization of photovoltaic energy. The instances in which the two sides of this same coin were actually found to coexist were rare.
“One of our challenges going forward, in Clima e Sociedade, is to understand how these narratives can dialogue”, concluded Walter.
As a United Nations member State, Brazil should use the New Urban Agenda as a commitment to guide its actions over the next two decades. It is true, however, that this is a non-binding commitment, which exempts countries from liability should they decide not to comply with it.