Habitat III: Co-producing Sustainable Cities?

Habitat III: Co-producing Sustainable Cities?

Skyline from ShenzhenThe Chinese city of Shenzhen is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Creator: Hawyih. Public Domain.

The Conference "Co-producing Sustainable Cities?" addressed the conditions for sustainable urban development. This was the look specifically on the relationship between civil society and City Government. On the Conference report.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) urbanization strategy has been adopted at Habitat III – the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development that has taken place in Quito, Ecuador, from the 17th to the 20th of October, 2016. The Heinrich Böll Foundation took the occasion to organize the conference “Co-producing sustainable cities?”. The event focused on the core of a complex issue: the relationship between civil society and municipal government.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA), which is intended to serve as a model for sustainable urban development and provide answers to the huge challenges of global urbanization, was committed to paper after long negotiations in New York in early September.

The NUA does not just create hope, however – it stirs up controversy and leaves important questions open: does the international agreement actually contain implementable commitments to combat poverty and climate change? What about the “right to adequate housing for all”, as well as other fundamental rights as a basis for a dignified life in the cities of the future?

In the run-up to the Habitat conference, urban planners, municipal policymakers, activists and experts discussed the role of local governments and civil society in cities in the “Co-producing sustainable cities?” conference on the 15th and 16th of September, 2016, at the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The title of the event focused attention on the core of a complex issue: the multilayered relationship between civil society and municipal government and the opportunities of social co-production for participatory urban policy.

“Much will depend on the knowledge and value orientation that municipal governments, administrations, urban planners, architects and engineers bring to these future tasks,” said Heinrich Böll Foundation President Ralf Fücks in his opening speech to the conference. The same applies to the participation of local civil society in planning and decision processes. “Forms of democratic participation must be established that go beyond electing local parliaments and mayors,” Fücks added. “We must not leave urban development to the interaction of bureaucracy and investors.”

But what does the term “co-producing” mean, and how can we understand the city in this context?

Start: New Urban Agenda: Co-producing sustainable cities?

Prof. Philipp Misselwitz, Chair of International Urbanism and Design at Technische Universität Berlin, sees cities as more than urban concentrations of problems in need of solutions. He sees them as “hubs of coexistence and catalysts for the mediation of difference and diversity”. Precisely this property, characterized by complex relationships between a variety of actors, makes their enormous potential apparent. Unlike governments, states or regions, cities are therefore already “co-produced” per se.

Unlike collaboration, the relationship between civil society and the state is marked by the interaction of conflict and partnership. And although this is not necessarily harmonious, it may nevertheless prompt processes in which space for democracy and equality can arise.

By 2030, one to two billion new city dwellers will dramatically change the face of urban centers. Many move to cities because they no longer see a perspective in rural areas. Once they establish themselves in informal settlements, they can hardly hope for functioning infrastructure, and they have to worry that their simple shelters will have to make way for business interests such as construction projects or major events. A sustainable social and urban transformation can therefore be achieved only if it “also integrates the poor, and all residents get a fair chance at a decent home in the city,” Misselwitz explained.

No right to housing – neither in the countryside nor in the city

Yet millions are denied these opportunities – in the global North as well as the South. This mobilizes protest movements by civil society organizations that act as a corrective for poor policy positions and dubious government priorities. The NUA, however, does not define the role for civil society actors with enough precision. And so it remains unclear whether lip service to sustainable living and citizen participation conceals the failure of governments and intends to transfer the responsibility for social concepts to civil society, or whether the agreement is granting civil society a real say.

What expectations can we attach to an urbanization strategy of the United Nations if it arises from a broad compromise? It is undisputed that the NUA is calling for a transformation to address climate change and increasing resource consumption: “But it certainly will not initiate revolutions,” emphasized Günter Meinert, team leader of the Policy Advisory Services for Urban and Municipal Development sector project of the German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ). His observations of the negotiations led him to the conclusion that “a consensus is difficult because cities of the North and South have been working on the international treaty from completely different perspectives”. A further factor is that the agreement was not negotiated by experienced urban planners and architects, but primarily by diplomats and their advisors.

On the favorable side, this was the first time that civil society organizations and new networks were included in the many side conferences, expert meetings and other participation formats – an innovation within the Habitat III processes that is new to UN conferences and was intended to send a positive signal. “Ultimately, however, national governments must make policy decisions to bring about a transformation of cities,” Meinert concluded.

No debate about the cause – the neoliberal economic model

Time is tight: 900 million people now live in slums, sadly documenting the fact that we have not yet managed to create decent conditions for all urban dwellers. And the number of people that will be affected by the consequences of urbanization are on the increase. “Migration to the cities is growing - we therefore need to understand the reasons,” warns Shivani Chaudhry, human rights activist and Executive Director of Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), New Delhi.

The situation in India, where 69 percent of the population (840 million) lives in rural areas, is much the same as in many other countries: people need to move to cities because the foundation of their livelihood – access to land – is taken from them. But do people really want to relocate? “Shouldn’t the first step toward a solution for the problems of the cities be a social agrarian reform for rural areas, so that millions of people can remain in their original homes?” Chaudhry asked.

The agreement missed the opportunity to seek a holistic approach and bring about sustainable development in all regions, the human rights activist noted. Furthermore, it does not seem to intend to define the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right, but merely perceives it as an economic unit of measure or production unit. “In addition, no one wants to talk about the neoliberal economic model that ultimately put us into this situation – with all the injustices that we are dealing with today,” Chaudhry said bitterly.

But this is not the only deficit that she and many other activists have identified in the agreement. The NUA is especially lacking with regard to clear goals and measurable criteria that could serve as indicators of improvement. Just recently, urbanization experts noted that the NUA also lacks a financing strategy at the municipal level. “The agreement does not take indigenous and LGBTI people into account, nor the issue of compensation for displaced people,” criticized Chaudhry, calling for “human rights to be enshrined in the NUA”.

Shrinking spaces for global civil society

This appears all the more important because human rights organizations and civil society in general are coming under increasing pressure worldwide. This not only applies to repressive states – the space for action by civil society organizations is shrinking in industrialized countries as well. Poonam Joshi, head of the European office of the Fund for Global Human Rights in London, has been studying the manifestations of human rights violations for many years. The founder of the initiative Activism under Threat pointed out that the importance of civil society is clearly reflected in the NUA draft, but that sustainable concepts can only be realized if local governments also create a legal basis for civic engagement.

The rapid increase of legal restrictions, criminalization and attacks on human rights activists tells a different story, however. According to the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch report, the rights to assembly, association and expression are currently being violated in 96 countries. Activists are isolated and labeled as political agents or threats. This raises the question whether the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals or models of the NUA can truly be implemented without the ability to hold governments accountable.

“It is up to the government to create an environment in which civic engagement can be exercised,” Joshi pointed out. “Conflicts are a part of co-production – and governments should come to understand these as normal and productive processes.”

Citizen-initiated co-production as the basis for a participatory urban society

The experience of Diana Mitlin shows that social co-production can be conceived in far more radical terms. Over the last twenty years, the Professor of Global Urbanism of the University of Manchester has worked with Shack/Slum Dwellers International and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and studied new forms of citizen-led co-production. Mitlin sees the model as an essential component of inclusive urban design.

“The joint planning and organization of resources and services in a city by government agencies and citizens’ groups is a precondition to access to such services by poor parts of the population,” argued Mitlin. “This also opens up the possibility eliminating the stigmatization of people on the basis of their origin and establishes neighborhood organizations with which they can defend their interests in the long term.”

Such inclusive models are still rare in the urban centers of the world, however, due to the failure of international development work, said Mitlin. For example, the Millennium Goal Targets for sanitary infrastructure are far from being achieved in sub-Saharan Africa. Even worse, access to water has hardly improved over the last 25 years: it rose from 39 percent in 1990 to only 40 percent in 2015. “And even if government agencies recognize the value of co-production initiated by citizens, they often lack the instruments and approaches to involve the population,” the urban planning expert explained. Often, however, local authorities do not want to recognize the value of citizen participation, even if this means that benefits for all then decrease again.

Panel I: The right to the city and the social production of housing

This first panel illuminated an important and contentious global issue of sustainable urban development – housing – and how the interaction between local governments and civil society, i.e. co-production, takes place. Moderator Dawid Bartelt, hbs office head in Brazil, opened the panel with a view from the South to the North: “We would love to have your problems.”

Giselle Tanaka, urban planner and research professor at the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), picked up the thread of the opening panel’s discussion of the human-rights orientation of the housing issue with her account of the struggle of residents of an informal settlement in Rio de Janeiro against eviction. Together with the UFRJ and other colleagues, she had developed a model as an alternative to the forced urbanization of the settlement as part of the Plano Popular da Vila Autódromo civil movement.

Vila Autódromo in the west of Rio de Janeiro had to defend itself against threatened forced evictions not once but twice – The first time during the preparations for the World Cup in 2014, and a second time when the Olympics were held this summer. The informal settlement, home to a mostly low-income population, was caught in the sights of urban resettlement policy due to its special location. Thanks to the struggle of its inhabitants against forced relocation, it became a symbol of resistance against urban eviction policy.

The situation was dramatic: Hundreds of people were forcibly evicted from their homes, while others faced relocation to the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro – where they would have been confronted with a complete lack of urban infrastructure. The Minha Casa, Minha Vida housing program of the Brazilian federal government became the embodiment of Rio’s unjust housing policies and the greed of powerful real estate investors.

The people initially organized locally and successfully opposed all of the city’s resettlement efforts, whereupon the state of Rio de Janeiro granted them the formal right to use their land. But that was not the end of it – when the planning for the Olympic Games commenced, Vila Autódromo and other surrounding settlements were once again subject to the unwanted attention of the urban planners. The peoples’ plan of the 2012 citizens’ movement could not prevent the relocation of numerous families. Many were not able to withstand the continuing brutal pressure and state repression. Of the original 500 houses of Vila Autódromo, only 50 remain today – and the remaining inhabitants face the most adverse conditions.

Barcelona en Comu: The struggle against forced evictions

The two participants from Barcelona represented a very special “tandem of co-production” with regard to housing. Santi Mas de Xaxás Faus, a member of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, PAH) since its early days, described the beginnings of the mortgage crisis and the resistance that had arisen as a result. With regard to the real estate sector, Spain is a special case: In the 1990s, 99 percent of the housing sector was private. Only one percent of households lived in rented apartments. Everyone invested in private housing – the prevailing dogma was that only a fool would not buy a house. Even people for whom it was likely that they would not be able to keep up with their payments in the foreseeable future were talked into taking out mortgages. The result was the housing bubble. Since the expenditure on housing accounts for a large share of private Spanish household budgets, the situation quickly became critical: With the economic crisis and rising unemployment, many people slipped into debt – and could no longer pay the mortgages on their houses or condominiums. This led to numerous forced evictions and a severe downturn in the public mood. Since 2009, the PAH has been standing up for the affected and organizing resistance against evictions. “We initially organized meeting places so that people could lose their shame and would no longer blame themselves for their misery,” Santi recalled. The PAH has branches in 200 cities in Spain. In addition to neighborhood meetings, the group also organizes actions, protests and campaigns against forced evictions. “Every 15 minutes on average, someone is evicted from their home in Spain,” said Santi. “We will therefore continue to respond to the cruel evictions with civil disobedience.” This includes activists occupying empty houses together with affected families. Former condominium owners are thus turning into politically motivated squatters. Laia Ortiz Castellvi, Deputy Mayor for Social Rights, Barcelona, represents a city government that emerged from the crisis and the “Barcelona en comu” (Barcelona in common) protest movement. The current mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, was also a spokeswoman for PAH. “People have learned that you can make a change,” Laia Ortiz said. The current government of Barcelona is an expression of a new civic confidence. It puts a strong emphasis on inclusive policies and tries to mitigate social inequality, because “a more egalitarian society is a more democratic society,” as Ortiz observed. In the housing sector, the government mediates with the banks owning the apartments in cases of forced evictions and seeks out socially acceptable solutions for the affected parties. Rents are often subsidized, as the share of renters has increased to 75 percent, and people living in rented accommodations face eviction if they cannot pay. At the same time, the new city government is working to build a social housing sector with new development programs, partly in partnership with cooperatives. “But all this takes time,” said the politician with a light tone of resignation also toward her compatriot Santi, for whom things obviously cannot go fast enough.

Jan Kuhnert, co-initiator of the Berlin rent referendum, admitted that given the housing problems in the favelas of megacities and the housing crisis in Spain, Germans are “whining from a position of comfort”. However, he noted that one shared global aspect is that housing markets the world over are faced with an “investment front” worth billions. This market opening had taken place with some delay in Germany. Kuhnert initially explained the factors that distinguish the German housing market from those in other European countries: Germany experienced a construction boom after World War II. Public funds were used to promote both social nonprofit rental housing as well as ownership. Unlike Spain, however, the focus was always on stable home ownership. Germany created a large volume of rent-controlled housing. Until recently, the proportion of rented accommodation was relatively high – up to 80 percent in big cities like Berlin. In 1989, the state promotion of nonprofit rental housing, and thus property protection on public investment in this area, was abolished. The number of rent-controlled units has since declined from 3.5 million at the time to 1.4 million at present and continues to melt away. More and more apartments are being converted into condominiums. Kuhnert himself is involved in the cause of affordable housing in various ways: for example by producing the study “Neue Wohnungsgemeinnützigkeit (NWG) – Wege zu langfristig preiswertem und zukunftsgerechtem Wohnraum (Wohnungsgemeinnützigkeit 2.0)” (New nonprofit housing – approaches to housing with lasting affordability that is geared toward the future (nonprofit housing 2.0)) on behalf of Germany’s Alliance 90/The Greens parliamentary group. “With this support framework, developers could be obliged to permanently rent apartments at social rates,” explained Kuhnert. “In return, they would receive tax concessions.” This could give rise to a market with a variety of actors that can count on reliable returns. Kuhnert had also been involved in the Berlin rent referendum. The referendum was intended to force the Berlin Senate to act, and that would only have been possible with a fully formulated draft law that could be put to a vote. The referendum did not take place, however, as the initiators succeeded in negotiating an agreement with policymakers. This gave rise to the “Wohnraumversorgungsgesetz” (Housing Supply Act). The act envisages a greater public responsibility for municipal housing organizations – it states, for example, that “forced evictions must be avoided” and that modernizations, which frequently lead to rent increases, must be coordinated with the tenants. Kuhnert faced criticism from tenants’ organizations for this agreement with the Senate, which he counters with the question: “Do we only want to protest, or shall we get involved?” According to Kuhnert, this kind of progress, which arises from the friction between conflict and compromise, is also a form of co-production. He rejected the notion of letting the poor resolve existing social housing supply problems with a “DIY approach”: Providing housing to “alcoholic unemployed men” will remain a public responsibility. Despite all the differences in this international debate, it was apparent that affordable housing as a public service plays a decisive role everywhere for the right to the city.

Second conference day

Sabine Drewes, Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Section Head for Municipal Policy and Urban Development, made the connection to the previous day in her introductory remarks. The panels would consider three aspects of the issues:

  1. Sustainability: This is the motto of the UN’s Habitat III conference. Sustainability is a challenge not least because of the changing lifestyles arising from increasing urbanization. CO2 emissions in the transportation sector could double by mid-century – or halve, depending on the development path humanity chooses. The same goes for the volume of waste generated worldwide. But mobility and waste are also social issues, as they are both linked to the distribution of opportunity and quality of life.
  2. Co-production: The understanding of co-production is wide-ranging, covering the dynamics between local governments and civil society – from participation to the joint provision of municipal services. City governments are recognized as key players in the New Urban Agenda. However, urban development cannot be sustainable if city governments and administrations do not permit civil society to participate.
  3. Last but not least, it is about global learning between the North and South and the question of how cities can share practical experiences in implementing the Habitat agenda in the future.

Panel II: Waste management, responsible use of resources and municipal services

Joan Marc Simon, Director of Zero Waste Europe, initially described the worldwide waste situation. 1.3 billion tons of waste is produced annually. This corresponds to the weight of 3.2 million fully loaded Boing 747s, for example. One third originates in Asia, including 80 percent of global plastic waste. The largest shares thereof end up in the sea, in landfills and incinerators. Recycling alone cannot be the answer. The production of plastic has increased twentyfold since 1950. 95 percent of plastic packaging material is discarded after a very short life cycle. The waste problem is the main symptom of a linear economy, where economic growth is proportional to the amount of waste produced. The EU is trying to set a course toward a recycling economy. The German government is hampering this development, however, by opposing binding recycling quotas.

Cities represent the center of zero-waste strategies. Simon noted that only forty years ago, informal waste collection by mostly very poor people was common in Europe. His hometown of Barcelona had been very close to the modern goal of zero waste at the time. In the second half of the 20th century, northern Europe transitioned to a formalized system with professional waste collection and incineration. Its efficiency is questionable, however, and the system is very expensive and therefore not suitable for export. The Zero Waste manager presented two good examples of zero-waste communities: Firstly, the Italian city of Capannori, which is the first such community in Europe. The volume of waste there has decreased by 40 percent. The Zero Waste movement there arose out of civil society protest against a waste incinerator. Capannori established a research center that continuously analyzes the composition of the waste and uses the information to develop proposals for waste prevention. He also highlighted an example from the global South: a district program in Taguig in Metro Manila. There, household waste collection was organized jointly with informal waste collectors. The waste collectors were hired formally, and their incomes have tripled. 80 percent of the waste is recycled. This waste collection system has thus changed lives. This bottom-up approach is more efficient and sustainable than incineration.

Sonia Dias, a representative of Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing, seamlessly continued the topic in her presentation. Dias, who worked for the municipal administration of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in the early 1990s, told of the administration’s learning process in reorganizing its waste management during the first term of the Labor Party. At the time, a number of poor city dwellers made their living by searching through trash for recyclable materials and selling them. These informal waste collectors – mostly women – were socially ostracized, often had to sleep beside their trash to guard it, and were frequently beaten up by the police. The new municipal administration viewed the waste collectors as “informal recyclers” and partnered with one of their cooperatives. Together they established a new waste management system featuring recycling centers and household waste collection. The cooperatives of informal recyclers were entrusted with the waste collection and separation, thus giving the recyclers a regular income. They were not municipal employees, however, but self-organized in cooperatives. Thus, the waste management of Belo Horizonte became a true co-production of civil society and local government. The recycling centers significantly improved the working conditions of waste collectors and even provided childcare. Sonia Dias highlighted the gender dimension of her work: In the waste cooperatives, the municipal administration frequently encountered women who suffered domestic violence and had low self-esteem. The greater sense of self-worth their new jobs gave them had a positive impact on their environment and permitted the women to assume leadership positions in the cooperatives.

Erika Oblak of Ecologists without Borders described the evolution of Ljubljana to the first zero-waste capital of Europe. In 2002, the Slovenian capital introduced separate waste collection, albeit with street containers. At that time, the share of separately collected waste was 10 percent. In 2006, separate household bins for organic waste were introduced, followed by bins for packaging and paper in 2012. By 2014, the share of separately collected waste had risen to 55 percent. Separate collection is the first step toward zero waste and crucial for recycling rates, especially if organic waste is collected separately. Organic waste is very suitable for recycling as compost and biogas. In 2012, the mayor announced plans to build a waste incinerator on the grounds that no more than 60 percent of the waste could be collected separately. The civil society opposition then organized an excursion of Ljubljana policymakers and administrators to the Italian zero-waste community Contarina. Contarina had a recycling rate of 85 percent at the time and is aiming for 96 percent in 2020. This excursion was the decisive factor for the city council of Ljubljana to declare the city a zero-waste community in 2014. The Slovenian city is the European Green Capital in 2016, and the mayor is rightly proud of these achievements.

“Co-production is the answer”

One participant in the discussion pointed out that co-production in waste management must also mean shared responsibility on the part of manufacturers (in terms of product responsibility) and consumers. Another asked about the significance of planned obsolescence, the deliberate reduction of a product’s service life by the manufacturer. Both Joan Marc Simon and Erika Oblak emphasized that the zero-waste approach provides good opportunities for improving product responsibility. Oblak mentioned the city of Capannori – which was previously cited by Simon – and its waste research center that was developing proposals for recyclable coffee capsules that were being adopted by the industry. “Co-production is the answer,” said Joan Marc Simon in conclusion. With this, he not only means cooperation with social groups such as the Slow Food movement and repair cafés that zero-waste communities should seek out. Zero waste is a bottom-up waste management organizational form that works anywhere in the world and must replace traditional landfill and incineration solutions. Germany should also abandon the notion that it has its waste problem under control.

Panel III: Mobility, quality of life and health:

Moderator Axel Harneit-Sievers, head of the Böll office in Delhi, kicked the discussion off with the observation that the shared objective of this round seemed to be finding an alternative to the car, which he called “the greatest curse of the cities”. Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director, Research and Advocacy of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, painted a dramatic picture of the traffic situation in Delhi: “The air pollution makes international headlines.” On average, one person dies every hour in Delhi from illnesses caused by air pollution. The main cause of toxic emissions is traffic. In principle, the initial position of the Indian metropolis is not bad: only 15 percent of the population’s 38 million daily journeys are made by car. All others use environmentally friendly mobility options. Motorization is growing exponentially, however. While the city has succeeded in setting up more bus lines and using buses powered by compressed natural gas, these measures have been more than offset by the increasing number of cars. The traditional solution of urban policymakers has been to build more roads. How roads are designed is crucial, however – whether they include bus and cycle lanes, for example, or offer pedestrians and cyclists safe crossing points. That is not the case. But if walking and cycling are not made safer and the air quality improved, it will not be possible to convince people to use these transportation modes – a vicious circle. Roychowdhury lamented the distribution of power in road traffic: How can one speak of democracy when the interests of pedestrians – which after all account for 60 percent of the population of Delhi – have no significant impact on political decisions? Another inequality is rooted in urban planning: Of the population of 17 million, only one percent lives in the city center, in single-family homes surrounded by parks. The poor must move to the outskirts and travel ten to twenty kilometers to work. This balance of power needs to be changed to halt the advance of the car. The environmental activist saw no alternative to this if the city is to avoid repeating the same mistakes made elsewhere in the world. According to her, the problem in India is not a lack of legislation, but a lack of enforcement.

The Aam Aadmi Party (Party of the Common Man) currently governing in Delhi has mainly made its mark on transportation policy with a measure permitting cars with odd and even number plates to drive on alternating days for a period of fourteen days. According to Roshan Shankar, consultant to the government of NCT of Delhi, even this measure required considerable persuasion by volunteers. Shankar noted with regret that the regional government is not responsible for land policy, police and public order.

He vividly described the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party’s rise to power as a protest movement that had evolved into a party, and that in 2015 finally formed a government: “The only way to take back power was not through pressuring the government to legislate new things, it was to become the government itself.” He explained the principles of the new government, which were directed against corruption and lobbyism. Previously, bribes had been factored into public services. The Aam Admi Party ensured that 60 percent of the budget is now earmarked for public schools, health care and mobility, such as Delhi’s recent decision to purchase 3,000 new buses powered by compressed natural gas. But the main difference to other parties is citizen participation. The party’s goal is to consult as many people as possible and integrate them into decision-making, for example through participatory budgeting. The objective is the decentralization of government.

Sipho Eric Nhlapo of the Johannesburg Road Agency explained that the car and its symbolism in South African society should be seen in the context of the legacy of apartheid. Owning a car is thus rated higher than residential property as the most clear-cut sign of social advancement. Owning a car is a sign that “you've made it, my child.” Cycling, on the other hand, is associated with the white middle class, and the newly-elected ANC mayor has thus halted the expansion of bike paths for the time being. Previously, however, Johannesburg had a road and transport strategy geared toward a livable city that focused on cyclists, pedestrians and users of public transportation. In principle, a further expansion of car traffic in Johannesburg is no longer acceptable. The modal share of cars is currently at 40 percent, and transportation is the biggest factor in CO2 emissions. Giving cars even more space would only lead to the same problems that other cities face in this regard. The Ecomobility World Festival that Johannesburg hosted in 2015 was a source of hope: one district was closed to conventional motor vehicles and eco-friendly modes of transportation were promoted. The result was that 24 percent of Johannesburg’s citizens rated the event as positive, while 57 percent were neutral, so the event had clearly reached the people. According to the traffic expert, the problem is that good solutions from Europe and elsewhere are regarded as “not transferable”.

Pierre Serne spoke of his experience as a regional council for Europe Ecologie-le-Verts (the French Green party) in the Paris region. Paris is a prime European example for the transformation of a car-friendly city. It remained that way almost without exception until the end of the 1990s, when a left-wing government came to power with the participation of the Greens. In the past fifteen years, traffic in Paris has been transformed – at least in part. Ten new tram lines were built – now Paris has the third largest tram network in Europe. New bus lanes were also built and the Vélib bike rental system established. This policy already shows results: over the past ten years, car traffic has declined by 30 percent. Only 40 percent of households own cars anymore. The objectives of transport policy in the Paris region, which were set forth in a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) despite a change in government, remain ambitious: Paris aspires to an absolute reduction of car traffic. This will require a 20 percent increase in public transportation capacity every ten years. The region is currently investing €3 billion annually in transportation; €5 billion are slated for 2020. Only cycling leaves something to be desired: it has doubled over the past ten years – but only from one to two percent.

“How can we glamourize the bicycle?”

The focus of the discussion returned to the starting point, namely the question of whether alternatives to a car-centered city are possible in different parts of the world. Anumita Roychowdhury argued with verve that the pursuit of car ownership was not inevitable and stated a common task: “How can we glamourize the bicycle?” She addressed the issue of modal choice again as question of democratic representation, because the majority that does not own cars has no impact on policy. She argued that car owners should in principle foot the bill for the health damage they cause and the expensive infrastructure they require. In her opinion, the new government of Delhi is still not doing enough to address this imbalance. Roshan Shankar replied that the government is not strong enough to roll back car traffic. The issues covered by this panel proved to be of remarkably global relevance.

Closing round: Co-production of sustainable urban development following Habitat III: what next?

As a starting point, Philipp Misselwitz asked the German guests that had not yet spoken to explain the interests their organizations have with regard to NUA. Stefan Schurig, Director of Climate and Energy at the World Future Council (WFC), cited two areas in which the organization was active: Firstly, it has tried to raise awareness of the ecological footprint of cities. The common development model is still linear: input consists of raw materials and energy, the output is waste and emissions. The WFC therefore wanted to introduce the idea of a future recycling economy into the NUA with the concept of the regenerative city. It did not succeed, however. Secondly, the WFC had made a proposal on how urban policy and the dialog between cities and national governments at the national level could be institutionalized through the creation of national urban policy commissions. In Schurig’s view, the NUA reflects the concern of national governments about the growing influence of local governments too strongly.

The relationship of national and local governments is also a major issue for the German Association of Cities (DST). Sabine Drees, DST Policy Officer for International Affairs, confirmed that the NUA appears far too centralized in her eyes. In light of the fact that 65 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals are relevant for cities, she asked, “How can urban development move forward globally without the leadership of cities?” Municipalities do not have a seat at the UN’s decision-making table. The NUA mentions neither effective decentralization nor local self-government. Without the latter, however, municipalities are merely the executive organs of national governments.

Laia Ortiz Castellvi, Deputy Mayor for Social Rights of Barcelona, underscored this perspective: “We don’t need a guideline for the cities. We need global policy that is coordinated with the needs of cities”. The panel nevertheless welcomed the fact that the NUA addresses the relationship between national and local governments at all and mentions the role of local governments in a positive light.

A member of the audience asked what the participants thought of Benjamin Barber’s proposed new institution, the Global Parliament of Mayors. This idea, in turn, was generally seen critically. Sabine Drees pointed out existing international organizations such as United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). While Stefan Schurig has a high opinion of Barber, he does not think that mayors and local governments “will sort it out”. Sometimes it is more effective for national governments to make good laws, such as the Renewable Energy Sources Act, without which there would not have been a transition to renewable energy in Germany.

Finally, the discussion came to the future of sustainable urban development in an international exchange. Has the NUA increased readiness for international exchange? Sabine Drees noted that readiness is on the increase. She told of the international Connective Cities network, in which the DST is involved. The network brings together municipal practitioners and experts in a perfect fit and with a practical orientation. Knowledge is also transferred from South to North. Roshan Shankar, consultant to the government of NCT of Delhi, identified public participation as a good subject for international exchange. In his opinion, the population should also learn more about citizen participation. International learning and implementation networks between cities on participation and sustainability may be the future of the New Urban Agenda.

Collaboration: Emily Kelling

Translation: John Hayduska

This article is a part of our Dossier: Habitat III - Nachhaltige Stadtentwicklung.

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