In October 2016 the capital city of Ecuador, Quito, hosted the United Nations HABITAT III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Attended by about 45,000 people from 167 countries, the conference brought together high-level politicians, mayors, representatives of local and regional authorities, civil society and community groups, the private sector and urban planners. Thus in a city of 2.5 million inhabitants, at 2850 m above the sea level, they made together a next step on a 40-years-long path (from Vancouver in 1976 and via Istanbul in 1996) towards a common understanding on needed global action to guarantee sustainable urban future for all. Habitat III is estimated to have had the strongest participation of civil society, stakeholders, and local authorities in the history of UN conferences. The New Urban Agenda adopted at the conference confirmed a worldwide commitment to a sustainable urban future thus posing an huge challenge for undertaking effective action at all levels.
Three main messages among the impressive variety of topics discussed and voices heard at the conference could be considered particularly important to INTREPID process:
An urban future ahead
An ambitious effort was made to build a common vision on future cities but also on the ways to put it into practice. Urban issues and housing policy, resilience and energy efficiency were discussed alongside the right to the city and the future of public space. Claims about needed development of effective spatial planning procedures and instruments went in parallel with debate on the complexity of urban processes, on required interdisciplinary urban studies and on the implementation of smart technologies.
“We decide the future of cities together”
The conference slogan acknowledged the broad variety of actors, in terms of geographical location, social roles, and governance levels, involved in the process towards a sustainable urban future. It brought an explicit focus on dialogue, partnerships, and synergies. The adopted policy documents call for “country-led, open, inclusive, multi-level, participatory, and transparent follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda” through “a continuous process aimed at creating and reinforcing partnerships among all relevant stakeholders and fostering exchanges of urban solutions and mutual learning.”
Culture at the core of the urban process
Culture has been already attributed a distinctive role in the adopted SDGs. It was also addressed in Quito as a core dimension of sustainable development. The conference participants claimed the need for setting clear socio-cultural urban frameworks in developing complex urban knowledge and building relevant capacity in the planning field. They outlined the importance of incorporating and promoting urban values in research and education. Cultural heritage protection was regarded as an important factor in keeping the identity of local communities but also in developing a new culture of living together in cities.
When discussing needed conditions under which knowledge can lead sustainable urban development, academic participants agreed upon the importance of providing evidence-based and practical guidance. Three key aspects were outlined: (a) synthesis and translation (assessing current knowledge and its implications for policy; illuminating the intersection between global and urban processes); (b) awareness building (providing a platform for practitioners, knowledge producers and stakeholders’ groups to exchange knowledge and insights); and monitoring (supplying quantitative and qualitative data to complement state monitoring efforts).
It still remains an open question if that might be a working vision on how to effectively support the process to building the inclusive and sustainable cities that the New Urban Agenda strives for.
HABITAT III messages to the INTREPID process: Implications for Inter and Trans-disciplinarity
Seemingly, a set of emerging requests to urban research need to be addressed from an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary point of view:
- Identifying the main aspects and systemic links in the concepts of resilience and sustainable urban development and defining the specific socio-technical knowledge required in addressing them.
- Building the culture, motivation and relevant competencies needed for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary urban research.
- Keeping a clear focus on the ethical aspects of environmental justice and inclusiveness while addressing complex technological issues.
- Developing effective tools for communicating complex urban knowledge with diverse actors in an interactive way that makes sense to all of them.
- Providing methodological support for urban planning practice in the development and implementation of relevant indicator chains for the monitoring and assessment of undertaken practical action at the urban level.
- Developing sound and clear argumentation on the importance of providing funding schemes, which would prioritize interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and education.