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  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

Towards Habitat III

HABITAT III, the third UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, will take place in October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. The first of these HABITAT conferences took place 40 years ago in a joint response to the urbanization of the South. It by then focussed on the development of human settements in general but the agendas have shifted more and more towards urban areas. The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II in 1996, acknowledging the need for guiding urbanization. The conference produced the “Habitat Agenda” highlighting the need for more equitable and sustainable economic growth and for ensuring housing, livelihoods and services for everyone. It also highlighted the importance of strengthening the local levels of government, civil society and communities in order to achieve its goals. The Habitat Agenda, though internally relevant, was seen however more as a responsibility of the developing world. Its achievements cannot be easily measured as there were no monitoring systems in place or independent evaluations done.

Now, Habitat III intends to gather all nations to discuss a New Urban Agenda that “will focus on policies and strategies that can result in effectively harnessing the power and forces behind urbanization.” This New Urban Agenda is meant to be truly international and it is supposed to be built on the post-MDG process, as HABITAT III will be the first UN Conference after 2015.

Therefore, the link to the Sustainable Development Goals, currently approved in New York is vital. The SDGs have been drafted against a universality principle, which means that also the urban Goal, the SDG 11, will be the goal for Rotterdam as well as for Maputo. This poses serious theoretical and methodological questions on our concepts of the urban sphere.

While the SDGs have the potential to be more local than the MDGs, the process of developing a new urban agenda have not recognized this opportunity yet.  We see it however as imperative to differentiate and be aware of the varieties in global urbanisms. African and Asian cities are underrepresented in the current debate and Latin America is not prominently joining the discussions. With a more westernized understanding of “the City” important aspects of the diversity of the economic, cultural, social, political or religious realms in urban spaces and places are not in the core of the debate.

During 2015, the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) engaged in discussions and actions to help shaping the future global urban agendas. The IHS hosted an expert meeting to gather urban professionals, researchers and academics in order to discuss and scrutinize the demand for capacities when implementing the Urban SDG and its proposed 10 targets and also provided comprehensive comments on the Habitat III Issue Papers.

We also actively participate in establishing the European Network of Global Urbanisms, ENGUs as an interdisciplinary group promoting exchange and collaboration among academic and partner institutions in Europe working in the field of urban studies and development planning.

Our responsibility as a knowledge institution is to better integrate different disciplines and issues within urban development. We now participate in various think tanks, such as the NAERUS Network and the Cities Alliance, the Future of Places, Urban Thinkers Campuses, and building a national coalition for H III in the Netherlands.

IHS promotes the idea that, in the context of the SDGs and the new global urban agenda, the role of integrative capacity development that recognizes the diversity of places is crucial for accomplishing the vision of to make cities work.


Dr. Alexander Jachnow is part of the IHS academic staff. He has dedicated the last 15 years of his professional life to urban development, specializing in capacity building, urban governance and management. He was engaged in South Asia in DC programmes for urban development and governance for a total of six years in Urban Development Projects supported by GIZ, KfW, ADB and WB. Read more here!


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