The New Urban Agenda: sustainable urban development for safer cities

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Paris, October 2016 – From 17 to 20 October 2016, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development (Habitat III), in Quito, Ecuador, will adopt the New Urban Agenda (NUA), which defines new guidelines for designing urban policies worldwide over the next 20 years.

This new agenda seeks to respond to the multiple challenges cities throughout the world are confronted with, such as the growing rate of urbanisation; the transformation of cities into mega-regions; the rise of informal housing and the resulting increase in crime, as well as overcoming the dynamics of spontaneous urbanisation and reducing social segregation.

The new urbanisation model promoted by the NUA is based on a number of fundamental principles such as the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and the rule of law.

The NUA seeks to:

  • ensure fair urban development and inclusive growth with equal opportunities   for all;
  • empower civil society;
  • strengthen participation and collaboration;
  • ensure environmental sustainability;
  • promote innovation that enables the acquisition and exchange of knowledge.

The means that the NUA recommends the relevant political authorities should use range from strengthening urban and territorial planning to devolving more political and financial powers to urban centres, implementing urban policies at the national level, and strengthening urban legislation and governance.

How is this related to urban insecurity?

Contrary to the last two urban agendas, Habitat III explicitly mentions urban security. The NUA advocates a preventive and integrated approach to the fight against urban crime through a model of sustainable urbanisation aimed at diminishing poverty and inequalities and promoting equal opportunities. The development model advocated by the NUA will result in increased security in cities, by implementing a global and integrated strategy.

The global territorial planning strategy proposed by the NUA facilitates social diversity, access to basic public services and affordable housing, and public spaces that favour social and inter-generational interaction

Regarding the prevention of crime, violent extremism and terrorism, the NUA’s strategy is based on three fundamental principles. The first is to reinforce the participation of local communities and non-governmental stakeholders in the process of drafting urban strategies and initiatives. The second is that public authorities must take into account cultural factors and the vulnerability of slum dwellers. The third is that they must act to prevent the stigmatisation of specific human groups as posing inherently a threat to security.

Linking the NUA and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

What are the SDGs? After the Millennium Development Goals, whose target date was 2015, this set of sustainable development objectives was adopted by UN members with the aim of eradicating poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all. Several SDGs concern urban matters and the NUA. For example, SDG number 11, “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” establishes this link. The SDG 16, “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels,” is intrinsically linked to the urban question. Thus the actual implementation of these two agendas by national and subnational public authorities will depend on them being considered jointly.

Indeed, a joint approach will allow for the two agendas to complement each other, in particular regarding the SDGs’ limited and fragmented approach on urban issues, and the integration of the various sustainable development challenges. Such an approach will also strengthen the role and responsibilities of local stakeholders, as recommended by the NUA, by recognising their essential contribution in attaining (almost) all the SDGs.

Furthermore, considering jointly the two international agreements will raise awareness among UN member states about the NUA, whose international reach may be lesser than that of the SDGs. Thus the monitoring, evaluation and support resources for both agendas will have to be shared in order to avoid sidetracking the implementation of one of these agreements.

At the end of the day, the New Urban Agenda will be a global blueprint for urban sustainable development, and as such, it is much anticipated by political decision-makers around the world, in particular regarding its recommendations on the prevention of urban violence, crime and terrorism.

An approach that is similar to that of Efus

The approach of Habitat III is perfectly coherent with that of the European Forum for Urban Security (Efus), inasmuch as it recommends including subnational and local authorities in the drafting of public policies, and a global, integrated and preventive approach to urban challenges.

Efus and its member cities will adopt a new manifesto at the 2017 international conference, in Barcelona, which will formulate the principles and commitments of Efus members for the following five years. The NUA and SDGs will contribute to the reflection on the role of local authorities in the prevention of crime and urban insecurity.