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Published on 31/05/2016

On the road to Habitat III

Habitat III is the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. It will take place in Quito (Ecuador) from 17 to 20 October 2016 on the subject of: sustainable urban development: the future of urbanisation? GRET has been working for more than 30 years to establish the right to the city for all, and will be mobilised for the event.

What is Habitat III?

The Habitat III conference is part of the third cycle of conferences led by the United Nations since 2012, when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted. These conferences set the tone for several years in terms of the evolution of States’ thematic orientations, policies and international institutions. Habitat III is intended to facilitate worldwide commitment in favour of a new urban agenda in response to the challenges of sustainable development. It will result in a Declaration adopted by the member States. Although this Declaration not binding, it will provide a framework of reference for States and international institutions for the next 20 years. For GRET and urban players in general, this is a relevant occasion in several regards: to assert its positioning at French and international levels, promote concrete solutions that it co-constructs with its partners at local level, and participate in collective dynamics with civil society organisations, local authorities, researchers and public institutions.

Habitat I emphasised the role of States in urban policies, inhabitants’ right to participate, the central role of land and environmental issues. Habitat II highlighted local authorities and the role of communities, but it was already a step backwards compared to Habitat I, announcing the withdrawal of the State, promoting a managerial, hyper-technical vision of cities and less ambition in terms of equality, solidarity and citizenship. The preparatory process of the Habitat III Conference is based on various types of contributions (national reports, documents analysing issues, policy documents) and is structured notably around approximately ten key subjects, among which: the right to the city and cities for all, urban governance, local finances and taxation, land markets and urban segregation, urban ecology and resilience, housing policies, etc. At this stage, the first draft of the final declaration of Habitat III would suggest yet again step backwards compared to Habitat II. In particular, we know that the issue of the right to the city is a no-go area for certain countries and that this expression is very unlikely to feature in the declaration.

Urban development issues at the global level

Despite ambitious and often successful experiences of all types of players, urban vulnerability is constantly increasing, both in the North and the South. Exclusion, destitution and urban segregation seem inevitable for an increasingly large section of humanity, while urban areas will double by 2030. The problem is not a lack of solutions, but genuine willingness to change things is necessary. Yet, the dominant development model is characterised by the growing commoditisation, financialisation and privatisation of cities and territories. Decisions on investment, productive specialisation, planning and even governance are still dictated more by the arrangements required by globalised capitalism than by collective territorial societal projects, with competition between companies and ecosystems.

Despite ambitious and often successful experiences of all types of players, urban vulnerability is constantly increasing, both in the North and the South. Exclusion, destitution and urban segregation seem inevitable for an increasingly large section of humanity, while urban areas will double by 2030. The problem is not a lack of solutions, but genuine willingness to change things is necessary. Yet, the dominant development model is characterised by the growing commoditisation, financialisation and privatisation of cities and territories. Decisions on investment, productive specialisation, planning and even governance are still dictated more by the arrangements required by globalised capitalism than by collective territorial societal projects, with competition between companies and ecosystems.The dimension of environmental depredation, the disruption of major biogeochemical cycles and of the gradual exhaustion of energy resources generate a conjunction and an interconnection of weaknesses, so that the systemic risks are increasingly significant and increasingly global. The issues of the future, or rather of the present, are issues of constructing and managing common goods and of living together. We understand the urgency of constructing the viability of territories and the right to be and live in dignity, not just in a spirit of solidarity but because our common future depends on it. This is why GRET will defend a vision of viable cities and territories, which requires:

  • Contributing to the emergence of new modes of urban and territorial development for resilient, productive, inclusive and fair territories, particularly via: promotion of integrated territorial approaches and territorial planning that guarantee urban-rural balance and interconnections; strengthening of processes for collectively constructing the common interest and democratic governance; inclusion of the load capacity of ecosystems and the finitude of local resources; relocalisation of the economy; support for “green” construction and appropriate technologies.
  • Defending the right to the city for all, via notably integration and inclusion of informal cities; promotion of the earth’s social function through regulation of land markets; land tenure security; empowering inhabitants and civil society movements to act and participate in urban production; support for the production of social and/or affordable housing in all its forms.
  • Promoting the strengthening of States, public institutions and public economy systems (taxation, investment, social protection) in their role to define rules, to regulate and to redistribute between territories, local authorities and citizens and to guarantee the common interest.

Mobilisation of GRET for Habitat III

GRET is mobilised within several collective dynamics – PFVT (French Partnership for Cities and Territories), of which GRET is a member, the dynamics moderated by Aitec, Groupe Initiatives and Coordination SUD; and within specific consultations, notably with the French Development Agency (AFD). In this regard, GRET has already contributed to the position document of PFVTs NGO college and to drawing up two of France’s six position documents in response to the policy documents (Policy Units) produced by expert groups selected by the Habitat III secretariat: “Cities for all: What rights to the city?” and “For the resilience of populations and territories”.

GRET will distribute recommendations generated by its practice and its 30 years of urban experience to urban players, international technical & financial partners and local authorities in the South. Via position briefs, it will share “solution factsheets” and short films, the results of it experience and the state of its reflection on three specific angles, which in practice roll out its vision of viable territories:

  • Collective construction of the governance of territories
  • Integration of vulnerable districts into the city
  • Inclusion of risks and climatic & environmental urgency

In 2015, GRET was already mobilised on the subject of “cities and climate” at Cop 21 and will be reasserting its recommendations on this subject. See the brief entitled “Cities fighting against climate change” and the solution factsheet entitled “Adapting climatic diagnostic tools at local level: rainwater management in Sahelian cities”.

GRET will be participating in various events to prepare or events related to the Conference and will be present in Quito in the official, parallel and alternative forums.

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