Cities for whom? How to transform cities after the Habitat III conference

Friday, October 28, 2016 - 13:57

This month I attended the third UN conference on Habitat. Representatives from governments, intergovernmental agencies, civil society and social movements met in Quito, Ecuador, to discuss a new urban agenda for the next 20 years. Those who might see the conference from a distance, without being involved in the negotiating processes, might believe that this is just another international meeting where governments sign commitments but nothing changes in real life, for real people. But this time it is different.

Firstly, it is important to have a closer look at the conference itself and understand what this meeting is about. The UN conference on Habitat happens only every 20 years. Through these events governments and civil society identify major themes of the urban agenda that will be tackled during succeeding years. And, as you might know, the world is increasingly becoming more urban. In Brazil, 85% of the population lives in cities. And across the world, estimates say that in 2030 60% of the population will be living in cities.

Looking at the data, we can see that the urbanization process has significantly increased during recent decades. However cities have been been neither designed nor planned for this growth. I would go even further to say that, in many cases, the design of cities has been made seeing through the lenses of financial speculation and patriarchy. And what are the results?

We have fragmented and unequal cities. From one side, we have overpopulated areas, with no infrastructure or public spaces and services. From the other side, we have an accessible city, but not for everyone. And for women especially, the situation is even worse as together with often low quality of services and a lack of safe public spaces there is too often a legitimate fear of violence. Think about your city and you may see that this description fits.

This conference comes to rethink the city. During the last conference, 20 years ago, the right to adequate housing for all was recognized. This year, the major issue was the right to the city itself. For the part of civil society that has been fighting to include this concept, the right to the city is a new paradigm for thinking within this field. It is a view from the collective, with a city that is fully enjoyed by all as a common good. It means having public spaces, gender responsive public services, no discrimination nor gender inequality. Thus, this means aninclusivejustdemocratic and sustainable city.

When governments signed the final declaration with the inclusion of the right to the city (for the first time in history, an UN document explicitly mentions this concept), it was a historical victory. We can even say that this is also an achievement for all people living in cities.

A seed for a new vision for cities was planted and it is up to national and local governments to commit and implement actions to transform this concept into reality. As civil society, we will continue our fight, monitoring and demanding action.

As a person who lives in a city, I want to live: in a place where women are not afraid to go out during the night nor to use public transport; in a place where public spaces are occupied by everyone in a free and inclusive way; in a place where public services provide quality for all, independently where the person lives, and gender responsive.

The Habitat III conference has brought us a hope for change. It is up to countries to put this in practice. We hope for and demandSafe Cities for Women and inclusive, just and sustainable cities for all!