Why We Need Inclusive Partnerships for the New Urban Agenda
How successfully we develop create, inclusive partnership frameworks in a participatory manner will determine how sustainable and realistic the new urban agenda will be.
By Fernando Casado Cañeque
[16 September 2015] -- The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework document “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, which will serve as the basis for the forthcoming UN General Assembly at the end of September, has finally been agreed upon. The urban community is particularly enthusiastic about the inclusion of Goal 11 on cities and human settlements, offering the first-ever international agreement on urban-specific development.
The main priority is now focusing on integrating this agenda into national planning frameworks. The upcoming Habitat III seems to be a unique opportunity and an ideal convergence, gathering urban and development actors working together to shape a better urban future.
However, for many, Nairobi’s Prepcom II was a reminder of how challenging it can be to keep the discussion focused on the priorities to get the urban agenda right. There was much discussion on the MDGs and the new SDGs, but not enough on how other major groups and actors are interpreting these goals, or the agendas they need to set up to achieve them.
After the intense sessions and all of its side events, many questions remained up in the air. Among them: How to design development strategies to meet local priorities? How to determine these priorities, and who is to determine them? Going from SDG11 approval to a new urban agenda implementation will not be an easy task.
There are legitimate concerns that the new urban agenda ensures development strategies not only respond to the needs of local communities, but that they actually also start there, in a participatory and inclusive manner with local communities.
While it is widely recognised that substantive input from major groups developing the new urban agenda and contributing to the Habitat III process is essential, the participatory process to include local governments, civil society and other stakeholders is falling short of expectations.
In view of the complexity of the urbanisation process and its consequences, the participation of all stakeholders in the development of the new urban agenda is even more crucial. Urbanisation changes the world at a magnitude and speed that is unparalleled in human history. Almost all of the global population growth takes place in cities, and urbanisation transforms the social and economic fabric of entire nations, societies and economies.
Urban development is not only about negative externalities, it is also an opportunity for development, given that cities are engines of growth and seedbeds for creativity. History has shown that urbanisation can modernise societies, co-promote more accountable governance systems, address inequalities more effectively (particularly in questions of land and property rights and access to services), advance new and modern modes of production, and increase life expectancy.
However, these benefits of urbanisation can only be harnessed if urbanisation is proactively planned, managed and catered to those that are mostly affected by its negative impacts.
There are several challenges that are part of the urbanisation process: transportation congestion that jeopardises mobility and human interactions, lack of sufficient housing that accelerates inequalities, and over-rapid growth that enhances environmental degradation or the provision of basic services such as health or education. Therefore, it would be fair to say that how the world urbanises is as important as urbanisation itself.
In this context, the decisions that different actors – such as national governments, local authorities and civil society – are taking today in relation to urban development will impact the living conditions in cities and the urban poor for the next 20-30 years. Thus, partnerships among these actors are more relevant than ever to ensure that decisions taken are the right ones and will have a positive impact.
Creating decent urban living conditions for all requires not only sustainable urban planning and inclusive urban policies, but a significant change in the mindset of stakeholders to understand the need to work jointly through partnerships to improve access to development goals and quality of life in cities.
The more convergence there is on the multiple dimensions of poverty in a specific territory, the more it is required to have appropriate cross-sector partnerships to address those needs.
When it was decided at RIO+20 to establish an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process, with a view to designing global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the General Assembly, many saw an opportunity to propose a specific goal to address urban challenges. This would educate and focus attention on urgent urban challenges and future opportunities, and mobilise and empower all urban actors around practical problem solving.
Therefore, the approval of the Urban SDG 11, which calls to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” can be considered a big success for the urban community. Success achieved, now ensuring its implementation will be a challenging and ambitious process that will require financing modes of implementation, development plans, innovative urban planning and the reinforcement of territorial partnerships.
Multiple experiences show that partnerships between local governments and organised community and citizens organisations based on high-quality, community-collected data produce development solutions that are more sustainable and affordable to the poorest – thereby creating more inclusive cities.
Policy responses to these challenges need to be supported by strong territorial (horizontal) and institutional (vertical) partnerships promoting the relevance of multilevel policies as well as citizenship practices. Cities therefore rely on inclusive partnerships and mechanisms fostering commitment, bold action and humanism.
One of the platforms that has been created to spur these types of partnerships is the Joint Work Programme (JWP) of the Cities Alliance partnership. Created to prepare inputs to Habitat III while discussing priorities and messages that are key to the Post-2015 Agenda, the partnership currently consists of organisations including UN-Habitat, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (MFA), Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
The main aims of the Joint Work Programme are to enhance discussion in the preparatory process towards a New Urban Agenda and to promote the role of partnerships in its implementation (and implications at the local level). In light of recent developments at Prepcom II and the questions surrounding stakeholder participation in the preparatory process, a platform like the JWP that brings together diverse actors becomes even more relevant.
What seems to be clear looking at the road ahead towards Habitat III is that institutional unilateralism has become obsolete. Forging creative and inclusive partnerships is becoming essential in order to set the agenda right. How successfully we develop such frameworks in a participatory manner will eventually determine how sustainable and realistic the new urban agenda will be.
Fernando Casado Cañeque is the founder and director of the Centre of Partnerships for Development (CAD), based in Barcelona. He is a Ph.D. economist and journalist specialising in projects related to economic and sustainable development. CAD is currently providing advocacy support for the Cities Alliance Joint Work Programme on Habitat III.
While substantive input from major groups developing the new urban agenda and contributing to the Habitat III process is essential, the participatory process to include local governments, civil society and other stakeholders is falling short of expectations.