Partners discuss the implementation of the New Urban Agenda through National Urban Policies in Viet Nam

Ha Noi, 26 April 2017— UN Habitat, OECD and the Viet Nam’s Ministry of Construction recently held a one day Policy Dialogue on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda through National Urban Policies.

The event that was supported by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and UNDP was attended by more than 50 policy makers and stakeholders, with the Dialogue session beings opened by Mr. Nguyen Dinh Toan, the Viet Nam Vice Minister of Construction, and Rolf Alter, Director, Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate, OECD.

Mr. Alter stressed the importance of strong National Urban Policies and stated that “national urban policies are meant to both provide a vision but also are a call for action to ensure that cities are inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable. “
This international dialogue gathered high-level policymakers from relevant ministries on urban policy in Viet Nam (Construction, Planning and Investment, Natural Resource and Environment, Transport, Finance, Internal Affairs, etc.) as well as representatives from German and Japanese governments, in order to exchange views on Viet Nam’s urbanization challenges, policy responses, and good policy practices that could be shared with other countries. The Dialogue considered how Viet Nam can capitalize the unique opportunities the rapid urbanization process brings and what options are available for improving the current urban structure and planning and investment framework of Viet Nam. Furthermore participants discussed what role urban policies can play in achieving national green growth and addressing climate change in Viet Nam.
The afternoon session of the Dialogue brought together key stakeholders involved in the ongoing development of the National Urban Development Strategy (NUDS) for Viet Nam in order to reflect on what they consider to be the most pressing urban issues in Viet Nam and particularly to discuss what role the NUDS is playing in order to address these challenges. Representatives from UN-Habitat, OECD, GGGI, Cities Alliance, and the Asian Development Bank reflected on other ongoing urban initiatives and programmes in Viet Nam, such as the National Urban Development Programme and the National Urban Upgrading Programme, in order to highlight synergies between programmes/processes and to situate the NUDS within the context of these other programmes/processes.
As a flagship project of the National Urban Policy Programme, which was launched last October at Habitat III in Quito, OECD, UN Habitat and GGGI are currently conducting a National Urban Policy Review of Viet Nam. The study analyses the country’s urban structure and development trends in an internationally comparative framework, identifies main challenges that urban and metropolitan areas face in Viet Nam, assesses how current urban policies assist in achieving national environmental and green growth goals, and provides practical policy recommendations, building on existing ongoing international initiatives. The Dialogue session benefited from inputs from experts leading the Policy Review. The final version of the Review will be released in early 2018.
The discussion on National Urban Policies as a tool for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda will continue at the Second International Conference on National Urban Policy, May 15-18, 2017 at the OECD Headquarters in Paris. The Conference will be co-hosted by UN-Habitat and OECD and is supported by Cities Alliance, GGGI, IHS, and UCLG. It serves an important role as an advocacy event, which provides a forum to discuss and debate about National Urban Policy, but importantly, also allows policy makers and other stakeholders to come together and learn from each other’s experiences with NUP – thus providing an environment for peer-to-peer learning and exchange. For more information on the Conference, visit the website here: icnup.urbanpolicyplatform.org.

Source: Partners discuss the implementation of the New Urban Agenda through National Urban Policies in Viet Nam

Is a universal definition of the ‘city’ on the horizon?

This month, a group of urban thinkers from the United Nations, the European Commission and other organizations are meeting in Brussels to continue a curiously complex attempt: developing a universal definition of the “city”.

The meeting is a pivotal step toward ironing out a globally applicable city definition that can be used to measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those that pertain to cities, along with the New Urban Agenda, a global agreement that will guide urbanization over the next 20 years.

Article: Is a universal definition of the ‘city’ on the horizon? | Citiscope? by BRENDON BOSWORTH APRIL 5, 2017

In the eyes of many working on the issue, a universal definition of the city that can be used by policymakers and the global development community is a piece of the SDGs puzzle that is still missing. The issue underpins the 169 targets and their related indicators included in the SDGs framework.

“When you go down to targets and indicators, you will clearly see that there are quite a number of indicators for which the unit of measurement is the city,” says Robert Ndugwa, head of UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory Unit.

“The challenge here is if we don’t agree globally on what the city definition is, we’re going to have a situation where when you measure such indicators, you might … measure them in an area which is perhaps a municipality or the core part of the city, but not necessarily the whole city extent,” he said.

That’s a problem. Many of the indicators for SDG 11 — the “urban goal” — are highly sensitive to where city boundaries are drawn. These include things such as access to public transport and air quality.

“It is impossible to compare data for cities if the boundary is not drawn in exactly the same way,” said Lewis Dijkstra, with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy.

[See: Three ways cities are using data to guide decision-making]

In the absence of a universally agreed definition of the city, policymakers typically rely on guidelines that vary by country. City boundaries generally are set along administrative or legal lines.

“Usually when people use the word ‘city’, they refer to a particular administrative area but not necessarily one that’s defined in a harmonized way,” said Dijkstra.

“One city, like the city of Paris, captures only the downtown. Other cities may capture the downtown, the suburbs and maybe even some rural areas,” he said. “So even something simple like the population size of a city couldn’t be derived from the administrative area.”

For mayors, it is particularly important to have a clear definition of what constitutes their city. Think of a mayor who uses a city definition that doesn’t include the suburbs and encompasses only the central city, Dijkstra said. When people are moving out to the suburbs, it will look like the city is declining in population — when in fact the total city is growing. That has massive potential implications for planning and budgeting.

[See: How investable is your city? This index promises an answer]

There’s also a competitiveness angle. “We’ve noticed that mayors are incredibly keen to compare their cities to others – especially between countries,” he said.

And without a universally applicable definition of a city, independent of administrative boundaries, it will be impossible to compare progress across cities on the SDGs in a reliable manner. “Comparing cities internationally using a collection of national definitions will generate many distortions,” notes a 2016 report from the European Commission.

Two models

While the problems of having no universal definition of a city are well understood, how to fix these concerns has been vexing.

“Within two to three years, the groups hope to come out with final guidance to U. N. member states on which methodology to apply globally.”

This month’s meeting, slated to take place in the last week of April, will bring together thinkers who have been working on emerging city definitions as well as representation from the U. N.’s Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management, and its Food and Agriculture Organization.

Multiple teams will bring with them proposed definitions that are already well along in development, but two will receive particular attention. The European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for instance, will bring its “harmonized” city definition. This considers a “functional urban area” as the city combined with its commuting zone.

[See: Developing countries face a catastrophic lack of urban planning capacity]

What this means in practice is a city that consists of one or more municipalities with the majority of the population living in an urban centre. The researchers look at an area with at least 50,000 inhabitants, made up of adjacent grid cells, each with at least 1,500 inhabitants per square kilometre. (The commuting zone, meanwhile, is comprised of neighbouring municipalities with at least 15 percent of their working population commuting to the city.)

The E. U.-OECD team has fully applied this definition to all major cities in the European Union and in OECD countries. The approach has been endorsed by over 30 national statistical institutes, according to Dijkstra.

Now they’re seeking to expand this approach to other countries. At last year’s Habitat III summit on sustainable cities, the European Union committed to further developing a common city definition for international comparisons, based on its model. To be created in collaboration with the OECD and World Bank, it aims to present the idea to the U. N. Statistical Commission in 2019.

A second model is being developed through a collaborative effort between researchers at New York University, UN-Habitat and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. This definition is used to track the urban expansion of a sample of 200 cities, reported on in the 2016 Atlas of Urban Expansion. It also is applied to the roughly 400 cities taking part in a UN-Habitat project called the City Prosperity Initiative, said the agency’s Ndugwa.

This definition of the city considers urban areas as those that are above a built-up density of 50 percent. Suburban areas are classified as those that are 25 to 50 percent built-up, and a combination of urban and suburban areas plus open space makes up what researchers refer to as clusters. The “urban extent” is then calculated by identifying the main urban cluster and adding adjacent clusters that meet a particular rule for inclusion.

[See: Multimedia project shows the ever-changing shape of cities]

The meeting also will consider a global comparison of various methodologies that look at city extents, from a team of academics from Sweden, said Ndugwa. But these two approaches are the two main definitions being looked at, in part because they have been around the longest and have been explicitly looked at for their potential global application

“With those teams in-house, we expect that we should really come up with a harmonized definition of cities, and that might be a combination of what the European Union is proposing as well as what UN-Habitat and NYU have been applying,” said Ndugwa.

Three-year time frame

Because these two city definitions offer different methodologies, the researchers want to see how much variation there is in city boundaries when applied to different cities.

The plan is for the group to pilot both definitions on a selection of 20 cities after the Brussels meeting to see how city boundaries compare under both methodologies. Cities in the pilot include Belo Horizonte, Cairo and Cleveland.

[See: In Uganda’s small but fast-growing cities, ‘one planner is not enough’]

“[We] want to dig down into the nitty-gritties of what are the real differences, and why do we get different estimates in terms of the city area,” said Ndugwa. The plan would be to figure out “what is conceptually a better methodology, and most especially what is most simple and universally applicable both in the Global North and the Global South.”

Within two to three years, Ndugwa said, the groups hope to come out with final guidance to U. N. member states on which methodology to apply globally.

It’s still early in the testing process. But the researchers admit that while the lines of work are compatible, there are challenges in bringing the definitions together.

While the E. U.-OECD definition could undergo small tweaks, such as integrating the share of built-up area into its grid cells, it could not be radically changed, largely due to the fact that it already is being used at national levels, according to Dijkstra.

[See: How ISO standards for city data are starting to make an impact]

“Yes, it is a challenge,” said Ndugwa. “But in our view, we need to work with a global methodology that will be feasible, universal and sustainable to apply and collect this data by member states.”

Whatever happens, concrete attempts to create and refine a globally applicable city definition constitute an important milestone for the global urban development agenda. If all goes to plan, soon policymakers and others in the development community could be able to properly compare the performance and progress of cities across countries — something that to date has not been possible.

Article: Is a universal definition of the ‘city’ on the horizon? | Citiscope? by BRENDON BOSWORTH APRIL 5, 2017

Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.”

Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

New York, 29 March 2017 – At the recent 61st Commission on the Status of Women, UN-Habitat hosted a series of multi-stakeholder events at the UN Headquarters to make certain that the role of women in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda is well understood and the realization of inclusive, economically viable and sustainable cities is achieved.

Source: Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

The recently sworn-in Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, opened the first panel of gender and development leaders by emphasizing the critical role of the New Urban Agenda in achieving the vision for sustainable and inclusive societies by 2030. “Given the megatrend of rapid urbanization, achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will depend, in large part, on whether we can make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, Ms Mohammed said.

Susceptibility to poverty traps and natural disasters, unemployment and lack of opportunities for education impede women across the globe from becoming active members of their societies, therefore halting the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Space for engagement

At the second session, hosted by the Ford Foundation, member state representatives and global and local civil society leaders discussed the fundamental need for inclusive design, planning and governing of human settlements in achieving the vision of the New Urban Agenda.

The event gave stage to the distinguished panel of global experts and leaders in the fields of gender policy, public policy and urbanism. UN-Habitat’s Deputy Executive Director, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, set the tone for the evening by reminding the attendees that: “People are looking for a sense of belonging in their city. People want their voices valued. People want to have space in their cities; space for play, for debate, for engagement with their leaders and for connecting among themselves.”

Adam Vaughan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development in Canada, discussed the critical nature of accessibility of public services, such as robust transit networks, public spaces and adequate shelter, for all urban residents.

Ana Falú, Vice Chair of the UN-Habitat Advisory Group on Gender Issues, focused on the importance of distinguishing the cultural and societal stigmas of women in the economic and social realms of cities as a crucial starting point for implementing inclusive and gender-balance urban strategies.

Cities as engines of socioeconomic empowerment

The event ignited engagement from the attendees. The representative of the Ecuador Permanent Mission to the UN highlighted the crucial nature of the New Urban Agenda for Ecuador’s sustainable urban future and urged the audience to consider the exigent need for governments across the globe to engage with the New Urban Agenda and implement inclusive and sustainable national urban policies.

Finally, the Population Council gathered a full room of scholars, policy-makers, urban leaders and urban activists to discuss the critical nature of cities as engines of socio-economic empowerment for women and girls. The event covered a wide array of topics, ranging from migration, infrastructure and social integration as they relate to girls’ successful transition to urban agglomerations and, consequently, to their vitality within the social and economic realms of their communities.

The event presented an esteemed panel of speakers, each bringing distinctive and valuable perspectives to the table. Sarah Engebretsen of the Population Council, introduced a summary of comprehensive research findings of the newly-published “Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls & Migration in the Developing World” report, where she pointed out the important distinction between the different temporal stages of young girls’ migration to urban settlements: pre-migration stage, in-transit and early arrival stage and the settling stage.

Although each of the migration stages presents a unique set of challenges, risks and opportunities for young girls, Ms. Engebretsen asserted that a number of factors, such as safe and reliable networks, access to safe shelter upon arrival, general understanding of the available resources and access to community services and groups, can largely improve the experience of such transition.

Source: Women’s and the New Urban Agenda at CSW

Since Habitat III, an uptick in interest around national urban policies

In the next decade, could half of the world’s countries have a national policy that guides urban development? They could, if a coalition of international organizations has anything to say about it.

Article: Since Habitat III, an uptick in interest around national urban policies By Gregory Scruggs March 24, 2017

Getting “national urban policies” on the books is a major priority in the aftermath of last year’s United Nations Habitat III conference on urbanization. This year, it will prove pivotal in the effort to create momentum around a government framework that, despite its name, doesn’t always mean a single law written down on paper. As such, these policies can’t easily be copied and pasted from one country to the next.

Indeed, part of the complexity of creating a national urban policy is figuring out exactly what is is — and isn’t. UN-Habitat defines the concept as “a coherent set of decisions derived through a deliberate government-led process of coordinating and rallying various actors for a common vision and goal that will promote more transformative, productive, inclusive and resilient urban development for the long term. Since 2015, the agency has offered a general framework for any country thinking of going down the national urban policy road.

Now, UN-Habitat is working with Cities Alliance and the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) to build up focus on and understanding of national urban policies around the world. They’re hoping to push half of all countries to adopt national urban policies by 2025.

The trio sees this approach as essential to delivering on the promises of the New Urban Agenda, which was adopted at Habitat III, and the U. N.’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which went into effect last year.

[See: How quickly will governments respond to the New Urban Agenda?]

But advocates offer an inherently loose and flexible definition because, as UN-Habitat’s Jane Reid explains, “Developing a national urban policy is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

‘Getting cities right’

Legal systems vary from country to country, and the ways in which relations between national governments and local authorities are governed can differ dramatically. In Canada and the United States, for example, strong federal systems would typically preclude any formal policy that dictates from Ottawa or Washington how cities should develop.

National urban policies also will differ because countries can have remarkably different urban profiles. Slovakia, for example, has only two cities of more 100,000 people, while Australia has five cities boasting more than 1 million, spread across a continent-sized territory. But both are starting to formulate national urban policies.

Part of this is recognition that those countries without national urban policies are starting to lag behind their peers, at least among those in the OECD. Currently 15 out of the 35 OECD countries have what could be considered a national urban policy, and 90 percent have at least elements of such a policy.

“National urban policy provides a framework so governments and other stakeholders can get cities right,” OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurria said in October, speaking at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador.

[See: Nordic region will be first to implement New Urban Agenda, declaration states]

Gurria noted that the trend toward such policies constituted a sea change among government officials — and one that stands to significantly strengthen the efficacy of policymaking.

“Although a wide range of national policies affect urban development, they are rarely looked at through an urban lens,” he said. “Sectoral policies may — and often do — achieve results that are diametrically opposed to stated aims for cities.”

For example, a transportation ministry might plan a new highway that improves logistics for trucking traffic from a port city to the interior without considering whether that highway might induce suburban sprawl. When operating under a national urban policy, the ministry would think twice and consult with colleagues about the highway’s implications for the country’s cities.

Increasing momentum

Since Habitat III, there has been an uptick in interest in national urban policies, according to the OECD and others.

“OECD has definitely observed an increase in momentum and interest in both developing and also reviewing national urban policies,” said Rudiger Ahrend, a point person on the issue for the Paris-based group. Last year, ahead of Habitat III, the OECD published a report on the state of national urban policies that scans existing policies and programmes to determine how countries measure up.

In addition to Australia and Slovakia, OECD members Hungary, New Zealand and the Netherlands are currently formulating national urban policies. UN-Habitat also reports new policies at various stages of development in a laundry list of countries that includes 30 in total, from Angola and Argentina to Zambia and Zanzibar. The majority of these are in Africa and the Middle East.

[See: Want sustainable urban development? It’s time for Local Agenda 2030]

According to South African economist Ivan Turok, 1 in 3 African countries has a national urban policy. This trend defies the “conventional wisdom” that African countries are unprepared and unwilling to embrace their urbanizing future, he has written. In particular, Turok points to Ethiopia for its “far-sighted commitment to urbanization”, Morocco for its “progressive human settlements policy” and Ghana for taking a “pragmatic” approach to urban policy.

Much of the post-Habitat III trends around national urban policies will come to a head in a few months. In May, the OECD is set to host a major conference on the issue in Paris, where UN-Habitat will release a global report on the topic.

While the conference will take place some nine months after Habitat III, it will also be just two months before the annual review of the SDGs. Indeed, the 2018 session of this review is slated to focus in particular on cities.

[See: Cities poised to play a bigger role in SDGs review process]

In addition to drumming up further interest among policymakers, then, many backers are hoping that the May conference will assess how national urban policies can deliver on the two agreements. Over the past year, particular focus has been placed on how to “localize” these global accords — meaning, how to implement them at the local level using locally relevant strategies — and some are pushing national urban policies as one key to that puzzle.

“The interest in national urban policies post-Habitat III is strongly linked to the understanding of them as a tool for the implementation and the localization of the New Urban Agenda and other global agendas,” said UN-Habitat’s Reid. In this regard, he pointed not only to the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs but also to recent global agreements on climate and disaster risk management.

Implementing the vision

As the effort toward national urban policies progresses, however, there are some hurdles to overcome. One is around data and related capacity.

“There is a need to solve the problem of lack of data, knowledge and tools on national urban policies,” said the OECD’s Ahrend. “Comparable data among countries is one of the key points to monitor the advance to achieve the goal.”

[See: How ISO standards for city data are starting to make an impact]

OECD and UN-Habitat already are offering technical assistance to countries as they develop national urban policies. Currently the groups are reviewing Vietnam’s policy, which was jump-started by support from Cities Alliance during the early 2000s and thus offers a fairly robust time frame for analysis.

“A common finding in many other countries has been a lack of coordination both among sectoral policies that affect cities (and the responsible ministries), as well as difficulties to coordinate between the national and sub-national levels,” said Ahrend.

The groups also are seeing requests for technical assistance ongoing draft policies, “diagnosis reports” mapping a country’s current spectrum of urban policies, and even staff assigned to national ministries for day-to-day support.

Technical assistance tends to focus on, for instance, ensuring that the process to come up with a national vision on urbanization takes into account broad stakeholder input, including priorities for how to achieve that vision, UN-Habitat experts say. Capacity-building also plays a key role, including at the sub-national level.

In this, in-person meetings between national government officials, city officials, academics, NGOs and other stakeholders also are valuable, experts say. Billed as national urban forums, such meetings provide an opportunity to hash out ideas on what a policy should and should not contain.

[See: How will we monitor the New Urban Agenda? This U. N. process will decide]

Finally, technical assistance seeks to ensure that any new urban policies are quickly translated into projects on the ground, taking the evolving vision out of the realm of the theoretical. In Cameroon, for instance, a UN-Habitat team sought to pair the process of creating a national urban policy with a demonstration process around upgrading public spaces.

On the road to their 2025 goal, the trio of institutions hopes to learn some valuable lessons about urbanization. In Ahrend’s telling, their effort’s biggest achievement will be “a foundation of urban knowledge through the provision of a forum for knowledge creation, knowledge exchange and knowledge management.”

Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.”

 

UN-Habitat facing ‘considerable decline’ in core funding, assessment warns

Donor countries are applauding UN-Habitat’s pivot toward urban issues but have raised concerns regarding fundraising efforts, according to a report released this week.

The external evaluation, which has been unusually widely watched, comes as the United Nations agency is angling to take the lead on implementation of the U. N.’s new 20-year urbanization strategy, the New Urban Agenda.

The report also comes amidst internal wrangling and as key broader assessments of the agency are moving forward. UN-Habitat will host its biennial board meeting in May, where several long-simmering issues are expected to come to the fore. In addition, the U. N. secretary-general is preparing to conduct his own assessment of the agency, although the details of that review have yet to be announced.

Released on 15 March alongside reviews of 11 other multilateral organizations, the assessment was prepared by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN). The network works at the behest of 18 donor countries, including major UN-Habitat contributors such as Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United States.

“UN-Habitat largely meets the requirements of an effective multilateral organisation and is fit for purpose, although performance can be strengthened and improved in some areas,” the report’s executive summary concludes. “Fit for purpose” means that the agency is, in theory, well-positioned to deliver on its mandate.

Source: UN-Habitat facing ‘considerable decline’ in core funding, assessment warns

The analysis covers 2014 to mid-2016, during which time UN-Habitat prepared for last year’s Habitat III summit. The conference resulted in the New Urban Agenda, a voluntary, non-binding agreement on how to plan and manage urbanization.

[See: How will we monitor the New Urban Agenda? This U. N. process will decide]

The MOPAN report commends the agency for its shift from a traditional focus on human settlements, especially slum upgrading, to a more holistic emphasis on urban planning and management.

The assessment also applauds how the agency has pursued that focus, including management reforms by UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos. Clos, who also headed Habitat III, has emphasized a decentralized “matrix” approach to projects more akin to a strategic consultancy. He also has implemented results-based accountability.

Further, the agency’s “powerful new partnerships” with local governments “have the potential to be transformative,” the evaluation states. Clos, the former mayor of Barcelona, has forged alliances with key networks of city leaders around the world during his tenure at the Nairobi-based agency.

[See: UN-Habitat’s vision of sustainable urbanization is good — but not enough]

In a written statement, a UN-Habitat spokesperson said the agency welcomed the MOPAN assessment, “in particular the recognition of the organization’s understanding of, and strong leadership in the field of sustainable urbanization.”

Core funding ‘inadequate’

The report notes room for improvement, however. For one, it encourages the agency to work more collaboratively with other U. N. offices, especially on “cross-cutting” issues such as climate change and human rights. MOPAN’s analysts highlight a similar recommendation from the U. N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, which audited UN-Habitat last year.

“[Core funding] has suffered a considerable decline in recent years and is inadequate to respond to core functions and other organisation priorities.”

MOPANAssessment of UN-Habitat

In the evaluation released this week, however, the main issue is core funding. While overall funding for UN-Habitat, which spent USD 167 million in 2015, has gone up, most of those resources are earmarked for specific projects. Core funding, which pays for permanent staff, “has suffered a considerable decline in recent years and is inadequate to respond to core functions and other organisation priorities,” the report concludes.

[See: UN-Cities? Rumoured proposal gains steam]

This funding challenge has caused some full-time positions to become part-time or short-term consultant positions. The resulting staff turnover may be responsible for the agency’s poor marks in this year U. N. Global Staff Survey, which ranked UN-Habitat among the bottom five U. N. agencies for overall satisfaction, leadership and ethics.

Now, that low morale could have direct implications for the agency’s involvement in overseeing the new global urbanization strategy. James Ohayo, the president of the UN-Habitat Staff Union, recently warned that the situation could “shackle” implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Outside observers likewise question UN-Habitat’s management despite the most recent assessment’s overall positive conclusions. “The agency may be fit for purpose, but the management is not,” U. N. lobbyist Felix Dodds told Citiscope.

As for the agency’s financial woes, that is not necessarily unique to Habitat, Dodds cautioned. “There’s been a movement toward that with many agencies, where core funding has gone down and project funding has gone up,” he said. “But at Habitat, it’s been a more extreme level.”

Secretary-general’s panel

Meanwhile, the Habitat III outcome called for U. N. Secretary-General António Guterres to conduct an independent assessment of the agency with an eye toward determining how the U. N. system will follow up on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Following the December adoption a U. N. General Assembly resolution approving the New Urban Agenda, a spokesperson for the secretary-general said that Guterres’s office will appoint a high-level panel to conduct the independent review and will complete its work by June, followed by a two-day public review by the U. N. General Assembly. In January, the spokesperson said that the panel’s composition would be announced “in the coming weeks,” but as of press time, no further information was available.

[See: What should be new U. N. Secretary-General Guterres’s urban priorities?]

All of these issues and recommendations are likely to come into play in mid-May, when the 58 countries on the UN-Habitat Governing Council will convene at the agency’s headquarters in the Kenyan capital. That meeting will be the next significant milestone this year as the United Nations seeks to resolve the question of who will take the lead on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

This story is tagged under: UN-HabitatThe New Urban AgendaUnited NationsJoan ClosGovernance

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Homepage Label: United NationsHomepage Title: Report: UN-Habitat facing ‘considerable decline’ in core funding

Sustaining peace in an urban world

The conflict in Syria has turned formerly thriving urban centres such as Aleppo and Homs into landscapes of rubble and decay. Those escaping the violence in these cities and elsewhere in the country have fled to predominantly urban areas in neighbouring countries. This influx has placed intense pressures on housing, livelihoods and basic urban services, sometimes resulting in tensions between host and displaced communities.

Meanwhile, in countries such as Mali, Haiti and the Central African Republic, U. N. peacekeepers are increasingly deployed in city centres. There they often struggle to address urban warfare. The U. N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, for instance, withdrew its disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme for gang members and continues to find it difficult to find a suitable DDR programme for its urban peace-building efforts.

Furthermore, the presence of U. N. peacekeepers can leave behind long-lasting impacts on the political, economic and social fabric of these cities, oftentimes negative. This can include compounds placing extra burdens on already fragile infrastructure and increasing pressure on scarce local resources.

Read more at the Source: Sustaining peace in an urban world

Each of these examples demonstrates some of the complexities of contemporary urban violence and conflict, as well as the challenges these are bringing to the international system. On the one hand, according to a study by the United Nations University, the pace of urbanization in conflict-affected countries has increased by 298 percent over the past 40 years. This acceleration has made it more difficult to achieve peace, bringing with it multi-layered conflict, urban violence and new forms of exclusion.

[See: More than half the world’s refugees live in urban areas. Here’s what that means for cities.]

On the other hand, cities also create tremendous opportunities for their inhabitants. Human development metrics are typically higher in urban areas, a trend that holds true throughout the world. Cities also consistently rank better than rural areas when it comes to health indicators and access to basic services.

Increasingly, then, U. N. and other policymakers are recognizing that the urbanization process is instrumental to societal transformation. As yet, however, the United Nations is not adequately adapting its operations and policy frameworks to the new urban reality of violence and conflict.

Breaking cycles of violence

Still, the U. N. system is rapidly creating new tools with which to deal with this reality. That includes adapting and transforming its peace and security, development and humanitarian responses to cope with the demands of a rapidly changing world.

“If the New Urban Agenda is to provide a comprehensive guide to the urbanization process, it must address urban violence and conflict and integrate efforts to sustaining peace into its own guidelines.”

Last year, for instance, parallel resolutions by the U. N. Security Council and the General Assembly endorsed the concept of “sustaining peace”, introduced for the first time by a 2015 review of the United Nations’ peacebuilding architecture. This idea has gained traction ever since. In one of his first addresses to the Security Council, new U. N. Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that sustaining peace and preventing conflict must a top U. N. priority.

[See: How will the next U. N. secretary-general address urbanization?]

So what does this concept entail? Sustaining peace means going beyond short-term responses to conflict such as delivering aid or sending troops to preserve peace. These actions are still significant, but sustaining peace focuses on the importance of having a long-term vision in mind in all responses to end conflict, primarily to prevent constant cycles of lapse and relapse into conflict.

In practical terms, this means that if the peace and security sector doesn’t find ways to address the root causes of conflict — exclusion, social injustice, violence and inequality — in places such as Haiti, Liberia or the Central African Republic, it might spend billions of dollars and many years placing bandages on unrest that erupts as soon as peacekeepers leave.

Of course, addressing root causes of conflict cannot and should not be done by external actors alone. It requires connecting better with national and local actors, including municipalities, city governments and civil society organizations.

[See: Providing shelter in urban Iraq: Where the displaced meet the poor]

But what does this mean for cities? At least in theory, it means that in a rapidly urbanizing world, addressing exclusionary challenges and stresses that cities face everyday, particularly in conflict-affected cities such as Port-au-Prince, Bangui or Kabul, becomes central from the perspective of peace and security.

The sustaining peace agenda realizes that peacekeepers, peace-builders and humanitarian actors do not operate in a vacuum in these cities. On the contrary, their actions can either contribute to or harm the future well-being of cities. This approach forces the United Nations and other international actors to take account of the increasingly urban contexts in which they operate.

Urban gaps

The U. N.’s discussion on cities is being bolstered by parallel global agreements struck over the past two years. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include an urban goal (SDG 11) that places an emphasis on achieving safe and sustainable cities. In addition, the New Urban Agenda, the vision on sustainable cities adopted in October, makes reference to “conflict and post-conflict contexts”.

“The sustaining peace agenda realizes that peacekeepers, peace-builders and humanitarian actors do not operate in a vacuum in cities — their actions can either contribute to or harm the future well-being of cities.”

Importantly, these two share common goals with the sustaining peace agenda: achieving sustainable development, fostering national and local ownership, building inclusive communities and resilience, and encouraging transformation toward durable solutions.

[See: Who’s really left behind in today’s most dangerous cities?]

Yet these frameworks also fill important gaps for each other. As yet, for instance, the city is absent from the sustaining peace agenda, while the New Urban Agenda does not provide a substantive guide for how to address urban violence and conflict.

Now is the time to devise practical frameworks that bring together the SDGs and New Urban Agenda with the concept of sustaining peace. While there have been many theoretical discussions on the importance of broadening inclusion and addressing long-term challenges in the past two years at the United Nations, the practical implications have not yet been fully understood.

Despite its significant new focus on cities, for instance, the United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian response continues to struggle to understand the impact of rapid urbanization. U. N. officials may recognize that their peacekeeping efforts are increasingly located in urban contexts and that urban actors (such as mayors, municipalities and urban dwellers) are critical to sustaining peace, but they are not framing their policy frameworks around this reality.

[See: U. N. summit on migration crisis fails to address front-line role of cities]

In order for the sustaining peace agenda to be achieved, we argue, it must attend to these urban dynamics. Likewise, if the New Urban Agenda is to provide a comprehensive guide to the urbanization process, it must address urban violence and conflict and integrate efforts to sustaining peace into its own guidelines.

Defining these linkages

We are not alone in this call for the United Nations to pay greater attention to the urban dynamics of violence and conflict. In December, experts gathered at U. N. Headquarters in New York to look at how the SDGs, New Urban Agenda and sustaining peace approach could complement each other, as well as how urban perspectives can facilitate efforts to sustain peace in an urbanizing world. (See video of the event here.)

Participants made clear that that these new frameworks would all require a major rethink, emphasizing the need for greater localization at the urban scale. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, assistant secretary-general for the U. N. Peacebuilding Commission, warned that this would require a transformation in how the entire U. N. system operates. This would include, for instance, recognizing the role of urban authorities (that remain absent in many agreements) and building local urban capacity.

[See: Post-conflict Colombia looks to its cities]

Izumi Nakamitsu, assistant secretary-general for U. N. Development Programme, noted that the different agendas present opportunities to advance integrated responses to sustaining peace. The international system needs to address the complexity of the urbanization agenda, and more emphasis needs to be placed on the localization of support, she stressed.

Typically, U. N. peacekeeping compounds and refugee camps are no longer located in rural areas, meaning that the United Nations now has missions, compounds and troops in hundreds of cities around the world. Malkit Shoshan, who lectures on “the architecture of peace” at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, noted that about 180 cities in the Sahel host U. N. bases, the structure and set-up of which have the potential to dramatically impact efforts to sustain peace.

Shoshan said that peacekeeping bases are not designed to consider the long-term needs and rights of urban dwellers in conflict-affected cities, thus often disrupting the communities they are intended to assist. She highlighted how too often U. N. peacekeeping camps are shut off from their local context, make no contribution to improving the lives of local inhabitants and can even compete for resources with them. If, however, the United Nations took design and urban planning into account, peacekeeping missions could be integrated into local contexts and spaces created for community engagement — reinforcing efforts to sustain peace.

[See: Can a new ‘global alliance’ rethink disaster response in cities?]

Better research, data and a stronger knowledge base is required to understand the dynamics of contemporary urban violence and stronger connections between the United Nations, member states, urbanists and urban communities. Participants stressed that urban violence is a complicated and under-researched phenomenon, and that more attention is required to comprehend contemporary urban violence and conflict in order for strategies to be developed to sustain peace.

Several participants also highlighted the importance of linking Goal 16 of the SDGs — on peaceful, inclusive and just societies — to Goal 11 in the contexts of violence, fragility and conflict. Urban dwellers are the most likely to fail to meet the SDGs. Importantly, if the sustaining peace agenda and New Urban Agenda are approached together, highlighting the urban dynamics of socio-economic, security and environmental stresses, connections between SDG 11 and SDG 16 will becoming increasingly apparent.

[See: How Baltimore is using the Sustainable Development Goals to make a more just city]

The December event signalled that the significance of urban perspectives and the urban dynamics of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and displacement is gaining recognition by U. N. officials, policymakers and member states. But more needs to be done to bridge the gaps between the peace, development and urban agendas and to move towards common responses.