By Anaclaudia Rossbach
[20 November 2016] -- While the Habitat III process and the adoption of a New Urban Agenda has had a global impact, it has been fundamental for the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region.
As the host region of the main Habitat III conference, it was almost inevitable that LAC would be strongly impacted by the process. There was already a high level of political and social capital in both public and non-governmental organisations, which mobilised at historic levels around the issue of inclusion and social justice in cities in advance of the conference.
In turn, the experience of LAC and its pre-Habitat III mobilisation efforts significantly impacted the discussions in Quito and the final New Urban Agenda, and offer valuable lessons for the future.
Lessons from the most urbanised and unequal region in the world
The LAC region is the most urbanised in the world, with 80 per cent of its inhabitants living in cities and a relatively advanced urban framework of policies, laws and institutions. Paradoxically, it is also the most unequal region – especially its highly segregated metropolitan centres, which are now paying a high price for 20 years of fast-paced urbanisation.
While this inequality is most evident in physical infrastructure gaps, the social dimension of inequality has heavily impacted societies within LAC countries. This has led to a technical and political dynamic towards recognising and establishing mechanisms, including multi-level and stakeholder governance, national urban policies, mapping and dealing properly with informality – all with a perspective of the right to the city.
These ideas and mechanisms have already been implemented in many Latin American countries, and they are now finally recognised in the New Urban Agenda. For the LAC region, the Quito conference created strategic momentum for recognising these advances and validating the direction that national urban policy frameworks were already taking in many countries.
It also played a critical role in bringing strategic stakeholders together in networks and initiatives based on collaboration and multi-stakeholder partnerships – resulting in a strategic, regional convening of forces aimed at implementing the New Urban Agenda more effectively. This experience offers valuable lessons for other regions that are at earlier stages in the urbanisation process as they seek to implement the New Urban Agenda.
Catalysing collaboration for Habitat III and beyond
In the leadup to Habitat III, Cities Alliance played a significant role as a catalyser for thought and action. It was a natural role for the partnership, which has a long history of successful collaboration in Latin America, especially Brazil and Chile.
Throughout the entire Habitat III process, Cities Alliance supported and convened its core regional membership around researchers, thinkers, policy makers and practitioners at high-level events throughout the region. These events include the Cuenca Meeting on Intermediate Cities, the Mexico Meeting on Finance, the Regional Meeting in Toluca, the MINURVI Annual Assembly, the expert consultation on the regional report, as well as parallel conferences and gatherings in Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia.
This support represented a strong institutional contribution from Cities Alliance to the regional and global Habitat III process and the New Urban Agenda itself. It also helped strengthen the Cities Alliance’s regional strategy, which is based on the potential of regional innovation and knowledge on urban issues – an approach that has value not just for the LAC region, but for the rest of the urbanising south.
The Habitat III Conference itself was diverse, bringing together key stakeholders from all regions (albeit with a stronger presence from LAC and Europe). It was a huge undertaking, with more than 500 official events and many parallel events at participant booths. With so many opportunities for knowledge and networking, it was difficult to choose which ones to attend.
Even in such a large venue, the Cities Alliance stood out. The Cities Alliance partnership organised many events at the Cities Alliance booth, the German Pavilion, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), among others. Additional events included the social movements and grassroots forum the “Resistencia Habitat III”, and two conferences organised by FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences) that gathered prominent thinkers and practitioners to debate on the challenges ahead for the New Urban Agenda in LAC and at the global level.
Partners in LAC placed significant emphasis on topics such as informality and inclusion, national urban policies and legal frameworks, the role of research and collaboration initiatives, and of course the Right to the City – a constant theme in all debates I was fortunate enough to participate in. This clearly demonstrates that these concepts will be the background for the regional implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
A niche for Cities Alliance
Looking ahead, both the Habitat III conference and the entire process show potential paths for the Cities Alliance in LAC. First and foremost is the partnership’s niche to act as honest broker fostering collaboration. Cities Alliance has played this role since its foundation, and it is one that meshes well with the New Urban Agenda.
In the LAC region, there was a clear need to join efforts and resources to expand access to knowledge and experiences, strengthen collaboration among a broader set of stakeholders, and build social capital and networks of universities and research institutions. Cities Alliance helped facilitate this collaboration and can continue to do so in the future. Such a cycle will enable the region to scale up and replicate concrete advances and tackle the challenges ahead, eventually with limited support from international organisations, but much more strategic and with higher impact.
Several strong initiatives have emerged from the Habitat III process that touch on the core mission of the Cities Alliance and its collaborative approach. They include the Urban Housing Practitioners Hub, networks of universities such as REDEUS and LANHUR, strategic engagements with the national government fora MINURVI and SISCA in Central America, and local government regional representation.
All these initiatives target the New Urban Agenda and the urban Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leverage regional resources and capacities for implementing and monitoring the process in LAC, based on close cooperation. Cities Alliance must help sustain and consolidate these initiatives, which reflect the core mission and spirit of the partnership and its diverse, collaborative membership approach.
About the Author
Anaclaudia Rossbach is the Cities Alliance Regional Adviser for LAC. A native of São Paulo, Ms. Rossbach has over 15 years of experience in the housing sector from all different perspectives – as a researcher, public sector staff, government adviser, and consultant for the World Bank, universities and think tanks. She supported the government of Brazil on its National Housing Plan and worked as the coordinator of finance and administration for the São Paulo Housing Department. She is also the founder of the NGO Interação (International Network of Community Action), SDI’s affiliate in Brazil. In 2015, Ms. Rossbach was selected as a Special Expert for the Habitat III Policy Unit #3 on National Urban Policies. The views represented in this article are her own and do not reflect the views of the Cities Alliance.