Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, took place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 - 20 October 2016. In resolution 66/207 and in line with the bi-decennial cycle (1976, 1996, and 2016), the United Nations General Assembly decided to convene the Habitat III Conference to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization, to ratify the “New Urban Agenda”, building on the Habitat Agenda of Istanbul in 1996.

Member States of the General Assembly, in resolution 67/216, decided that the objective of the Conference is to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments to date, address poverty and identify and address new and emerging challenges. 

The Conference welcomed the participation and contributions of all Member States and relevant stakeholders, including parliamentarians, civil society organizations, regional and local government and municipality representatives, professionals and researchers, academia, foundations, women and youth groups, trade unions, and the private sector, as well as organizations of the United Nations system and intergovernmental organizations.

Habitat III was one of the first United Nations global summits after the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. It offered a unique opportunity to discuss the important challenge of how cities, towns, and villages are planned and managed, in order to fulfill their role as drivers of sustainable development, and hence shape the implementation of new global development and climate change goals.

Habitat I, Habitat II, and the Habitat Agenda

The United Nations General Assembly convened the Habitat I conference in Vancouver in 1976, as governments began to recognize the need for sustainable human settlements and the consequences of rapid urbanization, especially in the developing world. At that time, urbanization and its impacts were barely considered by the international community, but the world was starting to witness the greatest and fastest migration of people into cities and towns in history as well as a rising urban population through natural growth resulting from advances in medicine.

The Vancouver commitments were reconfirmed twenty years later, at the Habitat II conference in Istanbul. World leaders adopted the Habitat Agenda as a global plan of action for adequate shelter for all, with the notion of sustainable human settlements driving development in an urbanizing world. Forty years later, there is a wide consensus that the towns and cities' structure, form, and functionality need to change as societies change. The legacy of the city of the twentieth century, in terms of spatial pattern, is growth outside their boundaries to satellite or dormitory towns and suburban neighbourhoods.

Cities have continued to expand outwards beyond their peri-urban areas, often due to weak urban planning, poor urban management, land regulation crises, and real estate speculation factors. In 2010, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) reported that more than 827 million people were living in slum–like conditions.

It is now well understood that slums and the related informal settlements are a spontaneous form of urbanization, consisting of a series of survival strategies by the urban poor, mostly borne out of poverty and exclusion.

The transformative power of urbanization

Throughout modern history, urbanization has been a major driver of development and poverty reduction. Governments can respond to this key development opportunity through Habitat III by promoting a new model of urban development that is able to integrate all facets of sustainable development to promote equity, welfare, and shared prosperity. It is time to think urban: how to mobilize the global community and focus all levels of human settlements, including small rural communities, villages, market towns, intermediate cities, and metropolises for demographic and economic growth. Habitat III can help systematize the alignment between cities and towns and national planning objectives in their role as drivers of national economic and social development.

Advances in technology, realignment of global power relations, changes in demographic profiles, recognition of emerging resource constraints as well as the reassertion of questions of rights and justice in the global development world have triggered a profound systemic change. The new international order provides more room for cities and regional economies to contribute to national development through direct participation in the global economy.

The New Urban Agenda

Urbanization is an unprecedented challenge. By the middle of the century, four of every ÀYH people might be living in towns and cities, and the great majority of slum dwellers in 2030 will be Asian or African. Urbanization and development are inextricably linked and it is necessary to ÀQG a way of ensuring the sustainability of growth. Urbanization had become a driving force as well as a source of development with the power to change and improve lives.

By embracing urbanization at all levels of human settlements, more appropriate policies can embrace urbanization across physical space, bridging urban, peri-urban, and rural areas, and assist governments in addressing challenges through national and local development policy frameworks.

Habitat III can help systematize the alignment between cities and towns and national planning objectives in their role as drivers of national economic and social development. Rising inequality, sharing prosperity, urban poverty, and spontaneous (i.e. unplanned) urbanization is high on the agenda of Habitat III.