Quito, Ecuador 01 November 2016--- UN-Habitat through its Urban Planning and Design Lab launched its Urban Labs publication to great acclaim in an event at the One UN Pavilion at the Habitat III Conference. The event featured several partners from the Global Network of Planning Labs who reported on their individual and localized experience. Representatives from Myanmar, Mexico, South Africa, Ghana and the Caribbean shared their individual experience working with the UN-Habitat Urban Planning and Design Lab.
Overall the event’s celebratory atmosphere provided a platform for showcasing the extensive work of the lab over the course of the past three years. The launch of the Urban Labs Publication marks a significant milestone for the Urban Planning and Design Lab, currently in its third year of working directly with local authorities to implement sustainable urban planning projects. In a concise manner, the publication consolidates the Planning LAB approach to sustainable urban development through methods of ‘research by design’ and ‘planning and politics’.
In this sense, the expertise and knowledge acquired during this first stage of developing concrete projects, participative processes and policy events, is compiled in this publication. During Habitat III, the notion of implementation has become an increasingly important and common theme emerging out of the proceedings. As the inaugural publication release, Programme Director Rogier van den Berg distributed the Urban Labs publication to partners present from around the world. The publication contains a sample of the work of the Lab including a series of events, Expert Group Meetings and concrete projects developed during the past 3 years by the Urban Planning and Design LAB and the members of the Network of Planning and Design Labs.
Representatives then each in turn presented relevant details of the projects for which the LAB acts as a vehicle for implementation in their respective country. Myanmar’s Minister of Construction, U Win Khaing began by describing the challenges faced by a newly democratic country and the approach of the Urban Labs to assisting with the improvement of spatial planning techniques. The minister focused on how the various approaches of the LAB integrate multiple aspects of the planning process to articulate new realities. Felipe de Jesús Gutiérrez, Secretary of Urban Development and Housing in Mexico City described how the political neutrality of the LAB informs the influence of his department to be in the re-thinking of planning in Mexico City.
Yondela Silimela, Executive Director of Development Planning at City of Johannesburg emphasized the strategic importance of the approval of the Spatial Development Framework developed by the LAB, by the City Administration in July of this year. Making the work of the LAB a legally binding entity means that all planning decisions must fall within this framework and follow closely the principles on which it was written. Additionally, Henk Ovink, the Special Envoy for International Water Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands expressed his support for the Urban Labs’ unique approach to assisting local governments building capacity in a strategic and holistic way.
Ebenezer Anuwah Armah, Commissioner of the National Development Planning Commission in Ghana echoed this by expressing the unique situation his country faced and how the methodology of the LAB helps to integrate local politicians’ ideas with national perspectives and those of the local tribal authority. This type of cross-disciplinary work is typical of the LABs’ work and the values that drive the transformative power of concrete urban projects including governance structures that have the power to impact multiple scales of planning.
Fernando De Mello Franco, the Municipal Department Urban Development Sao Paulo backed this up with discussion of the challenges a large Metropolis such as Sao Paulo faces. It was agreed that through an integrated approach, strategic interventions can be identified and executed in an effective and efficient manner. Three partners with similar methodologies to the LAB described the capacity for future engagement and the future of the Urban Labs initiative. Roland Krebs from the Inter-American Development Bank-sponsored Urban Design Labs described the overall methodology of the IADB-funded Urban Labs specifically in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Following, Asad Mohammed, the Director of the Caribbean Planners Association and Network for Urban and Land Management discussed how the region is set to capture a major uplift. Finally, Thomas Melin of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) emphasized how the current shortage of planners the world over implies an even greater need for ‘barefoot planners’ such as the Lab that are on the ground and embedded in the local community.
Overall satisfaction and appreciation was expressed for the work of the Lab both with respect to design capacity building and the planning and politics approach. It was unanimously agreed that the LAB continue its work with engaging with existing and new partners to ensure effective and continuous monitoring of the projects implemented thus far. The publication will be available in the coming week online for download on the UN-Habitat website.