Panuku Development Auckland’s Manager Place Making, Frith Walker, discusses the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, why New Zealand's placemakers should know about it, and its importance at a local government level.
Humans. With our opposable thumbs, adaptive brains, and ability to make a reasoned choice between swiping left or swiping right, we are doing a pretty good job of spreading our numbers all around this planet.
The global population ticked over the billion mark just over 200 years ago, and took just another 127 years to get to two billion people. As of 2017 we now have 7 billion people on the planet and the scary thing is it took us just 11 years to go from 6 billion to 7 billion. According to United Nations we’ll be well over 10 billion by the end of this century.
And as we get bigger, we’re flocking to the bright lights of the big smokes in droves. Twenty years ago, just over a third of the world’s population was made up of urban dwellers. Today this number is more than half; and by 2050, two-thirds of the global population will live in cities.
Enough of the statistics lecture. The key point I’m trying to make is that we cannot ignore that cities (and yes children as well – Whitney was right) are our future. And that applies as much locally as it does internationally.
With that point accepted, it becomes clear that it would be dangerous for cities to grow in a reactive fashion. Like a good garden, they need to be nurtured, and managed so they grow in a sustainable, resilient fashion that best supports the humans that live in them.
And for that reason, a whole lot of, let’s call them “city gardeners”, got together in Ecuador in October last year to approve a key document fundamental to guiding how international cities grow in the future. It’s called the New Urban Agenda and it’s great! (I would have sounded more grown up there but I’m too excited…)
Before I tell you why, let me illume you with what it exactly is.
The New Urban Agenda is an outcome document from the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III, held in Quito, Ecuador from 17-20 October 2016. The first Habitat conference was in Vancouver in 1976, and Habitat II followed 20 years later in 1996, in Istanbul.
The old urban agenda came out of this last conference. It was focused more at a base level to address poverty in cities, ensuring adequate shelter for all in an urbanising world. Since then, over 100 countries have adopted constitutional rights to adequate housing, a major success of that Habitat Agenda.
The most recent Habitat III Conference took a holistic and broader focus with the New Urban Agenda being presented as an action-oriented document to set global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development.
Ok great, but what does it mean and why should we care?
The reason we need to celebrate the approval of the New Urban Agenda is that it acknowledges we have a defective model for city building and addresses head on the massive social and economic inequalities cities of the future face. We’re already seeing it in some parts of the globe, where living on the right side of the tracks is common place and there is risk of under investment in public infrastructure for large areas of a population.
So if you could now all open your text books to page 14 in the NUA - enter Principle 100. A key clause which enshrines the importance of public spaces in ensuring a good quality of life, and the health and long term sustainability of cities from a social and economic perspective.
The prominence the clause puts on public spaces is crucial. Public space is the gathering point for us city dwellers - a place where we can interact, congregate, celebrate and break down barriers. Where we can enjoy what the great placemaking luminary Jane Jacobs calls the “ballet of the good city sidewalk [which] never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”
Principle 100 didn’t happen by chance, and much aroha should go again to the original placemaking advocacy group, Project for Public Spaces who advocated tirelessly for the inclusion of good public space planning in the Agenda, and along the way shifted the mindset of the international community- earning the respect and buy in from institutions such as the World Bank (as evidenced in this panel session before the New Urban Agenda was passed).
We need to get on with doing. The fact is the New Urban Agenda is not a binding document and the arrangement is different from, for example, the December 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, which aspired to result in a legally binding agreement.
It is more an agenda in the true sense of the word in that it provides guidance to nation states, city and regional authorities, civil society, foundations, NGOs, academic researchers and U. N. agencies in their thinking about cities, urbanization and sustainable development. But guidance is not binding.
The question I now ask you, fellow city gardeners, and anyone who cares is, as a United Nations member to what extent New Zealand should get on board with the New Urban Agenda?
At Panuku Development Auckland we’ve already test driven some of the principles as part of the revitalisation of Auckland’s waterfront and are looking to do the same soon as part of the regeneration of Manukau and Northcote Town Centre.
But I think there’s a real opportunity to enshrine the importance of the New Urban Agenda and make it binding at a local government level. It’s for our own benefit to keep us on target and that way, we are in a better position to share in the knowledge to come from the international community on the growth of our cities in the future.
Have a read. See what you think. Talk to your gardening friends. To quote Michelle Obama “we have to keep doing things that make sense for our future”. We live in a pretty special place down here in Godzone. I vote we do all we can to preserve it for those that haven’t been born yet. Thanks for reading – fellow Human :)