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How a city in Ecuador will shape life in the 21st century

Planners must be at the heart of the sustanable development envisaged by the forthcoming Habitat III conference, argues the RTPI's Marion Frederiksen

For the first time in 20 years, national leaders are meeting to discuss how we will live in the future. The United Nations Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, in October, is meant to agree a path for urban development over the next few decades. At stake is how we manage rapidly growing cities to make them liveable, successful and safe.

All this has to be summed up in one document: the New Urban Agenda. It needs to set out the principles for how countries develop their cities and towns, and ultimately what a sustainable urban planet looks like.

The draft agenda calls for more resourcing for local authorities, better management of towns and cities and less corruption. It promotes mixed-use development, accessible green spaces and better urban-rural links. It urges cities to adapt to climate change, tackle air and noise pollution, and generate more renewable energy. It also emphasises participation and cultural respect.

The RTPI has been working to make it clear that none of this will be achieved without planning. This goes to the heart of what it is to be a planner. Understanding how places work and what they need. Thinking for the long-term. Acting in the public interest. Involving the public.

"In the shadow of climate change, we need to chart a new course for genuinely sustainable development"

If the New Urban Agenda is agreed – and there have been some tensions in the run-up to Quito – then we have a roadmap for sustainable development in the 21st century.

If not, or if we don’t invest in planning sufficiently to implement it, then for developing countries the consequences will be severe – from a lack of decent housing to fewer jobs, more poverty and disease, lack of services, and political and civil unrest.

We also need the New Urban Agenda in the developed world. Obviously, our housing pressures are not as severe, our public health challenges not as pronounced. But the New Urban Agenda sets us a challenge as well, one that equally requires recognition and investment in planning and planners.

We too have a shortage of affordble homes, and strained public transport. We too need to plan for an increasing, and ageing, population. We too need better infrastructure, and better public health.

Sea levels are also rising, with many cities at risk. In the shadow of climate change, we need to chart a new course for genuinely sustainable development, or face more frequent and destructive floods, heat waves and diseases as global temperatures rise.

If we fail to make the New Urban Agenda real, we stand little chance of meeting climate change obligations nationally or globally.

Marion Frederiksen is international policy and research officer for the RTPI


Read more about Habitat III

A history of Habitat

Habitat III - What's in it for me?

What’s on the Agenda? The New Urban Agenda Assessed

Can Habitat III effect real change in our cities?

Two minutes with... Carolina Proaño

Why Habitat III must reflect the century of the city

Sustaining notes: Sustainable Development Goals and the UK


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