Urban Postcards from Habitat III

By Jordi Pascual, Agenda21 for Culture

On 20 October 2016, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) adopted the New Urban Agenda, a document which is expected to provide guidance on the development of urban policies around the world for the next 20 years.

The New Urban Agenda is a significant document because:

However, the New Urban Agenda remains a weak document because:

As coordinator of the Agenda 21 for culture in United Cities – UCLG, I have had the chance to intervene in the international advocacy on the place of culture in sustainable development. In 2010-12 we tried to influence the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) which took place in Rio de Janeiro, with very limited impact; this was summarised in the report Rio+20 and culture. Advocating for Culture as a Pillar of Sustainability.

In the period 2013-2015, we advocated for cultural issues to be included in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We took part in a global coalition, called “The Future We Want Includes Culture”, also known as the #culture2015goal, formed by cultural networks of nations, cities, and various parts of civil society. We published four documents that included: (a) how there could be a “Goal” dedicated to culture in the SDGs; (b) what the “Targets” linked to culture in the SDGs could be; (c) which “Indicators” would be the most appropriate, (d) a conclusive document. These four documents can be downloaded from this page on our website. The title of the final document of this campaign was ” Culture in the SDG Outcome Document: Progress made but important steps remain ahead”. It shows that we are not too satisfied with the results achieved.

In 2014-2016 we focused on the New Urban Agenda to be explicit and effective in the issues dealing with the role of culture in sustainable cities. We were present at the three Habitat 3 preparatory committees, drafted this position paper (with several of the #culture2015goal coalition’s networks) and were active in the “Policy Unit” dedicated to the “Urban Socio-Cultural Framework”.

Is the Rio+20 document approved in 2012 better than the 1992 “Earth Summit” document? Yes, it is. Are the SDGs approved in 2015 more aware of some cultural issues than the MDGs, approved in 2000? Certainly they are. Is the New Urban Agenda approved in Quito more useful than the previous Habitat Agenda approved in Istanbul in 1996? Absolutely. There is progress, but the progress is too slow.

We (as a global cultural constituency) could have progressed more if:

We will continue to work in the next years with the motto “Culture in Sustainable Cities”, using a very practical document “Culture 21 Actions” that details 9 commitments and 100 very concrete, viable, and transformative actions. This is a toolkit that is coherent with the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda, but it goes beyond these documents, providing coherence, clarity, capacity and agency to the role of culture in sustainable cities. Agenda21 for Culture will support solid local platforms for culture that include civil society, cultural institutions, local governments, and other actors. We will continue the advocacy for a strong global connectivity in the area of culture, that it brings civil society and cities together with UNESCO, other United Nations agencies, and national governments.