Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

OVERVIEW | New Urban Agenda

by Linda Carroli
[first published on Linkedin]

For some time, as I have tracked with the process from afar, I have hoped to think and write about the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now that the NUA has been accepted at HABITAT 3 in Quito, this initial post offers some reflection on what it means and what it contributes. In the first instance, we might stop thinking about ourselves as working in property and urban development, but rather working towards the much more important task of shaping human settlements and wellbeing in an urbanising world.

UN-HABITAT describes the NUA as “a new framework that that lays out how cities should be planned and managed to best promote sustainable urbanization”. The NUA extends the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed by 193 Member States of the United Nations, including Australia, in September 2015. The 2030 Agenda set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable Development Goal 11 aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and Sustainable Development Goal 9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

The NUA commits to an urban paradigm shift that promotes inclusion, equity and sustainability for all, acknowledging what the SDGs mean for urban environments and their citizens. It is informed by three essential principles: ‘leave no one behind’ by ending poverty and epidemics; sustainable and inclusive urban economies; and environmental sustainability including mitigation of climate change. These principles can drive changes in the way human settlements are planned and governed, promising ‘right to the city’ and participatory urbanism. The NUA also proposes equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services as well as adequate and affordable housing and sustainable mobility. In terms of inclusion and social justice, it emphasises the need for urban environments to embrace gender, age and ability equity and sensitivity.

The role of public space, urban form, new technology and infrastructure for promoting sustainability is acknowledged throughout the NUA as is the need for innovation, capacity building and mutual learning in developing and implementing urban solutions and sustainable transitions. This includes urban, regional and rural relationships especially as conurbations and polycentric metropolitan regions take shape.

With its emphasis on values and principles, implementation of the NUA is not prescriptive. It is clear that such policy, capacity building and action-oriented problem solving requires the involvement and participation of all stakeholders in countries, regions and cities. This includes coming to a deeper understanding of what sustainable urbanisation means ontologically. The negotiation process of the Agenda has also resulted in omissions that will warrant ongoing discussion. Increasingly, there are calls for the involvement of scientists and researchers in urban policy-making and problem-solving. Knowledge brokering and policy learning are vital for improving and creating urban environments for human development. Such knowledge brokering is essential for breaking down disciplinary and professional silos and boundaries, engaging complexity and triggering action.

The NUA is not just for urban environments in developing countries, it is for all urban environments and their role in human development. Australia has committed to the Agenda and we face challenges in terms of localising it for our specific challenges, such as reflecting these values and principles explicitly in the South East Queensland Regional Plan. Our institutions have much to gain and learn by examining the NUA in detail to address challenges in our cities such as housing affordability and provision, homelessness, energy and transport security, sustainable transitions, and spatial or locational inequality. We have much to gain by experimenting with new and next practices in the making and futuring of cities. The NUA is a useful and important touchstone, emerging from a global exchange of knowledge, experience and expertise, enlivening our understanding of urbanisation to ensure that urban settlements continue to underpin human development.


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