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Rethinking the Systems that Shape our Cities

Why the New Urban Agenda Matters

Last month one of the biggest agreements (that you have probably never even heard of) was signed off by member states of the UN – The New Urban Agenda. This agreement a road map for global governments that will guide the efforts around urbanisation for the next 20 years. It is the bi-decennial agreement of the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) that guides the implementation of the global commitment to sustainable urbanisation.

Despite the fact that over half the worlds population lives in cities – and closer to 90% in Australia – this major agreement went virtually unnoticed. Yet the New Urban Agenda stands to have enormous impact on the way that we shape, plan, connect, live and work in cities over the next 20 years.

Later this month, governments, urbanists, professionals and activists will meet in Quito for the Habitat III summit to both endorse the New Urban Agenda, and plan for its implementation.

And we should pay attention. If four people out of five will live in Cities by the mid 21st Century, then we need to consider that virtually all aspects of how we live, work and play, are now urban issues.

But our primary levers for change - urban policy and urban planning - are still strongly rooted in 20th Century tradition, and are designed for a different way of (now completely unsustainable) living. Keeping on this trajectory which prioritises cars over bikes, roads over footpaths, sprawl over density, and where very few people have voice and agency over what happens in a neighbourhood, will leave us gridlocked and disconnected. It will also exacerbate the existing epidemic of social isolation and loneliness, which is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Not to mention climate change resilience.

Leave no one behind

Into this context comes the New Urban Agenda which lays the groundwork for policies and approaches for a new type of inclusive, equitable and resilient city. It sets a course of action for cities that, if implemented, will create a new set of actions that will lead to more connected, sustainable and resilient cities. Fundamental to this agenda is a vision for “cities for all”. That in the face of rapid urbanisation we should ‘leave no one behind’. This refers to the equal use and enjoyment of cities by rich and poor, current and future generations and freedom from discrimination of any kind.

While this might seem a simple aspiration on one level, actually delivering equitable and inclusive cities – on a scale that we have never seen before – requires different urban mechanics at all levels. From governance to economic growth to structural transformation to participation and civic engagement to intergenerational dynamics to safety to cultural expressions: all urban systems require reshaping.

The New Urban Agenda also, importantly, places the responsibility of reshaping this city onto all of us as urban actors and urban consumers. Traditionally urban players including government’s planners, service providers have been tasked with city-making. Creating “cities for all” calls on communities, neighbourhoods, local governments, innovators and entrepreneurs to take active responsibility. This pertinently echoes Naomi Klein’s catch cry that “to change everything, we need everyone”.

Rethinking the systems that shape our cities

In less than two weeks the Habitat III summit will kick off in Quito. Over 30,000 people are expected to attend the week-long summit which focuses on implementation.

Among the line-up is CoDesign Studio who will be presenting a workshop on The Neighbourhood Project, as an example of one mechanisms for systemically changing the way that we deliver cities. The Neighbourhood Project – a partnership initiative with Resilient Melbourne and The Myer Foundation - is a practical program to inspire councils and citizens to work together to transform vacant or underused land into well-loved public spaces. As Australia’s largest community placemaking program it working to systemically change the way councils and communities work together, removing roadblocks in order to improve, and speed up, the delivery of public space.

This side event will invite delegates explore 3 bold design challenges which respond to the tripartite requirements for delivering public space in the New Urban Agenda:

1. People: What’s required to enable community groups to shape, deliver and manage local public spaces?

2. Process: How can local governments work for, rather than against, community action?

3. Place: How can we transform underutilised land into well-loved neighbourhood spaces, without the roadblocks?

Please feel free to join us in Quito:

Reinventing Neighbourhoods: New Mechanisms for Creating Public Space
19 October 2016
8:00 AM to 9:00 AM
Room MR13 
Habitat III Conference, Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana "Benjamin Carrion"

Admission Free

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