In October 2016, 30 000 people from 167 countries gathered in Quito, Ecuador, for the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development – known as Habitat III. The goal was to come up with a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document – the New Urban Agenda – that sets global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development, and rethink the way we build, manage, and improve liveability in cities.
Urban mobility plays a big role in reimagining cities to make them better places to live and work. Thanks to a number of side events that focused on urban mobility, such as the EcoMobility Days 2016 Quito, and the advocacy of organisations and entities concerned with safe, accessible and clean transport, the New Urban Agenda, adopted on 20 October, recognised the role safe and sustainable urban mobility plays in meeting the global challenges posed by rapidly growing cities.
The document emphasises integrating transport and mobility plans into overall urban and territorial plans. It also encourages developing sustainable urban transport and mobility policies (at a national and subnational level), creating and expanding financing instruments, and urban-rural interactions and connectivity to strengthen sustainable mobility. Its strong focus on urban mobility envisages cities and human settlements that promote age- and gender-responsive planning and investment for sustainable, safe and accessible urban mobility for all.
For the first time, national governments fully embraced much of the language on local sustainable development used by local and subnational governments for the past 20 years. They agreed to adopt, implement, and enforce policies and measures to actively protect and promote pedestrian and cyclist safety – and to prioritise promoting safe and healthy journeys to school for children.
The New Urban Agenda also established a crucial link with the process of localising — or figuring out how to locally implement — the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A recent report said that investing in more sustainable and greener transport systems is critical to drive forward social and economic developments that will help achieve the SDGs. Yet the New Urban Agenda is not the landmark turning point many hoped.
'Many were looking to the New Urban Agenda to offer specific guidance on localising the SDGs. Unfortunately, the new document does not contain details as to how these goals should be translated, implemented and monitored at the national and local levels,' said Gino Van Begin, the secretary general of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.
'To use the agenda as a tool to deal with the many intertwining challenges related to urbanisation and development, its text needs to be translated into a meaningful roadmap for sustainable urban development.'
Soon nations will begin a two-year process of steps by which they will decide how to monitor and evaluate progress on the New Urban Agenda – after which the real success of Habitat III will become apparent.
Van Begin says that eventually the New Urban Agenda should set the course for coordination across all levels of government on the implementation of global frameworks. He also outlines several important actions that local governments can take to start moving decidedly towards the implementation of the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.
'We need to start laying the foundations for a series of long-overdue conversations on how to enact sustainable local development,' Van Begin said. 'We have two years to do that. Let's not squander this opportunity.'