Issues Home About Contact Us Issue 11 - November 2014 عربى
International Developments

Habitat III PrepCom1, New York

September marked the official start of the preparations for the United Nations 2016 Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). UN Headquarters (HQ) formed the centerpiece of official and civil society consultations that included a week of networking events punctuated by a Friday 12 September consultationwith UN Habitat’s Executive Director (ED) Joan Clos, who also serves as secretary general of the 2016 world conference.

HIC and ESCR-Net coordinated participation and inputs in that consultation. ESCR-Net’s ED Chris Grove reported Dr. Clos’ positive engagement, expressing UN Habitat’s appreciation for calls to maintain the “human settlements” approach to habitat—asdistinct from the more-parochial “urban” approach—andfor the broadest possible participation in the Habitat III processes.

The next week convened the first official Preparatory Committee (PrepCom1) for Habitat III at UN Headquarters on 17–18 September. Preceding that was a full-day convocation on 16 September at the nearby Church Center, involving a CSO orientation to Habitat III and the PrepCom, followed by a HIC/ESCR-Net/Instituto PÓLIS workshop thatcoincided with the launch of the Habitat III Civil Society Platform on the Right to the City.

View ESCR-Net video of participant interviews during the day.

PrepCom1 proceeded without an agenda, but applied theusual protocol order of speakers, airing their perspectives and expectations of Habitat III, alsodebating the advantages and remaining challenges of urbanization. Climate change was on the participants minds, as the following week saw the Climate Summit at UN HQ and the global mobilization. That subject occasioned the general discussion of adaptive strategies for cities, referred to as “resilience.” A few states posed solutions to urban deprivation, as noted in the Brazilian and Mexican delegations’ discussion of the social function of property and the city, as well as the “right to the city.”

Local authorities expressed themselves as diverse front-line actors maintaining protective, remedial and service functions in a continuously urbanizing world.Civil society interventions delivered a concerted call for broad participation in the Habitat III processes. Some also promoted their role in providing technical services to cities facing multiple challenges.

Few interventions addressed root causes of rural-urban and inner-city disparity or needed structural reform. Causal and remedial questions of discrimination and accountability hung in the air, if diplomatically understated. No particular stakeholder group championed the call for evaluating the implementation of Habitat II (1996) commitments.

HIC’s Last Word

At the end of the civil society speakers list, HIC took the floor, represented by Michael Kane (National Union of HUD Tenants, USA). HIC’s intervention stressed the need to account for the displacement generated by the financialized development of cities, natural and human-made crises, conflicts, mega projects and transnational corporations. In the statement, Kaneasserted that the framework of human rights—including the right to the city—mustbe at the center of the Habitat III debate, emphasizing also that the New Agenda should be on humanhabitat,and not exclusively urban in scope. The New Habitat Agenda, he explained,“should contemplate the existing metabolic relationship between the countryside and the city.” He also advocated the social production of habitat, the social function of property and respect for common goodsand services as central values to the New Habitat Agenda, all of which are currently in peril.

Although the PrepCom1 discussion avoided the open question of criteria and prospects for the Habitat III Conference venue, that was the subject of much chatter in the corridors. Kane expressed concern about the city or country that would host Habitat III, proposing that a legitimate choice to host the global conference should be a city that is a shining example of good practice, rather than in a country responsible for driving massive population displacements.          

Bureau Decisions Deferred

The decision-making Bureau, comprised of two state delegations from each region, met in parallel to the PrepCom1 plenary. Announcing the results of its deliberations, the Bureau announced reported to the final plenary session that it had deferred the key decisions on criteria and modalities for participation in the Habitat III futureprocess. (In his closing, Clos projected that to take place by November 2014.)

Five Working Groups

The SG of the Conference also announced the formation of five interim working groups to operate parallel to the PrepComs, backed by popular demand:

  • The rural-urban nexus
  • Gender and human settlements
  • Infrastructure
  • Climate change/resilience
  • Financing urban development

However, the details of where, when and how those working groups would convene remains yet undetermined.

After the PrepCom adjourned, side events continued, including the Habitat International Coalition/Instituto PÓLIS/UCLG seminar on common Civil society and local government´s expectations for Habitat III.” The discussion centered on the operationalization of all human rights in the urban context as a local task. The seminar ended with reference to the Right to the City Platform to develop that concept as an indispensable contribution to Habitat III.

For further information, contact:

Joseph Schechla


Silvia Emanuelli


Nelson Saule

Instituto PÓLIS

Mr. Malick Gaye, Executive Director, ENDA Tiers Monde – RUP,welcomed participants on behalf of the civil society constituency. He notedthat the Habitat II Conference was about identifying problems, and that HabitatIII should be about implementing solutions. He underlined the importance ofincorporating human rights in the agenda, looking at not just violations, suchas forced evictions, but also at situations when governments do not considerhousing in their policies and plan. This lack of consideration for basic humanneeds, he noted, is also a violation of human rights. He urged participants tobecome active, noting that we must start moving toward Habitat III together,beginning now.

Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC)


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