This is the fourth in a series of blogs following the major UN Habitat III conference held in Quito, Ecuador, in October.
The celebration of Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, and the strong participation of the country in all the preparatory process, have awakened a discussion on urban issues that was long overdue.
In a country where already more than 70% of the population lives in urban areas, it is surprising that we have not yet been able to consolidate the construction of a solid national urban policy. This includes from the construction of adequate habitat and housing conditions, to the appropriate training of professional urban planners, lawyers, and architects with a vision that goes beyond the traditional urban design perspective.
Nationwide the discussion on these issues has been mostly weak, even non-existent. Habitat III has showed a unique opportunity to expand the debate and broaden the scope of this discussion at a global level.
During the conference there were some uninformed architects that expected a construction fair or an architectural design event. However, while some of them were somewhat disappointed, others became interested in a subject that long ago surpassed the capabilities that urban or architectural design can cover, that is to face and tackle the challenges and complexities that come along with a strongly urbanized world.
When it comes to building national public policies, Ecuador faces the same challenges many countries of the region face: How do we overcome policies based solely on reducing the housing deficit? Or in other words, how do we overcome them towards urbanistic policies that seek to provide a better quality of life and not only the reduction of a quantitative deficit?
The Ministry of Urban Development and Housing of Ecuador (MIDUVI) was created in 1992 with the specific goal of managing the social housing subsidy system, built on the capacities of the private sector. Through the application of a model previously implemented in other countries of the region, housing is financed by combining the savings of the beneficiary, subsidy bond, and bank loan (A+B+C system “Ahorro+Bono+Crédito”).
Although applying this method has showed varying results, the institutional framework created for its implementation and management has also meant an added weight against the construction and application of integral national urban policies that would go beyond simply providing big housing projects for the poor located on the periphery and with important deficits on the access to social services, adequate mobility and urban quality of life that goes beyond having a house.
Phil Williams, RTPI President and Jose Morales at the Global Planners Network (GPN) stand at Habitat III in October 2016.
Habitat III has also meant an interesting regional and worldwide forum to discuss different alternatives towards the construction of these policies, where we can prioritize urban quality for all, and where the main objective is to guarantee the development of fully serviced communities with accessibility to jobs, education, recreation, public space, transportation etc, and not only overcome deficits based on number of houses.
There is still a long way to go, but the creation of regional and international discussion networks, mutual learning and collaboration opens new perspectives towards the implementation of adequate national and local urban policies
Since 2011, MIDUVI has have been working on this paradigm shift, starting with an institutional change with the creation of the Undersecretary Office that works specifically on urban matters. Through this office, we have been bringing forward an appropriate national urban legislation framework that includes the participation and feedback of civil society, and the construction of a National Urban Agenda (following the adoption of the New Urban Agenda) that ideally will be included in the National Development Plan.
These planning instruments will be helpful for a needed institutional reconfiguration that will allow institutions to better face future challenges associated with rapid urbanization processes, many of which are very different from those we had to face in the 1990s. This includes different ways of understanding the role of the central government, and finding means to collaborate with municipalities, adopting adequate urban legal frameworks. This should also embrace finding efficient and better ways of financing urban and regional development, including international funding, since this is where many of the good intentions of planning get stuck and hinder development.
There is still a long way to go, but the creation and access to regional and international discussion networks, mutual learning and collaboration at every level, opens new roads and perspectives towards the construction and implementation of adequate national and local urban policies. Mutual collaboration will allow us to better prepare to face the enormous challenges of a highly urbanized world, where in various regions of the world inequities are still very pronounced but where there has also been recognition of the countless (social, economic, and environmental) opportunities that the city has to offer for urban dwellers.
José Morales is Director for Habitat and Human Settlements in the Ecuadorian Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.