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Habitat Professionals Forum: Working for UN Habitat's World Urban Campaign

10 February 2017 Author: Diana Fitzsimons

Habitat III Blog Visual

This is the sixth in a series of blogs following the major UN Habitat III conference held in Quito, Ecuador, in October.

Planning and the influence of planners in achieving sustainable urban development worldwide is very important to the Royal Town Planning Institute and its International Committee. In the UK we are part of a global economy and live in an environment which is impacted by what goes on elsewhere across the world in terms of serious issues like climate change, pollution and migration. If, as expected, more than three quarters of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, it is essential that cities function much better than they do now. It is in our best interests to collaborate across countries and across professional groups to ensure that rapidly changing cities maintain certain minimum standards and implement ambitious improvement programmes.

The Habitat Professionals Forum (HPF)* has been in existence since 2009 and is a voluntary affiliation of international and regional associations of human settlements professionals involved in sustainable urban development. Currently the international professional groups who have joined the Forum represent housing professionals, planners, engineers, architects, landscape architects, geographers, surveyors, land economists, lawyers and womens’ groups involved in cities.

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Informal settlement in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo credit: Flickr/Valerie Hinojosa.

HPF’s aim is to foster cooperation between these professionals and UN Habitat through dialogue and partnership and by providing leading edge information and expertise that will contribute to the UN Habitat agenda. Specifically since the UN’s Habitat III summit on housing and sustainable urban development in Quito in October 2016, HPF is focusing on how it can help to achieve implementation of the agreed New Urban Agenda (NUA) and Sustainable Development Goal 11. Some 170 countries have signed up to these commitments for the next 20 years and it is our job to help central and local governments across the world to follow good practice and ensure the right expertise to obtain these goals. Otherwise all the discussion over the last four years and all the hard won internatonal agreements will be just hot air.

SDG 11 is “to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. The 24 page New Urban Agenda document is wordy and hard to summarise but it includes all the principles that we planners would naturally endorse. It has been lauded for its focus on a strenghtened role for local authorities in spearheading urban development; its progressive view of equity and rights in the city; and on the prospects of strong urban planning principles to create cities that are socially, environmentally and financially sustainable. Advice is given in the NUA on matters such as public participation; cultural heritage; inclusive economic development; built environment form; access for all to the city; adequate housing; urban ecology; resilience; climate change; urban finance; and effective governance.

If we really want to help all countries meet sustainable development goals and follow the advice contained in the New Urban Agenda then we must focus now on implementation and sharing both best practices and failures

UN Habitat and its World Urban Campaign have been obtaining advice and views from a wide range of interest groups including the voluntary sector, NGOs, politicians, the business sector, farmers and groups representing minorities, but we at HPF have a specific role of looking at matters from the professionals’ perspective and disseminating best practice, professional advice and knowledge. Many member organisations of HPF are developing ‘Urban Thinkers Campuses’ across the world, each endorsed by UN Habitat. One such will be in Belfast in May 2017 organised by IFHP in partnership with RTPI and others, and on the theme of the ‘inclusive city’.

The RTPI is a member of the Global Planners Network (GPN) is therefore connected to HPF and can help influence, share and disseminate best practice in town planning and urban governance worldwide. Of course countries have major differences economically, culturally and politically but if we really want to help all countries meet sustainable development goals and follow the advice contained in the New Urban Agenda then we must focus now on implementation and sharing both best practices and failures. Your input to that process of knowledge dissemination would be very much welcomed.

* Member organisations of HPF include the Global Planners Network, (GPN), American Planning Association (APA), Union of International Architects (UIA), the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP), the International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP), the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG), the Global Planners’ Network (GPN) and the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP).

This blog is based on a previous IFHP blog post by the author.

The RTPI has also published a briefing note on Global Challenges and International Agreements on Sustainable Development.

Diana Fitzsimons

Diana Fitzsimons

Diana Fitzsimons is co chair of HPF and International Ambassador of IFHP. @FitzsimonsDiana