Exclusive interview with the winners of the 2016 Reducing Urban Poverty Paper Competition

by Rebekah Revello, Frances Goyes, Valeria Vidal Alvarado, Sera Tolgay

From left: Valeria Vidal Alvarado, Francis Goyes and Sera Tolgay


The 2016 winners of the IHC Global sponsored* Reducing Urban Poverty Graduate Student Paper Competition are Valeria Vidal Alvarado, Francis Goyes and Sera Tolgay. The MIT Masters in City Planning students come from three very different backgrounds- 26-year-old Alvarado is from Lima, Peru, 26-year-old Goyes is from Quito, Ecuador, and 25-year-old Tolgay is from Istanbul, Turkey- but they have pooled together their expertise and experiences to create a project focused on something that they care deeply about. As the refugee crisis remains one of the most pressing global issues at hand, much attention is paid to the journey; where the refugees go, how they get there, and if they’ll be allowed in. Much less focus is on what happens to these families after they receive sanctuary. Their research project does just this; Refugees, Incremental Housing and Shelter in the 21st Century seeks to examine the design and implementation of the incrementing housing model of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)’s Urban Shelter Program in cities in Northern Jordan, and provide recommendations on how it can improve. The paper was selected out of hundreds of entries as the winner of the competition, and Alvarado, Goyes and Tolgay were given the opportunity to present their findings in front of a captivated audience at Habitat III in October, in Goyes’ hometown of Quito, Ecuador. IHC Global International Communications Officer Rebekah Revello interviewed the three researchers about their project, what it means to them, and what they hope it will do for refugee communities around the world.

Can you give a brief summary of your project?

FG: The NRC program intends to provide adequate shelter for vulnerable Syrian refugees by supplying grants to Jordanian homeowners to increase rooms or floors to their existing houses. Syrian families are then allowed to live in these expansions rent-free for up to two years. After the two year period is over, Jordanian homeowners can decide if they want to continue to renting to Syrian families or use the expansions for a different purpose. 

VVA: There is a lack of adequate and affordable rental housing stock to accommodate the increasing number of Syrian refugees, which has put a strain on the capacity of cities in Northern Jordan such as Jerash, Ajloun, and Irbid. Through surveys with participant homeowners, semi-structured interviews with NRC and UNHCR officers, and mapping of social and public infrastructure, we have found that NRC’s Urban Shelter Program increases the total housing stock available in Northern Jordan cities, ensures minimum building standards and quality of materials, and supports the local economy. As opposed to cash-for-rent programs that can add pressure to constricted housing markets, NRC’s approach provides adequate shelter for refugees without disrupting existing urban systems    

What initially drew you to your project? Why did you choose the subject?

FG: I was interested in this project for a number of reasons. Having lived my entire life in Ecuador, I was accostumed to the incremental housing  approach the majority of families practiced – houses are built informally, and expanded through time based on the growth in family members and the financial resources they have access to. I was very curious to understand how NRC could draw inspiration from incremental housing to then use it as a solution for housing refugees.

Furthermore, the NRC program was also interesting to me from a city planning perspective. Much attention is drawn to refugee camps like Zaatari and Azraq, yet the majority of Syrian refugees live in urban areas, as there they have greater access to economic opportunities, as well as social infrastructure and networks. However, many cities are unable to accommodate the increased demand for housing, and many refugees are forced into substandard living conditions. Urban programs for housing refugees that provide cash-for-rent assistance intend to solve this condition, yet in turn increase rental prices in cities and saturate the market. NRC’s program increases the housing stock, thus bringing more equilibrium to the housing market.

Given the enormity of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, I also wanted to use this opportunity to draw attention to this innovative program in the hope that it can be adapted in other countries that have also opened their doors to refugees.

VVA: The possibility to make a small contribution to solving the refugee crisis, understanding why projects work, whether these can be replicated or adapted in many other parts of the region that are currently facing a similar problem was the reason why I became interested in this project. Dr. Reinhard Goethert, Professor at the Department of Architecture at MIT was the one who pointed out the great potential that incremental housing, slowly expanding the houses over time, could have to help the refugee crisis which then led me to further investigate if this was a strategy already being taken advantage of. 

ST: As part of our research group, Special Interest Group on Urban Settlements at MIT, we had been studying incremental housing models around the world, trying to understand the factors that make housing projects successful. We really took a “shelter plus” approach, where housing is not just a roof over your head but also the accessibility to a bundle of services like transportation, education or markets that make day to day life possible. The NRC project is very interesting because it acknowledges the reality that the majority of refugees in fact live in urban areas (this number is close to 85 % in Jordan). In Turkey, for example, the government has responded to the crisis by setting up state-of-the-art camps, but this has not been a sustainable solution as people have left the camps to go to cities, where they have more access to services and jobs. We thought that the NRC problem recognized this dynamic from the start and could provide a model for providing shelter for urban refugees.

Alvarado and Goyes look on as Tolgay presents.
What sort of feedback have you received about your project, from colleagues to the international community?

FG: We’ve received very positive feedback from our university and other colleagues. I’m particularly happy that other NGO’s and government organizations that didn’t know about the program before have become aware of it through our presentations at Habitat III.

VVA: The team has received overwhelmingly positive feedback about our project. Many fellows students, Professors and international organizations have reached out to read our paper, further discuss our analysis as well as request us to make presentations. It has been quite touching to know that we are able to have this experience inspire others to learn and work on the issue.

ST: It was also interesting to hear reactions from audiences about how the refugee crisis is typically associated with camps, so our research in urban areas gathered a lot of interest.

What do you think presenting at Habitat III has done for your research?

FG: It’s definitely increased awareness of NRC’s program, especially for people from private and public sectors that work in the humanitarian sector.

VVA: Presenting at Habitat III has opened a lot of doors for me. From giving me more exposure in the school on the potential and quality of my work as a researcher, to networking with organizations I would love to work at as well as meeting many other people who are as passionate as I am about the issue to further collaborate on research.

ST:  Through our presentations at Habitat III, we got to exchange ideas with a number of organizations, such as the Project for Public Spaces, Affordable Housing Institute and Habitat for Humanity, who are all working on the issue of housing for refugee populations from a shelter plus approach as well. Given the enormity of the current crisis and the shortcoming of traditional humanitarian approaches, we saw how critical it is to develop flexible models that can bring the host communities and refugee populations together rather than creating silos.

What do you plan to do with your research going forward?

FG: I’m excited to see it published in the Wilson Center’s annual Urban Paper Competition book. I also hope others continue researching this and other innovative intiatives in Jordan and other countries.

VVA: I hope that the research can continue to be disseminated in different ways. The analysis of the research has also prompted Dr. Reinhard Goethert to continue with this line of work looking at another case study in Lebanon that could potentially be used for comparison and the  exchange of best practices. 

ST: One key takeaway from our research in Jordan is the fact that employment opportunities will directly affect the sustainability of any kind of housing model in the coming years. While the Jordanian government has announced that they will be giving work permits to a portion of the refugee population, many are still forced to take low-wage, low-skill jobs to provide for their families. To re-think employment in this context, I will be taking part in a long-term initiative through the Art, Culture and Technology group in our department, called Future Heritage Studio. It is currently at a very nascent stage, so I cannot provide a lot of information yet, but through a collaborative design workshop with the refugee population and local partners in Jordan, we are hoping to identify ways in which art, technology and design can be combined with existing know-how, crafts and skills to provide alternative livelihoods.

How do you want your research to be used to help the communities you studied and others like them?

FG: I intend this research to serve NRC and other governmental and non-governmental organizations that are interested in creating humanitarian programs that are urban, creative, and site-specific.

VVA: In the most practical way, the research can be used to duplicate NRC’s Urban Shelter Program in other areas of Jordan or neighboring countries that have a similar housing ecosystem. At the same time, the analysis of the research has highlighted that it is quite expensive to keep up such a comprehensive program. In this regard, the research can provide insight and pin point certain areas that have the potentially to become more cost saving.

ST: Additionally, we hope to draw lessons for other contexts regionally, like in Lebanon, which has an even larger urban refugee population than that of Jordan. At a larger scale, globally, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people around the world has surpassed 60 million for the first time in history, so as people are forced to flee their homes due to conflicts or natural disasters, these innovative models will be especially critical in the years to come.

Alvarado listens to questions from the audience at Habitat III.
What do you think the New Urban Agenda will do for urban refugee communities?

FG: I hope the NUA increases awareness of urban refugees and internally displaced populations. I particularly wish that the NUA emphasizes the need for a human rights approach to projects intended to help urban refugee communities, and more data about urban refugees is gathered and shared with the humanitarian community.

VVA: I believe that the New Urban Agenda helps urban refugee communities by setting the issue at the forefront of the international community. This then is able to spark discussion and more allocation of funding to help with the different issues such as housing that refugees have to deal with. Creating awareness of the urgency to address this use, as well as setting the guidelines and priorities to do so, is definitely the first towards more concrete solutions, such as funding research, to fund programs like NRC’s Urban Shelter Program as well as do evaluations of such, which is as extremely important as just designing and implementing the project. The evaluation phase helps to keep the program aligned with the changing needs of the refugees. 

ST: Similarly the people-centric approach called for in the NUA can also be applied to the humanitarian field, where the complex and multifaceted problems faced by urban refugees require going beyond providing baseline needs.

Given your research and the current trajectories, what do you think will happen with urban refugee communities over the next few years?

FG: I think urban refugee communities will continue to grow around the world, especially as more vulnerable populations have to migrate from the negative effects of climate change. I hope that lessons learned from the Syrian refugee crisis and others before it provide the humanitarian community with expertise for these changing times.

VVA: This is quite a tough question to answer. As the current situation is going, the number of urban refugee communities will only keep increasing. However, we are seen positive programs like the NRC helping to alleviate the problem, at least one of the problems, safe and reliable shelter. The refugee crisis problem is quite complex and sensitive subject to address, both from a refugee and host country perspective. However, I think that as long as we know that we are doing the best to help families who have been forced to flee from their homes until it is safe to come back, I’m sure we will be able to learn how to best adapt our built environment and our attitude towards the issue.

What have you personally learned from this project?

FG: This project has given me an incredible opportunity that I am immensely grateful for. Academically, I have grown tremendously through this experience, learning much more than I did before about humanitarian work and the ongoing refugee crisis. The project has also expanded my professional network, particularly through our presentations at Habitat III. Personally, I have developed new friendships with people that I would have never had the opportunity to meet if I had not participated in this project.

VVA: I have learned many things from this project. I have been fascinated by the passion and dedication that people have towards solving this issue. This project has also brought hope that there are good stories to share about programs that are helping refugees and positive experiences between refugees and homeowners who rent their spaces to them. As it was my first time in the Middle East, this research trip served also as a very rich cultural immersion. This project has absolutely helped me grow as a person and a professional; it exceeded my expectations in various ways. I think what made our project special was that we had the unique opportunity to be in the field for about three weeks not only analyzing the project technicalities but also learning about people’s lives, their stories, their struggles and their favorite meals. The personal connections we made throughout our research were the most rewarding and memorable parts of this project.

ST: Seconding Francis, this project has shown us the importance of taking the leap to do fieldwork in a new and challenging environment and the power of teamwork to make this happen. It was a great privilege to meet in person the Syrian families and also to hear from the Jordanian homeowners, some of whom came to Jordan from Palestine as refugees themselves. Despite the gravity of the situation in Syria, I hope that sharing these positive stories can inspire us to go beyond the immediately possible.

Judges and the winners: Allison Garland of the Wilson Center, Tony Piaskowy of USAID, MIT Professor and project adviser Reinhard Goethert, Alvarado, Laura Lima of Cities Alliance, Goyes, Tolgay, IHC Global President and CEO Judith Hermanson, and Victor Vargas of the World Bank stand together for a picture


*Sponsors for the competition include Cities Alliance, IHC Global, The Wilson Center, The World Bank and USAID

Humans of Habitat III

by Rebekah Revello

Two Thursdays ago, Habitat III came to an end after four days of riveting discussions and presentations on the new frontiers for urban sustainability. Throughout the week, while the United Nations deliberated the New Urban Agenda on the conference grounds, the Habitat III Exhibition was taking place up the street, resting on the slope of the mountains like a city upon a hill. While the conference was meant for heavy discussions and evaluation of policies, the exhibition offered a lighter approach, as a platform for countries, organizations and companies to share their innovations in urbanization.

The atmosphere in the giant, tented space was thrumming with excitement and opportunity. Every other booth boasted a game-changing urban strategy; every conversation held the possibility of a new partnership. And among the exchange of business cards, the interactive exhibits, spectacular performances and complementary food and drink (a fan favorite), people from around the world were kind enough to share with me their experience at Habitat III and their views on the New Urban Agenda. Their occupations, nationalities and interests vary, and some spoke mere sentences while others spoke volumes, but their contributions are important to understanding how the New Urban Agenda will be perceived and understood worldwide.

Key: R is me, and the other initials will correspond to the interviewees.


Team members from PUSH, an Italian design lab that is partnered with Global Communities, and aims to help communities, public bodies and private organizations to innovate and have impact in a sustainable way.

R: “What did you want to come out of Habitat III?”

P: “We are here to expand our network and to try to implement our solutions in other contexts.”


Belen Vallejo and Stefan

R: “What made you come to Habitat III?”

S:We started a company. She’s an environmental engineer focusing on water sanitation. So we have one main project, which is turning chicken manure into organic fertilizer. We wanted to share it.”

R: “What do you think of the New Urban Agenda?”

S: It’s interesting, it’s focusing on cities? It’s good, but we’re trying to link the urban to the rural.

R: “So you think it should be more global?

B:It is difficult. In these stands you don’t see a lot of information on natural resources. We use so many natural resources and sometimes we don’t do enough to get back what we take.”

S:There are three or four events on natural resources, but in our opinions, there’s a bit of a lack, because the cities absorb a lot of what is produced in rural areas. Especially in Ecuador, where the cities are very close to rural areas. So that’s what we’re trying to do- connect those two worlds.”

R: “Are you satisfied with Habitat III?”

S:It’s an opportunity. You have to see that we are living in Ecuador, and there are not a lot of big events like Habitat III, so it’s a great opportunity to meet others and look into other environmental projects.”


Johannes Mengel, International Council for Science and Habitat III X-Change

R: “How do you feel about the New Urban Agenda? I know it’s a broad question, but what are your basic feelings?”

J: “My basic feeling about the New Urban Agenda is that it matters less than the fact that all the people have come together in Quito have met and have talked about what the future of cities should look like.”

R: “And why did you come here?”

J:I came here with a coalition of three organizations, to create this Habitat X-Change space as a place where people can meet and exchange ideas about the future of cities and also hopefully discover that science and data visualization can play an important part in thinking about the cities of the future and planning that future.”

R: “Are you satisfied with the conference?”

J (laughing): “Well, I’m certainly satisfied about what happened at our space, but I can’t comment on all of what happened at Habitat III. I’m satisfied with what the conference did for Habitat X-Change.”


Margarita, and Ecuadoran teacher

R: “Why did you come to Habitat III?”

M:I came to Habitat III because it is interesting. It is important for everyone to learn. We are all involved because we want to live well in our cities.”

R: Do you know much about the New Urban Agenda?

M: “I don’t know a lot about it, but I want to know more. I’m very happy to be here.” 


Anne, far right, from the Huairou Commission

R: “What do you think of the New Urban Agenda?

A:I think that there were a lot of expectations for this document to transform global policy framework, but in the end it became more complementary than transformative.”

R: “Why did you come to Habitat III?”

A:It started as my Master’s thesis actually, and then I got really engaged in process and we brought many grassroots women that the organization needed for support.”

R: “Are you satisfied with Habitat III?”

A: “It’s a great networking opportunity and platform…but I must say that the conference layout and design was frustrating. And it was very intense in terms of the events. Very rich, but very intense.”


Brenda and Allen, Habitat for Humanity UK and Asia Pacific

R: “What were you expecting out of Habitat III?”

Al:Honest answer? I manage the urban crisis learning partnership, and a lot of work that we’re doing is focusing on accountability to affected populations, and so… we only started really doing the research in Haiti and Bangladesh in the last three months, and we’re finding that there’s a lot of resistance to this concept, a lot of sensitivity around it. And so here, I just had this session where I was asking people their views on accountability in the humanitarian sector as part of the research to find out what kind of attitudes other people have about this. So really, it was to generate more knowledge for our own project.”

Br:I think Quito is just the end of a very long process that started two years ago, which Habitat for Humanity International has been involved with for a long while. Personally, the reason why I’m here is because as an urban specialist and practitioner, this is an opportunity to expose yourself to everything that is happening, in terms of subjects, in terms of approaches, ideologies behind everything that is being proposed… So the opportunity for networking, for learning about other countries and ways of doing things and visions of the city is great. But it’s also the closing of a long advocacy effort in which we were trying to influence the way that cities must be seen globally, what they should look like. And that was the discussion for the past few years, so this is just the formal sessions in which the states are saying ‘this is what we’ve agreed on’, but there were so many discussions beforehand that were very very rich. I think there is an agreement on how cities should look globally, which is very difficult. We are at very different stages of development but we still have a common vision on how cities should work.”

R: “What are your takes on the New Urban Agenda?”

(Long pause)

Br:As an urbanist…all the keywords are there. Inclusiveness, resilience, etc… But they seem hollow sometimes, they seem like they lack content. And then all of these discussions and critiques don’t say how we are going to do this, how are we going to be implementing this, what does it mean to create a compact city. There are no specific tools; the New Urban Agenda is just an ideal, which is good, because I believe we have to have an image of what we’re trying to achieve. But now the task is how you implement that. And what it means to be in a resilient city in Bangladesh is different than what it means to be resilient in the Netherlands. Interpretation is a big issue after this.”

Al:Somebody said yesterday that it’s interesting that the word mayor doesn’t appear in the New Urban Agenda at all, and then we kind of went through again and looked for a whole lot of other words that don’t appear. I think it’s kind of amusing and it doesn’t really tell us anything because there are so many references to municipalities and local authorities, but to be honest, I’m normally very cynical, but this is the way the world works on these kind of complex subjects. Because it’s not legally binding, it can be very ambitious, so you find that it’s not a process of international law where countries are agreeing to be bound, because when that happens, what they agree to be bound by becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. So you’ve got to start with these massive ambitious, aspirational and maybe a bit woolly ideas. But the purpose is not to bind, and as Brenda said, different parts of the world are so completely different, you couldn’t really have an adequate tool kit or implementation plan for the whole world, it doesn’t really work like that. But what you do have is priorities, you have a consensus on what’s important, and that’s no small achievement. When you compare it to 20 years ago, the Habitat agenda then was quite thin, a bit woolly, with very little follow up. And walking around here and seeing how the content of the New Urban Agenda is already being implemented by the various things many people are already doing is great. And it gives us- particularly in civil society- a great opportunity for advocacy at local level.”


Andrew Earle, student, University of Cape Town

R: “Why did you come to Habitat III?”

An:I was traveling to Ecuador already and my supervisor recommended Habitat III, but I would’ve gone anyway. I would now consider myself an infrastructurist/urbanist.”

R: “Do you know about the New Urban Agenda?”

An:I don’t know much actually. I’ve learned more here but I haven’t really looked at it. From what I can glean, it’s a way more intersectional approach to the next urban frontier, and they’ve tried very hard to cover all the bases, which makes it extremely hard to do. So they’ve set the bar pretty high. Do I have faith? I don’t know.”

R: “So then, are you satisfied with your experience here?”

An:Yes. Well, no. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything lacking- there’s been more than enough of everything, but some frustrations have been in that, it’s more about cities and municipalities presenting a CV rather than engaging and ideating. Instead of talking about what needs to be done, they say ‘here’s what has been done,’ and the conversation ends there. There isn’t really a space for voicing criticism, because for whatever reason the conversation is quite disjointed, and the dialogue I’m looking for isn’t there.”


Alessandra Sgobbi, European Commission, DG Climate Action

R: “Why did you and the European Commission come to Habitat III?”

Ale:There are several linkages between climate change and urban development, and urban areas and cities are most vulnerable to climate change because of the concentration of people and assets, but they are also a major source of emissions of greenhouse gases, so they have to be a part of the solution. For me, the linkages between tackling climate change challenges and ensuring sustainable urban development are numerous.”

R: “What is your opinion on the New Urban Agenda?”

(Long pause)

Ale: “Ah. Well, it’s a good opportunity to bring together at a local level the international frameworks that we agreed upon over the course of the past years. We’re talking about the SDGs, the Paris Agreement, Sendai framework for action- all of these need to be implemented in a coherent manner at a local level as well as a national level, and I’m hoping that the New Urban Agenda will provide such an opportunity at the local level.”

R: “Are you satisfied with the outcome of the conference?”

Ale:Yes. The first day was tricky because of the logistics, but it was all part of the challenge. I was very happy with the events that I followed, and we had several successful events. This year will be the implementation challenge and we have a whole lot of frameworks, so we have to see how we’re going to turn them into reality. The hard work is still to come.”


Marielena and Pamela, student architects

R: “How do you feel about Habitat III?”

Ma: “It seems to me the conferences were not great. They didn’t have much content or proposals. They seemed poorly organized with a lot of people. I didn’t find a comparison or a sense of how we have advanced in the last 20 years. We don’t have a diagnosis of if we have advanced or not advanced for the creation of the New Urban Agenda. There have been objectives and we don’t know if they have been achieved.”

R: “Okay, and what do you think of the exhibition?”

Ma: “Of the space…it’s cool that it seems kind of empty. I don’t know the logic of the country presentations, if it was for tourism? I don’t understand…if it was for people to just come and see? I don’t understand the logic.”


These girls were students from the University of Ecuador. They didn’t have much to say about the conference, as they were just passing by and decided to explore the exhibition. But they were glad that Habitat III was in Ecuador, and were fascinated by all of the exhibits.


Sylvanus Kofi Adzornu, Urban Planner from Ghana

R: “Why did you come to Habitat III?”

Sy: “We’ve come to learn, and also to witness the ratification of the NUA, which we’ve been part of preparing from PrepCom1 in NY to PrepCom2 in Kenya, and we were also in Surabaya for the negotiations. It’s important for use to come witness this final step, and learn from other stakeholders. It’s important to see the outcome, ultimately. We want to share Ghana’s experiences with the world, as an area of decentralization and an area of constitutional development. The progress that we have made over the past 20 years needs to be showcased in terms of urban development and the policies we have formulated. The world can also see how we can partner with other nations- especially in the sub-Saharan region in helping them with new urban policies and decentralization. Our experience in the democratic process can also help in all of Africa, with elections, and how to process them successfully. This was a very good and worthy trip to Quito. It takes a very successful organization to manage 40,000 participants, and I think they did well. And this city is captivating.”

R: “What do you think of the New Urban Agenda?”

Sy: “I think that it’s going to help nations to ensure that their cities become more inclusive, resilient, sustainable and safe, and to help guide nation states. It is not a legal document, it’s not binding, but essentially it will help nation states to begin to use urbanization as a strategy for development, because it’s inevitable. It leads to innovation, it leads to civilization, to people who are more civilized and informed and it leads to improvement in quality of life. It’s a way forward for each nation, especially for those of us who are developing countries and have adopted the strategies who want to use and harness them properly. And I think the NUA is set to do that, and the international agreement, the SDG 2020, all of this will guide us as a country to begin to formulate our own internal urban policies at a long-term perspective, to change the standard of living for our people.”

Report: IHC Global at Habitat III

by Karly Kiefer, Rebekah Revello, Judith Hermanson

Habitat III, the global conference on housing and urban development held once every 20 years, just concluded in Quito.  The major outcome was the approval of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) which provides a vision and points a direction for urban development over the coming years.  IHC Global was an active participant and we want to share with you some of our impressions, let you know about our activities while there, and engage you in our thinking as we move beyond Habitat III to implement the NUA and support Global Goal 11 to create cities that are sustainable, inclusive, resilient and safe. 

IHC Global will be pursuing an agenda to advance greater urban equity and equality


Solar panels at the Habitat III Village
Solar panels at the Habitat III Village

Impressions:  In shadow of the Andes in northern Ecuador, thousands of people queue up in various lines in El Ejito Park, waiting to enter the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, the city of Quito’s premier conference venue dedicated to the preservation of culture and dissemination of knowledge. As they wait in line they are surrounded by eccentricities ranging from bamboo houses, to lampposts made with solar lights and recycled plastic bottles—all part of the Habitat III Village, a showcase of the latest urban innovations and solutions staged throughout the city. Inside the venue grounds, old friends and new meet up for coffee or sushi on the lawn to discuss and debate the soon to be passed New Urban Agenda. Ecuadorians mingle with participants from 167 countries in the vast Exhibition tent, where organizations and governments stage their latest urban projects and initiatives, and host outreach events and musical performances. A glance at the schedule on the Habitat III app shows hundreds of events occurring each day—dozens at any given time.

Thirty thousand people gathered in Quito from October 17-20 for the Habitat III conference. After a near two-year process of drafting and revising, the New Urban Agenda (NUA) was adopted by nearly 170 countries.  Notable in the lead up to the NUA was the inclusion of civil society in the negotiations—a platform known as the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) was created in order to enable the participation of non-governmental partners, broken into fifteen “Constituent Groups” including grassroots organizations, children and youth, and research and academia. In addition, multiple online and offline platforms, official and unofficial events, and mechanisms for public comment were enabled in order to sustain a truly participatory process in the drafting of the NUA and the lead up to Habitat III.

Conference-goers lounge on the Habitat III grounds
Conference-goers lounge on the Habitat III grounds


IHC Global Engagement with Habitat III:  IHC Global was a key supporter of Global Goal 11 and has been engaged in the dialogue and drafting process for the New Urban Agenda, including participating in PrepComm 2 as a member of the GAP’s Civil Society Constituent Group. We have been active in many lead up events, including an Open Forum held in May, as well as keeping our members informed.  IHC Global is also a Lead Partner with the World Urban Campaign. Our delegation, which included IHC Global staff, Board members and senior advisors, was accorded special accreditation, and maintained a very active and robust presence throughout the conference.

The exhibition tent at Habitat III
The exhibition tent at Habitat III

Key Activities in Quito:  IHC Global kicked off its Habitat III line-up on Saturday, October 15th, when Communications Officer Rebekah Revello spoke at the Civil Society Panel for the Children and Youth Assembly, a parallel event that focused on the role of children and youth in implementing the New Urban Agenda. Revello spoke about how young people in the United States are advocating for inclusive cities, and the various movements that have arisen regarding urban issues such as racial equality.

IHC Global Communications Officer Rebekah Revello speaks at the UN Working Group for Children and Youth panel on Civil Society
IHC Global Communications Officer Rebekah Revello speaks at the UN Working Group for Children and Youth panel on Civil Society


On Monday, October 17th, IHC Global President and CEO Dr. Judith Hermanson moderated a panel called Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Leveraging Partnerships, hosted by the government of Canada’s Employment and Social Development division, with Minister Yves Duclos serving as one of the panelists, together with Suranjana Gupta, Senior Specialist and Advisor with the Huairou Commission and GROOTS International, Greg Moor, Mayor of the City of Port Coquitlam in Canada, and J. Nealin Parker, Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Judith framed the discussion in this session, which focused around innovative approaches to housing partnerships that go beyond physical buildings and structures and focus on linkages to community and the city – in other words a theme of inclusion and inclusiveness which was carried through by the presentations of each of the panelists as they presented programs, policies and evidence supporting the underlying premise. Also on Monday, IHC Global board member David Wluka spoke at a side event called Evidence from Practice to Action: Ensuring Informed Implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

IHC Global President and CEO Judith Hermanson speaks at the Canadian Government event Beyond Brick and Mortar

On Monday afternoon, IHC Global hosted a networking event called Triple Win:  People, Public, and Private Partnerships for More Livable Cities and Communities, where a diverse group of panelists discussed how their organizations have been involved in successful people-public-private-partnerships (PPPPs), and how the inclusion of “people” in these partnerships can help cities become more equitable and inclusive. The perspectives of civil society, private sector and local governments were brought forward and the underlying principles that have applicability beyond the specific examples cited.

IHC Global CEO Judith Hermanson, participate on the IHC Global-hosted panel Triple Win
Panelists participate in a lively discussion at the IHC Global-hosted event Triple Win
Eduardo Rojas and Judith Hermanson stand with the panelists for the IHC Global-led panel No Time to Waste
Eduardo Rojas and Judith Hermanson stand with the panelists for the IHC Global-led panel No Time to Waste


On Tuesday, October 18th, IHC Global marked the official release of a new publication entitled No Time to Waste: Applying the Lessons from Latin America’s 50 Years of Housing Policies to Rapidly Urbanizing Countries authored by Eduardo Rojas, former lead urban specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank. At the Next City World Stage, IHC Global assembled a panel of experts to discuss key findings in the paper and their potential applicability to countries that are rapidly urbanizing.  IHC Global Senior Technical Advisor Roger Williams moderated.  The paper had previously been peer reviewed at a session hosted by Ford Foundation in New York and is intended to inform policy discussions under the NUA which has “housing at the center.”

IHC Global President and CEO Judith Hermanson and IHC Global Boardmember David Wluka speak at the Habitat for Humanity International and Government of Dubai-led event Housing at the Center
IHC Global President and CEO Judith Hermanson and IHC Global Boardmember David Wluka speak at the Habitat for Humanity International and Government of Dubai-led event Housing at the Center

Later on Tuesday afternoon, IHC Global President Judith Hermanson spoke at two events. At the Government of Dubai-hosted Housing at the Center: Establishing a Community of Practice that will engage in M&E, Hermanson emphasized that inclusiveness has spatial dimensions, as well as economic and social dimensions, and stressed that housing can be a driver of greater equality and inclusive growth. Hermanson then spoke at FIABCI’s The City We Need is Affordable Campaign meeting about IHC Global’s work to bring together private sector and non-profit organizations around the mission of promoting inclusive housing and sustainable cities and the importance of including housing as part of a comprehensive urban planning process.

This year's urban essay competition winners present their research on urban resettlement of refugees
This year’s urban essay competition winners present their research on urban resettlement of refugees

On Wednesday, IHC Global hosted an outreach event in the Habitat III Exhibition Area to provide information to prospective members and to promote a new student membership campaign that offers networking and mentoring benefits to students and recent graduates as a way of facilitating the entry of new scholars and practitioners into the field. Also on Wednesday, IHC Global President Judith Hermanson served as a discussant during a presentation by the winners of the 7th Annual Reducing Urban Poverty Graduate Student Paper Competition Presentation, which IHC Global initially conceptualized with USAID as a way to encourage innovation and engage new scholars and which it now co-sponsors with USAID, the World Bank, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and Cities Alliance. The three student winners shared their research on incremental housing solutions for refugees in Jordan.

Panelists answer questions from the audience at the
Panelists answer questions from the audience at the IHC Global and Habitat for Humanity International-led event Intersections


Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, IHC Global hosted its final event called Intersections: Bringing together necessary elements for Inclusive, Sustainable Sanitation Strategies in Cities. Judith Hermanson moderated as panelists shared best practices and lessons learned on implementing comprehensive sanitation projects that recognize the intersections of technology, infrastructure, market development, community engagement, and gender equity.

Post-Quito Next Steps:  While the Habitat III conference has ended, the important work of carrying forward the vision and delivering on commitments made has just begun. IHC Global will remain engaged and active in the post-Quito discussions and in supporting the translation of conversation into action through advocacy, education, research and dialogue.  This blog is only the beginning of our synthesis and analysis of the conference. Keep an eye out for our “Humans of Habitat III” commentary, and other material from this extraordinary gathering of people and organizations from around the globe. 

The major outcome, the NUA, is important and significant in part for the light that it shines on the critical issues of urban development; the other important outcome is the inspiration and knowledge gained by those who will help to bring about change in communities, cities and countries around the world.


Habitat III Event: Intersections: Bringing together necessary elements for Inclusive, Sustainable Sanitation Strategies in Cities

IHC Global hosted a networking event called “Intersections: Bringing together necessary elements for Inclusive, Sustainable Sanitation Strategies in Cities” at the Habitat III conference in Quito on October 19, 2016. Moderator Sanitation Panel 1Judith Hermanson, IHC Global’s President and CEO, introduced the topic and the panelists by noting the diverse perspectives that each would bring and framing the inherent complexity of the urban sanitation challenge, requiring policy, investment, and programmatic “intersections” at the individual, community, municipal levels. Susana M. Rojas Williams from Habitat for Humanity International spoke about Habitat for Humanity’s systemic approach to sanitation and its efforts to convene the various stakeholders involved in sanitation efforts such as community councils, homeowners associations, local agencies and utilities, and microfinance institutions, in order to help them build trust. Alberto Wilde from Global Communities spoke about Global Communities’ sanitation efforts in Ghana, noting both the complex challenges to sanitation in Ghana such as lack of political will, lack of space, informal land title, and poor soil quality, as well as the comprehensive activities Global Communities engages in around community mapping, water and drainage solutions, innovation toilet solutions, social behavior change communication, and micro-loans for businesses. Lianne Romahi of the International City/County Management Association spoke of the potential of public-private partnerships to address constraints in local governance finance mechanisms. She spoke about ICMA’s efforts to facilitate mentorship and knowledge sharing for members who haven’t had experience with PPPs before. Cecilia Rodrigues from the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance shared the alliance’s efforts over time to contribute to achieving first the sanitation-related MDG, and now the Sanitation panel 2sanitation SDG. She brought up the point that sanitation can contribute to fulfilling other SDGs. For instance, proper sanitation in schools and access to menstrual pads for girls can contribute to the achievement of the education SDG. Finally, Roshan Shrestha from the Gates Foundation urged us to think about the full life-cycle of sanitation and “pay attention to what happens after the toilet flushes.” Overall, the panel provided a complex and multi-dimensional portrait of what needs to be considered in sanitation efforts and the important progress that has been made.

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Habitat III Event: Triple Win: People, Public, and Private Partnerships for More Livable Cities and Communities

IHC Global hosted a session at the Habitat III conference called “Triple Win:  People, Public, and Private Partnerships for More Livable Cities and Communities”, where practitioners and participants in successful “People Public Private Partnerships (PPPPs”) diagnosed and presented practical advice on how this approach works by bringing public and private resources into alignment with community priorities through active collaboration among stakeholders.  IHC Global President and CEO Judith Hermanson served as Moderator, introducing the topic by noting the importance of conceiving partnerships that are “PPPPs”—where the community is an equal and important stakeholder–rather than just “public-private” partnerships. She also noted that even if the physical and financial elements of a specific project vary from case to case, the principles can apply more generally.

Speakers Gyuri Sumeghy, Judith Hermanson, Claudio Bernardes, and David Wluka at the Triple Win Event

David Wluka, a Realtor representing the National Realtor Association, and also an IHC Global board member, noted that in order for PPPPs to be successful, each partner must gain something from the partnership. Specifically, it is important that the private sector have a motivation for the partnership, as partnerships based on “charity” are not sustainable.  Gyorgy Sumeghy from Habitat for Humanity International in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region, spoke about a PPPP his organization is involved in to improve residential energy efficiency for low-income households in Eastern Europe, specifically noting both the importance of and the difficulty in building trust between all partners. Claudio Bernardes, former President of Secovi-SP, the São Paulo Housing Syndicate, discussed examples of successful housing partnerships to improve cities in Brazil. A robust discussion with the audience followed, and the panelists noted that the examples they provided are only a few of many successful strategies for engaging in people-public-private-partnerships, and that successful examples should continue to build off of and learn from other successful examples.

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Habitat III Event: No Time to Waste: An Inter-active Dialogue Applying the Lessons from Latin America’s 50 Years of Housing Policies to Rapidly Urbanizing Countries

During the Habitat III conference in Quito, IHC Global celebrated the official release of a new publication entitled “No Time to Waste: Applying the Lessons from Latin America’s 50 Years of Housing Policies to Rapidly Urbanizing Countries” by Eduardo Rojas, former lead urban specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank. At an event at the Next City World Stage on Tuesday morning, Rojas discussed two key findings of his paper.

Eduardo Rojas shares key findings from his paper.

First, that housing policy matters, but that not all policies and programs are equally effective.Many strategies that have been employed often, such as isolated low-income housing programs, are ineffective, while others that may have been looked on disfavorably, such as incremental approaches to housing, can actually be part of the solution. Second, Rojas noted that housing cannot be approached in an isolated manner, but must go hand in hand with urban planning in order to be effective.  Following his presentation, four respondents reacted to the report and conversed about how its findings can be applied to other country contexts. Margartia Greene from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile applauded the paper for highlighting the importance of conceiving of housing and planning efforts together, but noted that the paper could have done more to discuss the effects of climate change and the housing lessons that can be learned after climate-related disasters.

Panelists Kirtee Shah, Catalina Marulanda, Margarita Greene, and Hayder Ali respond to Rojas’ paper.

Catalina Marulanda from the World Bank stressed the importance of community engagement in housing projects, and affirmed the need to recognize the social dimensions of housing developments, as they facilitate the development of neighborhoods and communities. Kirtee Shah from KSA Design Planning Services shared the Indian perspective, noting the urgency of housing efforts in the Indian context due to the country’s rapid urbanization. Finally, Hayder Ali from the International Union of Architects and a practicing architect from Sudan, shared that the Sudanese government uses land as a commodity, and noted that civil society in Sudan can learn much from the Latin American example. The event led to a rich discussion about the importance of consistent, integrated, and practical housing policy that recognizes that housing is fundamentally about people.


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World Habitat Day Event: Secure Housing, Women’s Right to Land, and the New Urban Agenda

by Karly Kiefer

On October 3, IHC Global and Habitat for Humanity International’s Solid Ground Campaign co-hosted an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of World Habitat Day. The event was co-sponsored by the Housing and Urban Development Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and addressed the critical issue of land rights and gender under the New Urban Agenda. Judith Hermanson of IHC Global moderated a panel of four presenters from the Solid Ground campaign, Landesa, USAID, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Hermanson opened by acknowledging the importance of World Habitat Day and all it represents, underscoring that land and tenure are fundamental to the realization of adequate living conditions. Dynamic conversations on the complexities of land rights and secure housing followed the presentations.

The first panelist, Anne Myers from Habitat for Humanity International, spoke about the Solid Ground campaign, a global advocacy campaign focusing on land rights that is being implemented in 28 countries around the world, and of which IHC Global is a partner. She noted that land is the number one barrier to providing decent housing around the world, and that Solid Ground has four primary areas of focus in order to enhance access to land: security of tenure, gender equality, disaster resilience, and slum upgrading. The Solid Ground campaign has a goal of improving access to land for 10 million people around the world.

Next, Chris Jochnick, CEO of Landesa, spoke about Landesa’s work to enhance land rights for the rural poor, noting that security of tenure not only improves the immediate living situations of the rural poor, but leads to a range of secondary development benefits such as increased extension services, greater educational attainment, and increased access to credit. Of the three primary challenges to land rights that Landesa focuses on—legal issues, political will, and practical implementation—Jochnick stressed that thinking about how land reforms can be implemented on the ground is key to ensuring that land rights for women and the rural poor are truly realized. For instance, requiring land title forms to include two names instead of just one head of household can be a transformative practical measure to ensure that women’s tenure security is not just tied to their husbands’. He also noted that a purely top-down approach to data collection and mapping can actually lock in bad data, and advocated for a bottom up model that trains community members to collect and map their own data in order to ensure that data is representative of on the ground realities. Jochnick concluded by praising the New Urban Agenda’s focus on land rights, and reminding that urban and rural land rights are inextricably linked to each other and should be thought of holistically.

After the first two panelists shared, the moderator opened up a time for questions. One audience member raised the point that the political elite often stand to gain from having a lack of clarity of land rights on the ground, and asked how the challenge of raising political will can be tackled. The panelists noted the importance of finding champions in the government and using those people to help gain traction. They also reemphasized the importance of campaigns like Solid Ground that can help raise the profile of the issue and push governments to act.

Next, Anthony Piaskowy from USAID’s Urban Office spoke about the opportunities and challenges posed by the New Urban Agenda. He praised the New Urban Agenda for pushing forth an integrated approach to urbanization, giving prominence to the concept of inclusivity, and paying attention to financing and funding structures. He noted that the document’s weakness primarily lies in its lack of details on implementation. A language search of the New Urban Agenda shows that land and housing are given frequent attention, as are issues of gender equity. Piaskowy highlighted the importance of viewing tenure security as a continuum, rather than a binary, and noted that the Urban Agenda shows signs of recognizing a tenure rights continuum. The New Urban Agenda also has the potential to increase tenure security in indirect ways—through its focus on infrastructure provision and participatory land use planning, and through new and innovative technologies. Finally, Piaskowy noted that the New Urban Agenda emphasizes the role of local government officials and the importance of engagement at the local level, a task that is both an opportunity and a challenge for bilateral development agencies that are structured to engage primarily at the national level.

The final panelist, Robin Rajack, Lead Specialist for Housing and Urban Development at IDB, emphasized that we need to recognize and work with the inherent rationality of the behaviors of stakeholders such as the urban poor, the private sector, and politicians. The urban poor understand how to make tradeoffs, and have learned how to circumvent impractical and unfair land and housing regulations because it is in their best interests to do so. Similarly, Rajack noted, when campaign finance limits are unrealistically low, politicians act rationally by making deals with urban real estate mongers to bridge the finance gap. Rather than expecting stakeholders to change their behavior and act in a way that is irrational for them and is not in their best interests, Rajack emphasized that policy and programs must build upon economic rationality, in other words, “find the rhythm, rather than change the song.”

Rajack’s presentation led to a robust discussion of how to handle the tradeoffs between making higher valued property available for the poor and recognizing the rationality of the behavior of private property markets. As panelists and audience members discussed, the socially driven “right to the city” approach and the economically driven “markets-based approach” are often seen as polarized positions. However, pitting the two approaches against each other leads only to discord and inefficient solutions. Rather, those involved in housing and land rights should seek a middle ground that recognizes that rationality of behavior of both slum dwellers and real estate bankers, and work to find solutions where neither side is expected to act against their own interests. Rajack cautioned against overestimating the demand for formal tenure, noting that what we think of as ‘formal tenure’—which involves meeting housing and building codes and a level of financial investment—may be unrealistic and uncalled-for by poor populations. Instead, we need to ask the question of what the poor actually desire regarding tenure security. Rajack noted that this may be somewhere towards the middle of the ‘tenure security contimuum’, where tenants are free from the fear of eviction, but are not required to meet regulations and make financial investments that are irrational for them given their economic situations.

Overall, the presentations and discussions that followed recognized the significance that land rights and gender haven been given in the New Urban Agenda, and the potential that a focus on land rights—particularly for women–can have for improving global development. However, each of the presentations emphasized the complexity and multi-faceted nature of the issue, and cautioned against the assumption of a single, straightforward solution to reaching equal land rights and security of tenure for all.

UN Habitat World Cities Report: Looking Towards Habitat III

by Rebekah Revello

World Cities Report Review

On May 18th, UN HABITAT released their 2016 world cities report, and it is jam-packed with the ups and downs and challenges cities are bound to give us in the next few decades. The report is accompanied with a fun, century spanning joke: “the earth is not flat, it’s urban.” It shows that the rapid global urbanization is as much a shock to the world as the groundbreaking discovery of a spherical earth centuries ago. The report is broken down into chapters, each of which addresses certain challenges and policy priorities.

The opening chapter serves as a preamble for the event that everyone in the urban development community has been exhaustively talking about for the past year: Habitat III. The report stresses that from Habitat II in 1996 to now, the urban landscape has gone through staggering changes in climate, family patterns, growth of inequality, and access to services. Urban growth is, naturally, increasing exponentially, partly due to the massive exodus of urban migrants that the world has been dealing with for the past 6 years and partly because of the natural growth of urban populations. Along this timeline, slums have reached maximum capacity, and more and more informal settlements have popped up to accommodate the unprecedented amount of people that arrive every day. It’s commonly known that more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, but if you’re not already tired of statistics, here are a few more the report points out:

  • As health science has rapidly progressed in the last century, the decline in infant mortality and high fertility rate has resulted in an overwhelmingly young population. Forty percent of the world’s population is under 24 years old.
  • Naturally, progress in health science means that people live longer too. The global population ages 60 and over is the fastest growing population, with a rate of 3.26% per year, and in 2015 12% of the world’s population- a whopping 901 million people- fit into this category.
  • 80% of the world’s GDP comes from cities.
  • Cities, as the result of the amount of people living there, are responsible for more than 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

With these decidedly worrying facts in mind, UN Habitat has sorted out its views and priorities: the current model of urbanization is unsustainable at its best, and many cities are unprepared for the challenges urbanization presents. What is known is that a proper urbanization system promotes social and economic advancement to improve the quality of life of all. This is what Habitat III is hoping to do with the New Urban Agenda. The issues leading up to the New Urban Agenda are laid out in the next nine chapters of the report; here’s a brief look at the chapters and what’s at stake.

Urbanization as a transformative force Cities are now at the core of international development- something that was discussed by Ian Klaus at the IHC Open Forum on May 10- and their position presents new exciting opportunities.  UN Habitat outlines four issues from which cities can spearhead global change in sustainable development: the dynamic economic transition of cities in a national and global context, the evolving spatial form of cities, the capacity of cities to address environmental issues, and the emergence of smart and connected cities, driven by information and communications technologies and city and big data.

The Fate of Housing

Housing is something that IHC is particularly passionate about. IHC counts Housing as a Driver for Equitable Development as one of our key policy topics, so we will be paying close attention to how these issues will unfold at and following Habitat III. UN Habitat states that “the ‘emerging futures’ of cities will largely depend on whether urban housing is cast in decent buildings or in loads more unsustainable, ramshackle shelter.”  This means that housing must become a priority to national and international development agendas, something that wasn’t pushed during Habitat II.  One of the solutions UN Habitat presents pushes for elevating the importance of the house to make it a “home.” This is reminiscent of the goal set by Eduardo Rojas during the IHC Open Forum, where he said that cities and their nations need to expand the idea of a house, so that it’s not just a place to sleep at night but an integral part of society. But the largest challenge that many cities face are the slums and other substandard housing that bring down quality of life. Solutions to slums will lead to improved life for all, but successful solutions will need to be diverse.

The Urban Divide    

The slum issue is just one aspect of the growing urban divide. Cities by nature are hubs for different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds to interact with one another, but as more and more diverse peoples come to stay in cities, the natural divisions are becoming deeper. According to the UN Habitat quick facts, 75% of the world’s cities have a have higher levels of income inequality than two decades ago. This is rather alarming, considering it is commonly thought (or at least thought by me) that the world was actually improving in these matters. It’s clear that there needs to be a new international commitment to creating inclusive cities, and Habitat III could inspire leadership on this topic. This is probably one of the most challenging issues that cities face, because social norms have time and time again proven to be quite difficult to change. On top of that, the effort doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of officials, but on those of common people expected to change their entire social outlook. IHC believes that inclusiveness can be achieved through a combination of economic, social, service delivery and physical (spatial) policies, programs and investments that incorporate city people from all walks of life.

Environmental Sustainability    

While all of the issues noted so far are based on the human experience of the city, environmental sustainability remains the pressing matter that hangs over our heads. Understanding the connections between economic development and environmental protection is imperative for the future of cities, and urban sustainability as a whole cannot be looked at without realizing the important relationship between cities and their environments.  The hard truth is that urbanization, while good for people, has proven to be not so good for the environment. So going forward, environmental planning has to be an aspect of urban planning in general, including preparations for disasters, natural and man-made.

Urban Governance and Legislation and Reinventing Urban Planning

Speaking of which, reinventing urban planning, governance and legislation is a necessary first step for every city to take in this new development age. The new urban policies need to be inclusive, accessible, realistic and credible above all. To sum up, city laws and planning need to be effective, and in order to be effective, cities should face the harsh realities of what they cannot do. Developing countries are at a disadvantage; they do not have the same planning capacity as countries who far outrank them in GDP, and many cities struggle to incorporate women, disabled populations and other disadvantaged groups into their policies.* In general, cities should not shoot for unrealistic expectations or neglect the difficult issues at hand. As long as new policies and planning procedures are seen by the public- and any interested investors and NGOs- as credible and successful, there is a good chance that they will work, and that cities will rise.

The Changing Dynamics of Urban Economics

Urban economics are uneven due to- you guessed it- inadequate urban infrastructure that is unable to accommodate the rapid growth and resources that cities demand. Where some mega cities have benefitted from the rapid growth, many cities in developing countries are lagging under the stress. Although economic development has historically been associated with urban development, we are finding that this is not always the case today due in part to the rapid pace. The economic issues are highly dependent on the other issues named in these chapters, especially housing, legislation, and bridging the urban divide.

The very heart and soul of Habitat III is the New Urban Agenda, the “Zero Draft” of which has recently been issued and on which the UN is holding informal consultations with stakeholders.  The draft New Urban Agenda will be a blueprint for future urban development.  This new Cities report by UN Habitat provides an up to date accounting of the state of the world’s cities in 2016. It will hopefully provide another input to the process and inform the negotiations that take place between now and October.

These issues are complex and diverse, and IHC sees many of the same barriers to equitable growth in this paper as we do in our own work.  We hope that work like this will help focus attention on these barriers and transform them into the drivers of the next two decades of equitable urban development. Overall, these goals are ambitious, but the fate of urban life is in good hands. See IHC Global’s Statement on the New Urban Agenda here.

*Tune in next week for our blog post about gender and land security!

Public Private Partnerships for More Inclusive Cities

by Judith Hermanson

In order for cities to develop in a more equitable and sustainable way, forming a shared vision among the residents and stakeholders is a key starting point. In that way, everyone can have a “place at the table” and bring their issues and priorities to the fore. As these are adjudicated and compromises are reached, the result is a common vision of what is “do-able” and likely to succeed based on the particularity of that city (its social, economic and physical attributes) and to what it aspires. Often a city will be inspired by the “power of its place” – its geographic location, for example, supporting the development of tourism in the case of its history or environment or its availability of natural resources supporting the investment of certain industries.

In almost all cases, the availability of public resources may be insufficient. But if the private sector is part of the conversation and private investment is incentivized, there is a real possibility of a “win-win-win” situation for all involved. IHC Global believes that as focus turns to how cities are going to achieve the SDG 11 goal of becoming inclusive, resilient, safe and sustainable, the issue of financial resources will increasingly come to the fore. We believe further public private partnerships (PPPs) should be a key element in maximizing those resources.

There are many examples of successful PPPs, ranging from reclaiming waterfronts to new town development to affordable housing. There are also pitfalls in PPPs to be sure, and one of the easiest is surely insufficient inclusion and engagement of those who are going to be affected in shaping the vision and agreeing on any trade-offs. Criticisms that have been made of PPPs for sustainable communities and smart growth include excessive use eminent domain; “mixed use resulting in high end condos and low end jobs”; and the interface between major developments (e.g., transport hubs) and established communities.

However, none of these is inevitable. We have been inspired by many examples given in the recent articles in The Atlantic Monthly by James Fallows recounting his trip to small towns throughout the USA and the many different strategies that towns and cities are using to become more vibrant, economically sound and inclusive places. Particularly encouraging is the almost universal recognition of the need of greater inclusiveness for the city as a whole to prosper.

While circumstances among cities in the US vary widely and those among cities in other parts of the globe vary even more widely still, there is promise in finding examples and new ways in which all elements of a society can work together to achieve results that benefit them all. When trust is built, a shared vision achieved and leadership with integrity is present, then, we are indeed able to bring about fundamental positive change. This premise can apply equally to situations as diverse as the upgrading of informal settlements in low income countries to the revitalization of cities in high income countries that have lost their industrial anchors.

In the lead up to Habitat III, IHC Global believes that with this type of shared vision of a city based on trust and meaningful participation of those most affected, public-private partnerships, in their myriad forms, can be a key instrument used by cities to bring about local change for greater inclusiveness, resilience, safety and sustainability as envisioned under SDG 11, the Global Goal for cities.

Localizing the SDGs: Reflections on Why Cities are at the Center of the 2030 Agenda

by Rebekah Revello

The Urban Sustainability Laboratory of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars convened a discussion on Monday, April 25th, bringing together experts in a variety of urban development fields to talk about “Localizing the SDGs and How Cities can Help Achieve the 2030 Agenda.”  This event was an activity of the Habitat III US National Committee and was organized in cooperation with the Urban Institute and USAID.  It was an important event because it brought “global voices” to US policy makers and influencers, a subcommittee of the Habitat III National Committee, on which IHC also sits.  With cities at the heart of what we will achieve globally in sustainable development in the 21st century, focusing on “why cities” matter in achieving the ambitious Agenda 2030 goals (SDGs) is a pivotal question.

It is also a timely question as we prepare for the global UN conference on Housing and Urban Development (Habitat III) which will take place in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016.  The New Urban Agenda, which will be a major outcome of Habitat III, will influence the course of urban development and so the future of cities around the world for the next 30 years.  It is hoped that the New Urban Agenda will begin to chart a course towards implementation of the SDGs, rooting their laudable yet abstract goals in practical approaches and solutions.

This session at the Wilson Center was a small step also in the direction of implementation, during which panelists wrestled with some of the challenges that will be faced.  The seventeen SDGs (including SDG 11 focused on cities) together have 196 targets to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030, enhance gender equality, sustainable energy, and peace and global security challenges.  The SDGs by and large will be achieved or not through local efforts – albeit efforts backed by national and global policy and commitment. IHC agrees with all the panelists in that the steps forward in urban development require cooperation between governments, NGOs and the corporate world, and that many of the issues that face urban development need cross-cutting solutions.

The issues discussed during this Urban Sustainability Lab demonstrate the cross-cutting nature of many aspects of the SDGs.  This included food security, urban health, gender equality, and inclusive housing.  Our main take-aways below do not pretend to capture the richness of the presentation and discussions. The full event was recorded and can be found here.

Food security in urban areas is an emerging topic that underscores the importance of rural urban linkages and relies on the important relationship between urban and rural areas. Rising populations in urban areas means that there is an increase in food demand — and therefore business — in rural areas. Therefore, mechanisms that benefit both urban and rural societies and their symbiotic relationships need to be put in place. Because of this increase in rural business, farmers have better access to a variety of healthier crops, thus improving the food intake of both urban and rural communities. IHC supports this perspective as one part of a multi-faceted approach to ensuring greater food security in urban areas, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

Urban Health

While urban and rural health are connected in certain ways, there are very different dynamics at play. Diseases have a much greater probability of rapidly expanding in urban areas. However, health practices in urban areas are often more advanced and efficient than they are in rural areas. Even though delivery and policy may differ, they should work together to fight diseases in this mobile world.  This would seem to be especially true of those related to environmental sanitation, such as those that can be fixed with water systems free of the mosquitoes that carry dengue fever and Zika virus (an area of IHC policy focus) as well as those that are highly contagious, such as the spread of the Ebola virus from rural to urban areas led to a major epidemic.

Gender Equality

Another heavily discussed issue is one that IHC would particularly like to see improve quickly: the state of gender in urban areas. Safety in urban areas, especially for women is seen as an important aspect of SDG 5 as well as being integral to SDG 11.  A survey done last year for example found that 50% of women in London have experienced harassment in just the last year on public transportation. This issue doesn’t just affect women’s well-being; it affects their economic opportunities as well, as they are less likely to take a job if there is a safety risk.

Inclusive Housing

Another issue that IHC is especially passionate about is inclusive housing, a platform for our organization. The rapidly rising population of slums and land access for housing and secure tenure were key issues in the ultimately successful debate about having a stand-alone urban goal. IHC agrees with the discussion’s emphasis on the potential that the improvement of inclusivity in housing will help improve many of the issues cities face, including health policy, food security and women’s rights.