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.

An Innovative Approach to Improving Land Access for Shelter

by Anne Shaffer Myers, Global Advocacy Campaign Director, Habitat for Humanity International

Just a few short months ago, Habitat for Humanity launched its very first global advocacy campaign. Solid Ground is reforming international, multinational, national, and local policy and systems to improve access to land for shelter for 10 million people through this three-year campaign – and I’m excited to tell you how.

The global focus of the campaign is centered around Habitat III, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Habitat III will produce an outcome document called the “New Urban Agenda,” a plan that will help define urban priorities and shape implementation of sustainable urban development for the next 20 years. Sustainable urbanization includes a broad range of issues, including transportation, infrastructure, environment, and others, but to be successful, urbanization plans must meet the housing needs of urban residents. Without the basic human right of adequate shelter, the billions of current and future urban residents will not be able to thrive and contribute to a vision of sustainable cities, and Solid Ground is promoting housing – and secure tenure, the freedom from fear of eviction – at the center of the New Urban Agenda.

But Solid Ground isn’t just one campaign. It’s a collection of work addressing the issue of access to land for shelter by focusing on four main subthemes – secure tenure, gender equality, disaster resilience and slum upgrading. And Solid Ground campaigns are taking place at all levels all around the world.

Habitat for Humanity Honduras is eliminating barriers to accessing land for shelter by advocating for changes in legal and political frameworks of housing within municipal governments. Specifically, they are applying a demonstrated model of engaging diverse stakeholders to identify and address the barriers to land access for shelter one municipality at a time.

Kenya has one of the strongest and most stable economic growths among Sub-Saharan African countries, but around 60% of the population lives in informal settlements. Women and minority groups are at greater risk of living in substandard housing. Through Solid Ground, Habitat for Humanity Kenya is alleviating pressures of uneven access to resources for marginalized populations by advocating for a higher percentage of women to practice their property rights and acquire land titles or other forms of tenure documented under their own names.

Due to an upsurge in the population and the increasing rate of migration to urban cities, Cambodia is in drastic need of housing. In 2014, the Royal Government of Cambodia enacted the National Housing Policy, but the policy has yet to reach low- and middle-income families. Habitat for Humanity Cambodia is advocating for the effective implementation of the National Housing Policy in Cambodia to facilitate access to improved housing for the growing number of urban residents.

We can’t carry out this important work alone. We are fortunate to have over a dozen diverse partners – including IHC Global – who are building capacity and expanding the reach of Solid Ground in innovative ways. Solid Ground’s expanded network of allies with common goals provides an opportunity to build sector impact. Participating Habitat entities at every level also seek partners who endorse Solid Ground’s vision. Partnerships acknowledge that by working collaboratively, the organizations will have a greater effect on access to land for shelter.

To read more about the Solid Ground campaign and take action with us as United Nations member states negotiate the New Urban Agenda, visit

IHC Global is a proud supporter of the Solid Ground campaign.

Urban Poverty Essay Competition: Lyn Chia

by Rebekah Revello and Lyn Chia

Each year, IHC, the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Woodrow Wilson Center and USAID collaborate to hold an Urban Poverty Essay Competition, in order to hear from the best and brightest in the urban development community and to encourage new thinking and innovation about urban poverty from young scholars. This is the third of the interviews with our three finalists.

Lyn Chia is one of the finalists for the 2015 Urban Poverty Essay Competition. She uses her background in design and passion for inclusivity to forge her way in the urban development world. After returning from a 7-month fieldwork in Sao Paolo, Brazil where she worked with a multidisciplinary group called Habitacidade to fix the city’s housing deficit, she is now dedicating her time to a public realm consultancy in London, England.

  1. What inspired you to get into the urban development sector?

I’ve always been curious about how people relate to one another and to spaces. It was this interest that led to my background in architecture and urban design. However it was really during my masters degree when I became involved in urban development, particularly around inclusivity and capacity building. 

Coming from a design background, the research/practice opportunities offered by the course deepened my understanding of the wider socio-political, theoretical and economic aspects of cities. Working [with Habitacidade] alongside highly driven members of social movements, academics, field practitioners and residents who all shared a common goal was inspiring in itself. At the end of the day my inspiration comes from the people around me and from being on site.

  1. What are your current or future plans? 

I’ve recently joined a public realm consultancy in London. The office produces evidence-based urban proposals that are rooted in extensive local analysis. I’m really enjoying the hands-on aspect of working on live projects; there is a lot to learn from being in practice. Once I’ve settled in I’d love to continue writing and perhaps in a few years return to academia. 

  1. What is a particular cause you are motivated by? (One that you haven’t discussed)

Homelessness and housing are both issues that are close to heart. I believe housing is far more complex than just a place to live. It represents status and economic growth, expressions of private aspirations, social networks, but above all, it provides the security and stability to build individual capacity. 

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing cities is, as they work to reduce and eliminate extreme poverty?

Cities are growing at an accelerated rate and there is an increasing imbalance in the distribution of wealth, power and resources. Finding ways to prevent and reduce inequality is one of the biggest challenges faced by cities.

  1. Is there a benefit of thinking through development issues through an urban lens (rather than a specific sector)? Have you seen differences in how projects might be implemented in cities vs rural areas?

Absolutely. Good cities are highly complex entities that have been moulded by a diverse range of people over a long period of time. They are as such, products of co-creation and should therefore be seen as a whole, with geographical rather than sectoral forms of understanding. 

  1. As you continue your research, what topic(s) do you think are most in need of further research and attention? 

I think technology is an incredible resource, one that is relatively new and isn’t currently being used as well as it could be. It would be fascinating to explore less prescriptive forms of technological innovations that could transform how people engage with their cities and their governance structures.

Lyn is one of the many students honored for their participation in the Urban Poverty Essay Competition, and who are dedicated to creating sustainable urban communities across the globe. Check out the rest of our blog to learn about the other honorees.

Urban Poverty Essay Competition: Jason B. Scott

by Rebekah Revello and Jason B. Scott

Each year, IHC, the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Woodrow Wilson Center and USAID collaborate to hold an Urban Poverty Essay Competition, in order to hear from the best and brightest in the urban development community and to encourage new thinking and innovation about urban poverty from young scholars. This is the second of the interviews with our three finalists.

Jason B Scott is one of the finalists of the 2016 Urban Poverty Essay Competition. Originally from Milwaukee Wisconsin, Scott is a PhD Candidate and Cultural Anthropologist at University of Colorado Boulder. He is currently living Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he is bringing his passion for social justice and achieving urban development through government to the sprawling slums (Favelas) of Rio.

  1. What inspired you to get into the urban development sector?

I am currently writing my doctoral dissertation concerning the use of digital technology in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. It is a subject with great history behind it yet still reflects humanity’s technological and social future. One major concern for favela residents is that the world’s attention will turn away from their plight after the Olympic Games.

  1. What are your current or future plans?

I am approaching the final year of my doctoral program. In this final year, I will leave Rio de Janeiro and move back to Boulder, Colorado where I will be teaching classes and working at a Center that helps junior scholars to see their teaching as a form of research. During this time, I will also attend academic conferences while writing and publishing articles based on my dissertation research.

After completing my Ph.D., I hope to find an academic position at a university where I can find continued support for my research and help grow the next generation of Brazilian anthropologists. I am also very much to take part in policy and nonprofit discussions. Through my ethnographic research, I have seen the positive ways that academic concepts shape underdeveloped communities.

  1. What is a particular cause you are motivated by? (One that you haven’t discussed)

I am particularly motivated to information, reading, and literacy. The ability to express and create knowledge is a fundamental right that is often unavailable to many. With modern digital technology, expression relies on a new set of tools and literacies. The idea of literacy–both in a technical and traditional sense– and expression informs my understanding of almost every issue I have encountered in Latin America.

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing cities is, as they work to reduce and eliminate extreme poverty?

A lack participatory democracy is the ultimate obstacle for cities attempting to eliminate and reduce urban poverty. Government and civic institutions–even when well-meaning and locally engaged–often fail to sincerely hear the same marginalized voices they claim to include. Cities must not only seek to change a community but also develop mechanisms for a sustainable and critical form of urban citizenship.

In the favelas where I do research, everyday violence between police and drug traffickers has seriously threatened all other forms of economic, political, and educational development. A history of discounting residents’ claims to land helped to justify the government’s failure to develop adequate sanitation, electrical, and transportation infrastructure. A failure to build schools has left generations with little cultural and social capital to escape the clutches of generational poverty.

As such, modern technological developments such as online social media–that allow communities to share their opinions and experiences as well as participate in a broader civil society–are incredibly ineffective without those in political power paying attention. Communities that are silenced need to be heard and involved in long term political discussions.

  1. Is there a benefit of thinking through development issues through an urban lens (rather than a specific sector)? Have you seen differences in how projects might be implemented in cities vs rural areas?

The “urban lens” is incredibly important. Over half of the world lives in cities and this share is projected to grow in the future. About a third of urban residents in the developing world live in slums, a number that is also expected to grow. Due to globalizing social forces, urban slums increasingly share common problems and needs. Issues-based development such as digital inclusion, delivering potable water, and  providing housing will indeed improve urban lives but no single issue will provide a panacea to these issues.

Using my research in the Complexo as an example, the urban/rural dichotomy could be seen as problematic. Many of the residents of the community are rural migrants or the children of rural migrants. In this sense, individual poverty displaced from a rural to an urban setting. Furthermore, Brazil’s suburban regions combine both rural and urban problems. In rural areas, projects are far more difficult to deliver and resources become ‘stretched’. Issues related to poverty become entrenched and amplified in urban environments. The urban/rural dichotomy is ultimately a matter of perspective, scope, and intensity, but they should ultimately be seen as related.

  1. As you continue your research, what topic(s) do you think are most in need of further research and attention?”

My current research concerning digital inclusion in violent Brazilian favelas has led me to several related topics. Firstly, some of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas are experiencing a wave of gentrification: a new socio-economic and geographic process heretofore unseen in Rio de Janeiro. Many believe that gentrification has been brought on by mega events such as the world cup and olympics but this perspective overlooks the militarization of the favela and decades of real estate speculation in Rio’s “formal city” that has made the city one of the most expensive in the world. While some scholars, activists, and journalists have begun to explore the short term effects of gentrification in the favelas, I believe only a longterm generations-long research project will reveal the effects economic removal will have on these communities.

Secondly, I believe the illegal drug policy will continue to decide the destiny of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Over the course of 30 years, anti-drug policy has allowed governments and civil society to avoid the favela. While debates over decriminalization and legalization of marijuana and other illegal drugs have garnered significant attention in Brazil, it remains unclear if the favela will reap the benefits of loosened drug laws. The war on drugs could possibly transform into a new type of “war” in the favela or it could lead to a significant step towards the end of police abuse.

Jason is one of the many students honored for their participation in the Urban Poverty Essay Competition, and who are dedicated to creating sustainable urban communities across the globe. Check out the rest of our blog to learn about the other honorees.

Urban Poverty Essay Competition: Stephanie Butcher

by Rebekah Revello and Stephanie Butcher

Each year, IHC, the World Bank, Cities Alliance, the Woodrow Wilson Center and USAID collaborate to hold an Urban Poverty Essay Competition, in order to hear from the best and brightest in the urban development community and to encourage new thinking and innovation about urban poverty from young scholars. This is the first of the interviews with our three finalists.

Stephanie Butcher is the winner of this year’s Urban Poverty Essay Competition. She is a PhD candidate from California that is currently studying at University College London. But London is not where she’s spending her time; she is deep into promoting sustainable development in Kathmandu, Nepal, and she doesn’t plan on stopping her work there. We asked Stephanie a couple of questions about who she is and what she wants to do to change the world.

  1. What inspired you to get into the urban development sector?

My interest in the field came from a slow and gentle shift from an interest in international politics, to a focus on developing countries, which finally brought me to the development sector. While I’ve always been interested in governance and the ways in which people make decisions, this interest really activated when I started thinking about the particular challenges of urban poverty within a social and political framework.

  1. What are your current or future plans? 

I’m currently in the second year of my PhD, based in Kathmandu Nepal, working with several squatter settlements located alongside the Bagmati river. The research topic looks at the ‘everyday (micro) politics’ which impacts how diverse residents are accessing and controlling water and sanitation services, and how this influences their experience of citizenship in the wider city.

Following the end of fieldwork here, it’s the long task of writing up and finishing, and developing a new undergraduate course focused on ‘Global inequalities and Urban Development’ with my department, the Development Planning Unit, University College London. 

Beyond that, it’s hard to say—I’m sure I will continue to have a connection with the academic world, but I also would love to spend some more time ‘in practice’, with an NGO or similar, perhaps continuing to explore the South East Asian context.

  1. What is a particular cause you are motivated by? (One that you haven’t discussed)

One thing I’m very interested in is the creation of new democratic platforms to raise the voice and visibility of issues faced the urban poor. I’m thinking here of the role of citizen media, or the use of participatory photo/video as used for advocacy or raising certain issues. I’m really excited to see some of the interactive tools being used by individuals themselves to highlight inequalities.

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing cities is, as they work to reduce and eliminate extreme poverty?

I still think there is a real challenge in ‘linking the scales’ at which change is needed in order to reduce and eliminate extreme poverty. When you talk about social equality or justice in urban areas, this requires interventions which focus on interlinked deprivations happening at the home, community, and city scale. This means understanding how wider political trends or infrastructure services impacts diverse individuals, or reinforces inequalities in households, for example. This becomes even more a challenge when you start to think about individuals as containing multiple facets of identity, for instance, understanding how female tenants might have more or different risks than female homeowners.  

  1. Is there a benefit of thinking through development issues through an urban lens (rather than a specific sector)? Have you seen differences in how projects might be implemented in cities vs rural areas?

There is absolutely a benefit of a specific focus on the urban. Of course, this is apparent in many visible ways, including the heightened intensity of issues around urban services such as water, waste and drainage, as well as the need for interventions to support a diversity of people with different needs and aspirations. In terms of specific project implementation, a key issue that I have seen in the urban context is the need to account for impacts on tenants and the rental market with slum upgrading initiatives. The implementation of community infrastructure or housing improvements can often have an unintended impact on vulnerable tenants or more transient populations that cannot cope with a subsequent rise in rental fees. Including this population in the benefits of any development intervention needs to be a key consideration in projects focused on urban areas, in distinction with rural based projects.

  1. As you continue your research, what topic(s) do you think are most in need of further research and attention? 

One of the areas on which I have focused, and which I think should continue to receive more attention, is the influence of embedded social norms around identity, and how this affects the implementation and sustainability of development interventions. While the emphasis on participatory forms of development is an exciting one, I still think that the ‘everyday politics’ through which people negotiate with each other, and have a differentiated access to these participatory platforms, is much harder to make visible. Still, there is a lot of interesting work that is being done linking the urban poor’s material conditions with a wider project that seeks to reshape their recognition in their societies, and that’s where I see exciting change happening!

Stephanie is one of the many students honored for their participation in the Urban Poverty Essay Competition, and who are dedicated to creating sustainable communities across the globe. Check out the rest of the blog to learn about the other honorees.