ACSP at the Inaugural UN-Habitat Assembly
Monday, June 3, 2019
Posted by: Bruce Stiftel
Photographed from left to right: Eugenie Birch, Jerry Anthony, Bruce Stiftel, Kris Wernstedt and Elisabeth Hamin
Some ACSPers may view the United Nations (UN), when they think about it at all, as a collection of diplomat types who periodically meet in New York to hash out responses to violent conflicts, humanitarian crises, spats between nations, and other international events. Others know that the UN is a major voice in environmental policy, sustainability, development, and social justice and that UN work frequently moves nations to embrace planning in new and important ways.
With the adoption of the New Urban Agenda in Quito in 2016, the UN began a two-year process of considering the future organization and operations of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). A key result was creation of the new UN Habitat Assembly, a 193 member-state body that is responsible to provide direction for the agency. Last week was the first meeting of the Assembly, and took place at UN-Habitat headquarters in Nairobi. ACSP, as an accredited stakeholder organization in the UN-Habitat system, is allowed to send representatives who can attend the assembly’s key meetings. Following ACSP president Weiping Wu’s call for interest, five faculty were selected to represent us.
Habitat’s mission is to promote transformative change in cities and human settlements through knowledge, policy advice, technical assistance, and collaborative action to leave no one and no place behind. It’s new strategic plan, adopted in Nairobi this week, sets up four domains of work: reduced spatial inequality and poverty, enhanced shared prosperity, strengthened climate action and improved urban environment, and effective urban crisis prevention and response.
The five ACSP faculty—Penn’s Genie Birch, Iowa’s Jerry Anthony, Georgia Tech’s Bruce Stiftel, U. Mass-Amherst’s Elisabeth Hamin, and Virginia Tech’s Kris Wernstedt----attended the week-long Assembly, making presentations, attending sessions and meetings, and networking with urban practitioners and academics from universities, governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations from more than one-hundred countries around the world.
At the Assembly, Genie and Elisabeth attended a Global Stakeholders’ Forum, where Genie was elected to the executive board. She also led a meeting of the executive board of the General Assembly of Partners, and presented on the Guangzhou Awards program, and on stakeholder partnerships as a vehicle for innovation. Elisabeth and Bruce presented on Planners for Climate Action. Bruce represented the University Network Initiative to the World Urban Campaign. Kris participated in a half-dozen sessions on the provision of housing, water, sanitation, and solid waste services in informal settlements in the Global South. Jerry attended sessions on sustainable transportation, slum redevelopment and solid waste management, and was also able to visit the second largest squatter settlement in Africa --Kibera -- with representatives of two NGSs and see first-hand UN policies on slum redevelopment at work in UN Habitat's backyard. All five faculty say they took away as much or more than they left, as so many of the discussants were outside their usual circles.
Much of the diplomatic plenaries’ agenda was devoted to setting up the operating procedures of the new organization. Mexico’s under-secretary of multilateral affairs and human rights, Martha Delgado Peralta, was elected president of the Assembly. US Ambassador to UN Office Nairobi, Lori Dando, was elected chair of the Executive Board.
Substantively, the assembly adopted a new Global Stakeholders Forum setting up expectations of wide stakeholder involvement in UN-Habitat in the years ahead (view the Declaration here); Habitat’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, resolutions on gender equality, urban-rural linkages, and advancing capacity building, and guidelines on safer cities. Your ACSP representatives made a presentation to the Assembly expressing the desire of planning schools to assist in the work of implementing the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda (view presentation here).
The Habitat Assembly will next meet in 2023. In the interim, its 36-member Executive Board will meet quarterly.