South Africa unpacks new possibilities for Habitat III agenda

20th July 2016

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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As South Africa prepares to present its position at the United Nations’ (UN’s) upcoming third Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), several stakeholders have moved to unpack the key questions from the ten policy papers published by the UN ahead of the adoption of the New Urban Agenda.

In the run-up to the much-anticipated conference, questions are being raised about watered down principles and the lack of implementation plans embedded in the draft New Urban Agenda document.

The Habitat III conference will be held in Quito, Ecuador, from October 17 to 20, to deliver the New Urban Agenda – a global commitment to tackling housing and urbanisation challenges across the world over the next 20 years.

Reaction to South Africa’s “independent policy recommendations” on specific challenges surrounding sustainable urban development, published  to inform discussions at a two-day consultative workshop to prepare for the final pre-Habitat III meeting in Indonesia later this month, indicate that more work may need to be done to tighten the policies.

The local consultative workshop, held from July 20 to 21, in Boksburg, unpacked the draft New Urban Agenda, with the aim of obtaining industry inputs to shape the proposals to be presented in negotiations around a global agenda to be pursued as the world urbanises.

As part of the process towards the development of Habitat III’s New Urban Agenda, which will be effective until 2036, South Africa’s ten “policy units” are the outcome of 22 issue papers covering six priority areas.

The policies covered the right to the city and cities for all; sociocultural urban frameworks; national urban policies; urban governance, capacity and institutional development; municipal finance and local fiscal systems; urban spatial strategy, land markets and segregation; urban economic development strategy; urban ecology and resilience; urban services and technology; and housing policies.

Department of Human Settlements (DHS) Ministerial advisory panel member Christine Platt, discussing urban spatial strategies: market and segregation, suggested that important principles had been watered down with buzzwords.

“It says all the right things, but I don’t think it is as strategic [as it can be],” she noted.

The DHS concept paper outlined the urban spatial strategies policy paper’s main focus as fair and comprehensive urban spatial strategies, the use of land markets to combat segregation, extending the benefits of urbanisation to all, integrating levels, scales and actors, shaping the city through green and public spaces and a global dialogue.

Many are disappointed that the action plan is not as it was envisaged, said the DHS’s Luanne Werner, who was unpacking the policy of urban economic development strategies.

The policy aims to facilitate inclusive economic development and build human, financial and physical resources within the urban economic development strategy.

“The urban agenda is trying to do everything for everyone and that is where we are losing it,” she added.

The South African Local Government Association’s Ashraf Adam said: “It is exceptionally easy to be cynical about [the New Urban Agenda], but I would caution against it.

“We need these types of documents to facilitate discussions.”

African Centre for Cities’ Stephen Berrisford agreed, saying that, in a document like this, it is sometimes more important to get the “words on the page” to catalyse the start of the agenda.

He was discussing the sociocultural urban framework policy, which provides policy guidance on the social and cultural aspects of urbanisation.

Discussing the paper on the right to the city and cities for all, University of the Witwatersrand lecturer Thomas Coggin said the New Urban Agenda was a positive step forward.

The right to cities policy is described by the DHS as “a new paradigm that provides an alternative framework to rethink cities and urbanisation”, recognising internationally-agreed human rights, and promoting access for all based on urban spatial strategies, urban governance and urban economy.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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