A New Urban Agenda
“By 2050 the world urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends.” Draft Quito Declaration On Sustainable Cities And Human Settlements For All (Sept. 2016)
This week Heads of State will formally adopt a ‘New Urban Agenda’ in Quito, Ecuador. This will be the outcome document agreed upon at the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) that aims to set the narrative for development in human settlements for the next 10-20 years.
The New Urban Agenda, following on the heels of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, will seek to strengthen the links between urbanization and sustainable development. Most urban growth is after all expected in the developing world; in the expanding cities and informal settlements of Africa and Asia. A significant proportion of this urban expansion is occurring in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Here, the risks of unplanned and poorly managed urbanization resulting in inequitable, exclusionary, fragmented, and violent cities are significant. Cognizant of this, the draft outcome document calls for special attention to cities in countries facing situations of conflict and those affected by natural and man-made disasters.
In 2015 and 2016, International Alert and KDI have been working together under the ESRC-DFID funded programme Urban ARK to examine the interaction of environmental and conflict risks in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, and the impact of three major housing and infrastructure initiatives on building future resilience.
What lessons do these projects hold for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda? How can we strengthen urban resilience in contexts where conflicts, environmental risks, and disasters collide?
Compounding Risks in Kibera
Kibera, located in the centre of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, is one of the largest informal settlements in Africa. Residents of Kibera face many challenges, often including poverty, unemployment, insufficient water and sanitation infrastructure, poor housing and high rates of crime and insecurity. Kibera was also a hotspot of the post-election violence in late 2007 and early 2008.
With the Ngong River and major tributaries running through the settlement, riverine flooding is a significant risk, particularly for those living closest to the river banks. Due to poor drainage and inadequate solid waste management, Kibera residents living away from the river banks are also subject to localised flooding. Global climate change is already aggravating the flood risk residents face across the city as the intensity of rainfall events increases in line with projections for East Africa.
New infrastructure and services developed in the last two years under a multi-sector program delivered by the Ministry of Devolution and the National Youth Service (NYS) have already contributed positively to improving the living conditions in Kibera. Roads, power lines, health services, water and sanitation blocks, urban agriculture initiatives, and police posts have emerged. For the first time, people can easily catch a matatu, boda or Uber into the heart of Kibera to get from work to home, or bring supplies to their businesses.
The Kenyan government along with the World Bank and UN-HABITAT, have also undertaken major housing efforts. Two projects are notable in this regard; Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) and the Nairobi Railway Relocation Action Plan (Railway Project) that introduce multi-story housing to the largely single-story settlement.
These three projects will go a long way in determining the future development pathways and resilience of Kibera residents. Despite some successes, there have also been many challenges. Indeed, some of these initiatives are creating new and renewed tensions due to a lack of effective consultation and engagement with affected populations.
Building resilience: Lessons on implementation from slum upgrading and development efforts
The successes and failures of these projects point to specific lessons for city and national level actors implementing development and slum upgrading initiatives. These lessons are relevant not only in Nairobi but also in other rapidly urbanising centres.
Looking past Quito – achieving “participation” key to implementation of the New Urban Agenda
With world leaders gathering in Quito this week to adopt a formative New Urban Agenda, city authorities and national governments in rapidly urbanising centres are making planning and infrastructure decisions that will lock us into development pathways for the next 30-50 years. The language of participation is rightly central to the Quito Declaration. While the modalities of incorporating grounded perspectives on local needs, priorities, and risks are certainly complex, our research confirms that meaningful participation and consultation is key to building the social contract and cohesion, and hence resilience, in fragile urban contexts. Finding workable and affordable modes of public consultation are critical to avoiding conflict and to creating responsive and flexible resilience development initiatives.
International Alert and KDI will be publishing more detailed information on this research funded under the ESRC-DFID programme Urban ARK in the coming months. If you have any questions or queries about this piece please contact Joe Mulligan and/or Shreya Mitra.
Joe Mulligan is a board member and Associate Director of Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI). He has published papers on community participation in infrastructure development and sustainability assessment for urban master planning.
Shreya Mitra is a Senior Programme Officer with International Alert’s Environment, Climate Change and Security programme.