Leveraging Habitat III in 2017 and Beyond: A View from Quito

Published: Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 by santiago alban

I am a millennial – one who also has the privilege of serving as a chief of staff at the Mayor’s Office at the Municipality of Quito. In that role, I’ve had the opportunity to reconsider the role of national and local governments. I truly believe that, as citizens, we have the right to live in a city in which we feel safe and where we, as young people, can enjoy public spaces and be able to start new social or business ventures. The new generation of public administrators and politicians have the moral obligation to create more livable cities.

The Habitat III conference, held in Quito this past October, generated ambitious commitments to be achieved by attendees from local and national governments, as well as the private sector and civil society. Some will be difficult to achieve, but we need these commitments as a society in order to improve the quality of life in cities. From my perspective, the key commitments include:

  • Continuing to build and implement ‘The New Urban Agenda’ which grew from dialogues as diverse as poverty alleviation, public finance and urban resilience;
  • Identifying strategies consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG´s), especially to SDG 11, to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable;” and
  • Ensuring unbiased access to basic services and amenities for all city dwellers, regardless of status, including clean water, sanitary sewage systems, healthy and affordable food sources, high quality affordable housing, efficient transportation, health and human services, and adequate civic space.

Innovation must be a key component of cities with citizens as the drivers. To become a more future-facing city requires us to reprioritize. To be effective, innovation has to be driven by the wants and needs of the population: How do you want your city to look? What amenities would make your life easier? What opportunities would help you achieve economic stability?

A modern innovative city must embrace the reality that progress is giving power to the people to make decisions. These may be decisions about the built environment and living in the city or tools to make bureaucratic processes easier and more efficient to navigate.

We have to respect the city as a system that functions best when driven by the community and not just its elected officials. Citizens must be the drivers of these newer and more innovative policies. Co-working spaces, innovation labs, academics and entrepreneurs can play key roles within cities to deliver these innovations.

Innovation works best when it is a shared responsibility, not just one perched on the backs of bureaucrats and elected officials. City officials need to understand that the process of innovation is a joint effort. It is a two-way path where citizens offer input and collaborate in the design of their city and the programs and services that make it function.

Cities need inclusion, sustainability and ownership by citizens, in addition to innovation. Attendees of the conference identified four primary qualities of a sustainable city:

  • Resilience
  • Innovation
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Responsible management

The Quito 2040 Plan embodies these principles. Like other medium-large cities, Quito has invested in local think tanks and planning institutions to advance its urban development. Quito’s vision is as follows:

  • Move towards modernity by making a more human-centric environment;
  • Invest in places that allow citizens to take pride in where they live, work, and play;
  • Create a culture where diversity is recognized as an asset and invested in;
  • Honor the past by preserving our human and architectural heritage while offering a vision for the future; and
  • Prioritize quality of life, human happiness, environmental responsibility, inclusion, entrepreneurship, and tourism through urban design.

Innovation in transportation, like zero emission mobility, is just one way that cities are striving to become more sustainable while taking advantage of new technologies. With investments in these technologies, we can better achieve equitable, high quality, efficient and comfortable public transportation. These transport solutions can bring human capital to our urban economies in ways that have been far more challenging in the past.

BiciQuito station in Quito, Ecuador

BiciQuito station in Quito, Ecuador. Source: DianGabi

Inclusive transport is one of Quito’s priorities. Our aim is that investments in the sector will enable individuals living at higher elevations to access a range of options. We believe we can expand their socioeconomic potential by improving access to the new subway system, the BRT and public bicycles.

To achieve this and also green our public transport system, Quito pioneered the first public shared bicycle program in the Americas that includes electric-powered bicycles within the system. Quito is also improving transportation with clean energy technologies like cable cars to sustainably solve transportation issues caused by Quito’s drastic topology.

Likewise, to achieve the SDG’s, cities must develop to respect a truly public process that is inclusive and not elitist. People make the connections within the urban built environment, so we must create places that support not just the needs of people, but also their desires.

By generating a sense of ownership, cities can more effectively innovate, achieve greater sustainability, and ultimately help solve the socioeconomic problems that have dominated urban environments for decades. Cities must take advantage of cross-sector collaboration to engage citizens at all levels so that people are elevated not blocked or torn down. If we can solve the issue of inclusion and sustainability, the future of cities looks bright.