Opinion: Ms. Carmen Sánchez-Miranda Gallego

An interview with Carmen Sánchez-Miranda Gallego, Head of UN-Habitat Office in Spain

December 20, 2016

Carmen Sánchez-Miranda Gallego is Head of UN-Habitat Office in Spain since 2012.

She has previously worked at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ecuador, the Spanish Agency for Multilateral Cooperation (AECID), several private foundations and various international consulting institutions. Specialized in development, local governance and multilateralism, she has published several articles and reports on the analysis of development and has taught and lectured in several universities in Spain.

What are the main conclusions of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) organized last October in Quito (Ecuador)?

Habitat III has represented a unique opportunity to discuss about how are planed and managed cities and human settlements to fulfil their role as drivers of sustainable development and prosperity. The intensive days spent during Habitat III, with more than 30.000 participants from 167 different countries and almost 1000 events, concluded a process started two years ago and which has been completed with the adoption by the United Nations member states of a synthetic document clearly oriented to action: the New Urban Agenda.

It is a document that will guide national, regional and local governments, civil society, private sector, scientific and academic community and the United Nations system, to support the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development; especially the goal 11 aimed to make cities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable spaces.

Somehow, we could say that it’s now when everything really starts. When mechanisms have to be articulated to facilitate the implementation of this New Urban Agenda, led by countries that have participated to its draft and approbation.

As a consequence of the conference, can we define a model of city that would be promoted?

There is not an ideal model of city, the typical characteristics of each place, the cultural and social context, etc, are crucial elements for the wellbeing of its population.

More than talking about models of city, UN Habitat talks about basic fundaments, conditions that will allow urbanization to become an accelerator of social and economic prosperity; causing that a city will have more success than another in creating jobs, incentive creativity and attract a virtuous circle of social and economic improvement.

The attention of debates during Habitat III has been focused on investigating what are the strategies leading to a “good” urbanization, and what are the policies that prevent the unstructured urbanization at economic, social and environmental level.

In our analysis, we highlight the three main pillars constituting sustainable urbanization. First, their legal and regulatory structure, secondly the good urban planning and thirdly the sustainability of economic and financial model maintaining it. They are funding pillars that cannot be ignored at the risk of creating an urbanization that will bring more problems than solutions.

What are the main innovations of the New Urban Agenda adopted in Quito?

The New Urban Agenda, which comes after the agreement on Sustainable Development Goals, aims to create a link of mutual strengthening between urbanization and development, in order to convert these two concepts in parallel vehicles for the sustainable development, and indicates directives on a series of “enablers” that can help to strengthen this vehicle – urban national policies, urban normative, urban planning and design, urban financing and local implementation.

Beyond technocratic solutions, several central ideas are part of their ideological fundaments; democratic development and respect of human rights, relation between environment and urbanization, equity in the context of globalization…

Furthermore, the New Urban Agenda is guided by three interconnected basic principles: the first one is “not leaving anyone behind” which suppose ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including the eradication of extreme poverty; guaranteeing equity of rights and opportunities, cultural and socioeconomic diversity and the integration within urban space. The second one is related to ensuring environmental sustainability, promoting the use of clean energy and the sustainable use of lands and resources for urban development. In this sense, the adoption of healthy ways of life in harmony with nature is recommended; encouraging modalities of sustainable consumption and production; strengthening the urban resilience; reducing disaster risks, mitigating climate change and putting into practice measures of adaptation to it.

The text addresses Social Cohesion and Equity, Urban Frameworks, orientation to Territory, Urban Economy, Urban Ecology and Environment, Urban Housing or Basic Services and takes into consideration: The role of sustainable urbanization as a driver of sustainable development, the connections urban-rural and the relation between the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development to promote stable, prosper and inclusive societies.

Which alliances will be necessary to implement this New Urban Agenda?

One of the main innovations of this New Urban Agenda has been the global consensus on the great advantage well-planned and designed urbanization represent. Another has been precisely the need to improve and promote the coordination between the levels of government with competences in the related fields.

The financing issue is key in this process. How is the New Urban Agenda expected to be funded?

The New Urban Agenda is a process of all and each one of the Governments and representatives of regional and local authorities. The implementation of the Agenda is more related to how to do things than to how to do new things. A regulatory framework consistent, transparent, and implemented without exceptions is crucial if we wish to attract continuously foreign investments. A basic urban planning is necessary to conduct the growing process in an ordinate way, which in definitive feeds the virtuous circle of prosperity I have previously mentioned. The same happens if an adequate financing model that guarantees minimum investments and maintenance of basic infrastructures is not available.

Taking into account these new perspectives, what are the keys to create more human cities?

The qualitative progress of urbanization can’t be obtained with technocratic solutions or with punctual investments in an infrastructure or another. It is a collective and integrated process; it is the creation of a virtuous circle of communitarian construction of an environment favourable to cooperation and prosperity, not only at individual level but also collective. Too often, rapid and partial solutions have been proposed to tackle some dysfunctional aspect of urbanization. These strategies have systematically failed when time came to deploy the economic and social potential of urbanization.

The New Urban Agenda has been articulated around five key areas to help the stakeholders identifying which has more impact on their activity and enable the focus on goals.

The first of them are the government bodies: the New Urban Agenda must be anchored in participative strategic policies that integrate urban development and sustainable territory as part of strategies and integrated development plans, supported by institutional and regulatory frameworks connected to transparent and responsible financial mechanisms.

In second place, we find the statements of social cohesion. Development must protect the planet and allow all citizens – should they live in formal or informal settlements – to lead a decent, dignified and rewarding life and reach their full human potential.

The third point is related to spatial development. In this sense a balanced territorial development representing different scales of cities and human settlements, strengthens its role in terms of nutrition and food security, places the housing at the center, builds infrastructures and services, facilitates trade and connects farmers and fishermen through chain values and markets.

Fourthly, the inclusive and sustainable economic growth, with full, productive employment and decent work for all, is a key element for sustainable urban development, where people can lead a healthy and prosperous life.

Lastly, environmental sustainability is set as another essential key. Currently, unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, the loss of biodiversity, pressure on ecosystems, pollution, natural or man-made disasters, climate change and its associated risks, undermine the efforts to end poverty and reach sustainable development. We have to be very well aware of it.

 Opinion: Ms. Carmen Sánchez-Miranda Gallego