Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway

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Habitat III in Quito – a participant’s view

habitat-iiiThe Third UN Summit on Housing and Human Settlements (Habitat III) in Quito this week is bringing together some 50,000 people representing all manner of urban interests from around the world. Coming 20 years after the Second summit in Istanbul, it is intended to set the direction for the UN system’s urban engagements over the next 2 decades through the adoption by world leaders of the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

Although the UN has made progress in recent years in engaging more substantively with non-state actors (UN-speak for everyone and anyone outside of national governments, which constitute the UN membership club), the contradictions and tensions in this arrangement were exposed during the protracted negotiations over the NUA, with some governments opposing the recognition of subnational (i.e. regional and local) governments even though they form part of the state sector. In UN terms, the NUA’s explicit recognition of the importance of urban local authorities and diverse other stakeholder groups as essential actors in any transitions to greater urban sustainability constitutes a major achievement and historic first. The final NUA text can be found at this link.

These distinctions and tensions are also evident in the entry arrangements at the conference site, with government delegates, UN staff and other categories of accreditation having the highest status and fast track entry to the registration and security clearance areas, while ordinary ‘participants’ have had to stand in interminable queues, often in hot sunshine, for literally hours. While what is by far the largest such event ever held in the Ecuadorian capital is inevitably creating bottlenecks, at the single entry and badge issuing locations, the continued delays – meaning that many people have been missing or arriving late for their sessions – has by Tuesday morning led to the event being dubbed Queueto by some frustrated participants. By Wednesday, additional scanners had been installed – but since the number of registered participants was known in advance, the inadequacy of arrangements was baffling. Continue reading


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Why COP21 delegates should pay attention to cities

Professor David Simonlogo-cop-21-carr-_small is currently in Paris participating in events linked to the UN COP21 Climate Conference. In his role as Director of Mistra Urban Futures, he has been contributing to workshops and webinars on the importance of cities in achieving global climate goals. Unlike the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, where cities were ‘almost invisible’, the Paris meeting has highlighted the role of urban areas in the sustainability challenges that the world is facing. Rising living standards in urban areas can lead to increasingly unsustainable lifestyles. However, David also stresses the lessons that can be learned from small and intermediate cities; collaboration across political divides is often easier at a local level, and there are numerous examples of good practice which can be shared between cities, but also scaled up. To see David discussing these issues in a webinar on ‘Cities and Mayors Leading the New Climate Economy’ in the Nordic Pavilion, click here [David’s interview starts about 10.30 mins in].

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Campaigning for an Urban Sustainability Goal


London Skyline. Credit: Katie Willis

Goal 11 of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. David Simon, Director of Mistra Urban Futures (MUF), based at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg on secondment from RHUL Geography,  was actively engaged in the campaign for the inclusion of a specifically urban SDG. As part of the process, he hosted two key Campaign workshops, at RHUL in August 2014 and at Chalmers in June 2015, bringing participants from diverse member organisations and backgrounds together to define and refine the targets and respective indicators for inclusion in what has become Goal 11.
Urban areas worldwide are extremely heterogeneous and it was essential to minimise the number of separate targets and respective indicators while still capturing essential dimensions of urbanity Continue reading

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Modernisation in Delhi: Development or Destruction?

Delhi, a bustling metropolis with a population of approximately 18 million, is chasing a modernisation dream. Spearheaded by the Delhi Development Authority, a state body that aims to “promote and secure the development of Delhi”, a number of highways, transport systems, shopping malls, hotels and luxury apartments have been constructed. These developments, which resonate with the large-scale modernisation projects of the 1950s and 1960s, are perhaps best exemplified by the Delhi Metro system. This is an urban metro that connects Delhi to a number of satellite towns (e.g. Gurgaon and Faridabad), much like the London Underground and Overground services. Since construction began in 1998 the system has expanded to a length of approximately 190 km and it currently serves 142 stations. This makes it the fifteenth largest metro system in the world, in terms of length, Continue reading