Category Archives: New Urban Agenda

High level visit puts spotlight on the resilience of young women and men

NAIROBI, KENYA – Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, joined the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, to express the need for more adequate services in informal settlements after visiting Mlango Kubwa, Mathare, one of the largest informal settlements in Kenya on Thursday, December 21, 2017. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) work in informal settlements and to highlight the important connection between migration and urban development.

Mathare has 500,000 residents. Within the settlement, the Mlango Kubwa ward has approximately 50,000 residents. Among them, 70% are aged 24 and under.

Hosted by Dr. Aisa Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme UN-Habitat, the day started with a visit to the community-based organization, the Mathare Environmental Conservation One Stop Youth Centre (MECOSYC). The MECOSYC serves as community hub offering services such as vocational training, information and communications technology access, computer and internet training, HIV/AIDS education and entrepreneurship training.

“We founded this centre with support and assistance from UN-Habitat. Today, we serve meals to more than 300 homeless people in the neighborhood every weekend out of our community kitchen,” said Isaac Mutisya Mukasa, known locally as Kaka.

Kaka is a resident and a community leader in Mathare. His nickname means “brother” in Swahili—a name he thinks fits him well, as he considers himself a brother to many people in his community. Kaka’s efforts have been crucial to the developing public spaces for youth in Mlango Kubwa. Isaac is currently the youth centre’s chairperson.

After the tour of MECOSYC, Minister Hussen, Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and UN-Habitat Deputy Executive Director, Dr. Aisa Kacyira, played a friendly soccer match against MECOSYC girls’ team. “The youth centre and soccer field have had a significant impact on the community both in terms in safety and in creating opportunities for young people,” said Dr. Kacyira.

Shortly after the visit to Mathare, Minister Hussen, Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and Deputy Executive Director Dr. Aisa Kacyira reconvened for a town hall discussion with UN-Habitat staff and NGOs working in Africa to harness the potential of migrants and refugees.

“We need to change the negative narratives associated with migration and refugees, and focus on the positive contributions they make,” said Minister Hussen. “Refugees and migrants are not monolithic. Some refugees migrate with resources, while others are more vulnerable. They tend to move into the margins of the cities they move into and become vulnerable to violence, unemployment and exploitation. They often have no documentation.”

Dr. Aisa underscored the important connection between migration and urban development. “People who are displaced as a result of civil war, conflict, climate change and political unrest are increasingly seeking refuge in urban areas. Half of the world’s 38 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and more than half of the world’s 19.5 million refugees live in towns and cities. This poses a unique challenge for cities. It also offers an opportunity to work differently and to ensure that crisis response provides immediate humanitarian relief, while also strengthening urban resilience.”

Finally, Dr. Aisa highlighted UN-Habitat’s work in the area of migration with a particular focus on housing and access to services for refugees in Kakuma, Northern Kenya, Dr. Aisa also discussed UN-Habitat’s close cooperation with UNHCR and innovative work in Kalobeyei on planning for durable solutions in close cooperation with refugee host countries like Kenya.

See more photos here!

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Jeanette Elsworth, Advocacy, Outreach and Communications
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Engaging Young People to Implement the New Urban Agenda

Written by Anoka Abeyrathne

“Youth drive innovation at the local level, and can if given the proper support, develop solutions for our most pressing urban issues such as transportation, housing, climate change and inequality,” UN-Habitat, Youth and Livelihoods Unit Chief, Douglas Ragan


A year ago, the world’s leaders convened in Quito, Ecuador, and adopted the New Urban Agenda (NUA). This is a global roadmap that sets out standards for sustainable urban development. With over 60 percent of the world urban population projected to be under the age of 18 by 2030, youth participation and engagement in the implementation of the new agenda are imperative. Youth are proactively taking action to ensure sustainable urbanization, better urban planning and design, municipal finance and voicing their concerns in urban rules and regulations.

“Youthquake” is the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2017.  It is defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”. This gives significant focus to the influence that young people have in creating change in our current society, including in partaking key roles to achieve the global 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. In pursuit to implementing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 on sustainable cities and communities, young people are change agents in ensuring that cities are inclusive and accommodate their needs.

More than half of the global population is urban. With more and more young people moving to urban areas, the challenges of ensuring sustainable urban development arise, affecting young people who would be the most impacted. While urban areas provide many avenues for prosperity, many young people continue to face unemployment, lack of basic sanitation and housing, lack of access to transportation, lack of access to public spaces and face the rise of inequality.

Through our work with “Growin’ Money”, an eco-social enterprise in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and the Maldives, we have been able to empower and enable young people as drivers of the NUA. Engaging over 5000 families, we have achieved this through sustainable employment creation which was brought about by urban environmental conservation in unison with eco-tourism, organic farming, bee keeping, hydroponic farming. All these were done through the provision of urban spaces for urban gardening and involvement in the municipal decision making processes.

Growin’ Money provides young people with the opportunity to have a say in their local community and among themselves. This has led to over 20,000 youth volunteers becoming changemakers who cascade this holistic model for better urban development. Through the UN –Habitat Youth Advisory board, our representatives have been able to take a step further by contributing to the Berlin Urban Agenda as well as the World Humanitarian Summit and its policies, while continuing grassroots level work to implement the NUA. They do this through innovative and scalable mechanisms like urban design, social enterprise and advocacy.

For effective implementation of the NUA, there are a few things that can be initiated to facilitate a smooth implementation and empower youth in the process. The outcomes in terms of the quality of an urban settlement are dependent on a set of rules and regulations and strategies for implementation. Proper urbanization requires the rule of law but also requires youth partnership, participation and opening of decision-making platforms so that youth voices are heard. In this regard, establishing the adequate provision of common goods, including streets and open spaces, together with an efficient pattern of buildable plots, requires the input of youth. For good management and maintenance of the city, local fiscal systems should redistribute parts of the urban value generated and ensure that this caters to youth needs and aspirations.

Another way to ensure that youth effectively implement the agenda is through the establishment of national urban policies which are a connection between the dynamics of urbanization and the overall process of national development. In this way, young people will effectively contribute to the NUA and achieve SDG  11, which can only be attained through sustainable urbanization. Ultimately, the key to a successful implementation of the NUA is for youth, government, civil and private sectors to coordinate and work together.


This article first appeared on DESA Youth Flash newsletter.

About Anoka Abeyrathne:

Anoka is the Asia Pacific representative to UN Habitat Youth Advisory Board. She is an eco-social entrepreneur and youth advocate and is passionate about sustainable development. Featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia 2017, she is the youngest female recipient of the Commonwealth Youth Award for excellence in Development and Zonta Woman of Achievement for the Environment 2017. Anoka’s sustainability efforts through “Growin’ Money” past the 2004 Tsunami has led to over 50,000 replanted mangroves and social enterprise/education programmes that help over 5,000 villagers in Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Cambodia, attracting more than 2,000 volunteers. Anoka is also the New Champion of the World Economic Forum and Co-Founder of TEDxKandy, and serves as the Global Youth Ambassador with the UN Special Envoy on Global Education and an Associate Resource Fellow of the Institute of National Security Studies in the Ministry of Defense of Sri Lanka. Anoka holds a LLB from the University of London, a Masters degree in Development from the University of Colombo and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sustainability at Harvard University. Follow Anoka on Twitter @AnokaAbe.

#ActOn2250 : The importance of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security

Resolution 2250 is a resolution passed by the Security Council at the end of 2015 with the full vote and approval of the 15 members.

This is the first resolution of its kind that gives young people the opportunity to work for peace and security around the world. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the formation of a committee on this resolution. Its task will be to prepare a phase study on youth, peace and security.

The study will be presented at the beginning of 2018. The team consists of a group of 21 experts, including a group of young people In their communities in the implementation of activities and initiatives in this regard, particularly in areas of conflict and conflict.

It is clear that the Arab region and the Middle East region are most affected by the emergence of terrorist and tycoon groups that have caused the destruction of cities and the displacement of their people and the emergence of many problems  Such as corruption, unemployment, migration, the problem of refugees, education and health, violations of the rights of women and children, the drop of youth in the resolution of extremism and terrorism, the absence of their role in peace and security, or even their role in building cities and achieving sustainable development.

All of these have had a great impact and negative effect on the process of peace building and it is clear that most of the members of terrorist groups are young people. This follows reason that  young persons are most affected by what they suffer in their communities and their involvement in political, social and economic life.

The resolution calls for the protection of young people from all kinds of extremism, which we now see through providing a stimulating environment for them,

Policies and mechanisms will be put into place to enable youth to contribute effectively to peace-building and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and respect for religions, which requires the effective and institutional integration of young people into their societies, the promotion of education and the provision of jobs that meet their needs,  Building cadres and not demolition tools.

As a participant in the Committee for the preparation of this interim study on Security Council Resolution 2250, I assured that:

  1. The study contain real statistics on the situation of young people around the world with a focus on areas of conflict by listening directly and building the study on real testimonies and stories from the ground to ensure real solutions and reflect the reality.
  2. Work on the rights of women, recognizing their role as changer makers.
  3. Protect the rights of children and provide an environment conducive to their normal growth, ensuring their future away from violence and extremism
  4. Assure youth participation in decision-making and policy-making at the local and international levels and support their initiatives and activities for peace, security, support for and partnerships with their organizations.
  5. Develop the skills of youth leaders in various fields to create a positive link to change the negative discourse and perspective and consider them as partners in building societies and achieving sustainable development.

I am convinced that building civilized cities that meet the needs of their citizens and give young people and women the real opportunities to participate in all walks of life is one of the most important elements for achieving stability, peace and security; a culture of tolerance and love for others; and, a suitable place for all according to their religions, customs, civilizations and colors because we are all created to build a better world.

In the end, I hope that the SCR 2250 brings about global peace and security.  I realize that unfortunately youth are growing up in a turbulent world, our problems are increasing day after day. We have raised the banner of change for a better future for us and for the generations to come.

The world in which we live deserves peace and security. We live to serve each other and spread love and good.

Article written by Hussein Murtaja, UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board representative for Arab states

Refugee Youth- Why the Silence

The city, known for its diverse population from many countries and cultures, is home to various exemplary youth initiatives that offer social services, cultural programs or sport activities in their respective communities. With a big migrant population and so many vibrant youth initiatives, Friday’s panel on “Youth Migration: Why the Silence” side event held during the Global Conference on Cities and Migration could not have wished for a better setting.

The side event discussed the social and economic risks and opportunities of young migrants and ways on how to improve the social capital and economic integration of youth. Youth in audience had a good chance to listen and learn from best practices and experiences of the distinguished panelists in a discussion guided by Sharmaarke Abdullahi, Programme Management Officer at UN-Habitat’s Youth Unit and Livelihood Unit.

In her keynote speech, Emine Bozkurt, former Dutch member of the European Parliament and daughter of Turkish immigrants, reported how the situation in the Netherlands changed since the arrival of her parents in the 1970s. “Back then, my family was welcomed with music and joy, as labor force was desperately needed.”

In contrast, today European politics seek to discourage people from entering the European territory. Behind this agenda, the stories, wishes, hopes and desperations of individual youth fade away. Migrants are regarded as an anonymous part of a mass phenomenon.

This approach dehumanizes  individuals’ need labeling third and fourth generation migrants as foreigners in their home country. To overcome this situation, Mrs. Bozkurt highlighted the importance of creating opportunities for migrants to participate in civil service positions to contribute in serving the society.. She also indicated that “Ownership, participation, dialogue and creating a sense of belonging are key components to fostering a welcoming spirit among host communities to migrants.

For many communities, an unexpected increase of newcomers often creates new challenges, especially when it comes to spatial integration. In his research, Professor Frank Eckardt from the Bauhaus University Weimar focuses on the spatial integration of refugees and migrants in urban areas.Professor Frank Eckardt identifies three options for city planners to create sufficient housing:

1 Build own houses for refugees; 2) Build new houses in socially diverse areas and provide space for refugees and the local population; 3) Integrate refugees in existing social housing structures.

All options are practiced in Germany, however, Eckardt identified five factors that are crucial for their success:

1) Access to education; 2) A good learning and playing environment for children; 3) An environment that provides emotional support and social control – for young migrants, families often provide this environment; 4) A concentration of migrations in one area must be socially and culturally accepted by the neighbors. Eckardt warns to place migrants in areas with a strong history of xenophobia; finally,
5) The community must identify positive role models, communicate success stories of migrants or refugees and show that a successful integration benefits the community as a whole.

Ahmed Ulla, a young Rohingya-Canadian, shifted the attention from practical guidelines for integration to the challenges he faced when becoming a refugee himself. He grew up in a rich household in Myanmar, but became a refugee when his family was forced to flee to Bangladesh when their life came under threat.

With his father killed, his mother traumatized and all the family possessions lost, his life turned upside down. Fortunately, in 2009 he was resettled to Canada and had the opportunity to start over.

Ahmed Ulla gave insight into the feelings and challenges he faced when he arrived in Canada. He did not know the language and he entered a society, whose way of life he had never imaged to exist nor to have. But, he wanted to take the opportunity he received and build up a new life for himself – with success. Today, he has become an active member in his community. When hundreds of thousands of Rohingya flew Myanmar in August 2017, he launched a campaign in Canada to raise awareness to the situation of his fellow Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh and called upon the Canadian Government to step up and help the Rohingya people. The Canadian Government agreed to match every dollar raised.

Kader Sevinç, member of the Turkish CHP and the European Socialists and Democrat’s presidency, underscored the need for richer countries to step up their support for the millions of migrants that are living under severe conditions in many developing countries. “Especially Europe should do more to support the three million migrants in Turkey and the refugees suffering in Libyan camps,” said Kader Sevinç She called for a more active debate in the European public about the responsibility Europeans have to support people in need. She emphasized the need for more local and national government to reject the anti-migration populism that has led to a severe restriction of refugee’s opportunities to find support in Europe and for non-Western migrants to integrate in European societies.

“The aggressive debate about refugees and immigrants that has taken hold of European politics in the last years has led to distinction between “good” and “bad” migrants in the last years,” said Jonas Freist-Held, European representative in the Youth Advisory Board of UN-Habitat adding that “the rights of refugees (e.g. the right to family reunification) have been restricted in the past two years and measures to prevent refugees from crossing Europe’s external borders increased throughout the last two years. At the same time, migrants that do not qualify for asylum have been discredited and labelled as criminals that illegally entered the European Union. Whereas refugees are considered as “good”, because their reasons to come to Europe are considered as legitimate by most people, irregularly arriving migrants have been labelled as “bad” as their reasons to come to Europe are considered illegitimate. This distinction has been enforced by the public debate and political decisions and created an atmosphere of hostility against many people that come to Europe in hope for a better future. “

The individual stories, wishes or hopes of human beings have become irrelevant. This climate poses a challenge to integrate migrants and refugees at the community level. Especially for young migrants, it is difficult to become an active community member in a society that is hostile to their presence.

The different inputs and discussions highlighted what stereotypes and prejudices migrants face, what needs and hopes they have and what impact the public debate has on the capability of communities to successfully integrate newcomers.

To successfully integrate migrants and refugees at the local level, essential challenges such as housing, language, education and labor market participation have were addressed. The panel discussion provided a platform to share different experiences that are relevant to develop policies and activities that facilitate the integration of (young) migrants and refugees in cities at this time when UN-Habitat advocates to #LeaveNoOneBehind.

Youth Migration In Cities – A Tool To Foster Development In Mechelen, Belgium

The city of Mechelen, November  2017 , just an hour away from the Belgian capital Brussels hosted the Global Conference on Cities and Migration. UN-Habitat’s Youth and Livelihood Unit, in partnership with city of Mechelen Youth Department and the Mechelen youth council organized a youth exhibition and a side event on  cities and youth migration.

One of the key elements in the migration policy of Mechelen is a solid network of several grassroots projects: a boxing club, a football club, a movie director, or a youth center.. All of these  telli the story of Mechelen as a diverse city hosting more than 120 nationalities  making it a good ground for social integration and promoting programs to counter radicalization.

The  story of Mechelen is one that has seen its transformation from neglect in all aspects of policies  to what has become today one of the most desirable places in Belgium to live. Nowadays, Mechelen has become a role model for integration, receiving recognition through the City Mayor, Bart Somers , who was awarded the 2016 World Mayor Prize.

Residents of North African origin make up almost 20% of the city’s 86,000 population. From a public opinion drawn from those attending the Global Conference on Cities and Migration, Africans in this city are “recognised and see themselves as full citizens of Mechelen”. A key commentary gathered from news within the city is that no young Muslim men have been reported to have left to join to fight in the wars in Syria and Iraq.

Mechelen Municipality organized an exhibition of the Mechelen city youth social integration projects. The platform gave a chance to youth organizations such as Royal Gym, Youth centers, Straathoekwerk Mechelen, ROJM Mechelen, J@M and, H30 to share best development practices with the guest organizations worldwide. The presentations demonstrated solutions on how migration, integration and collaboration with non-citizens could be included in urban planning and development process for Mechelen City.

A review of the youth social integration model of Mechelen city will be shared by UN-Habitat Youth Unit in January 2018.

Youth Gathered on Urbanization to Innovate Kenya

Mombasa | Kisumu 2017 – Youth, government officials, business experts in technology, media, finance and high level staff of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) came together to make the Innovate Kenya boot camp a success.

Hosted by UN-Habitat simultaneously in two cities of Kenya, the Innovate Kenya boot camp highlighted the significance of youth inclusion in setting up business models in urban places.

UN-Habitat Liaison Person, Linus Sijenyi said that the Innovate Kenya boot camp was a reminder that “Youth have the ideas and skills to develop sustainable city solutions which is a vital tool in the implementation of the new urban agenda by making them business investors in their own futures”.

Youth Business Models

Youth came out in large numbers to experience, learn and gain from the open opportunity amid heavy political demonstrations in the named cities.

The main purpose of the workshops was to demonstrate how to raise the capital for youth to begin their transition from a business idea into an actual product or service. The participants were further trained on how to package and confidently communicate the value of their ideas and the offerings of their businesses to other people to inspire them to bring about value exchange.

The boot camps sessions went on to include discussions with youth groups on the role that youth can play in building cities as such as developing sustainable business models that operate within a standardized legal framework–– with a special focus on the engagement of young men and women in increasing their income generation by utilizing possible and available resources in their cities.

The Kisumu Boot camp was driven at equipping existing entrepreneurs with skills to take their businesses to the next level.  The Mombasa one was aimed at introducing university students with varied career backgrounds to entrepreneurship as well as embrace that innovation not only works within ICT courses and careers but so does it open more opportunities for business students as well.

“Cities can generate more wealth by utilizing youth intelligence and the sufficiently attractive, available innovative solutions from youth,” Rhoda Omenya, UN-Habitat


World Cities Day 31 October| Theme: “Innovative Governance, Open Cities”

The United Nations General Assembly has designated the 31st of October as World Cities Day, by its resolution 68/239. The Day is expected to greatly promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.

2017 Theme: Innovative Governance, Open Cities

The general theme of World Cities Day is Better City, Better Life, while each year a different sub-theme is selected, to either promote successes of urbanization, or address specific challenges resulting from urbanization.

This year, the United Nations has selected the theme Innovative Governance, Open Cities to highlight the important role of urbanization as a source of global development and social inclusion

What Does Home Mean to You? Youth in Canada Launch Initiative to Strengthen Social Cohesion among Homes in Cities

From traveling to Ecuador in the Andes and the Amazon Rainforest this summer, and reflecting on the situation back home, Helen Chen realized that home is more than just a physical place-a house, condo-but it can be a feeling, or even something intangible that makes one feel at home.

Admiring the lifestyle of a small community of Sablog residing at the Andes, Helen tells us about one tractable practice that promotes social cohesion among the indigenous peoples living in Amazon, the “Minga”. “Minga” means working together as a community to achieve a common goal. One of the most compelling experiences was how people formed a chain to off-load luggage from the boats, passing it from one person’s hands to the next till it gets to its destination.

To her amusement, the houses of the people in this region are almost 20 meters apart yet these indigenous people know each other’s faces, names and families as compared to the everyday culture back in her city at Toronto, Canada. Watching small children walk and play around together; as well as beautiful women sat in circles making handicrafts that they would later sell for an income; reminded Helen of how people in her city must drive to and pick their children from school in the evening.

“In my city, neighbors share walls but do not even know each other’s names. The youth in my city will also be texting each other on Whatsapp yet they are in the same room. In my city,people own swimming pools, individual boreholes and homes separated by walls. These indigenous people share rivers, swim in rivers and of course feed each other from the foods gathered in the deep forest of the Amazon.  This is a custom we can borrow to promote coexistence in our city homes,” said Helen Chen as she began to narrate about the root of her inspiration about her new initiative to celebrate Urban October.

For a long time, home was known as the place to find shelter to enjoy good food and enough sleep in a beautiful house, with a cozy se­­t of seats and big bed.

Individuals and organizations then took the lead to advocate and raise funds focusing on building new houses especially in slums settlement areas. The rest of the persons in the world then followed suit and started working hard day in, day out to meet certain set standards of lifestyle.

However, upon her reflection after an interaction with the people in Amazon and new experiences around her, Helen landed a whole new image and meaning of the “home”

Many Syrian Refugees were coming to her school for studies and she felt a burning need to make the young ones acknowledge that the school is not just an educational facility but also a home to them. The refugees needed more than just classrooms but to make new friends and live harmoniously with each other as well.

This downed on Helen that a decent modern house far from the slums without persons who make you feel warm, laugh and contribute to your inner peace, is just but empty creative expressions of art put together to make beautiful structures of stone and iron sheet. All of these have been labeled as elements of a home, but they actually mean home to a number of people.

Tagging along her two close friends, Caryn Q and Molly Y. Helen then started the “What Does Home Mean to You?” initiative to welcome the new refugees’ students to their community.

“Conflicts are shattering families – and driving record numbers of youth from their homes. Even where there is peace, young people suffer from violence and discrimination. Young people are also on the vanguard of progress – as entrepreneurs, activists and community leaders. You inspire change,” United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres

The three friends then put up a big banner at their school for students to sign and illustrate what home really means to them! To amazement, every student painted a uniquely distinct description of home.

Helen and her two friends said in one voice, “We all live in harmony and peace through our commonalities and respect for our differences. If only we can learn to see the need for others to enjoy the same peaceful co-existence, then we could build strong-resilient cities in the world.”

At least 150 students participated in writing on the banner

At least 150 students participated in writing on the banner, and a good number of the rest viewed it and read the details of their school mates’ expressions on it. “You could also tell from their dazzling faces that something was going on through their minds after making a stop by the banner as they were walking down the halls,” added Helen.

From attending the Commission on the Status of Women Youth Forum and High Level Event on Education at the United Nations, Helen went further on to narrate her inspiration to UN-Habitat saying, “I learned that there are so many factors that make one like or dislike their home, such as equality in the household, safety, quality education, and how homes can be affected by climate change, an issue I’m extremely passionate about.”

Helen is also a mentor for the Decarbonize project which she is using to unite youth around the world to learn and write a resolution to be presented at COP23. This is being made possible with the continued support from the SDGs club at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Canada and her two friends .All their efforts are culminating into “What Does Home Mean to you?” thus stretching out the whole meaning of “home” to include building lasting relationships between humans and the environment to control extreme climate changes. This led her to write a piece on the indigenous people and how we are not respecting their homes through negative active human behaviors which is altering our relationship with the environment; for the Phrase of the Year Competition by the Dhillon Marty Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO, where she became a finalist.

Helen continues to make a call to other young people in the world to join efforts in developing more sustainable solutions for making better homes saying, “I really hope more students around the world could do this, because home in developed countries is often something we take for granted; it’s the little things in our everyday lives that could mean so much for others.”

Blue ribbon panel calls for a stronger UN-HABITAT with a focus on a “leave no one behind” mandate

The New Urban Agenda (NUA), adopted at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), provides a robust new framework that outlines how cities should be planned, managed, and governed to best promote sustainable urbanization.

An important yet unresolved discussion in the negotiation of the NUA was the question of implementation, and more specifically and urgently, what role UN-HABITAT holds in advancing sustainable urbanization within the UN system. This hot-button issue was pushed off by UN Member States onto an eight-member blue ribbon panel convened by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In early August the panel came back with their answer: an urgent call for increased support to UN-HABITAT. The panel appealed for more secure and stable funding for the organisation, with an increase in Member State contributions.

Alongside this proposition for increased funding was a call for UN-HABITAT to clarify its organisational priorities. The Panel recommended that the agency focus on two priority areas. One, “a focus on the urban planning, legislation, norms and standards that will best support equitable development priorities, along with environmental sustainability and economic robustness,” was a mission that UN-HABITAT was already active in and committed to.

The second suggestion was increased attention to equity, vulnerability, and exclusion in urban development, utilizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the NUA as guiding frameworks. The Panel further expanded on the suggestion that UN-HABITAT should “keep in focus the directive to ‘leave no one behind,’” a mandate amply supported by the human rights frameworks endorsed by the UN system.

We at the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) fully support the call for UN-HABITAT to expand its focus on the UN’s mission to “leave no one behind.” As the body mandated to represent young women and men within UN-HABITAT, we fully support their full and meaningful engagement in all UN-HABITAT’s work. We also support children, women, the disabled, indigenous, LGTBI, and other groups that are marginalized within cities and urban areas.

We see that there at least three concrete ways UN-HABITAT currently engages marginalized communities, ways that can be replicated and expanded.

1. Participatory urban planning and governance

The full engagement of marginalized communities in planning and governance is a field that has been worked on (but not fully achieved) for the last 40 years. In 1961, before public participation became a popular term, Jane Jacobs stated: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

UN-HABITAT has excellent examples of participatory planning and governance. One such project is Block by Block, a partnership between Mojang, the makers of Minecraft (one of the most popular video games in the world), and UN-HABITAT. This project uses Minecraft as a participatory planning and design tool and is a particularly creative and hands-on initiative to involve people, particularly youth, women, and slum dwellers in urban design. Through participatory design workshops, UN-HABITAT and partners bring people together to visualise their ideas in Minecraft and present their creations to city authorities and local government officials. The Minecraft designs are then used as part of the process to implement real public space improvement projects.

Youth presenting their Block by Block study.

A team working on their Block by Block project.

Another key programme which engages youth in governance is the YAB itself. Elected every four years through a global online ballot, the YAB has one woman and one man representing six UN regions. Additionally, there are special advisors for slums and informal settlements, housing, and post-conflict areas. The YAB is a critical voice for youth at the decision making table of UN-HABITAT, influencing the development of programmes, research, and policy. Recently, the YAB released the Berlin Declaration, which outlines the roles and responsibilities of youth in relation to the New Urban Agenda.

2. Land tenure

UN-HABITAT has partnered with the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) to address persistent tenure insecurity and high levels of informal settlements that severely impact the livelihoods of today’s youth. Youth need land not least for public spaces, shelter, security, employment and entrepreneurship. To address the issue of limited youth inclusion in land reform processes, GLTN and UN-HABITAT developed land tools to strengthen the capacity of countries and communities to implement youth-responsive land reforms. The Youth and Land Responsive Criteria was created to assess land programmes and policies to ensure that youth and land issues are equitably addressed so as to achieve tenure security for all.

3. Conflict and post-conflict

UN-HABITAT has partnered with local governments, youth-led NGOs, and other youth allies to address the needs of youth living in conflict and post-conflict cities. Some programmes developed include the One Stop Youth Resource Centres, which bring together youth with local governments and allies to operationalise safe and generative spaces in cities. The most recent One Stop was established in Mogadishu, Somalia, with new Centres planned for 27 districts of Rwanda, and Juba, South Sudan.

The road ahead

More work is needed to ensure that UN-HABITAT can achieve its “leave no one behind” mandate. The focus of the agency for many years has been one of “build and they shall come”—an agenda which places experts at the forefront of urban development, with little thought to communities, and often without even speaking about people who are most marginalized. Concepts such as planned “urban extensions” and “urban infills” sound weighty but leave out the “people” component of the city. Cities cannot be successful without the goal of full participation of its urban residents; sometimes lofty goal such as this becomes a necessary guiding light when designing programmes, conducting research, and developing policies.

The NUA and the SDGs—especially goal 11 of sustainable cities and communities—provide a critical road-map for UN-HABITAT to take the lead in sustainable urbanization for the UN, but like the contemporary critique of “self-driven” cars, humans need to be at the wheel to assure the safety and sustainability of the community. While UN-HABITAT can and must do more, there is hope in our constant struggle to achieve our vision of cities that “leave no one behind.”

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High Level Panel on the New Urban Agenda and UN-HABITAT

Eight people, who directly decided the Secretary General, António Guterres , presented the UN-Habitat Evaluation Report, which diagnoses and issues recommendations to provide the agency with the necessary tools and capacities to Effectively address the new challenges and commitments under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda (NAU). The Panel came to the consensus that UN-HABITAT has key areas of opportunity and its role is more important than ever.
With information from UN-Habitat

Urban challenges are substantial, growing and global sustainable development will be increasingly linked to what is happening in cities. Given the need to reconcile this inevitable reality within Agenda 2030, it is necessary to have an urban leader .

In this way, the Panel was urged to make bold recommendations to improve UN-HABITAT’s effectiveness, efficiency and accountability, ensuring that the Agency is prepared to address the requirements of inclusive and sustainable urban development, Which implies greater transparency, responsiveness to a rapidly changing global and urban landscape, and flexibility to seize opportunities as they arise.

To this end, the Panel responsible for this report was established to conduct an independent, objective and evidence-based review and evaluation to make recommendations for improving effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and oversight of the agency in four areas Operational mandates, governance structure, partnerships and financial capacity.


The role of UN-HABITAT

2) Recognizing that UN-HABITAT plays a key role in addressing sustainable urbanization but faces challenges that compromise its ability to respond effectively, the Panel recommends that the first priority be to rapidly stabilize and strengthen UN-HABITAT.

(3) Considers that UN-HABITAT is the appropriate entity of the United Nations to play a promotional role around the importance of urban issues. In this way, it would assist and support Member States, United Nations agencies and other stakeholders in integrating the New Urban Agenda and urban aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals into their development operations, providing guidance And tools to strengthen urban work at the national level.

4) In complementing the role of UN-Habitat, the Panel proposes that UN-Urban be established as a coordination mechanism similar to UN-Water or UN-Energy as part of the United Nations system-wide reform, With a small secretariat based in New York.

The mandate of UN-HABITAT

(5) The Panel recommends that with ODS and NAU as guiding frameworks, UN-HABITAT’s normative role is to “leave no one behind”, a policy widely supported by human rights frameworks backed by the United Nations system . This implies promotion and supervision with Member States to ensure that urban work reflects this guide as well as guidance on the best means to achieve this goal.

(6) Further recommends that all operational work be clearly linked to policy priorities and a closer link to global strategic policy and governance oversight.

(7) The Group recommends two priority areas in this regard: attention to equity, vulnerability and exclusion in urban development and a focus on urban planning, legislation and standards that best support the equitable development priorities together With environmental sustainability and economic soundness.

😎 In particular, it is recommended that UN-Habitat provide guidance on informality as the engine of exclusion.

9) Clear project documentation is recommended to demonstrate the complementarity of normative / operational work and the interpretation of the normative / operational distinction in each project.

10) In the urban definition, the Panel calls for a conceptual change towards a more territorial approach, focusing on the metropolitan regions, including the cities, towns, outlying areas and villages they contain, and avoiding excessive simplification of the rural-urban dichotomy.

(11) The Group recommends that UN-HABITAT, in its data support role, pay particular attention to gaps in the collection and analysis of data obscuring the realities of excluded groups.


(12) The Group agrees that the current governance model suffers from systemic problems affecting accountability, efficiency and effectiveness and recommends some key changes, focusing on the need for participation of all Member States and capacity for Reflect the complexity of the urban development landscape with its multiple actors.

13) Recommends a new governance structure that includes the universal membership of the 193 Member States in a General Urban Assembly and the addition of a small Policy Board focused on providing strategic and policy advice as well as project oversight. The Policy Board would integrate input from the CPR, the Secretariat and the Executive Director, but also a committee of local and subnational authorities and a committee of urban stakeholders, both with capacity to assess and revise resolutions and provide coordinated guidance to the Policy Council . UN-Urban would also advise this Board.

(14) The Group recommends that the Urban Assembly organize its calendar and the location of its meetings to maximize the potential for overlap with both the United Nations Environment Assembly and the General Assembly.

15) UN-HABITAT should also have a greater staff presence in New York, especially high-level staff to improve coordination and closer relations with United Nations entities in New York.

16) UN-Habitat should have more staff in Nairobi, New York and regional offices, with gender parity to fulfill its mission and mandate to support Member States, subnational governments and United Nations country teams.


17) In order to have active, effective and inclusive partnerships that can contribute to the fulfillment of its inclusion mandate, the Panel recommends that UN-HABITAT explore and strengthen relations with representative organizations of local governments and civil society, as well as Strengthening partnerships with the United Nations and the Regional Economic Commissions.

18) Also urges UN-HABITAT to explore ways to encourage private sector actors to examine the unwanted negative impacts of their investments and to find ways to mitigate them.

19) Finally, it recommends institutionalizing the World Urban Forum (WUF) to help keep NAU firmly on the global agenda. It proposes that the results of the WUF be integrated into the UN-Habitat strategic plan and program of work and budget. This should be done through a report on the results of the Policy Board for its integration into the resolutions of the Urban Assembly.

Financial capability

20) The Group recommends that an urgent appeal be made to Member States to support UN-HABITAT with committed funds for several years. In addition, it recommends that UN-Habitat develop a medium-term plan and expenditure framework for four to five years.

21) In order to encourage voluntary contributions from Member States, the Group recommends that UN-HABITAT specify the percentage of core funds spent on staff and other administrative costs.

(22) In order to reinforce the priority assigned to normative work, the Panel recommends that part of the financing of specific technical cooperation be earmarked for linkage with the normative mission and firmly proposes a limit to the funds allocated from Member States Which are intended for operational work.

(23) The Group recommends that UN-HABITAT explore the benefits of grant modality, giving the organization more management flexibility and responsiveness, while allowing it to remain a part of the United Nations Secretariat.

24) In order to explore new and innovative sources of funding and increase available resources for inclusive and sustainable urbanization, the Group recommends that UN-HABITAT develop a strategy of cooperation with multilateral banks, financial institutions and private sources of funding. The potential for funding and fundraising inherent in local urban relations could also be explored.

25) Finally, the Panel recommends the creation of a Global Trust Fund to serve as a platform for alternative funding for sustainable urbanization efforts.

In order to maintain momentum for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and reflect on the position of UN-HABITAT in this regard, the President of the UN General Assembly convened a High-level Meeting of the General Assembly On 5 and 6 September 2017 to discuss, inter alia, the Independent Panel Report of the Secretary-General to assess and improve the effectiveness of UN-HABITA