Habitat III: How Can the Private Sector Advance the New Urban Agenda?

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The Quito conference on sustainable urban development has ended and participants have adopted a non-binding but ambitious New Urban Agenda.  However, commitments by countries have been slow in the making. Can cities and the private real estate sector boost the agenda’s implementation?

Local city governments recognised as key stakeholders in the New Urban Agenda

All 193 member countries of the United Nations signed up to the New Urban Agenda to turn the 20-year roadmap into an official, though non-binding, agreement.  While the Agenda has been negotiated by country delegations, it does acknowledge the importance that local city governments play in the transformation of cities.  Habitat III conference organisers provided local governments with distinct stakeholder status at the conference, recognising that city leaders and mayors around the world are increasingly talking to each other directly to boost city-to-city trade and to borrow innovative policy ideas from each other.

The New Urban Agenda needs the wider private sector to make it work

During the four-day conference, a series of non-state actors already announced concrete projects as a follow-up implementation of the NUA goals. Individual initiatives, published as part of the Quito Implementation Plan, were dominated by academia, civil society and NGOs. Participation of the private sector came mostly through coalitions of firms, according to Citiscope, a keen observer of the Habitat III conference. Some of those business coalitions announced initiatives around research, monitoring frameworks and multi-stakeholder forums. There will be opportunities for the wider private sector to play a bigger role and engage additional resources for the New Urban Agenda cities need to implement.

City governments can provide key enablers for the private sector to increase its participation

One explanation why representatives of the private sector have not manifested themselves more at the conference may reflect the role cities and local governments have been playing in the Habitat summit processes in the past. The private real estate sector traditionally partners with local authorities and less with central government departments, by the pure nature of the sector being about local development, construction and building management.

The role of the real estate sector in the New Urban Agenda is crucial to make it a success and local authorities can be effective partners in this process. In this respect JLL’s Cities Research Center contributed a chapter to the Finance for City Leaders handbook launched during Habitat III. JLL outlined, among other key enablers, the following conditions that encourage private sector actors to more efficiently partner with the public sector:

  • Elected mayors with increased land use planning decision-making powers and roles in housing, transport, and economic development can provide reassuring certainty to investors as a single “go-to” accountable figure.
  • Fiscal devolution can lead to a greater certainty of funds for local governments, enabling integrated capital investment budgets and long-term capital and land use planning.
  • Greater coordination of public land portfolios for development and the proactive assembly of land parcels of the necessary scale can stimulate the market.
  • Retaining business rates at the local level both incentivizes local governments to grow their economies and can provide greater freedom as to how funds are spent on local development.

What happens next?

In four years’ time, the first implementation report will be published to analyse if the New Urban Agenda is on track.  Special care will be taken that the New Urban Agenda implementation will be aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, defined for 2030. But we don’t need to wait until 2020 to see if we are on track as progress will be discussed during the next biennial World Urban Forum, organised by UN Habitat in 2018.


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