Hivos’ contribution to UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda

Loe Schout, March 23, 2018

Cities will dominate the landscape of the future. UN projections indicate that 75 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. Africa, in particular, will change from a continent of states to a continent of cities.

Cities are huge central magnets

Cities are the central space for social, cultural, environmental and economic developments. That is why they are attracting so many people. But this massive urbanization is also creating huge challenges. Major problems are high population density, lack of space, traffic congestion, criminality, absent or poor basic services, the effects of climate change and growing informal economies. Moreover, there’s evidence that the larger cities become, the more income inequality increases and the gap between rich and poor widens. That’s why the battle for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals “will be lost or won in cities” *.

“Citizen-driven Cities” pilot projects

This year, the Hivos-led “Citizen-driven Cities” pilot projects are about to start in four cities: La Paz (Bolivia), Lusaka (Zambia), Bandung (Indonesia) and Jakarta (Indonesia). All projects are seeking new ways to address major urban challenges by creating and supporting bottom-up initiatives and empowering citizens to take control of their own cities. Within all four projects, we closely cooperate with local partners and so-called City Makers, but also with businesses, architects, social entrepreneurs and local authorities. The concrete focus of each project is different: waste management in Lusaka, public spaces for youth in Depok (Jakarta), a drawing a ‘Green Map’ of Bandung and making La Paz more woman-friendly.

Supporting bottom-up approaches

What unites the four is an ambition to make cities more open, green and citizen-driven. Instead of top-down planning, the pilot projects will support bottom-up approaches and seek collaboration with local citizens groups and city makers. These city makers are often typically do-it-yourselfers, creative and innovative but also pragmatic and non-political. While often globally connected, their focus is on solving local problems.

The pilot projects are a result of a new Hivos policy framework. Together they serve as a test case of this policy framework on working in cities and deliver a ‘proof of concept’. It will provide a distinctive Hivos-contribution to SDG 11, which calls for making cities “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

Our contribution to UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda

For the time being, this Hivos initiative is a small start that hopefully will grow into a meaningful contribution, also to the UN Habitat’s New Urban Agenda. This Agenda took on a progressive flavour during its final adoption process in Quito at the end of 2016. Under the slogan “Cities for people, not for profit” and “Right to the City”, civil society groups successfully lobbied to encourage national and local governments to care for their most vulnerable inhabitants rather than catering to private-sector interests as the planet continues to urbanize at a rapid pace.

* UN Habitat representative at OECD-conference on national urban policies (Paris, May 2017)

Header photo: Lagos, Nigeria –