As a result of failed urban planning, about 1 billion people are living in slums, areas which lack permanent housing, sufficient space, potable water, appropriate sanitation, and personal safety, according to data from United Nations. The number is expected to increase by 2030 to 3 billion, about 40% of the world’s population. The 2015 World Humanitarian Summit placed the management of urban displacement as one of the top three priorities of its Urban Consultation.
All of these factors point towards a global housing crisis and the ever increasing need of the New Urban Agenda that bears on the shoulders of Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development that will be hosted by Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016. Habitat III will ultimately declare the global objectives of UN Habitat for the next two decades, which not an easy task. Mexico is showing a significant amount of enthusiasm and participated in the road towards Quito with its regional reunion for Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place during April 18-20 of this year.
Toluca and Habitat III.
In preparation for Quito, four regional meetings took place in Jakarta for Asia-Pacific, Abuja for Africa, Prague for Europe, and Toluca for Latin America, with the intention of analyzing and debating the priorities for the New Urban Agenda, as well as policy recommendations in the form of a final declaration.
The regional meeting in Mexico received the participation of representatives from 33 countries. Afterwards, Eruviel Avila Villegas, Governor of the State of Mexico, and Alain Grimard, UN-Habitat Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC), signed a collaboration that represents a long-term commitment towards urban planning. In alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals, the region will focus on the 11thgoal, “Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”. Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world, further complicating its situation and the need of implementing efficient policies.
Mexico, One of UN Habitat’s Biggest Challenges
The agreement is especially important due to the high-density demographics that are centralized in the central State of Mexico; approximately 17 million people will be living in the area by 2017. Mexico City alone has an estimated 835 slums. Even though the government does not recognize these communities, for many people in extreme, generational poverty, slums are their only option. The country is also home to one of the world’s largest slum which has a massive 4 million inhabitants and the highest crime rate in the State of Mexico, Nezo-Chalco-Itza.
The Mexican Congress is trying to put itself in shape with the recently created Secretariat of Territorial Development (SEDATU) and by renovating its legal framework so that it can adapt to the needs of the country. Rosario Robles, Director of SEDATU, reinforced the institution’s focus on the Housing and Human Settlements Law that was last changed 40 years ago, and not apt for the modern reality of the state that encompasses 59 metropolises. The shift will also be opening doors towards making the government more responsible for slums that up to now have no legal recognition.
As the country heads towards the urbanization of 80% of its habitats in 2050, authorities must rush to find ways to provide adequate living standards, transportation, water, and clean air. Mexico often ranks at the top of unwanted global lists such as having the worst traffic at peak hours. Keeping this in mind, citizens must also wake up and start taking responsibility for the situation of the country as the issue is equally enrooted in cultural problems.
What happens next?
Now that the regional meetings have come to an end, the following step will consist in conjuring the “Zero Draft” document of the New Urban Agenda that will lay the groundwork for future urban design policies to be presented in May 2016. The Habitat III Bureau, composed of 10 UN member states, has the duty of making sure the instrument accurately represents the global discussions that are leading up the event in Quito.
The idea behind the New Urban Agenda is to confront the challenge of urbanization and problems like the growth of slums by molding the concept with development and guaranteeing its sustainability. To crystalize its success, member states, international organizations, local governments, the private sector, and the civil society must be part of the process.
As usual, Mexico tends to be the first in signing international treaties, and the real challenge comes in its application and follow up.