Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) chairs the opening of Habitat III.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) chairs the opening of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development: Habitat III. Right, Peter Thomson, President of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly, October 16, 2016, Quito. UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe.

UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development : Habitat III
17-20 October 2016, Quito, Ecuador


The potential of cities

In 2016, it was estimated that more than half of the world's population lived in cities. Projections for 2050 were that the world's urban population would almost double, making urbanization one of the most important transformations of the 21st century. While urbanization can contribute to the challenges of the world, cities have immense potential to promote the innovations needed to address or reverse many of them. 

To develop this potential and capacity, at a time when sustainable urbanization was imperative, a new urban paradigm was deemed necessary. And so, at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador in 2016, the New Urban Agenda and the Quito Declaration on Cities and Human Settlements for All was adopted. It was subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly at its sixty-eighth plenary meeting of the seventy-first session on 23 December 2016. The New Urban Agenda represents a shared vision for a better and more sustainable future: that if well-planned and well-managed, urbanization can be a powerful tool for sustainable development for both developing and developed countries.

In the Quito Declaration, Member States said:

"We commit ourselves to working towards an urban paradigm shift for a New Urban Agenda that will:

  • Readdress the way we plan, finance, develop, govern and manage cities and human settlements, recognizing sustainable urban and territorial development as essential to the achievement of sustainable development and prosperity for all;

  • Recognize the leading role of national Governments, as appropriate, in the definition and implementation of inclusive and effective urban policies and legislation for sustainable urban development, and the equally important contributions of subnational and local governments, as well as civil society and other relevant stakeholders, in a transparent and accountable manner;

  • Adopt sustainable, people-centred, age- and gender-responsive and integrated approaches to urban and territorial development by implementing policies, strategies, capacity development and actions at all levels, based on fundamental drivers of change."

Habitat III was the first United Nations global summit after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals. It therefore offered a unique opportunity to discuss the important challenge of how cities, towns, and villages are planned and managed in order to fulfill their role as drivers of sustainable development and, hence, help meet the sustainable development and climate change goals.