EU Urban Agenda and New Urban Agenda. Can the two go together?

Over the past months, the EU member states, the European Commission and European institutions have been working to develop an EU Urban Agenda, a plan to address challenges facing European cities. As more and more people live, work and spend their leisure time in cities, we need sustainable, innovative and economically powerful Europe that offers a good quality of life to its citizens. This is what the EU Urban Agenda should deliver.

At the same time, the international community has been developing a New Urban Agenda to address the challenges of urbanization globally. In March, governments of Europe signed the Prague Declaration, a vision for the development agenda of the European region and an official input into Habitat III, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in October 2016.

In both cases, the focus is on inclusive and sustainable cities. Urban poverty and social tensions can be prevented through “inclusive decision-making, equal access to affordable housing, and transparent and efficient delivery of basic services.” This was the central point of discussion on urbanization hosted by Habitat for Humanity and MEP Davor Stier, from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, at the European Parliament in Brussels on April 26, 2016.

“The big difference in this New Urban Agenda is that now we have come to recognize the importance of sub-national governments, regional and municipal authorities in urbanization,” said William Cobbett, Director of Cities Alliance, who took part in the panel discussion. “For the first time in history it is a universal urban agenda. All cities and countries will be reporting on the same matrix. We need to share the same vision for humanity,” Cobbett added.

Since there are so many synergies, it does make sense to link the process of the New Urban Agenda and EU Urban Agenda. The European Union, as the biggest development donor and a knowledge “power-house” for urban development, can play a leading role in shaping the New Urban Agenda. European states have valuable experience of urban development with the rebuilding of the continent after World War II. Additionally, the EU has played a critical role in reintegrating and reinvigorating Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The EU should contribute its experience of good urban governance, transparency and a rights-based approach to the New Urban Agenda.

“We have critical 20 years ahead of us. We will have 2 billion people moving. The momentum is relevant and it’s time we need to do something. Sustainable Development Goals will only work if we address them as a whole. Urbanization should be part of it,” said Michal Mlynar, representative of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs for the Slovak Republic at the panel discussion in Brussels, the incoming EU Presidency for the second half of 2016.

At the same time, Europe also faces problems with shrinking and expanding cities. There is a growing gap between the cities where people flock in search of better jobs and economic opportunities, and smaller cities on the periphery that are dying out. Many European cities face similar challenges as cities in other parts of the world. Their needs should be considered not only on the European level, but on the global level too.

By 2030 almost 60% of the population will live in urban centers. By 2050 this figure will be over 70%. As people we do not quite understand these numbers. But we need to realize that the flow of social, political and economic refugees will only continue to grow. It’s high time we think about actions.

Panel discussion “Roadmap to Habitat III: from SDGs to the New Urban Agenda took place in the European Parliament in Brussels. Among other speakers on the panel were Lynette Injette, National Director, Habitat for Humanity Kenya, Jacqueline Fernandez, Bollywood actress and Habitat for