By Melissa De la Cruz
Editor’s Note: OSM! writer Melissa Dela Cruz was on school and work assignment in Quito, Ecuador in the last half of October 2016. She shares her experience and insights on urban development and challenges which the United Nation’s Habitat III is currently advocating.
New York City – We drove up to the city from the Mariscal Sucre Airport after a red eye flight that took us from one side of the equator to the other. We were immediately greeted by the steep incline into Quito. The rumble and smell of the small manual diesel-fed automobile only making it clearer that we have reached the height of the city, 9350 feet above sea level.
The landscape had dramatically changed from flat long highways to steep small roads and old Spanish style homes, ones that vaguely reminded me of the homes in municipalities outside of Cebu City. It seemed like a normal day in Quito. It was the peak of noon and traffic was congested among its many roundabouts. The roads were bustling with people selling all kinds of trinkets, toys and food. This was Friday, the weekend before the city was expected to receive more than 50,000 participants for the UN’s Habitat III Conference (Habitat III).
I arrived in Quito, Ecuador as part of the university delegation to Habitat III. We were a delegation of approximately twenty-five students and professors from The New School University located in New York City. Several of us came from the Public & Urban Policy PhD Program and MA International Affairs Program at the Milano School. In addition, we had a good representation from professors and graduates of the Parsons School of Design. It was such a great experience for me to be part of such a diverse group of people. The fifteen students alone represented twelve different nationalities! We had the chance not only to work within the historical center of Quito but we also had the opportunity to explore the outskirts, the bustling artisanal markets and talk to locals all over the city.
I had participated in a year-long research with The Global Urban Futures Project, a research group focused on global urban issues within The New School. We have been working tirelessly on measuring the progress of countries in meeting the commitments made at the 1996 Habitat II Conference in Istanbul. To date, the Habitat Commitment Index is one of the first efforts to measure individual country progress in fulfilling international agreements. What makes the project different is that we try to establish an equal playing field amongst countries at different stages of development by simply controlling for income. I won’t bore you with the details but to learn more about the research, go to: www.globalurbanfutures.org. Overall, the research was timely and well received by governments, civil society and academia. More surprisingly, its quantitative and qualitative aspects appealed even to the youngest participants at the Habitat III exhibition space. As a university, The New School had also positioned ourselves well in the field as a critical and active stakeholder from the preparatory commissions until the end of the Habitat III Conference in Quito. I am even prouder that the research was an output based, student driven research project and the contributions of each of the members was vital to the success of the project.
Despite, the many mishaps and shortcomings of the event, I recognize that the United Nations has gone far since its founding at the end of World War II. The framework for the Habitat III conference intended to mesh an inclusionary type of governance where they would have active stakeholder involved throughout the entire process. One that is away from the heads of state and focuses more specifically at engaging civil society, local governments, academia and ordinary citizens in the process. However, they still have a long way to go in ensuring that this “inclusion” is not just a ploy to put a check mark on the participation requirement of many of these UN organized events.
There are three lessons that I hope to look back onto 20 years from now. The first is a deep hope that it will be cities like Quito and even the lesser known cities in the world like Cebu that would have benefited from all the work that we had put into making sure that cities do not only benefit the rich but are places where people from all walks of life can enjoy the fruits of its chaos. Second, we cannot leave the decision making to the heads of state alone. More people need to get actively involved in the process of determining how they want to see the future of the world. Third, the conversation has already started and we cannot stop there. It is now about implementation and assisting local governments reach the lofty goals of the new urban agenda. (Photos by Melissa dela Cruz)