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Future Cities Catapult at Habitat III

Our Cities Standards Coordinator, Matthew Wood-Hill, blogs his first impressions from Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador.

The UN’s Habitat III conference has begun in Quito, Ecuador, and I’m attending as part of the Future Cities Catapult team, to exhibit our work and participate in discussions around the new urban agenda.

The event is already an impressive size – over 45,000 people are expected to attend the conference this week. As soon as our team landed at the airport it was very clear that this Habitat III is taking over the city. Luckily you’re never far from a volunteer who can point you in the right direction or offer some helpful advice!

Perhaps a reason for the popularity is its timing. The first Habitat conference happened in Vancouver in 1976, and though held infrequently – every 20 years – they have become key milestones for urban thinking; debating issues ranging from sustainability, resilience and poverty reduction to reimagining urban planning and achieving social justice.

This conference comes at an especially opportune time – in 2015 key international agreements were made on disaster risk reduction, financing for development, and climate change. The most significant of all has been the launch of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have now superseded the Millennium Development Goals. For the first time in history there is a dedicated urban goal – SDG 11 – to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

Building on these, the Habitat III conference will declare a ‘New Urban Agenda’. The Agenda has been created with inputs from different groups – from government, academia, business and civil society– with the expectation it will form a basis for sound urban practices internationally. The New Urban Agenda draft specifically references a ‘smart city approach’ and the role of data in supporting evidence based-planning, and we’re keen to explore how digital approaches can complement several of the other key themes emphasised in the document – such as mobility, housing and creating healthier cities.

There’s over 200 side-events at the conference and we’re excited to be included in this. Our event on Wednesday 19 October, will look at how we can harness the power of technology and innovation in the New Urban Agenda. We hope to stimulate debate with a panel of international experts discussing the role of urban innovation and digital technologies in the cities of the future, and how these can support the implementation of the agenda.

The conference is bringing together world-leading thinkers and expertise, and feels like a genuine opportunity for progress. Despite the astonishing scale of the event, the atmosphere is open and friendly. There’s a real buzz in the air with everyone here for the same reasons: to make cities better for the people who live in them.

If you’re in Quito and you’d like to hear more on our thoughts and ideas for the New Urban Agenda, then come by and meet the team at our exhibition space – zone F, stand 157 where we’ll be sharing some of our work and chatting about technologies and the future of planning. We’ll also have a couple of gadgets to play around with, and a bicycle, so if you’re attending do come and say hi! You can stay up to date with our activities by following @FutureCitiesCat on Twitter, and look out for further blogs from the conference later in the week.

Hasta la próxima!

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