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Charting a Course for a Sustainable Urban Future


Quito, Ecuador, site of HABITAT III

We live in a “Century of Cities.” More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and that is expected to nearly double by 2050.

To chart a course for sustainable urban development during the two decades ahead, more than 36,000 leaders from nearly 200 countries will gather in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20 for the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (HABITAT III).

ICMA will be among them as a member of the U.S. HABITAT III National Committee, led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in coordination with the Department of State and other federal agencies. Through presentations and an educational exhibit, ICMA staff will contribute insights and lessons learned from ICMA’s research and technical assistance experience in the United States and internationally. And they’ll share conference highlights with those back home.

HABITAT events occur every 20 years. HABITAT II in Istanbul in 1996 established goals and an action plan, and this year’s conference participants will assess progress toward their achievement and adopt a New Urban Agenda. An overall goal of HABITAT II was improving the quality of life in human settlements, a goal that prioritizes housing, physical infrastructure, and other local services; violence prevention; security for women, children, and youth; and environmental sustainability.

ICMA Advances Global Sustainability

ICMA has made substantial contributions to the achievement of the HABITAT II goals:

  • ICMA had roles in several Urban Thinkers Campus events leading up to the HABITAT III conference: ICMA made a presentation on “Regionalizing Climate Action" at an Urban Thinkers Campus hosted by the Joslyn Institute for Sustainability. And, in partnership with United Nations University, ICMA supported the publication of THRIVE GLOBAL, a collection of text and artwork in support of a consensus statement on the critical importance of human health and well-being to the urban future. The publication will be launched at HABITAT III.
  • ICMA provides knowledge, resources, and technical assistance on leading practices at the intersection of sustainability and local government management.
  • ICMA manages a technical assistance clearinghouse of federal programs as a partner in the HUD-funded National Resource Network, a core component of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative to support U.S. cities challenged by such issues as growing poverty, high unemployment, poorly performing schools, aging infrastructure, and vacant and blighted properties.
  • ICMA published Improving Quality of Life, a white paper showing how local government infrastructure, transportation systems, water and sanitation, land use and planning, and other services can all be aligned with public health goals.
  • In developing and decentralizing countries, ICMA has implemented hundreds of projects, training events, and partnerships that build local capacity to improve infrastructure and service delivery, strengthen local economies, establish community-based violence prevention programs, increase opportunities for women, and strengthen the resiliency of communities to economic, political, and natural threats. ICMA employs its CityLinks model to bring together municipalities that can share approaches and implement solutions to mutual challenges. CityLinks and many other international ICMA programs have been funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
  • In support of all these activities, ICMA conducts survey research on local government practices in sustainability, economic development, smart cities, and other priority topics.

Setting a New Urban Agenda

The mission for Habitat III is to adopt a New Urban Agenda—currently in draft—an action-oriented document that will set global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development, rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities by drawing together committed partners, relevant stakeholders, and urban actors at all levels of government as well as the private sector.

“ICMA is proud to participate in this important international event, which will set the stage for urban sustainability over the next two decades,” said ICMA Executive Director Robert J. O’Neill Jr. “Our worldwide projects, many funded by USAID, are based on the premise that cities learn best from each other as they chart their own courses toward sustainable and resilient futures.”

Stay Connected

ICMA will provide live updates and blog posts throughout the HABITAT III conference. Follow us on Twitter @ICMA for regular updates.

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