Urban Planning at the United Nations

APA National Planning Congress, New York City, May 8, 2017
By Ric Stephens

How is the United Nations integrating urban planning in its recently adopted vision for global sustainable development? Experts from UNESCO, UN-Habitat, UNICEF, and UN Population Fund provided insight on how various approaches to urban planning within the UN family of organizations at the APA National Planning Conference in New York City. The panel included UN representatives Jens Aerts, UNICEF; Daniel Schensul, UN Population Fund; Ron Bogle, UNESCO; and Andrew Rudd, UN-Habitat; and Moderator Ric Stephens, APA-International Division Vice-Chair for Special Projects and President of the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP). This session was coordinated by APA-ID Session Proposal Coordinator Marc Lewis-Degrace.

Urban Planning and Policy Expert Jens Aerts shared the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) connection between planning for children and creating a more sustainable and resilient future.

Key facts on children and urbanization:

  • 2 billion children live in urban areas at this moment.
  • About 30% of the world’s urban population lives in slums, a statistic that reaches 60% in sub-Saharan Africa.  Worldwide, they number over 1 billion people. 300 million of them are children.
  • Even though cities will account for 70% of the world’s GDP, the majority of those earning less than $1 per day will be living in cities by 2040.
  • Children have to face specific urban challenges, related with a lack of access to services (inaccessibility of slums), environmental pollution (air pollution, waste sites) and a lack or local accountability (weak involvement in local decision making).

UNICEF is responding to these increasing risks by developing global policies and programmes that focus on building sustainable cities for and with children and young people, in close partnership with the private sector and municipal leaders. The existing Child Friendly Cities Initiative will be complemented with the development of child-responsive city planning standards, so to both ensure child-responsive urban settings and decrease the climate impact of cities. More at http://childfriendlycities.org/

Development Sociologist Daniel Schensul described the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) research and metrics for sustainable urbanization. Urbanization has the potential to usher in a new era of well-being, resource efficiency and economic growth. But cities are also home to high concentrations of poverty. Nowhere is the rise of inequality clearer than in urban areas, where wealthy communities coexist alongside, and separate from, slums and informal settlements. UNFPA works with partners in government, the UN system and civil society to advocate for the welfare and sustainability of rapidly urbanizing communities. UNFPA’s works includes ensuring people’s access to essential services, particularly sexual and reproductive health care, as they move to and live in urban areas. More at http://www.unfpa.org/urbanization

Director, US National Commission Ron Bogle outlined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) guiding principles for World Heritage Sites and how these are identified and approved in the U.S. For an interactive map of World Heritage Sites, see http://whc.unesco.org/en/interactive-map/. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage. The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself. Ron detailed some of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention and noted the many challenges for U.S. sites to be nominated and adopted.

Urban Environmental Officer Andrew Rudd presented the current status of United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) New Urban Agenda. The New Urban Agenda (NUAU) sets global standards for sustainable development and—in conjunction with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—provides guidance for urban planning. A planning-annotated version of the New Urban Agenda can be viewed here https://isocarp.org/app/uploads/2016/11/New-Urban-Agenda-Planning.pdf. Currently the focus is on implementation of the NUA and SDGs to “work towards an urban paradigm shift.” UN-Habitat also recently published the “International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning” which are synchronized with the New Urban Agenda. The Guidelines can be downloaded at https://unhabitat.org/?mbt_book=international-guidelines-on-urban-and-territorial-planning

One of the key developments for urban planning in the United Nations is the inclusion of developed countries as leaders for urban sustainability initiatives not only overseas, but also within their own boundaries. It is critical that the U.S. adopt sustainability measures relevant to global climate change, fiscal crisis and population growth.


Jens Aerts UNICEF jaerts@unicef.org
Daniel Schensul UN Population Fund
Ron Bogle UNESCO
Andrew Rudd UN-HABITAT
Ric Stephens APA-International Division / ISOCARP

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