img(height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="")

Jane Duncan

What has the New Urban Agenda got to do with a practising architect?

The best way to predict the future is to design it – Buckminster Fuller

The 21st century is already called the urban century. More than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas and by 2030, the number is expected to rise to over 60%. More people will move to cities in the next 40 years than in the entire span of human history, and cities are increasingly seen as prime economic drivers in the world economy. That will create a host of new issues as countries face the challenges of growing urban populations, including the delivery of sustainable policies for housing and the environment, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment, as well as the provision of basic services such as education and health care. 

 Last year the RIBA, Royal Town Planning Institute and Institution of Structural Engineers announced the formation of the UK’s first advisory group on built environment issues within a global humanitarian context at the Habitat III conference in ­Quito. Habitat III focused entirely on urbanisation and marked the launch of the New ​­Urban Agenda, a United Nations policy drafted following two years of engagement with major cities and urban practitioners.

So what does the New Urban Agenda mean to us as architects already involved in the design and conservation of the world’s urban spaces? Is there a reason for the absence of most architects from this global conversation about the future path of urbanisation? How can our profession discover what the opportunities are for contributing to the roadmap and find routes to what will be plentiful and meaningful work? 

On 5 July, at the RIBA International conference ‘Change in the City’, we will ask the author himself, Dr Joan Clos – executive director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), secretary-general of Habitat III and unofficial world leader for cities.  

We architects have a responsibility to the global community who are seeking innovative, creative urban solutions towards achieving this new international agreement

From gender-equity to youth-empowerment, participatory planning to inclusive public space, The New Urban Agenda sets a high benchmark for the type of urban development we should strive for, and a global accountability framework for achieving it.  Surely we architects have a responsibility to the global community who are seeking innovative, creative urban solutions that take steps towards achieving this new international agreement?

As practitioners we can play a social activist role, and be encouraged to use increasingly proactive relevant research-based approaches. Research, academia and practice should reinforce each other, and the solutions provided can then be incorporated into policy-making.

I hope to hear that Joan Clos understands the influence that architects already have in the built urban environment, as we are trained in the very skills needed to solve many of the challenges defined within the New Urban Agenda, such as planning for climate change, providing innovative and sustainable housing solutions, designing sustainable urban transportation, and delivering environmentally sensitive infrastructure services. 

I encourage you to come to this and other events in our RIBA International Week. This is your chance to network with future international partners, listen to an extraordinary line up of influential speakers including Odile Decq, David Chipperfield, Francis Kéré and Amanda Levete, and engage with and profit from the key issue of our century.


Points for the hustings

The RIBA has called on all political parties to champion architects and the built environment in its manifesto Building Global Britain, published ahead of this year’s snap general election.