Quito, Ecuador, host of UN Habitat III, is a microcosm of challenges facing cities in an urbanizing world

UN Habitat III in Quito featured thousands of sessions on every imaginable topic relating to planning, financing, housing, accessibility, culture and women’s right to the city and public spaces.

Mural in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Dennis Carr.

Quito and Habitat III

The UN Habitat III conference in Quito will be the first time in 20 years (and the third since 1976) that the international community reinvigorates its commitment to the sustainable development of towns, cities and other human settlements, both rural and urban.

The product of that renewal is the New Urban Agenda. That agenda will set a new global strategy around urbanization for the next two decades.

Nestled at an altitude of 2,850 metres in a valley surrounded on all sides by Andes foothills and volcanos, Quito and its surroundings are full of historic, cultural and environmental treasures. 

View from above Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Dennis Carr.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage City and has been recognized for being a leader in planning for climate change adaptation and the current government’s development approach has emphasized housing and quality of life.  

Quito is also a microcosm of the challenges facing cities in a rapidly urbanizing world.

With a population of 2.6 million, it faces the same hurdles that other developing cities face as they try to accommodate growth without falling back on urban planning decisions that displace low-income communities and favour cars over people. 

BicaQuito Bike Share in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Dennis Carr.

Participants at Habitat III in Quito were treated to a dazzling array of workshops, networking events, dialogues, training events, plenaries, high level round tables, etc.

There were thousands of sessions on every imaginable topic relating to planning, financing, housing, accessibility culture, women’s right to the city, public spaces etc.

There was even a workshop on using Minecraft as a planning tool. 

Also included in the compound was a formal country and non-governmental-organization exhibition area while outside the compound, spread around the central area of Quito, was a selection of satellite pop-up exhibits and parallel events including the Habitat III Resistance Forum held at the local university. 

With so many dignitaries assembled, there were long queues for airport-style baggage checks with lines of attendees snaking back through the rest of the park as they wait for hours in the equatorial sun to get on site. 

UN Habitat III attendees lining up to enter the exhibition area. Photo by Dennis Carr.

These long line-ups to enter the formal Habitat III meeting hall in Quito was symbolic of the two solitudes referenced in the principles of New Urban Agenda.

There was security and fencing around the venue and great frustration over the long waits to enter the facility for the regular delegates versus relatively easy access for the state-sponsored delegates. 

While this underlined the importance of inclusivity in planning it also reminded those in the line-up, as it wound through the large El Arbolito Park, about the power of public spaces.

Those in line became participants in the agora, experiencing vendors hawking goods (including over-priced Panama hats to ward off the equatorial sun), children playing, adults strolling, public art, inexpensive street food and even peaceful demonstrations. 

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