Habitat III Delegate Cassandra Cohen featured in Quarterly Access Journal

Cassandra attended the 2016 Habitat III Conference in Quito, representing RMIT University. You can read her policy paper here or by copying the following URL into your browser: http://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/collaborate-or-compete-opportunities-to-adapt-australias-smart-cities-plan-to-develop-a-stronger-pathway-to-achieving-sdg11-by-2030/ 

Habitat III: Final Wrap-Up

By Sadman Shafiq, Swinburne University.

Our third day in Quito started off bright and early with unexpected sunshine. We arrived at the conference ready for another full day of events.

First off was the Inclusive Cities Special Session, where the powerhouse of the speakers included the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, whose parting words were truly awe-inspiring. Her thoughts on fragmented cities facing discrimination, holding governments and all levels of municipality accountable, and encouraging active participation of all citizens as right holders, resounded throughout the whole discussion. The questions raised by the public were thought provoking and created the space for a higher level of discourse.

Next up was a High Level Round Table discussing integrated strategic planning and management. I took Australia’s seat at the Round Table alongside Victorian State Government Representative, Mia Davison. I found the Panel very informative regarding Sweden, Finland, and South Africa’s approaches in order to create an integrated, long-term plan for sustainable management.

The panel’s debate was cut short due to our next meeting with UN Human Settlements Officer, Bernhard Berth, based in the Asia Pacific Region. He shared his insights working with communities in Laos and in the Philippines and discussed how disaster risk prevention and rebuilding efforts are developed in these areas. His insight into the UN Internship Program also provided essential information about writing applications for internships and developing a career at the UN. 

After a quick get together with the Canada Youth Delegate we went inside the Plenary to hear Australia’s response to the New Urban Agenda (NUA). Australian Ambassador to the UN, Gillian Bird, acknowledged Australia’s urban problems, pledging to implement the NUA within Australia. Along with the initiative to create a Ministry for Cities, and the launch of the Government’s Smart Cities Plan, Australia’s position firmly supports the NUA.

Global Voices delegates with students and experts of T-Cubo think tank

Global Voices delegates with students and experts of T-Cubo think tank

We left for lunch and took a taxi to Universidad de los Hemisferios where we met with the experts of Ecuadorian think tank T-Cubo for a youth workshop. I was blown away by the formality and the number of students that showed up to work with us on broad questions related to the NUA. We were divided up along with experts and students in order to brainstorm policies. It was refreshing to find that the topics we discussed had both local and international parallels that ended up creating a strong link between us. With help from the T-Cubo experts, we presented what we perceived to be problems or issues and our recommendations for action. The two-hour session flew by and was followed by a well-deserved round of drinks.

Finally, we met with the Brazilian delegates from Instituto Global Attitude and the New Zealand delegates from Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute. We discussed many topics and bonded over our experiences in Habitat.

It was an amazing day: Bernhard’s outlook over Urban Planning in the Asia Pacific and UN Internships was enlightening, the Habitat III sessions continue to provide thoughtful discussion around the implementation of the NUA, and the scale and generosity of the students and the experts in the University workshop were both impressive and humbling.

Our final day wrapped up the Global Voices Habitat III experience perfectly. We were honoured to witness the adoption of the New Urban Agenda in Quito, which maps the future of urban development over the next 20 years. Thanks to RMIT, Swinburne and Griffith for supporting our delegation during this once in a life time experience.

Muchas Gracias por todo Habitat III and Global Voices! 


Habitat III: Day 2 Wrap-Up

By Rufael Tsegay, RMIT University

The day began with a proud moment when Sadman successfully (in Spanish) asked the security guards when the buses were arriving. We then headed to the conference, swiftly entered, and all went our separate ways. Riley and I attended a seminar on the legitimisation of informal settlements through financial arrangements like community savings and microfinance programs. I was happy to hear the perspective of grassroots organisations and their ground-level impact, a pleasant surprise at a global conference. 

After an enthralling morning of events and networking we went to meet Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Gillian Bird. We discussed Australia’s involvement at the UN including its role in negotiations, its operations in the Security Council and our recent campaign to join the United Nations Human Rights Council. We also talked about working in in foreign affairs and the nature of starting a career as a young diplomat. Second Secretary, Julian Simpson, then told us about how he began his career in foreign affairs from a media background, as well as offering some tips and tricks of the trade.

Later in the day Sadman and I went to an academic, intergovernmental discussion on cities and their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A recurring theme here was the use of data and the importance of multi-stakeholder development, a key principle of the SDGs as well as Habitat III. The session brought together concepts from the first seminar and brought them to the global context. This helped consolidate the impact of grassroots movements on a much larger international scale.

Our final meeting of the day was with Mia Davison, Principal Planner for the Victorian Government and Jane Stanley, President of the Eastern Regional Organisation for Planning and Housing (EAROPH). Mia talked about her role and unique view of city planning and development. What I enjoyed most was her holistic approach to urban development, using global examples and international conferences to better inform how the Victorian Government plans its cities.

To end the day we had dinner with scholars from the University of Melbourne. Amongst many things, we discussed the conference’s specialities and our experiences in Habitat III and in Quito as a whole. It was an incredibly rewarding experience gaining knowledge and understanding pertaining to how industry leaders view the sector and its changing nature. A major takeaway from the day was the comprehensiveness of the conference and the role grassroots organisations play on a global scale. Also, the small youth presence gave me an added sense of empowerment. Knowing that as some of the youngest attendees we are the generation with a future say, and the exciting responsibility that this brings. 

A second day filled with experiences and insights I would have not received if it not were for this conference. From a new appreciation for bottom-up development to the role us young people play, I am excited to know that through summits like Habitat III we are headed in the right direction. I am eager for the next two days and looking forward to engage and connect with this exciting conference. Thank you Habitat III, thank you Quito, and thank you Global Voices!


Habitat III: Day One Wrap-Up

By Cassandra Cohen, RMIT University 

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  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Habitat III Opening Plenary

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking at the Habitat III Opening Plenary

As we emerged from the airport in Quito after a 30-hour commute from Melbourne, we were amazed by the hoards of volunteers, delegates and taxi drivers waiting to greet us. We knew the conference would be big – this conference only takes place once every 20 years and 50,000 people were registered – but it took seeing the organised chaos at the airport and the entire city covered in ‘Welcome Habitat III citizens’ posters for it to truly sink in. 

After some complex negotiations between the awaiting taxi drivers and my fellow delegate Rufael (our Spanish-speaking savior), we decided to take the Habitat shuttle bus to our hotel to get some shut-eye before our 7am breakfast start.

Having heard tales of eight-hour waits to register for the conference, we had braced ourselves for the worst. Thankfully though, the Global Voices magic delivered and we were able to make our way closer to the front of the queue and into the conference in time to make it to the opening plenary meeting. 

An intense round of ‘paper, scissors, rock’ between the four delegates ensued, and Caleb and I emerged victorious, gaining access to the main room. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the conference, while Habitat III Secretary-General Dr. Joan Clos explained the importance of the New Urban Agenda in promoting equality and sustainability in our cities. It was surreal to be in the company of these highly esteemed leaders, as well as delegates from the UN member states.

After the plenary meeting, we all split up to experience events in our key interest areas. I attended the launch of the National Urban Policy Programme as part of the New Urban Agenda. Each city is unique, and this was perfectly characterised by the contrast between the experiences and living conditions of the German panelist compared to the delegate from Liberia. As a communications student, my key takeaway from this event was the need for effective communication with the public about the purposes and progress of policy formulation, in order to justify their taxpayers’ financial investment.   

Next was the High-Level Roundtable entitled ‘Leave No one Behind: Urban Inclusion and Prosperity.’ While Caleb and I had initially trusted our new Spanish vocabulary (thanks to Rufael) to see us through the session without translator devices, we were unfortunately brought back down to earth when we realised that complex sustainable development issues tend to use words more advanced than ‘Hola’ and ‘Como estas?’

Once the translator devices were secured, I found this session particularly interesting, as delegates from member states and multinational organisations were invited to share their progress in promoting social inclusion in relation to the goals of the New Urban Agenda. For example, a Canadian representative expressed regret that the document avoided mention of the LGBTI community, while the Turkish delegate called on the UN member states to lend greater financial support to the Syrian refugee crisis. Helen Clarke, Administrator of the UN Development Programme, emphasised that the poor are hardest hit by natural disasters, as their homes are not built to withstand such devastation. The session left me with a deeper understanding of the countries’ positions and more aware of the challenging negotiation process that led to the development of the New Urban Agenda.

Our first Global Voices meeting was with Remy Sietchiping and Runze Wang from UN-Habitat in Nairobi. Remy is involved in Regional and Metropolitan Development and Planning, while Runze is an Urban Planning Officer. We were fortunate to hear about the work of UN-Habitat in developing the New Urban Agenda, as well as the negotiation process that occurs between countries to create it. We were also excited to hear about the UN-Habitat internship program, where Runze got his start. Remy and Runze were extremely generous with their time and we thank them for meeting with us. 

With our official duties complete for the day, we ate dinner at a restaurant called ‘Vista Hermosa’ (which Rufael informed us translated to ‘beautiful view’) in the old town of Quito and the 360-degree view certainly didn’t disappoint. 

It was a fantastic first day, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next three days of the conference. I am humbled to have received this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from Global Voices, and I am incredibly grateful to my RMIT University for supporting this experience.