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by Nélida Quintero, a psychologist, licensed architect, and American Psychological Association NGO Representative at the United Nations continues her Habitat III policy analysis series.
What is the 'New Urban Agenda'?
In October, countries all over the world will be adopting a 'new urban agenda' at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador. The New Urban Agenda “will drive the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially Goal 11, of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”(Preamble,p.1). After extensive input from a wide range of consultations, issue papers and policy papers, a New Urban Agenda (Zero Draft) has recently been released. This is the first draft of a global framework of actions for housing and sustainable urban development that will continue to be commented on, discussed and revised until the Habitat III meeting where a final version will be agreed upon.
What's in the UN's Zero Draft?
The Zero Draft document consists of a declaration on Cities for All, and an implementation plan for the New Urban Agenda: transformative commitments for sustainable urban development; effective implementation; and follow-up and review. The Zero Draft delineates a vision of sustainable urbanization that is people-centered and promotes equality and inclusion for all, including women, children and youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations, such as refugees, migrants and displaced persons. The draft document stresses the need for access to adequate housing, quality public space, public goods and services, livelihoods and work. “We envisage cities and human settlements…putting people in the center, and offer quality of life beyond the mere provision of infrastructure and services.” (5(a), p.2) It also calls for the design of cities resilient to natural and man-mad hazards, and underlines the importance of participatory processes in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and budgeting of urban policies and plans.
Where is mental health in the New Urban Agenda and the Zero Draft?
So where does mental health fit into the 175 paragraphs of the document? Cities that commit to working towards implementing the New Urban Agenda vision will, in developing inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable urban environments, also promote and sustain the physical and mental health of their inhabitants. Indeed, well-being and health are mentioned throughout the document, underlining the interaction between the urban environment and health: “Cities are human creations, places in which we aspire to enable inhabitants to lead peaceful, healthy, prosperous, and free lives with full respect of human rights for all”(p.1). The city proposed by this draft is sensitive to such elements of urban life that may impact well-being, addressing discrimination, equitable access to resources, adequate housing, public spaces and opportunities for work.
What does the Zero Draft say about urban planning and design for better mental health?
The important role of urban planning and design in influencing behavior and determinants of mental health is specifically stressed in the Zero Draft: “spatial organization, patterns and design of urban space together with development policies can promote or hinder social cohesion, equity, and inclusion, as well as the reduction of poverty and hunger.” (A22, p.5) Public space in particular is noted for its potential role in influencing human behavior and well-being by "enhancing social interactions and political participation, promoting socio-cultural expressions, embracing diversity, and fostering safety and social cohesion” (5e, p.2) Green public spaces are underlined for their “positive impacts on health and well-being”(71, p.10) as well as for their provision of ecosystem services. The draft also considers elements of city design that can impact people's emotional and social lives by enhancing or impeding access to goods, services and opportunities: for instance, whether a person can reach work, health care centers, or healthy food; enjoy a walk in the park; and interact with others in a safe neighborhood.
Participatory processes are mentioned multiple times for their role in generating a sense of belonging and ownership of the city, which help promote civic engagement and a sense of empowerment. The draft is clear that city dwellers should therefore have the opportunity to participate “in the formulation, implementation, monitoring, and budgeting of urban policies and plans, strengthening effectiveness, transparency, and accountability." (5g, p.2)
As urban populations grow, the need to research, design and maintain cities that support the physical, social and emotional needs of its inhabitants will continue to be an important task. The Zero Draft of the New Urban Agenda underlines relevant issues needed to address in this endeavor and calls for global commitments to make urban life better for all.
The Zero Draft and most updated revisions can be found at: https://www.habitat3.org/zerodraft where you can provide feedback to them until 7th July.
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