Leaving governance behind? Habitat III and Spatial Justice

Contemporary urbanism is embracing the complexity of spatial policy and planning practises, leading to a more intense relationship between government, practitioners, social actors and the private sectors. This complexity of negotiation processes impacts the role and relevance of spatial justice as an innate guiding value in the making of cities worldwide, trigging questions on the significance of common governance principles.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was recently adopted at the Habitat III in Quito (October 2016) to lay out the international vision on development challenges and required changes for the next 20 years. The document, signed by more than 170 governments, however, largely fails to respond to the questions of negotiations, commonalities/ divergences, and complexity. Instead it brought two conflicting concepts forward: in an attempt to connect to the Sustainable Development Goals, the expressively charitable goal of “leaving no one behind” is aimed at finding consent with governments. The perspective on the marginalised is driven by a concept of functional integration of the urban poor and “enabled” markets to enlarge their business opportunities to the bottom of the pyramid. On the other hand, the rather opposing concept of “the right to the city” is a relatively recent addition to the UN-Habitat vocabulary and meant to empower all citizens to ensure their access to land, services and social participation, among other rights. The “right to the city” can be understood as the conceptual answer to the need to transcend the conventional citizen enfranchisement.

The co-existence of both concepts in the same agenda reveals not only coordination problems of international agreements but also indicates the deep crisis of urban governance. While UN-Habitat attempts to frame the NUA around the notion “The Future We Want – The City We Need”, the question that remains unaddressed is how to actually translate the broadly idealistic NUA into the Realpolitik of national agendas, where it is up to countries to take up (or leave out) the rights-based approach to urban development.

 This session aims at reasserting a theoretical and methodological agenda into the complexities and dynamics that urban governance is facing at various scales. Through an open call, we seek to put together a panel of international cases that dissect the ways spatial justice can be introduced within different political, institutional, regulatory, and geographic contexts. Proposed papers should place cases (ranging from neighbourhoods to nation states and beyond) in relation to the above-mentioned concepts of the “just city” and “the right to the city”. Contributions are also welcomed that highlight the tensions between those concepts with the idea of “leaving no one behind”.

 Drawing from theories of political economy, political ecology, development and urban studies, and spatial justice, this panel invites papers that focus on:

Guiding values and the NUA: what principles are used in national and sub-national urban policy making in the context of the urban agenda?

Policy mobility and the NUA: The role of knowledge and professionals in the urban agenda and its translation into specific geographies;

Urban Transformation and the NUA: (a) Conceptualizations of spatial justice versus right to the city discussed in the light of urban poor, segregation, gentrification, upgrading etc.?, (b) Intersection of spatial justice with the “worlding cities”, focusing on the North/ South divide?

 * The organizers of the panel have accompanied in various roles and through different constituencies in the Habitat III process: being part of a think tank that critically reflected on the agenda (NAERUS/ Cities Alliance). Through active participation in the Researchers and Academic Constituent Group of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) we would like to take the findings back and explore ways to publish this work.

Dr. Sukanya Krishnamurthy, Eindhoven University of Technology s.krishnamurthy@tue.nl

Dr. Alexander R. Jachnow, Erasmus University Rotterdam a.jachnow@ihs.nl