The New Urban Agenda (NUA)[1] is the outcome document of the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development (Habitat III) which took place in October 2016 in Quito, Ecuador – read more here for a brief description of this historic event. With a new vision on urban and territorial planning and development, the Agenda provides guidance to nation-states, cities, regional authorities, civil society, international development funders, academic researches and United Nations agencies in their thinking about global urbanisation and sustainable development for the next 20 years – see further for a brief presentation of the ‘New Urban Vision’.


The previous urban agenda is contained in the outcome document of Habitat II: Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements (‘Habitat Agenda’). It was agreed upon in 1996 and calls for adequate shelter for all and sustainable development in an urbanising world. Since that time, more than 100 countries have adopted constitutional rights to housing. In addition, the MDGs focused on reducing extreme poverty and environmental sustainability that are also closely linked with the Habitat Agenda – read more on the evolution of the Habitat Agenda here.

Habitat III also emphasised, more than ever, the importance of urban and territorial planning as a means to realise the SDGs and the concurrent NUA.

  • “By readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, Designed, financed, developed, governed and managed, the New Urban Agenda will help to end poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions, reduce inequalities, promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, in order to fully harness their vital contribution to sustainable development, improve human health and well-being, as well as foster resilience and protect the environment.”[1]

The New Urban Agenda also makes explicit reference to UN-Habitat’s governance and planning guidelines[2]:

The Guidelines thus provide a crucial mechanism to contribute to the implementation of both the SDGs and the NUA. Roughly 33 out of the 175 NUA points outline planning and managing urban spatial development, while many more are related to governance, decentralisation and access to basic services. Integrated planning will aim to balance short-term needs with long-term desired outcomes. Among the issues addressed are food security, the interrelationships of cities and territories, mixed social and economic uses, and quality public spaces. Road safety, affordable, accessible and sustainable urban mobility, water management and climate risk are also specific focus points. Culture will be included as a priority component of urban plans and strategies. Roughly 15 points outline the necessary follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda and its implementation[3]. This will be done to track progress, assess impact, ensure effective and timely implementation, accountability and transparency. UN-Habitat is recognised as a focal point for sustainable urbanisation. Quantitative and qualitative analysis, regular assessments, along with meetings and conferences, will support follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda. The New Urban Agenda’s and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s follow-up and review must have effective linkages to ensure coherence in their implementation. For a compilation of key elements of the shared vision expressed in the New Urban Agenda, click here.

New Urban Vision

“We share a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements, to foster prosperity and quality of life for all. We note the efforts of some national and local governments to enshrine this vision, referred to as right to the city, in their legislations, political declarations and charters.” [4]

“We envisage cities and human settlements that:

(a) fulfil their social function, including the social and ecological function of land, with a view to progressively achieve the full realisation of the right to adequate housing, as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, without discrimination, universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation, as well as equal access for all to public goods and quality services in areas such as food security and nutrition, health, education, infrastructure, mobility and transportation, energy, air quality, and livelihoods;

(b) are participatory, promote civic engagement, engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants, prioritise safe, inclusive, accessible, green, and quality public spaces, friendly for families, enhance social and intergenerational interactions, cultural expressions, and political participation, as appropriate, and foster social cohesion, inclusion, and safety in peaceful and pluralistic societies, where the needs of all inhabitants are met, recognising the specific needs of those in vulnerable situations;

(c) achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making, and by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value for all women, as well as preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces;

(d) meet the challenges and opportunities of present and future sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, leveraging urbanisation for structural transformation, high productivity, value- added activities, and resource efficiency, harnessing local economies, taking note of the contribution of the informal economy while supporting a sustainable transition to the formal economy;

(e) fulfil their territorial functions across administrative boundaries, and act as hubs and drivers for balanced sustainable and integrated urban and territorial development at all levels;

(f) promote age- and gender-responsive planning and investment for sustainable, safe, and accessible urban mobility for all and resource efficient transport systems for passengers and freight, effectively linking people, places, goods, services, and economic opportunities;

(g) adopt and implement disaster risk reduction and management, reduce vulnerability, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and man-made hazards, and foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change;

(h) protect, conserve, restore, and promote their ecosystems, water, natural habitats, and biodiversity, minimise their environmental impact, and change to sustainable consumption and production patterns.”[5]

“We will support implementing integrated, polycentric, and balanced territorial development policies and plans, encouraging cooperation and mutual support among different scales of cities and human settlements, strengthening the role of small and intermediate cities and towns in enhancing food security and nutrition systems, providing access to housing, infrastructure, and services, and facilitate effective trade links, across the urban-rural continuum, ensuring that small scale farmers and fishers are linked to regional and global value chains and markets. We will also support urban agriculture and farming as well as responsible local sustainable consumption and production, and social interactions through enabling accessible networks of local markets and commerce as an option to contribute to sustainability and food security.” [6]

While the New Urban Vision has many mothers and fathers some of them had a larger than average impact, including former Executive Director Joan Clos and his ‘special friends’ Saskia Sassen, Richard Sennet and Ricky Burden. When the four of them took the stage at Habitat III in Quito, the large aula was packed to the roof. A year after, their inspiring thoughts were published in ‘The Quito Papers and The New Urban Agenda’. Their vision pivots around three central pillars: ‘the open city’, ‘redistribution policies’ and ‘contemporary urbanism’.

[1]  NUA, op. cit., Point 5

[2] NUA, op. cit., Points 85 and 93 – the amalgamation is done by the author

[3] See ‘The NUA Explainer’,

[4] NUA, op. cit., Point 11

[5] NUA, op. cit., Point 13

[6] NUA, op. cit., Point 95




[1]  ‘NUA’, Draft outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), A/CONF.226/4, available in six languages on, further referenced as ‘NUA’.