I am sitting in a very large room with concentric rings of desks with name placards on them indicating the country you are representing. Am I in the AIA Board room? Surprisingly, no. I am part of the United States delegation to the United Nations Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador. As president of the AIA I am honored to represent our profession here at an international gathering of more than 40,000 individuals from all over the globe to set a path forward toward sustainable urban development.
In a few minutes, the closing plenary session will commence and the gathered delegates will formally adopt the New Urban Agenda. Teams of diplomats and others involved in the planning, design, and financing have negotiated this document for months. Many of those involved in the creation of this document are architects; some are AIA architects.
As a practicing architect who is very involved in the physical building of projects, it is sometimes challenging to participate in conferences such as this, which is focused on talking about what should be done. As architects, we appreciate the specific, concrete action plans. Many of the elements of the New Urban Agenda have long been a priority for development in the U.S. and are already incorporated into the public policies of the AIA.
Nonetheless, when I to hear of others challenges and listen to the various panel discussions, it reinforces my belief that the entire world is facing similar issues, including:
- implementing sustainable building practices;
- creating and maintaining adequate infrastructure;
- establishing effective transportation systems;
- remaining resilient in the face of natural and man-made disasters;
- dealing with the effects of climate change;
- and providing adequate housing for their citizens.
It is truly more than just talk. The world came together here in Quito, and it established a common agenda. An agenda about planning, design and architecture and much more, including social justice, reforming governance, making cities safe for women, and providing equal access to cities and housing for individuals of all income levels. The United States government and the AIA are well represented here, and it is clear that we have a responsibility to continue to lead in implementing this plan for sustainable urban development.
Efforts like this are ambitious. They can take generations to implement—but there are some notable milestones. Today is one of those milestones. The United Nations delegations represented here just adopted the New Urban Agenda. With thousands standing and clapping, there is a palpable feeling in the hall that something critical to the future of the world’s cities just happened.
Russ Davidson, FAIA
AIA National President 2016
UN Habitat III - October 20, 2016 – Quito, Ecuador