From UN Habitat III: Reimagining a More Equitable World


Tuesday was a rush of adrenaline here at the UN Habitat III convening in Quito, Ecuador, and throughout the day I felt an overwhelming sense of exhilaration by being amongst such esteemed and earnest peers from all over the world who are focusing on exactly what our mission is at the Santa Fe Art Institute, “to re-imagine a more equitable world.” After a frantic Monday, which included standing in a security line for two hours, by Tuesday I was a pro successfully navigating the Habitat III grounds, which are beautiful but mazelike, to rest in the New Urban Agenda pavilion, people-watch, and find a delicious cup of coffee.

But don’t let me give you the idea that life on Tuesday was restful! I was thrilled to organize a successful panel on Re-imagining a more equitable world through the arts, culture, and design at the Next City World Stage panel, with Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic at the New York Times, as moderator. Chelina Odbert from Kounkuey Design Initiative talked about why quantity should not trump quality, and stated “a poorly designed space without community input or consideration of culture will create negative economic and social impacts for future generations.” Joseph Kunkel from Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative described an Artplace America-funded project that incorporates art, culture, design and urban planning around a rural TOD project at Santo Domingo Pueblo, in New Mexico. Ari Simon, Vice President of the Kresge Foundation, stated that “Kresge deeply believes that arts and culture should be considered as integral to the built environment as housing, health, and transportation.”

I also presented as an AIA representative at the International Union of Architects (UIA) side event, as to why new narratives are critical to disrupting inequality, and why architects and planners have a responsibility to expect more from projects, including elevating voices, celebrating culture, and providing jobs and training. It was amazing to be amongst such talented and passionate peers from around the world, including Bangladesh, India, England, Sudan, and Ecuador!

I attended the Accessible and Affordable Housing High Level Roundtable, presided by HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and witnessed the pomp and protocol that is the United Nations. Secretary Castro discussed an exciting new initiative, the Prosperity Pathway, which will be a regional effort to provide cities and states with best practices and technical support toward wise policymaking. The highlight of the day was an opportunity to meet Secretary Castro!

The conversation on the ground here seems to always turn to how local and regional stakeholders and decision-makers will implement this ambitious New Urban Agenda. We will all have significant work to do in the U.S., including multiple regional convenings to make sure that local and regional governments can help live up to these lofty national and international goals. I am grateful to have this opportunity to serve as an AIA delegate, and I am thinking deeply about how thematic programming at SFAI can serve the work being done here in Quito.