What New Urban Agenda means for architects

Brighter shot of Franklinton in Columbus

A recently demolished building in the Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, an area that will be targeted by the Strategic Council's CAPNUA initiative.

How AIA's Strategic Council is encouraging communities to embrace sustainable urbanization

The United Nations convened its Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, referred to as UN Habitat III, in Quito, Ecuador in October of 2016. This is the third international Habitat conference, with each meeting occurring 20 years apart. The conference was attended by 30,000 representatives from 167 countries, and AIA sent a delegation that included 2016 AIA President Russell A. Davidson, FAIA, along with staff and members.

The outcome of the Quito conference is a document titled New Urban Agenda. The agenda is focused towards renewing the global commitment to sustainable urbanization, building on the initiatives adopted at Habitat II held in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996. When Habitat I convened in 1976, the percentage of the world’s population living in cities was 37.9; it was 45.1 percent at the convening of Habitat II in 1996; and this past year in Quito, it was 54.5 percent. By 2050, that number is projected to increase to 75 percent. It is estimated that two billion people will require housing by 2030 alone. These numbers demonstrate the massive migration of people to cities across the globe, driven by matters such as employment opportunities, war, political strife, and climatic changes. Ultimately, the impacts on urban and rural environments will be monumental.

New Urban Agenda is not a checklist but a modifiable guide that can be tailored to the specific needs and issues unique to any community. It is wholly scalar and simultaneously applicable to mega cities, peri-urban, and rural communities. It serves to assist local and regional governments in addressing challenges such as creating sustainable development designed with sensitivity to urban ecology and resiliency, with a keen eye towards optimizing infrastructure and transportation.

It also speaks to inclusiveness of underrepresented populations in the process of urban development, addressing their “rights to the city” and aligning with issues of housing tenure, health, women’s and children’s rights, diversity, access to services, urban space and cultural amenities, to name but a few. In addition to being inclusive of the spectrum of the populace that will be inhabiting these places, the planning process must also represent diverse constituencies, including economists, financiers, planners, governmental organizations, and architects.

New Urban Agenda, simply stated, is a call to action for all architects.

Architects, with our “design thinking” expertise and desire to engage in visionary work, are uniquely qualified to be at the forefront of engaging New Urban Agenda within our communities. It will act as a natural extension of the skills architects already possess within our existing expertise in areas like sustainability and resiliency. We need to be at the forefront of this effort in our communities; it is a moral imperative for the human populace and the planet. The New Urban Agenda, simply stated, is a call to action for all architects.

AIA plots a course forward

As such, AIA's Strategic Council is working to prototype an engagement initiative called Communication, Advocacy, and Policy of New Urban Agenda (CAPNUA), which will heighten interest in New Urban Agenda, educate communities to the potential associated with planning, and strengthen future design outcomes across the country. This initiative will be administered in geographically and culturally diverse locations of various scales. Plans are currently in place in Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; Honolulu; Indianapolis; and Miami. Each city will bring a unique, localized structure to their engagement project. In Indianapolis and Austin, the program will be linked to regional architectural conferences. In other communities, the engagement will be jointly supported by organizations representing landscape architects and planners and focused on compelling local issues.

In Columbus, the CAPNUA initiative will focus on Franklinton, a historically neglected neighborhood within the urban core of this growing metropolis. Columbus CAPNUA organizers seek to expand the Franklinton dialogue and planning efforts to factor in principles of New Urban Agenda. Event planners will include architects, landscape architects, and planners.

The CAPNUA initiative will test engagement in a variety of settings in 2017 and seek to extract lessons in preparation for a larger, more robust engagement program role in 2018. How can AIA members help? We are currently looking for small- (50,000 or less) and medium- (around 100,000) scale communities in the northeast or western United States to participate in this endeavor. If your community fits this description and you are interested in participating, please contact Chere LeClair or Tim Hawk.

Tim Hawk, FAIA, is president at WSA Studio. Chere LeClair, AIA, is president at LeClair Architects and an associate professor at Montana State University's School of Architecture. Derek Washam is manager of international relations at AIA.

Image credits

Brighter shot of Franklinton in Columbus

Paul Sableman

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