The New Urban Agenda


What is ‘The New Urban Agenda?

The United Nations conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) is aimed at ‘reinvigorating’ the global political commitment to the sustainable development of towns, cities and other human settlements, both rural and urban.1 UN Habitat is striving to arrive at a consensus on an urban agenda that would commit countries to sustainable urbanisation ‘which is now more critical than ever as populations, social interactions, economic activities and environmental impacts are increasingly concentrated in cities’. The product of that reinvigoration, along with pledges and new obligations, is being referred to as the New Urban Agenda. This agenda will set a new global strategy around urbanisation for the next two decades.

The New Urban Agenda, which is likely to be adopted during Habitat III acknowledges that culture and cultural diversity are sources of enrichment for humankind and provide an important contribution to the sustainable development of cities, human settlements and citizens, empowering them to play an active and unique role in development initiatives. It further recognises that culture should be taken into account in the promotion and implementation of new sustainable consumption and production patterns that contribute to the responsible use of resources.

India’s Approach to Urbanisation and Commitment to Global Initiatives

Urban India constitutes nearly 32% of the national population. Urban activities, having accrued nearly 60% of the country’s gross domestic product, have resulted in a noticeable shift in the structure of Indian economy.

Since the adoption of Habitat II agenda in 1996, India’s urban sector has witnessed several important changes. Between 1996 and 2015, India has added approximately 171 million people to its urban population base and has expanded its urban footprint to 7,933 settlements. During this period, even though India has been successful in lifting 15 million persons out of poverty in the urban areas, registered a significant decrease in the proportion of slum population, ensured outreach of services and infrastructure to 75% in case of access to water and 81% in case of access to laterine; significant service deficit still exists. It has also been observed that the institutional mechanisms, requisite governance structures and necessary financial systems are not in place to keep pace with the demographic and economic changes happening with increase in urbanisation.

According to UN estimates, India’s urban population base would be nearly 606 million by the year 2030. This increase in population from the present figure of 428 million (UN,2015) is enough to impact the global averages in terms of key urban development indicators such as water supply, sanitation, urban sprawl, urban governance among others. The central government has duly recognised the importance of urban centres for the country’s sustained growth. In its current approach to urbanisation, the national focus is on several objectives:
(i) urbanisation must generate growth and enhance economic productivity and competitiveness;
(ii) it should be inclusive and sustainable;
(iii) it should aim at preservation and revitalisation of history, culture and heritage; and
(iv) it should contribute to the development of rural areas and strengthen rural-urban interdependencies.

Consistent with these goals and objectives, the Government of India has launched a number of missions, the key ones being the Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation of Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana- Housing For All (HFA), Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) and Rurban Mission.

Indian Urban Initiatives and the New Urban Agenda

Having crossed the threshold 30% mark for urban population (the stage from where the urban population growth accelerates) and in the light of the New Urban Agenda, which when adopted, would set the global strategy for urbanisation for the next two decades, Government of India has laid down its path of action in form of India National report for Habitat III. As a component of this report, India recognises the place of cities in the country’s transformation and notes its commitment to im-plementing the Sustainable Development Goal 11 and the New Urban Agenda .
It plans to reinforce the urbanisation process with an agenda that comprises the following levers that would make cities work towards greater productivity, inclusion, sustainability and rural-urban linkages. The levers2 are:

1. Adoption of integrated and coherent urban policies consistent with the principle of cooperative federalism:

Urban policies will be driven by considerations of efficiency, inclusion, sustainability and safety and work towards universality of the urban agenda across different tiers of the government.

2. Harmonising agglomeration economies with focus on the promotion of compact and cluster urban development within a regional, rural-urban framework:

Focus would be on elimination of barriers to the flow of factors of production (land, labour and capital), promotion of compact and cluster urban development within a regional, rural-urban framework, boosting economic density and providing support to initiatives that favour synergies and innovations linked to the promotion of local economic development and creating skilled human resources for better employment opportunities.

3. Harnessing rural-urban continuum:

The new initiative of RURBAN Mission is a step in this direction. The focus would be to have appropriate synergy and convergence of various schemes of different ministries for sustainable and inclusive rural-urban continuum, such that rural and urban areas grow in a symbiotic manner by adopting a ‘regional planning approach’.

4. Promoting inclusive urban development:

A mix of strategies targeted at universalisation of basic services, governance mechanisms focused at social cohesion, access to housing as a means of reducing poverty and strategies for reducing working poverty

5. Recognising and actively promoting the centrality of sustainability in urban policy:

The new urban agenda will focus on cutting down of waste, savings in energy consumption particularly in buildings and protection of green spaces. These are not merely technical problems and are proposed to be addressed with education, citizens’ participation and campaigns for environmental protection.

6. Empowering municipalities and other local-level institutions:

Municipalities will be prepared to create local institutions to manage and maintain infrastructure services, implement the right process to increase productivity and deal with exclusion and build capabilities in public services.

7. Strengthening housing-finance systems:

The focus would be on strengthening the housing finance system in the country for accessible housing finance for the urban poor by addressing demand-side and supply-side constraints.

8. Provision and financing of urban infrastructure and basic services:

The new urban agenda would focus on providing infrastructure facilities, phys-ical and social, for all. That includes ensuring sustainable access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation, drainage, solid waste management, clean domestic energy and sustainable mobility.

9. Enhancing access to social justice and gender equity:

The new urban agenda would ensure social justice and gender equity in the development process by providing spaces and services conducive for the young, especially women and children

10. Development of a robust urban information system:

The urban agenda would also focus on developing an authentic, reliable and robust database and urban information system at city, state and national levels. The urban information system would cover, among others, the areas of urban poverty, slums, housing, basic services and urbanisation related indicators.

Despite being non-binding in nature, the new Urban Agenda helps to inform globally the need for different approaches in urban policies to enable cities to become the engines of inclusive growth with due importance to citizens’ rights. Nationally, the robust commitment to the New Urban Agenda (and Goal 11 of Sustainable Development Goals) highlights the absence of a comprehensive national urban and habitat policy. The lack of a defined policy framework for cohesive urban development would make it challenging to ensure the fructification of the commitments. It is imperative that the nation, to ensure citizen welfare as committed, moves forward in a cohesive manner and formulates a defined approach for urban development to ensure a holistic growth.   

Anurita Bhatnagar

2   Excerpts from India Habitat III National Report, 2016

•  The New Urban Agenda 91?vid=588897&disposition=inline&op=view
• India Habitat III National report

Back to Contents

  Share Subscribe Home

Contact Us

About Us