Our Head of Education and Training at IHS - Jan Fransen – is a Senior Urban Development Specialist, who focuses on poverty alleviation and local economic development. Besides lecturing at IHS and in different countries all around the world, Jan’s main duties include also providing technical advisory services to local and national governments. His participation at the Habitat III conference in Quito, this year, brought back broad insights from the urban field.
“The conference formally approved the New Urban Agenda, giving hands and feet to target 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities. The SDGs and New Urban Agenda break away from the narrow focus on the quality of life in slums of the previous Millennium Development Goals. Instead, they adopt a much broader perspective on the transformations of cities towards sustainability and inclusiveness.
So, what is new? How does Habitat III affect IHS? In all fairness: not so much. The policy changes have been ongoing for quite some time. In its courses, research and advisory work, IHS already adopts the broader focus and content-wise, we appear to be at the forefront. That is good news. It appears that the need for capacity building has increased over time, and therefore the need for IHS and its services has increased as well. The need for capacity building is fully acknowledged by the New Urban Agenda. An excellent study of The New School shows that cities all over the world have improved on indicators of development, while the capacity to manage cities has decreased over time. Another study of Cities Alliance shows that African cities run at 28 percent of the capacity they need. These are frightening statistics.
In the light of the above, the Habitat III conference extensively discussed what the most efficient way to build urban capacity is. IHS played a very active role in these debates, running its own networking event, alumni events and a range of formal and informal meetings. I conclude that it is all a matter of scale: urban transformations demand international, national, urban and local policies and action. As an international institute, unfortunately we cannot build everybody’s capacities. At best we can train selected (future) urban leaders and share relevant applied knowledge on what works and what doesn’t. We can also network even more with strong international, national and local universities, and offer e-learning courses. We can and must improve upon those issues in order to impact even more on cities around the globe. My lesson learned at Habitat III is, thus, not in the knowledge on urban development (the ‘what’), but in the processes to transfer applied urban knowledge to those who need it (the ‘how’).”