In anticipation of the upcoming UN-Habitat III Conference in Quito Ecuador, Penn IUR and Perry World House hosted an in-depth discussion on the role of the media covering Habitat III and how the general public can follow the conference. On October 4th, attendees gathered for an intimate conversation with speakers Eugenie Birch, Co-Director, Penn IUR; Neal Peirce, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Citiscope; Mythili Sampathkumar, US Editor, Cities Today; and Ariella Cohen, Editor-in-Chief, Next City.
Eugenie Birch introduced the topic by providing a brief background on UN-Habitat’s formation and history. Initially formed with a focus on human settlements, the UN-Habitat program shifted to emphasize city-based solutions to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development as population has increasingly relocated to cities. Now consisting of 193 Member States, UN-Habitat will hold its third global conference on October 17-20, 2016 to bring together members and supporters to pledge commitment to sustainable development and inspire each other towards continued action. Following her introduction, Birch emphasized the important role media plays in this process and initiated a round of questions to the panel of journalists, asking what they do to cover Habitat III and the role of media in sharing the ideas coming out of the conference.
Pierce discussed Citiscope’s recent creation of a major section of their news site, dedicated to providing regular stories on Habitat III and related UN conferences. Citiscope has developed explainers on new terms that may be unfamiliar to readers, created collections of expert commentary on the importance of Habitat III globally, and has planned daily online articles while at the conference along with aggressive follow-up coverage on reactions and follow-through activities. Cohen explained that Next City has taken a different approach to coverage, providing in-depth features that get to the heart of New Urban Agenda goals, but may not specifically callout Habitat III. Next City’s focus, has been to position Habitat III as part of a larger movement aimed at encouraging cities to move forward with sustainability and development goals. Sampathkumar described how Cities Today ran background articles covering previous UN-Habitat meetings written by current and former UN-Habitat staff and developed a report on how Europe can implement the New Urban Agenda after Habitat III, with a similar one in the works for Asia. After the conference, Cities Today plans to focus publications on implementation of next steps, specifically the financing component.
In a discussion following their talks, Peirce asked Birch what she saw as the biggest achievement of the GAP and the most significant frustration. She stressed that getting all the parties to the table to discuss the important issues facing cities was the biggest accomplishment of Habitat III. A significant challenge, however, has been moving from individual opinions to collective action in the face of a range of groups with disparate interests. Following an audience question about the anticipated scale of implementation following the conference, Peirce pointed out that city-level implementation may be challenging because many mayors in the US are not attending Habitat III. Cohen added that the US mayors that will be present at the conference are the ones that are already familiar and on-board with many of the ideas of Habitat III.
Audience members chimed in with a range of inquiries, addressing the inclusion of scholarly research in Habitat III journalism and the role of educational institutions in promoting the ideas of Habitat III. Cohen noted that Next City commonly quotes professors who are experts in certain urban development areas, but their articles aim to be a little more accessible to the public so they don’t include much detail on research efforts. An audience participant shared that the UN has an urban lecture series that aims to get the word out about details on UN-Habitat that schools could use in their coursework.
Wrapping up the conversation, Birch provided an overview of what is going to happen at Habitat III. Since the New Urban Agenda is already finalized, the aim of the conference is to bring all Member States together in one place, sign the commitment to implementation, and inspire continued action to realize the goals of the Agenda. Penn IUR will be attending the Habitat III conference, exhibiting the work of staff and Penn faculty, along with Perry World House and the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.