Omaha Will Contribute to the United Nation's New Urban Agenda

On November 16, 2015, the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities will host the last of two Urban Thinkers Campus to be held in the United States, at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

The Urban Thinkers Campus is a special initiative by UN-Habitat and the World Urban Campaign that engages important stakeholders around the world to contribute to the drafting of the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document of the upcoming UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development that will be held in October of 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. Outcomes from individual Urban Thinkers Campus will contribute to the shaping this visionary framework that will guide global urban development for the next two decades.

Titled "The City We Need: The Role and Opportunities in Urban Sustainability for Small and Mid-Size Cities", this Urban Thinkers Campus will explore ways cities such as Omaha can contribute to New Urban Agenda and aid in its implementation. While the Habitat process has historically been centered on remedying challenges associated with the most urban areas, small- and mid-sized cities will play an equally important role in the New Urban Agenda. Unlike their more urbanized counterparts, smaller cities have the opportunity and room to better direct growth and progress. This is simply because it is more difficult to reverse trends and developments in areas that are already heavily developed and populated. If small and mid-sized cities take stock of lessons learned, they will be in a better position to evade mistakes that currently plague many large cities around the world.

I suspect that a challenge for this session will be how the guiding principles of the New Urban Agenda can be integrated with local decision-making processes. Having grown up in Nebraska, I can visualize how this can be an issue in a state with Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists and parasitic organizations such as the Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA). Although these two groups are often the target of jokes in conversations with my friends and colleagues, they lose their humor when they become obstacles to achieving a sustainable urban future, which has occurred more often than not.

In 30 years, it is projected that seven out of ten people in the world will live in metropolitan areas. There has never been a greater urgency for the international community to produce a unified vision for our cities that can guide authorities and relevant stakeholders to pursue crucial legislation and programs necessary to achieve an equitable and sustainable urban future. This will be a special opportunity for Omaha to show the international community that is has the vigor, creativity and leadership abilities to contribute to international frameworks in relevant and meaningful ways.