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Urban Spatial Strategies: Land Market and Segregation


Policy Papers identify policy priorities, critical issues, and action-oriented recommendations in relation to the implementation the New Urban Agenda.

They were the final outcome of the ’Habitat III Policy Units work, serving as official inputs in the Habitat III process and playing a key role in the formulation of the zero draft of the New Urban Agenda. They are part of the Habitat III legacy and a valuable resource of information and knowledge that various urban actors may find useful in their work on housing and sustainable urban development.

The exercise carried out with Policy Units and Policy Papers set a pioneering precedent for future United Nations intergovernmental processes to not only be informed by but also based on independent expert knowledge.

The 10 policy papers are focused on different dimensions of housing and sustainable urban development.

UPSC and Italian Institute of Planning co-organized the No.6 Policy Unit, Urban Spatial Strategies: Land Market and Segregation.

The Right to the City and Cities for All

Socio-Cultural Urban Framework

National Urban Policies

Urban Governance, Capacity and Institutional Development

Municipal Finance and Local Fiscal Systems

Urban Spatial Strategies: Land Market and Segregation

Urban Economic Development Strategies

Urban Ecology and Resilience

Urban Services and Technology

Housing Policies

Note by the secretariat

The secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) hereby transmits a policy paper entitled “Urban spatial strategies: land market and segregation”, prepared by the members of Policy Unit 6.

Habitat III policy units are co-led by two international organizations and composed of a maximum of 20 experts each, bringing together individual experts from a variety of fields, including academia, government, civil society and other regional and international bodies.

The composition of Policy Unit 6 and its policy paper framework can be consulted at

Executive summary

The guiding principle of this paper is that the organization of space is inseparable from the quest for sustainable development. Inequalities, a growing concern for most countries and the international community, are expressed in the physical segregation of different income, social and ethnic groups and in the substandard conditions of the places where the poor work live and work. The negative externalities caused by haphazard city growth and lack of proper planning such as sprawl, pollution, and traffic congestion are a tremendous burden on the cities’ vocation for attracting investment, employment and sustainable growth. The physical segregation of the city according to separate functional areas, such as business, industry and housing, creates dullness, alienation and insecurity. The unregulated functioning of land markets only reinforces the tendency to produce physical separations between urban elites and the rest of the urban population. Sprawl and low density development compete with the preservation of the vital roles of peri-urban and rural areas in feeding larger urban centres and offering sustainable livelihoods to rural residents. Finally, the same physical development model is a major cause of environmental degradation and a major contributor to CO2 emissions far in excess of what wiser spatial organization models would entail.

At long last, the world is awakening to the importance of sustainable urban development. Part of the reason is the media attention around the fact that for the first time in the planet’s history, the majority of the world’s population live in urban areas. Moreover, United Nations projections indicate that more than nine tenths of the world’s total population increase midway into the present century will be living in the cities of today’s developing world. This attention and these scenarios are reflected in the fact that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development devotes one of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and its 10 targets to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

However, this paper argues that this goal, as well as the inversion of the negative trends described above, can only be reached by vigorous and visionary “urban spatial strategies”。 They will have to be vigorous because the forces at play are powerful and interested in maintaining the status quo. And they will have to be visionary because the participation and support of people and actors committed to an equitable and just future for all will need a bold and inspiring blueprint of how the city will be structured and organized.

The policy unit focused on six main challenges to act upon in order to produce effective and actionable building blocks for the proposed urban spatial strategies. They are:

(a) Form and configuration of cities and territories;

(b) Land policy as a tool to promote equality and secure resources;

(c) Access to the benefits of urbanization;

(d) Coordination among different levels of plans and policies and among sectors;

(e) Provision and distribution of good green and public space;

(f) Knowledge about balanced territorial development and urban spatial strategies.

Coherently with this choice and with the considerations made above, the Policy Unit has concluded this report with key messages listed below. They have been drafted with the intention of stating, in a way that everybody can easily understand and hopefully subscribe to, the goals described in detail in the main body of the paper.

1. Urban spatial strategies

The organization of physical space is key to sustainable urban and territorial development. It can be successfully achieved through fair and comprehensive urban spatial strategies.

2. Designing the sustainable city

Compact development and redevelopment on a human scale is the basis for the enjoyment of urban life by all, the satisfaction of basic needs, a vibrant economy and the protection of the environment.

3. Using land markets to combat segregation

Appropriate legislation and planning measures can make sure that part of the wealth generated by urbanization processes is shared collectively, providing security of tenure and access to land and services, and combat physical and social segregation and improve the living conditions of the urban poor.

4. Extending the benefits of urbanization to all

Urban strategies must guarantee that the benefits and services cities can offer are shared by all, regardless of income, lifestyle, place of residence and type and size of settlement.

5. Integrating levels, scales and actors of planning

The integration between levels of planning, sectors and urban and rural development is essential for the success of urban spatial strategies. Useful tools to achieve this goal are available, including the International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning.

6. Shaping the city through green and public space

Green and public space is what defines the identity and character of a city, expresses its physical structure and provides the lifeline of city life: recreation, mobility, interaction, and togetherness.

7. A global dialogue for sustainable planning

The continuation of a global dialogue on the sustainable organization of urban and rural space will be vital for the successful implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The processes put in place by Habitat III could usefully be translated into continuous activities devoted to networking and the exchange of ideas, experiences, information and good practices.

Section I of the paper -Vision and framework of the policy paper’s contribution to the New Urban Agenda -provides a background of the challenge that the rapid urbanizing world has to face. It illustrates the guiding principles that link the policy paper to the New Urban Agenda and defines urban spatial strategies as the key element to achieve the sustainable development of cities and territories.

Section II of the paper (Policy challenges) refers to the six key dimensions recalled above which the Policy Unit identified to design and implement successful urban spatial strategies and describes the factors and constrains that impede their effectiveness.

Section III of the paper (Prioritizing policy options) identifies the policy priorities and critical recommendations required to develop the six dimensions above into viable urban spatial strategies.

This Policy Unit recognizes that all components of society have to be informed and proactive parties in the implementations of the New Urban Agenda. However, section IV of the paper (Key actors for action) identifies those actors who have a key role to play in the design, implementation and monitoring of urban spatial strategies, starting with local governments.

In section V (Policy design, implementation and monitoring) the paper identifies key implementation aspects of the six urban spatial strategy components treated previously. Under finance mechanism, the positive connection is stressed among sound spatial strategies, the policy priorities suggested for the formulation and implementation, and the prospect for mobilizing the means to achieve the Conference’s goals in cities. Under monitoring, the paper underlines that the Sustainable Development Goals, and particularly Goal 11, represent a powerful global standard for measuring the achievements of cities and territories in improving the living conditions of all. Sound urban spatial strategies require transparency and accountability in the planning process, which in turn necessitates reliable, open and easily accessible data. A promising development is the availability of free access to remote sense-derived geospatial data.

The final section (Conclusion) contains the seven key messages distilled from the Policy Unit’s work.