'The World's Urban Planner': UN-Habitat's Joan Clos

The phrase "everything on the street" captures UN-Habitat head Joan Clos's approach to urbanization. In the wake of Habitat III, who is the man behind the conference's "New Urban Agenda"?
October 26, 2016, 10am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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In Quito, Ecuador, the UN's Habitat III conference has just adopted a "New Urban Agenda": a set of recommendations to guide the world's cities as they urbanize. Here, Gregory Scruggs profiles the man in charge: executive director Joan Clos. The New Urban Agenda "strongly reflects his views on cities with its calls for compact urban cores, transit-oriented development, reining in sprawl and robust public space."

Clos, the former mayor of Barcelona, takes a sunny view on cities. However, "In many countries, urbanization is seen primarily as a problem: the cause of poverty, malnutrition, air pollution, infant mortality and low life expectancy. [...] The challenge Clos faces is that for many of the 193 U. N. member states, the idea of building skyscraper tower blocks and highways remains plenty appealing. The West did it, after all."

Scruggs, who has followed the lead-up to Habitat III this year, "asked Clos what four words could neatly encapsulate his vision for the New Urban Agenda. His response: 'Everything on the street.'"

Through a deep dive on Clos's background, history in politics, and personal views on planning, a picture emerges of a man whose faith in cities' positive potential is tempered by a sense of the politically feasible. "He says people are being naïve when they compare parks to a city's 'lungs,' or streets to a city's 'veins,' or describe small interventions as 'urban acupuncture.'" Instead, says Clos, "The city is a political construction. It's about people living together and creating coalitions to defend their own agendas."

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Published on Monday, October 10, 2016 in Citiscope
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