EVANGELICALS ENGAGE UN-HABITAT’S NEW URBAN AGENDA AT HISTORIC FAITH-BASED URBAN THINKERS CAMPUS
The World Evangelical Alliance Creation Care Task Force (WEA), along with partners the Urban Shalom Society (USS), the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), and the Singapore Centre for Global Missions (SCGM), convened the first ever UN-Habitat/World Urban Campaign Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campus in Singapore on November 13-15, 2017. The purpose of this historic gathering was to engage with Habitat III’s New Urban Agenda (NUA) from a faith-based perspective, and explore faith-consistent ways and means for implementation. The packed two and a half-day multi-faith program included keynote presentations from urban leaders from diverse backgrounds, working groups focusing on critical urban issues, developing proposals to submit for the forthcoming 9th World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Malaysia in February 2018, and immersion visits around Singapore.
For two-and-a-half days immediately prior to the Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campus (Nov. 10-13) the WEA, the Urban Shalom Society, and the Singapore Centre for Global Missions, hosted an Urban Shalom Forum to help evangelical leaders and organizations think through urban issues and prepare their positions and contributions for the Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campus.
One of the major themes that emerged at the Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campus is that Religions and faith-based communities are key stakeholders in the world’s urban future, yet major discussions about the future of cities largely neglect the input, perspectives, and contribution that faith communities can make toward the common good on this vital issue. The United Nations’ New Urban Agenda – the main global strategy guiding urban development for the next 20 years – is almost entirely silent about the role of faith and religion in the cities of the future, despite the fact that 84% of the global population adheres to a religious faith of some kind.
It was also noted that faith communities and organizations–which have a longstanding historical concern, in-depth involvement, and comprehensive understanding of urban contexts–often lagged in their understanding of the significance of international agreements like the New Urban Agenda with its global leadership role driving international urban development that is “just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable . . . [and fosters] prosperity and quality of life for all (NUA pg. 3).”
To answer the question, why should evangelicals engage with the New Urban Agenda?, Dr. Chris Elisara, who directs the World Evangelical Alliance’s Creation Care Task Force, and one the organizers of the Faith Based Urban Thinkers Campus, explained: “During the process to develop and adopt the New Urban Agendaagreement evangelicals–and faith-based organizations in general–didn’t fully grasp the opportunities that UN-Habitat afforded civil society to help shape the agreement through their considered input. Now the implementation stage is gearing up we are not going to miss this occasion to make a positive and unique evangelical contribution to the future of global urban development. The wellbeing of billions of people, and the intertwined responsibility to care for the integrity of God’s gift of creation are at stake in the way cities sustainably develop, or not, over the next 20-30 years. That’s why evangelicals need to be involved.” A deeper exploration of urbanism from a Christian perspective entitled, The Gospel and the Future of Cities: A Call to Action, will be released at the 9th World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Malaysia in February 2018.
For delegates, the prospect of having faith-based input on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda was a compelling purpose for attending the Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campus. Some of the working groups included: Theology and the common good; the academy and education; food systems–which includes the relationship between urban and rural communities and places; slums and unplanned communities; community development–which includes homeless issues, urban design–which includes housing, ecological sustainability, and resilience; land tenure; good governance; data and technology; health and cities–which includes violence and safety; youth and leadership development; business, productivity, and economic justice; and arts and culture.
Several significant outcomes were achieved including:
Statements by faith-based organizations and leaders stating their commitments and action plans where they have overlapping concerns and priorities with the New Urban Agenda. This is an ongoing project that Religions and faith-based organizations can contribute to.
Founding the International Religious Council for Urbanism (IRCU) as the ongoing entity that can represent faith-based organizations at UN-Habitat, and other international forums concerned with city and urban issues. Their first meeting will be at WUF9.
An urban investment division of the new Faith In Finance Alliance (which is the working title for this new organization).
Several proposals were drafted and submitted for faith-based sessions at the WUF9 in February 2018.
Requesting a high-level formal dialogue or roundtable at WUF9 focused on faith-based perspectives on the NUA, and how faith-based organizations can collaborate on implementation of the New Urban Agenda with UN-Habitat, the World Urban Campaign, and other implementing organizations.
Recommendation that the World Urban Campaign add a new “Religions & Faith-Based Organizations” partner group to their structure to better accommodate and effectively employ the unique and practical contributions religions and faith-based organizations can make to the New Urban Agenda. The International Religious Council for Urbanism (IRCU) would be a key leader in the proposed new partner group.
The Faith-Based Urban Thinkers Campus is a ground-breaking achievement; however, it is only a start toward achieving the goal of building urban shalom–that is cities, towns and villages that are commensurate with God’s desire for justice, wellbeing, and flourishing. Compared to other organizations that are actively working in this space faith-based organizations have a lot of ground to catch up on. “Our goal, however,” to quote Elisara, “is not just to catch up, but to leap forward in our capacity to proactively lead evangelical communities on urban issues and urban development; and to thoughtfully, robustly, and positively contribute our informed voices in international forums and venues.” For 2018 he adds, “we have achieved a lot with very limited resources, but going forward we will work even harder to develop the funding and resources that are necessary to leading and catalysing the evangelical community’s contribution to urban shalom.”