GAP is an independent, self-organized consensus-driven multi-stakeholder platform with a special interest in sustainable urbanization as expressed in New Urban Agenda, and Agenda 2030 (especially SDG #11) and in the urban-focused dimensions of the Sendai Framework, Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Humanitarian Agenda, Paris Agreement, and other relevant global agreements.
In 2014, UN-Habitat’s World Urban Campaign (WUC) partners conceived an engagement platform, the General Assembly of Partners (GAP), at the first Urban Thinkers Campus in Caserta Italy. They had undertaken this task at the request of the Secretary General of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. Its purpose was to convene a broad range of stakeholders and constituencies to deliberate, build consensus and participate in the Habitat III conference .
In advance of UN-Habitat’s annual Governing Council meeting, April 13, 2015, Nairobi, Kenya, the WUC Steering Committee set GAP in motion with actions that established the organization as an independent, self-organized platform defined by a constitution and by-laws, governed by an Executive Committee (ExCo), composed of the chairs of 14 self-governing Partner Constituent Groups (PCG), a president and vice president) and with general membership organized into 14 PCGs. In accordance with the newly approved GAP Constitution and By-Laws, the group convened its first Plenary Meeting. At that time, the PCGs gathered separately to elect their chairs to form the majority of the ExCo. The ExCo then met to elected the GAP president and vice president.
Later, the plenary reconvened where they composed and approved the GAP Nairobi Declaration outlining GAP’s commitment to contribute to the elaboration of the New Urban Agenda and its request for recognition and engagement in the Habitat III process. Three days later, the GAP president and vice president presented the declaration to the the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development Bureau (Bureau), where it received approval. In the following months, GAP reported its activities to the Bureau on a regular basis.
The GAP Executive Committee held its second meeting in June 2015 during the Future of Places Conference held in Stockholm. Here it further developed its upcoming activities including considering the contents and positioning of GAP inputs within the ongoing Habitat III processes. GAP recognized WUC’s City We Need policy statement as a foundation for later efforts in which GAP would participate including the Habitat III Policy Unit, and thematic and regional conferences.
Following the Stockholm meeting, the GAP president developed the General Assembly of Partners Chair’s Handbook, an administrative publication outlining the responsibilities of the ExCo, PCG chairs and members. It was endorsed by the chairs of the Bureau. The document included statements from the Bureau co-chairs, Maria Duarte (Minister of Housing, Ecuador) and Maryse Gautier (Ministry of Sustainable Development, France] and the Habitat III Secretary General, Joan Clos.
The Bureau co chairs wrote:
On behalf of the Bureau for Habitat III, we are delighted to welcome the General Assembly of Partners as a multi-stakeholder engagement platform for contributing to the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document of the conference. We recognize the importance of involving the major groups, Habitat Agenda Partners and other relevant stakeholders in all aspects of the Habitat III process.
As the UN General Assembly resolution authorizing Habitat III noted, the objectives of the Conference are to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, assess accomplishments to date, address poverty and identify and address new and emerging challenges. Our aspiration is that Habitat III will result in a New Urban Agenda that is concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented.
To this end, we are especially interested in your work in facilitating discussions around the six areas of the Habitat III Issue Paper and Policy Matrix: social cohesion and equity – livability; spatial development; urban frameworks; urban economy; urban ecology and environment; and urban housing and basic services. Of particular concern for us all is the identification of innovative solutions to accommodating the rapid urbanization occurring in key places around the globe and to improving the urban conditions in already highly urbanized places.
The Habitat III Secretary General wrote:
It is indeed a great pleasure to welcome the creation of the Habitat III General Assembly of Partners (GAP), and to congratulate the World Urban Campaign members for their initiative and proactivity towards such an open, participatory and inclusive global platform.
We should encourage effective contributions and the active participation of all relevant stakeholders at all stages of the preparatory process towards the New Urban Agenda. In my view, the New Urban Agenda should represent a paradigm shift focusing on the creation of a new approach to urbanization. It should be universal, rights-based, integrative, inclusive and equitable. It should also have the possibility of articulating different scales, from the neighborhood to the global level, and includes all types of diverse human settlements from the small village and medium-sized town to the city and megacity.
It is important that this New Urban Agenda is built on the experience and knowledge, as well as partnerships, of national governments, local authorities, parliamentarians, civil society and grass-roots organizations, academia and researchers, professional organizations, the private sector, foundations and philanthropies, the media, trade unions and workers, farmers and indigenous people, and children’s, youth and women’s groups, with a view towards achieving sustainable urban development.
The new 2030 development agenda provides more room for towns, cities and regional economies to contribute to national development through direct participation in the global economy. Habitat III provides an opportunity to discuss a New Urban Agenda, which will focus on policies and strategies that can result in effectively harnessing the power and forces behind urbanization by promoting a new model of urban development. Furthermore, this new model must be able to integrate all facets of sustainable development to promote equity, welfare and shared prosperity, thereby reducing poverty and inequalities. It is an honor to work with you and support your efforts to ensure that all voices are represented in the building of this New Urban Agenda. Thank you for joining us as we move together towards Habitat III.
In Fall 2015, GAP convened its Second Plenary Meeting in New York City. Here, GAP composed and approved the GAP New York Declaration (October 2, 2015) later submitted to the Bureau. This statement outlined GAP’s agreement to work with the Global Task Force (GTF) to build inclusive and commonly supported positions, and reiterated its intention to create a Habitat III legacy document supportive of multi-stakeholder platforms. It articulated a goal to provide a framework for future, issue-based coalitions and offered prototypical elements of a renewed and updated global to local governance architecture that is fit-for-purpose for a sustainable, urbanizing world.
In early winter, the UN General Assembly passed Implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) and strengthening of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) ( A/RES70/210, December 22, 2015), recognizing the General Assembly of Partners (para 10) as an important stakeholder group. This resolution also specified (para 15) two informal meetings on the zero draft of the New Urban Agenda to be convened by local authorities and stakeholders at the UN headquarters in May and June. Subsequently, the GTF organized the May hearings and GAP organized the June meetings.
At the invitation of the government of Germany, the GAP Executive Committee met for two days in Berlin in February 2016. At this meeting, the attendees developed a strategic roadmap for Habitat III participation and an outline for what would become its its legacy document, Partnerships for the New Urban Agenda. Here, the Executive Committee listed five areas for stakeholder contributions in the post-Habitat III environment:
Additionally a 15th PCG for Older Persons was approved.
In line with this policy, GAP continued its own work within the framework of ongoing Habitat III processes. In conjunction with the Habitat III Western European and Other Groups (WEOG) Regional Conference convened in March 2016 in Prague, GAP held its third Plenary and fourth Executive Committee meetings. It further elaborated the draft Partnerships for the New Urban Agenda and met with the Bureau for an exchange of views. In addition, at the invitation of the conference organizers, GAP president addressed the opening plenary and GAP representatives participated in the drafting committee for the conference outcome document.
After extensive internal consultations, GAP issued Partnerships for the New Urban Agenda in May 2016. This document had three parts:
In June 27-July 1, 2016, GAP organized the informal hearings mandated in A/70/210. All 15 PCGs represented by their co-chairs, the president and the vice president of GAP and more than 40 speakers offered their views on the draft New Urban Agenda. At this time, the co-facilitators of the New Urban Agenda, Ambassadors Lourdes O. Yparraguirre (Phillippines) and Damaso Luna Corona (Mexico), convened an additional two-hour meeting with GAP and other stakeholders to discuss the draft. GAP also participated in Urban Breakfasts convened by the Ford Foundation as part of its Civil Society Week.
In July 2016, GAP participated in the Third Preparatory Committee on Habitat III held in Surabaya, Indonesia. Here GAP also held its fourth Plenary and fifth Executive Committee to develop its participation in the Habitat III conference and associated subsidiary activities.
In October 2016, GAP was extremely active at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador. The GAP president and vice president addressed the opening and closing Habitat III Plenaries. GAP PCG co chairs moderated several official Roundtables.
GAP PCG co chairs and members offered statements in the official meetings. These statements are available on UN WEBTV
During the accompanying activities, GAP organized all the stakeholder Roundtables, contributed to the organization of the four assemblies, and held a special meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Most important, the New Urban Agenda, approved by the delegates and subsequently approved in A/RES/71/256 (adopted Decemer 23, 2016 and distributed January 25, 2017) recognized the General Assembly of Partners (para 128) and called on the member states to build on its legacy in the implementation stages.
Based on its favorable recognition by member states and seeking to build on the momentum gained through the Habitat III experience, the GAP membership voted to extend GAP’s work to implement the New Urban Agenda at it fifth Plenary meeting, held in Quito, charging the GAP Executive Committee to oversee the change and associated amendments to the GAP Constitution and By-Laws.
Carrying out this mandate, the ExCo undertook an all-member survey to reaffirm GAP’s aims and objectives and based on the results developed and circulated the required revisions to the membership. By April 2017, the ExCo held its sixth meeting in New York City where they incorporated the membership comments into the revised Constitution and By Laws. Thereafter, each PCG developed a Strategic Framework and Action Plan to support its implementation programs going forward.
May 2017, GAP convened its sixth Plenary Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya where the membership approved the revised GAP Constitution and By-laws. It then organized
an Extraordinary Plenary Meeting to continue the discussion of ongoing implementation plans. The Media Partner Constituent Group presented a 58-page booklet, GAP Media Coverage 2015-2017 which GAP distributed to the member states and beyond. In addition, the GAP Executive Council (the renamed GAP Executive Committee under the revised GAP Constitution and By-Laws), testified before the High Level Independent Panel to Assess the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda and Effectiveness of UN Habitat at the panel’s request. Later, the Secretary General, António Guterres, referenced the General Assembly of Partners in his transmission of the Report of the High Level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance the Effectiveness of UNH to the General Assembly (General Assembly A/1006, para 10).
In September 2017 at the “High Level Meeting of the General Assembly to Discuss the Implementation of the NUA and the Positioning of UNH” mandated in the New Urban Agenda, the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, invited the GAP President to speak on the Panel on Multi-Stakholder Partnerships. As part of this meeting, GAP’s Executive Committee (formally invited to attend), developed a response to report of the High Level Independent Panel to Assess the Effectiveness of UN-Habitat. In conjunction with this meeting, GAP along with GTF organized the “Stakeholder Consultation”, featuring several GAP co-chairs.
Throughout the fall and early winter in 2017, UN-Habitat (UNH) recognized GAP several times in follow-up activities to Habitat III. It invited GAP representatives to participate in its Expert Group Meeting on the draft of UNH’s Action Framework for the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda (AFINUA) held in September, 2017. The New York UNH office invited GAP representatives to an introduction meeting with the newly appointed executive director, Maimunah Mohd Sharif in January. UNH invited GAP to be on the UN-Habitat Governing Council-mandated Advisory Committee for the Framework for Strategic Partnerships in January.
In the following months, GAP was active in pursuing activities related to its partnerhips with UN Habitat and the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. In February 2018, UN-Habitat appointed GAP as organizers/co-organizers of 17 roundtables and several assemblies at the its World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur. It also included GAP representatives on the drafting committee for the meeting’s declaration. (At WUF 9 GAP held both Plenary and Executive Council meetings. A code of conduct and a business plan were discussed). In March 2018, UNH asked GAP to participate in its Expert Group Meeting held in Granada, Spain to help draft the first Quadriennial Report on the New Urban Agenda mandated by the General Assembly.
On April 25, 2018, UNH invited GAP members and others from the Habitat III Civil Society Working Group to meet with UNH Executive Director Sharif in New York to share views on how to best support urban work.
During summer 2018, GAP continued its work and made some important decisions. It held elections under the supervision of two ExCo appointed electors. Several GAP members attended the UN’s High Level Political Forum in July 2018 where the ExCo, met informally as there was not a quorum. Electors offered reports and recommendations and the group discussed the idea of applying for non-profit status. The full ExCo convened virtually and agreed to pursue the non-profit status.
In fall 2018, GAP undertook a number of activities. It joined the Global Taskforce in preparing a statement on “Integrating the engagement of local governments and stateholders in UN-Habitat” in September. It participated in World Cities Day at UN headquarters in October.
To further integrate into the UN’s official stakeholder structure and continue its advocacy/monitoring activities, GAP and its PCGs engaged in a variety of activities in winter 2018-19. GAP members participated in the formation of the Urban Cluster in the NGO Major group that was officially founded in February 2020. The ExCo met via phone. Afterwards, it developed and provided comments on UN-Habitat’s Strategic Plan. The GAP Persons with Disabilities and Older Persons PCG launched the Global Compact on Inclusive and Accessible Cities at an event in Berlin hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development. The ExCO met and discussed a new website; the proposed business plan and changes in UN-Habitat. It also noted the new NGO Major Group’s Urban Cluster.
In May 2019 GAP members attended the First UN-Habitat Assembly in Nairobi during which GAP held plenary and executive committee meetings. GAP participated in the Guangzhou Prize, side event for which GAP members had contributed to the judging.
During the summer and fall, GAP continued its work. In July 2019 GAP held an Executive Committee meeting in NYC during the High Level Political Forum where it discussed UCGL’s invitation to join its November World Congress in Durban and supported the move to become a non profit in NY State and a tax exempt organization under the US Department of Treasury regulations, tasks accompllshed in August. In
November 2019, GAP participated in the UCLG World Congress and World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders held in Durban, South Africa. It sponsored a Town Hall Session “Listening to the City, on Partnerships for Sustainable Urban Development”. GAP PCG’s also helped develop four other Town Halls .
In winter 2020, GAP activities revolved around internal and external matters. In January, GAP adopted a new logo. In February GAP members attended UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum 10 held in Abu Dhabi. GAP and individual and partner PCGs created stakeholder roundtables and participated in multiple side events. GAP convened Plenary and Executive Committee meetings during the conference.
In summer 2020 and beyond, GAP distributed a newly formatted “GAP Global News” to the membership,