How to Support Fast Growing Small Cities? UN-Habitat's Participatory Incremental Urban Planning Tool

How to Support Fast Growing Small Cities? UN-Habitat's Participatory Incremental Urban Planning Tool

The Un-Habitat or the United Nations agency for human settlements and sustainable urban development, whose primary focus is to deal with the challenges of rapid urbanization, has been developing innovative approaches in the urban design field, centered on the active participation of the community. ArchDaily has teamed up with UN-Habitat to bring you weekly news, article, and interviews that highlight this work, with content straight from the source, developed by our editors.

In order to support local governments in developing countries to implement the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, UN-Habitat has created the Participatory Incremental Urban Planning Toolbox, “a step-by-step methodology to assess, design, operationalize and implement urban planning processes”. The guideline proposes a timeline of phases, blocks, and activities, helping city leaders, stakeholders, and the community to have a comprehensive and strategic overview of the whole strategy.

Courtesy of UN-HabitatCourtesy of UN-HabitatCourtesy of UN-HabitatCourtesy of UN-Habitat+ 23

Stakeholder engagement in Canaan (Haiti), 2016.. Image Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Stakeholder engagement in Canaan (Haiti), 2016.. Image Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Providing a global framework of the whole planning process, UN-Habitat's Participatory Incremental Urban Planning Tool is dedicated to the city leaders, the city planners, the civil society, the investors as well as the private sector. Drawing a timeline of phases, blocks, and activities, the toolbox helps the different urban stakeholders to better understand their role in the city’s vision, policies, strategies, plans, and projects. Defining a process framework rather than a design framework, and establishing a simplified roadmap based on UN-Habitat’s extensive experiences in multiple cities, the incremental and flexible toolbox tailors the planning process, according to the available resources and capacities of the context. Moreover, promoting an intervention-oriented strategy, the open-source and modular guide places local authorities and citizens at the driver's seat of sustainable urban development.


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By following the proposed planning recommendations, city leaders can have a better understanding of the key deliverables and the critical activities they should engage with, giving them a clearer idea of the plan and its impact on the residents. For the city planners and urban planning practitioners, the tool offers a step-by-step guide, a compilation of tools, operationalization, and implementation mechanisms to move the planning process from assessment to implementation. Finally, the tool is also designed to help civil society visualize in a simplified manner the complex process, and identify its critical role within the global vision.

Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Based on three main initiatives by the Un-Habitat - the New Urban Agenda (NUA), a shared vision for a better, more inclusive and sustainable urbanizing world; the International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning (IG-UTP), a global framework for improving policies, plans and designs for cities and territories; and the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, that sets the sustainable development roadmap – the toolbox proposes an incremental approach for urban planning.

Consisting of four main phases - the Assessment, the Plan, the Operationalization, and the Implementation - the guideline includes 15 blocks and 69 activities, enhancing the adoption of participatory, inclusive, and sustainable practices. In fact, various levels of participatory approaches are proposed to define a participation strategy that engages stakeholders and the community in the process. Discover below the main headlines of the step by step guide for Participatory Incremental Urban Planning.

Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Courtesy of UN-Habitat

First Phase: Assessment

Preparing and understanding the context and the current situation of the city.

Belmopan (Belize) Belmopan Urban Development, Towards a sustainable garden city. Image Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Belmopan (Belize) Belmopan Urban Development, Towards a sustainable garden city. Image Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Block A _ Contextualization

  • 1- Physical, human, and information resource review
  • 2- Legal, financial, partnerships and stakeholders review    
  • 3- Self-assessment internal working session

Block B _ Project Preparation

  • 4- A guiding document
  • 5- Resource mobilization
  • 6- Project Office
  • 7- Work Plan discussion between PO and champions

Block C _ Participation Set-Up

  • 8- Participation strategy
  • 9- Committee creation and Mobilization
  • 10- Public launching with stakeholders

Block D _ Analysis & Diagnostic

  • 11- Desk Research
  • 12- Field research
  • 13- Analysis
  • 14- Analysis & Diagnostic workshop
  • 15- Diagnostic

Workshop in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) Urban Development Initiative (UrDI) Canaan Area of Port-of-Prince. Image Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Workshop in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) Urban Development Initiative (UrDI) Canaan Area of Port-of-Prince. Image Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Second Phase: Plan

Developing the strategic framework which highlights the vision of the city, the conceptual plan that illustrates the main ideas, and the structure plan that identify the main uses per zone and the location of the infrastructure.

Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Block E _ Strategic Plan

  • 16- Strategic Development Scenarios
  • 17- Visioning Workshop
  • 18- Spatial Strategy
  • 19- Monitoring & Evaluation plan

Block F _ Conceptual Plan

  • 20- Sustainable Urban Development principles
  • 21- Conceptual planning workshop
  • 22- Conceptual urban management boundary
  • 23- Conceptual structure
  • 24- Conceptual mixed-use planning
  • 25- Implementation Strategy
  • 26- Public hearings

Block G _ Structure Plan

  • 27. Sustainable urban development standards workshop
  • 28. Mobility system road network and standards
  • 29. Integrated infrastructure network and standards
  • 30. Urban green and pubilc space network
  • 31. Smart mixed-use and density planning
  • 32. Land subdivision standards
  • 33. Heritage, cultural & social facilities
  • 34. Environmental facilities
  • 35. Housing policy
  • 36. Implementation strategy

Block H _ Neighborhood Plans

  • 37. Neighbourhood planning workshop
  • 38.a Urban form and function (extension plan)
  • 38.b Detailed density zoning (densification plan)
  • 38.c Land readjustment / Slum upgrading / Rehabilitation planning (regeneration plan)
  • 39.a Priority urban blocks design (extension plan)
  • 39.b Urban form and function (densification plan)
  • 39.c Urban form and function (regeneration plan)
  • 40. Urban street design
  • 41. Integrated infrastructure design
  • 42. Public space design
  • 43. Strategic and catalytic design
  • 44. Social housing typologies
  • 45. Implementation strategy

Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Third Phase: Operationalization

How Do We Get There?

Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Block I _ Action Plan

  • 46. City action planning workshop
  • 47. Feasibility study
  • 48. Capital investment plan
  • 49. Communication and advocacy strategy

Block J _Land Management

  • 50. Land rights
  • 51. Land administration and information

Block K _Financial Mechanisms

  • 52. Land-based finance
  • 53. Administrative charges and fees
  • 54. External sources of revenues

Block L _Institutional Enablers

  • 55. Institutional arrangements
  • 56. Participatory urban governance
  • 57. Partnerships
  • 58. Capacity building

Block M _Legal Enablers

  • 59. National and sub-national urban legal framework
  • 60. Complementary legislation
  • 60. Plenary session for plan approval
  • 61. Legal instruments

Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Fourth Phase: Implementation 

How Will We Implement and Monitor Out Progresses?

Courtesy of UN-Habitat
Courtesy of UN-Habitat

Block N _ Implementing Mechanisms

  • 63. Final public presentation
  • 64. Statutory planning mechanisms
  • 65. Annual budgeting
  • 66. Project and infrastructure implementation

Block O _ Accountability System

  • 67. Monitoring and evaluation
  • 68. Advocacy, feedback, and learning mechanisms
  • 69. Incremental improvements

Info Via UN-Habitat.

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About this author
Cite: Christele Harrouk. "How to Support Fast Growing Small Cities? UN-Habitat's Participatory Incremental Urban Planning Tool" 09 Dec 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/952941/guideline-to-support-fast-growing-small-cities-the-un-habitats-participatory-incremental-urban-planning-tool> ISSN 0719-8884
Satellite image of Bahir Dar (Ethiopia) Support of the Sustainable Structure Plan of Bahir Dar. Image Courtesy of UN-Habitat

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