Thousands of experts and leaders from around the world are gathering in South America to dream up the city of the future even as the continent struggles with urban planning issues such as slums that have dogged the continent for decades.

The third United Nations Habitat Conference kicked off in Quito Monday with the goal of tackling haphazard growth and fostering livable, self-sustaining cities amid a boom in the global urban population.

The guest list includes United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, 11 presidents and hundreds of experts.

The meeting comes as a downturn in prices for global commodities has threatened gains made in government-constructed public housing helping many escape the sprawling shantytowns that creep up the hills of South American cities.