Saturday, August 20, 2011

Secretary General’s Report (August 9, 2011) on the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation: The case of Urbanisation as a Priority Sector

Adopted from the Report of the Secretary-General: Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development

By 2030 all developing regions, including Asia and Africa, will have more people living in urban than rural areas with the expectations of 69 per cent of population living in cities by 2050.

This trend has both its advantages and disadvantages. Cities offer human beings the potential to share urban spaces, participate in public and private events and exercise both duties and rights. These opportunities in turn make it possible to cultivate societal values and define modes of governance and other rules that enable human beings to produce goods, trade with others and get access to well-being. On the other hand, the urban divide can be so wide that the rich live in well-serviced neighborhoods, gated communities and well-built formal settlements, whereas the poor are confined to inner-city or peri-urban informal settlements and slums.

This physical divide takes the form of social, cultural and economic exclusion. The urban divide is the face of injustice and a symptom of systemic dysfunction. Cities need to be vehicles for social change: places where new values, beliefs and ideas can forge a different growth paradigm that promotes rights and opportunities for all members of society. The concept of an “inclusive city”, or “a city for all”, encompasses the social and economic benefits of greater equality and environment protection, promoting positive outcomes for each and every individual in society.

For this to be achieved, local city authorities, but also broadly authorities at the national level, need to address key challenges of today’s urbanization, by promoting integrated land-use planning, expanding access to basic services, encouraging sustainable buildings and implementing sustainable transport. They need to anticipate expansion with sound planning policies and related actions that control the speculation associated with urban sprawl. Cities must also grant rights to the urban poor, along with affordable serviced land and security of tenure, if further peripherization is to be avoided.

This also means reduction of people living in slums. Over the past 10 years, the share of the urban population living in slums in the developing world has declined significantly: from 39 per cent in 2000 to 33 per cent in 2010. On a global scale, this is cause for optimism. However, in absolute terms, the number of slum dwellers in the developing world is actually growing and is expected to rise in the near future. Informal settlements in the developing world are growing, and the number of urban residents living in slum conditions is now estimated at some 828 million, compared to 657 million in 1990 and 767 million in 2000.

Policy reforms to prevent future slum growth through equitable planning and adequate economic policies are necessary. The spatial divide of slums, which are often physically isolated and disconnected from the main urban fabric in developing country cities, does not just reflect income inequalities among households; it is also a by-product of inefficient land and housing markets, ineffective financial mechanisms and poor urban planning.

It is therefore necessary that laws and regulations benefit the urban poor, especially women. Empowering the poor and lifting them out of poverty is essential for taking advantage of the urban dwelling.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD / Rio+ 20) can be a good forum to pave the way to this urban inclusiveness especially by considering the following strategic steps: assessing the past and measuring progress (understanding the specific factors which contributed to the current situation and assessing future policies and practices to monitor progress and evaluate performance.); making institutions stronger and more effective; building new linkages and alliances among the various tiers of government (combining policies and resources among public and private sectors as well as civil society); demonstrating a sustained vision to promote inclusiveness (i.e. a workable plan with clearly defined funding sources and accounting mechanisms); and ensuring the redistribution of opportunities (by promoting cities as the primary locus for innovation, industrial and technological progress, entrepreneurship and creativity).

This strategic framework for inclusive and sustainable cities can be enhanced by considering the following policy catalysts: improve quality of life, especially for the urban poor by creating conditions for improved access to safe and healthy shelter, secure tenure, basic services and social amenities such as health and education; invest in human capital formation which is a condition for socioeconomic development and a more equitable distribution of the urban advantage; foster sustained economic opportunities that can stimulate sustained economic growth for poor and underprivileged populations through promotion of labor-intensive projects; enhance political inclusion by engaging citizens in decision-making; promote cultural inclusion such as social capital, tradition, symbols, meaning, sense of belonging and pride of place, on top of use of local cultural resources by local communities.


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