Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Challenges of an Urban Millennium

United Nations Population Fund, also known as UNFPA, has come out with its 'State of the World Population Report 2007'. The theme for this year's report is 'Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth'. The findings of the report are not very surprising. The report says exactly what was being said during past few months - the future is urban. By 2030, almost 5 billion of the world's population will live in cities and major contribution will come from Asian and African nations. However the cities will not be rose-beds for the poorers, who will dominate the cityscape. The report insists on need for urban planning, especially for the 2nd rung cities which will be engines of urbanisation. One more point that the report points out corroborates what I said in one of my previous posts. The report says that the mega-cities will actually face outward migration rather than inward. Here is an excerpt from the report which is available on UNFPA's site for online reading and downloading.

Although mega-cities have received most of the attention, conditions in smaller urban areas call for even greater consideration. Contrary to general belief, the bulk of urban population growth is likely to be in smaller cities and towns, whose capabilities for planning and implementation can be exceedingly weak. Yet the worldwide process of decentralizing governmental powers is heaping greater responsibility on them. As the population of smaller cities increases, their thin managerial and planning capacities come under mounting stress. New ways will have to be found to equip them to plan ahead for expansion, to use their resources sustainably and to deliver essential services.

One of the Report’s key observations is that poor people will make up a large part of future urban growth. This simple fact has generally been overlooked, at great cost. Most urban growth now stems from natural increase (more births than deaths) rather than migration. But wherever it comes from, the growth of urban areas includes huge numbers of poor people. Ignoring this basic reality will make it impossible either to plan for inevitable and massive city growth or to use urban dynamics to help relieve poverty.

Once policymakers and civil society understand and accept the demographic and social composition of urban growth, some basic approaches and initiatives suggest themselves. These could have a huge impact on the fate of poor people and on the viability of the cities themselves. Throughout this Report the message is clear: Urban and national governments, together with civil society, and supported by international organizations, can take steps now that will make a huge difference for the social, economic and environmental living conditions of a majority of the world’s population.

Three policy initiatives stand out in this connection. First, preparing for an urban future requires, at a minimum, respecting the rights of the poor to the city. As Chapter 3 shows, many policymakers continue to try to prevent urban growth by discouraging rural-urban migration, with tactics such as evicting squatters and denying them services. These attempts to prevent migration are futile, counter-productive and, above all, wrong, a violation of people’s rights. If policymakers find urban growth rates too high, they have effective options which also respect human rights. Advances in social development, such as promoting gender equity and equality, making education universally available and meeting reproductive health needs, are important for their own sake. But they will also enable women to avoid unwanted fertility and reduce the main factor in the growth of urban populations—natural increase.

Secondly, cities need a longer-term and broader vision of the use of urban space to reduce poverty and promote sustainability. This includes an explicit concern with the land needs of the poor. For poor families, having an adequate piece of land—with access to water, sewage, power and transport—on which they can construct their homes and improve their lives is essential: Providing it requires a new and proactive approach. Planning for such spatial and infrastructure requirements, keeping in mind poor women’s multiple roles and needs, will greatly improve the welfare of poor families. This kind of people-centred development knits together the social fabric and encourages economic growth that includes the poor.

Similarly, protecting the environment and managing ecosystem services in future urban expansion requires purposeful management of space in advance of needs.

The “urban footprint” stretches far beyond city boundaries. Cities influence, and are affected by, broader environmental considerations. Proactive policies for sustainability will also be important in view of climate change and the considerable proportion of urban concentrations at or near sea level.

Thirdly, population institutions and specialists can and should play a key role in supporting community organizations, social movements, governments and the international community in improving the nature and form of future urban expansion, and thus enhancing its power to reduce poverty and promote environmental sustainability. A concerted international effort at this critical time is crucial to clarify policy options and provide information and analyses that will support strategies to improve our urban future.

More news stories about the report here.
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