UN forum examines positive impact of urbanization on development

8 April 2008

Urbanization can have a positive impact on development issues such as poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, so long as the appropriate policies are in place to manage the problems and challenges, experts attending the current session of the United Nations population body said today.

The meeting of the Commission on Population and Development, which began yesterday and concludes on Friday, is focusing on the opportunities and challenges posed by increasing urbanization. The UN estimates that, by the end of this year, half of the world’s 6.7 billion people will live in urban areas.

This session of the Commission is “particularly interesting” because the topic of urbanization and its implications has not been dealt with for 10 years, said Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

“What we’re finding is that, as we expected, there’s still great reluctance by governments to acknowledge that urbanization can have even positive effects,” she said at a press conference earlier today.

While urbanization poses a number of challenges to local government in terms of governance and the provision of basic services to an increasing population, it also offers opportunities for economic growth. The South African city of Cape Town has been rapidly urbanizing for the past three or four decades.

“Ironically, much of the urbanization is happening to Cape Town precisely because there is a viable, vibrant economy that has been booming for the last 10 years and attracting people from across the sub-continent,” the city’s Mayor, Helen Zille, pointed out.

She added that modern cities succeed to the extent that they link their populations with the nation’s economy and the nation’s economy with the global economy. “The city has to get both of those right to improve life for the very poor and to enable all to have opportunities in the city,” she stated.

David Satterthwaite, from the International Institute for Environment and Development, emphasized that compact, well-designed and well-managed cities can generate a “fantastic” quality of life at a relatively low level of greenhouse gas emissions.

“So not only are cities very important for poverty reduction, they’re also very important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

 

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