Governments, the private sector and civil society have to work much more closely together if the world is to build and sustain better cities, which are now home to more than half the global population, United Nations officials said today.
Marking World Habitat Day, whose theme this year is “Better City, Better Life,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a message spotlighting the effect that smart policies and actions can have on the well-being of the estimated 1 billion people worldwide who live in slums or other forms of sub-standard housing.
“The urban poor are too often condemned to a life without basic rights, hope of an education or decent work,” said Mr. Ban, noting that they typically live in developing countries and are both disenfranchised and under the age of 25.
“Lacking adequate provision of freshwater, electricity, sanitation or health care, they suffer privations that all too often provide the tinder for the fires of social unrest. Vulnerable to exploitation and corruption, they need and deserve better cities and a better life.”
Mr. Ban stressed that the challenges of urban poverty, stretching from pollution to criminal gang culture, can be overcome.
“Many cities are finding successful solutions. Smart cities recognize the importance of good governance, basic urban services for all, and streets and public spaces where women and children feel safe. They also recognize that better cities can help to mitigate global challenges, such as climate change, by promoting energy conservation and environmental sustainability.”
In a separate message, Inga Björk-Klevby, the Officer-in-Charge of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), stressed the need to keep improving the world’s cities as she noted that trends indicate two thirds of humanity will be living in towns and cities within the next two generations.
Ms. Björk-Klevby called for planners, officials and developers to create “smarter” cities, with better quality of life, greater investment in human capital, enhanced political and cultural inclusion and sustainable economic opportunities.
Events are taking place around the globe to mark World Habitat Day, which the UN designates as the first Monday in October each year, including in such cities as Barcelona, Spain; Kolkata, India; and Nakuru, Kenya.
This year’s theme echoes that of the Shanghai World Expo, where UN-HABITAT has a strong presence, and a series of celebrations will take place today in the Chinese metropolis.
Vienna is among the winners of the UN-HABITAT 2010 Scroll of Honour award for improving living conditions in towns and cities. According to the citation, the Austrian capital put people and their views first in a multi-million dollar model urban renovation programme under which sub-standard housing stock has been reduced over the years to below nine per cent following improvements to more than 5,000 buildings with nearly a quarter of a million apartments.
Other winners include China, Colombia, Morocco, Singapore and South Africa.