First UN-HABITAT Lecture Award
The Wealth of Cities: Towards an Assets-Based Development of Urbanizing Regions
The United Nations Human Settlements Lecture Series seeks to recognize outstanding and sustained contributions to research, thinking and practice in the field of human settlements. The first UN-Habitat lecture, on “Wealth of Cities: Towards an Assets-Based Development of Urbanizing Regions”, was delivered by Professor John Friedmann, Honorary Professor, School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia, Canada and winner of the 2006 UN-Habitat Lecture Award.
The session was chaired by Professor Richard Stren, Chair, Advisory Board of the Global Research Network on Human Settlements (HS-Net) and Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, Canada. The panellists were Professor Carole Rakodi, International Development Department, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom; Professor Om Prakash Mathur, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi, India; and Dr. Peter Ngau, Chairman, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Mrs. Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, briefly explained the rationale and criteria of the UN-Habitat Lecture Award, which she presented to Professor John Friedmann, the first winner. In doing so, she cited Professor Friedmann’s significant and sustained contribution to research, thinking and practice in human settlements over a period of 30 years. She then invited Professor Friedmann to deliver the 2006 UN-Habitat Human Settlements Lecture.
Professor Friedmann highlighted three key arguments. First, he emphasized the fluidity and gradual meltdown of spatial boundaries between cities and their surrounding regions as well as the organic relationship across these spaces. He proposed the notion of “city-region” as a more appropriate framework within which to examine the growth and development of cities. Second, he critically examined the assumption that exports and external investments are the driving forces of growth in cities of developing countries. Rather, he proposed as an alternative strategy to drive the sustainable development of cities: endogenous development, i.e., a greater reliance on local assets and generation of local savings, complemented by international aid and private investment. He elaborated the notion of endogenous development in relation to seven types of asset – human, social, cultural, intellectual, natural, environmental and urban – which cities should invest in and draw upon to foster sustainable development. Such investment might in turn generate inward foreign investment in the long term. Third, he advocated the need for a strong and visionary leadership to spearhead endogenous development with the backing of city populations. In conclusion, he suggested a number of strategies to enhance urban planning: priority for public investments; cross-sectoral interventions; and consensus-building and dialogue between multiple stakeholders.
Comments by the panellists highlighted the need to examine the effects of political processes on the endogenous development of city-regions, including the different interests that often characterize civil-society groups. The reasons for the decline and revival of cities also needed to be understood. The role of the main factors of production in stimulating the development of city-regions, i.e., capital, labour, land and information, was also highlighted. It was further emphasized that the role of the State in the endogenous development of city-regions needed to be reappraised, given the dominance of the neoliberal development paradigm and the powerful forces of globalization. It was emphasized that the endogenous development model should not be seen in isolation and that it could work alongside other development models, including, where appropriate, foreign investment and export-led development.
In the ensuing open discussion, a number of issues were raised, including the temporal relationship between the seven different assets highlighted in Professor Friedmann’s lecture. It was emphasized that the endogenous development model was more a vision of the sustainable development of city-regions that was expected to progress into the realm of practice. Other issues discussed included the importance of public space in local community development, the difficulty of determining an optimal size for municipal authorities, the importance of addressing the shelter needs of slum dwellers, and also the property rights and rights in general of women in the process of endogenous development. The importance of building the financial capital assets of poor urban households was also highlighted, as was the need to reverse the brain drain that characterized many urbanizing regions of developing countries. In that respect, it was emphasized that the economic and political democracy gains recently achieved in some developing countries held the promise of reversing brain drain. The challenge of preserving local assets was also emphasized.