UN-Habitat Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos has encouraged the Palestinian authorities to develop comprehensive urban planning so that growing cities can expand in a way which promotes economic development and provides sustainable, affordable housing for all of its people.
The comments came last week at the close of the first Palestinian Urban Forum, organized by the Ministry of Local Government, the Al Najah University and the municipality of Nablous, and supported by UN-Habitat. The Forum drew more than 800 people from the academia, government and civil society to shine a spotlight on urbanization in the region and to make concrete recommendations to the Palestinian Authority.
"I congratulate you on the establishment of a Palestinian Urban Forum and commend your commitment to the important issue of urbanization, especially in the context of the complex and difficult situation that you face," said Dr. Clos. "The future of Palestine is urban. If we want to make real progress towards sustainable urban development, we need to think beyond boundaries and more along the lines of economic and social integration."
Among the recommendations made by participants were the calls to link housing to wider urban planning, develop plans at both a local and regional level, and strengthen local municipalities to enable them to increase their capacity to develop towns that are resilient against natural disasters. The large youth contingent also called for greater involvement of the youth in democratic processes.
At the forum, UN-Habitat also signed two memorandums of understanding with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing and the Ministry of Local Government. These documents outline the commitment of the two bodies to work with UN-Habitat to further strengthen the physical urban planning framework in Palestine creating a strategic action plan and housing policy. For its part, UN-Habitat is committed to working with the Palestinian Authority to provide technical expertise and build capacity and urban knowledge.
UN-Habitat already has a number of housing development projects in both the West Bank and Gaza, including construction of a housing and vocational training centre in Hebron funded by the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinian People.
Dr. Clos, who was speaking on his first official Palestinian visit since taking office in 2010, continued: "Urban planning is particularly challenging in this region because of the unique way in which the land is regulated and managed. However, the reality on the ground is that Palestine is nearly entirely urban and growth of the cities and towns in the region is taking place with or without planning. The relevant authorities need to work urgently to establish the mechanisms and tools necessary to plan the development of the region to promote cities as engines of growth and prevent unplanned urbanisation.
"Urban planning is not about building buildings, but about growing cities which requires careful plans and strong legal instruments to enable the proper allocation of public space, transportation infrastructure and other service facilities. With thoughtful urban plans, cities can be engines of economic growth, driving development and wealth."
During the visit, Dr Clos also met with the Minister of Local Government, the Assistant Public Works and Housing, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Mayors of Hebron and Nablous.