UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka visited Trondheim last week to mark the launch of the Norwegian government’s first major urban policy meeting.
“Trondheim is a city with a rich and unparalleled position in the history of this nation, a city dating back to the Vikings, Olav the saint, religious leaders and nation-builders, located in the heart of Norway,” she said. “As the first capital of Norway, this city indeed represents continuity and change.”
The meeting, called to discuss the theme, “Cities- Hopes and Challenges”, suggested ways in which Norwegian local governments could get more involved with UN-HABITAT areas of work.
In the first of two speeches, Mrs. Tibaijuka explained the critical problems caused by rapid urbanization in low-income countries to a gathering of academics and urban experts at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. She cited the need for cities to play a more active role in stemming the negative effects of climate change and the need to find a lasting solution to improving the lives of slum dwellers through affordable housing finance.
Mrs. Tibaijuka pointed out that Governments now have an opportunity to re-think many of the policies that have made cities in the North the single biggest source of green house gas emissions, while at the same time excluding up to 70 percent of the urban population from decent living standards in the South.
Mr. Erik Berg, a senior advisor at the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while presenting Norway’s urban policy document, stated that development assistance to the urban sector in developing countries has been insignificant over the last fifty years and that there is an urgency to achieve a balance in overseas development aid.
In her other speech, delivered in the historic town of Røros, Mrs. Tibaijuka addressed the newly elected councilors of the Trondheim city council. She talked about the role that Norwegian towns and cities, like Trondheim, can play in the international community of UN-HABITAT.
“Local government autonomy has obviously played a significant role in Norwegian towns and cities enjoying the highest quality of life in the world. The world has therefore a lot to learn from Norway’s experience,” she said.
Mrs. Tibaijuka also suggested that Trondheim, in collaboration with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS) and other Nordic local authorities, “take the lead in promoting these guidelines with their local authority counterparts in countries with economies in transition”. She also spoke of the role that the City of Trondheim and other Norwegian cities could play in helping urban settlements in the South devise strategic urban plans and assess their ecological footprints.
The year 2008 marks the year of diversity in Norway. Mrs. Tibaijuka extended an invitation to Trondheim and other Norwegian cities to attend next year’s World Urban Forum in Nanjing to celebrate diversity, and the role it can play in improving the lives of urban dwellers, at the global level.