The way that cities are growing today is not sustainable, the Commonwealth Association of Planners said in a statement this week calling on governments to “rethink” before it is too late.
“We have 10, maybe 15 years, to get on to a new track. After that the slum problem, environmental damage and urban insecurity will become so entrenched that they will dominate international relations for the rest of the century,” said the association’s president, Ms. Christine Platt, a planner who works in South Africa.
In a statement marking World Town Planning Day, she said some 327 million people in Commonwealth countries currently lived in slums, their numbers increasing daily. Their life expectancy is dramatically less than their compatriots who live in better conditions.
“Because the poor live in the most hazardous locations they are disproportionately vulnerable to the local impacts of climate change,” Ms. Platt said in a view widely concurring with that expressed recently by UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka. “The problems are particularly acute in small island developing states where the growing threats from rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions are not matched by growing capacity to plan and manage settlements in sustainable and equitable ways.”
“Urban growth is going to be huge in this generation. It will create great wealth that can lift people out of poverty. However, we have to get the cities right, and that needs smart planning”, said Ms. Platt, who recently visited India to see how they are handling the urban consequences of an economic boom.
“We need a quantum leap in management capacity: more trained people with better skills, and planning legislation that is fit for purpose in today’s world. This is something that we are working on, together with our member institutes, our Commonwealth partners and also UN-HABITAT. Too often, even in rich countries, the approach of governments to urban development is one of curative medicine: clearance, infrastructure after the development has happened, too little too late in environmental protection. Planning means preventative medicine; it’s about acting now so that our cities and rural areas are not allowed to degrade to the extent that recovery becomes a prohibitive cost. There are encouraging signs that some governments within the Commonwealth are realising that they need to re-invent planning.”
The Commonwealth Association of Planners is made up from the professional planning institutes in over 25 Commonwealth countries. For several years, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum with some 200 members in over 40 Commonwealth countries, has been collaborating closely with UN-HABITAT in many countries around the world.