As delegates from around the world exchanged views in the newly built giant Nanjing convention and exhibition centre on Tuesday, the buzzwords on everyone's lips at the fourth session of the World Urban Forum were "harmonious urbanization".
Barely a speaker at the UN-HABITAT biennial gathering missed a chance to give their views of what a harmonious city is all about.
Setting the tone in the first opening statement, Mr. Jiang Hongkun, the Mayor of Nanjing, said: "Building harmonious cities is our vision. This session of the Forum convened to discuss the theme, harmonious urbanization, will promote new ways of building cities at home and abroad. Nanjing will use the precious opportunity of the Forum to borrow new ideas and experiences from Chinese and international cities for its betterment in the most harmonious way possible."
The city was adorned with flyers and posters welcoming Forum visitors and laser light shows lit up the night skies from high buildings in the newly modernized city.
For the poor represented by some civil society groups, for young people represented by youth groups, or women's organizations, the concept carried a message of hope easy to understand in a world urbanizing so quickly that, according to UN-HABITAT figures, two-thirds of humanity will be living in towns and cities in another generation.
Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime warned that in a new urban age with most people living in cities, urban crime was likely to increase.
" The rise in crime is bound to continue and accelerate as urbanization – especially in Africa and the Carribbean – continues to grow at a rapid pace. This carries important implications for global – and not simply local – security," he said.
He cited reports on regions where crime had had an impact on development – for example in Africa, the Balkans, the Caribbean and Central America. His office had demonstrated the link: under-development increases vulnerability to crime, and crime hurts development."
Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director UN-HABITAT, told the plenary meeting on Tuesday that urban planning was crucial at the policy level. "For cities without slums, planning has to be firmly in the mainstream," she said. To avoid reactive measures such as slum upgrading, she said proper planning to prevent the formation of slums was the best way to proceed.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya, who shared the speaker's table with the senior UN executives, said Governments had a duty to ensure that people had access to decent housing, hospitals, schools and utilities. Governments owed their citizens decent housing, he said.
Another senior UN official, Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, said it was important to build harmony and equity in cities from the perspective of good urban governance so that barriers are broken down, and so that access to jobs, affordable housing and education can be promoted.
Click here for a summary of statements at the plenary sessions.
Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa
The Under-Secretary-General said that strong urban agglomerations contribute to wealth because they are home to vital sectors for economic growth such as industry, commerce and finance. But urbanization also brought problems of poverty especially evident in the growth of slums. He said it was therefore important to build harmony and equity in cities from the perspective of good urban governance so that barriers are broken down, and access to jobs, affordable housing and education can be promoted. Good government at the local level was central to the effective management, development and administration of urban services. To ensure equity, local governments had to be based on the principles of popular participation, transparent and accountable structures, and viable institutional frameworks. Local leaders, he said, had to have the skills and the capacity to manage cities in partnership with community-based organizations, the private sector and other non-governmental bodies.
More and more cities in developed countries were building inclusive communities through committed efforts to incase citizen participation and engagement while promoting equal opportunity and fairness, he said.
Yet the institutional framework for the governance of cities, and especially in the example of Africa where his organization was mandated to promote economic and social development, was still an unsettled question. Findings of the Economic Commission for Africa showed that further consideration was required on the balace of responsibilities between central and local governments. There had to be more decentralization, or subsidiarity in the management of local public affairs.
He cited some examples of programmes to fight social exclusion and induce economic achievement. They included the Single Regeneration Budget and the New Deal for Communities programmes in the UK; the Policy for Cities programmes in France; in Cape Town, community participation in the city's Rebuilding and Development Programme; water delivery in Yaoundé, and Local Agenda 21 Programmes in Uganda, and others.
In conclusion, he said that to promote equity and harmonious cities it was important to create awareness and focus attention on the importance and value of inclusive communities.
Statement by Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya
The Prime Minister opened his remarks saying that slum upgrading and housing were matters of prime concern to his government. Decent, affordable housing was the responsibility of any government. Yet in Kenya it constituted what he called a monumental challenge. His own constituency, for example, he said covered both Karen, one of the wealthiest and most affluent suburbs of the capital Nairobi, and Kibera, an overcrowded slum, home to nearly three-quarters of a million people.
He quoted UN estimates showing urbanization to be growing more rapidly in Africa than any other continent. In the majority of cases rural migrants ended up in slums and conditions worse than those they had left behind. Thus anger, hunger and frustration built up. He explained how the government was working with UN-Habitat in a project set up in 2003 called the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme. The programme being implemented in Nairobi, and the other major cities of Mombasa and Kisumu, he said, was aimed at helping the country attain the Millennium Development Goals, especially Target 11 on improving the lives of slum dwellers around the world. He described the slums as places of disease and misery, dusty during the dry season, muddy during the rains and always stinking of human waste, and always a threat to health. This was why housing was not merely a matter of putting up homes, but ensuring that hospitals, schools and other facilities are also available along with water, sanitation, and electricity services.
He was at pains to explain how people were resigned to their plight and skeptical of government promises of better living conditions. He quoted the case of a Kibera resident who said they had been born in slum, would always live there, die in the slum and even go to a slum in heaven. With this sort of mindset, he added, only an accountable and trusted government could ensure improvements. He said that there was resistance to slum upgrading because past upgrading projects had not benefited the urban poor, and had a tendency to benefit non-slum residents.
His message to the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum, the Prime Minister said was: Governments had a duty to ensure that people don't have the believe that if they had been born in a slum, they would remain there forever, and even in death. Governments owed their citizens decent housing.
Statement by Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing
The Special Rapporteur, in a brief statement, asked how harmony could possibly be achieved in cities and whether the world was capable of being harmonious. The measuring stick, the critical basis, she said was inclusiveness. The world needed harmony in housing and planning policies for all, she said. She stated that social inclusiveness and political participation with the provision of adequate housing were therefore the cornerstones for achieving harmonious cities.
Urban development and urban change was more oriented towards producing for profit and hence serving those with higher purchasing power. As a result low income earners and the poorest tend to be excluded from spaces and access to services. Consequently, whenever an economic crisis hits, as happened at the time of the Forum, numerous urban facilities including housing are left vacant.
She underscored the point that harmonious urban development could not be achieved in the context of inequities and exclusion, the implication being that inclusiveness was a central axis for fostering harmonious urban development.
Statement by Mr. Greg Peng, Head of Global Commercial Real Estate in China, Merrill Lynch
Mr. Peng addressed the role of capital markets, increasing urbanization in Asia and a low-cost housing project supported by the company in Central America. Describing the global financial crisis as unprecedented, he said the credit crunch prevailing at the time of the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum had been brought on by the bursting of a housing bubble financed by securitized sub-prime loans. Adjustments in the property market, especially in the United States would take time to work through before confidence was restored. Nevertheless, the capital markets could still play an important role in facilitating the provision of low-cost housing. The key was that there had to be responsible lenders, responsible counterparts, responsible investors and responsible end-users. There was a case for governments in the less developed economies to put financial instruments to good use in providing low-cost housing for people who need it.
In Asia each year more than 30 million rural workers enter cities. In China, this was part of what he termed a vast migration. He said urbanization in China stood at around 38 percent, still below the world average of 46 percent. Merrill Lynch estimated, however, that by 2010, some 45 to 50 million workers in China would have moved out of agriculture into urban areas in a trend likely to continue.
He concluded with a description of the Global Housing Foundation , a partner of UN-Habitat, providing sustainable housing for the working poor in countries like Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador. He said Merrill Lynch was working with them in the programme by buying a majority stake in the pools performing mortgages so that banks could offer loans at affordable rates. He said the project was being extended to South Africa and hopefully in Asia at a later stage. He said the company's business philosophy was to contribute to the communities in which it operates.