The world’s urban population is expected to double in just over a decade with an additional 1,5 billion people moving into the world’s towns and cities, according to Lars Reutersward, the director of UN Habitat’s Global Division.
Speaking yesterday, 17 February 2008, at a workshop in Cape Town on sustainable urban development networking in African cities, Reutersward said this wave of urbanisation would pose critical challenges to governments around the world.
“We need to be serious about this,” he told about 50 delegates, including representatives from nine African countries.
Urbanisation in Africa was a different phenomenon compared to most other continents, Reutersward said.
In Africa, 50% of people would live in cities by 2030 mainly in secondary cities and towns. Large cities would develop into urban regions while the move to the cities would mean greater numbers of poor people living in these built-up areas.
He added that planning tools that had been created in the developed world sometimes did not work in African settings.
“Tools that were developed in Britain simply don’t work in cities like Yaounde. They don’t take slums into account and can be irrelevant to the context,” he told delegates.
In order to assist governments face and plan for the major challenges of urbanisation, a new network had been established that would allow for cooperation, dialogue and knowledge management, according to Reutersward.
This was the Sustainable Urban Development Network (SUD-Net), supported by UN Habitat.
“Our vision is to develop and promote better urban policies, improve the capacities of governments, institutions, decision-makers and other urban actors and facilitate the development of liveable, productive and inclusive cities.”
SUD-Net had arranged its activities around five key themes: governance, urban planning, environmental planning and management, education, training and research and the urban economy.
In addition to these themes a number of existing initiatives were underway, such as the Cities and Climate Change Initiative, and the design of many future activities were planned.
The Habitat Partner University Network, one of SUD-Net’s existing initiatives, had identified the world’s universities as a critical dimension to economic development.
“Universities around the world are becoming the engines for economic development,” Reutersward told the workshop. “The days are over when university people sat happily on their campus. They are now partners in development”.
The university network was intended to bridge the gap between education, research and practice in sustainable urban development.
“Our concern is that there is a gap between the way we teach people and the realities,” according to Reutersward.
Actively engaged partner universities include University of British Columbia in Canada, the Norwegian University of Technology working with Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and Tongji University in China.
“We want to bring in more universities. We also want to twin them,: said Reutersward.
He told delegates there were three ways to engage with SUD-Net: become a member by registering on the SUD-Net website, sign up as an endorsing organisation or institution, or become a partner.
SUD-Net would seek to reinforce existing synergies, deepen and expand cooperation and mobilise resources for joint activities, Reutersward said.