The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.
The United Nations chose the theme Planning our urban future to raise awareness of the need to improve urban planning to deal with new major challenges of the 21st century. This is because urban settlements in all parts of the world are being influenced by new and powerful forces. In both developed and developing countries, cities and towns are increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity, population growth and economic instability. These factors will significantly reshape towns and cities, physically and socially, in the century ahead. Many developing countries will, in addition, continue to experience rapid rates of urbanization, along with its most serious negative consequences - overcrowding, poverty, slums with many poorly equipped to meet the service demands of ever growing urban populations. With over half of the world’s population currently living in urban areas, and this number set to rise to two-thirds in another generation, there is no doubt that the ‘urban agenda’ will increasingly become a priority for governments, local authorities and their non-governmental partners everywhere.
Unfortunately, current urban planning systems in many parts of the world are ill equipped to deal with these major urban challenges of the 21st century and, to a large extent, have failed to acknowledge the need to meaningfully involve communities and other stakeholders in the planning of urban areas. By failing to take these factors into account, planning systems in several parts of the world have contributed to the problems of marginalization and exclusion in rapidly growing and largely, poor and informal cities.
This is why urban planning needs to be given a fresh focus starting on World Habitat Day 2009. After all, we know the problems, but we need to share the best solutions as efficiently and widely as possible by planning better and more sensitively for ourselves and our environment.