By 2025, UN projections suggest that almost 1.2 billion people will be living in the Commonwealth’s urban areas. Today the figure is about three-quarters of a billion. Every day it increases by 65,000. Cliff Hague, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Association of Planners said that growth at this pace and scale poses fundamental challenges to governments at all levels and in all countries. “Urban spread is the common denominator that links the problems that have to be solved in the first half of this century. We need the economic dynamism of the burgeoning cities to be able to lift people out of poverty. We need the open and tolerant culture of cities to liberate people and stimulate innovation. But we also need cities to grow in smart ways, or they will destroy farmland and forests, drink dry the reservoirs, pollute the waterways, and impose unacceptable costs in energy use and carbon emissions” he said.
The UN Habitat Global Report on Human Settlements 2009, published today, emphasises the key role of urban planning in national and international responses to these challenges. However, few Commonwealth countries have sufficient professional planners with the right skills to make a difference. Mega-cities are developing without up-to-date plans to steer growth into sustainable directions. At the other extreme, there are small island states where there are no huge cities, but very high rates of urbanisation, and high vulnerability to climate shocks. The Maldives is a typical case, and literally can only call on a handful of professional planners in a situation where expertise in urban development and environmental management is sorely needed.
Thirty-two of the Commonwealth’s 76 ‘million-plus cities’ are expected to more than double in size between 2000 and 2025 with Abuja, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Mombasa and Klang, all growing by more than 160%. In India, the Commonwealth’s most populous country, the level of urbanisation remains quite low, about 30%: This will increase to over 55% in the next 40 years. Urban growth rates of 4% a year, such as are found in Kenya, Gambia, or the Solomon Islands, to cite just some examples, equate to almost a doubling in urban numbers by 2025.
“We have had ‘anti-urban’ policies, such as attempts to contain urban growth and resist new development. They fail business and they fail the urban poor. We have had ‘non-plan’ policies with utopian dreams of privatisation and unregulated market forces: these paved the way to the global financial crisis. It’s time we adopted evidence-based pro-urban planning policies, that identify economic opportunities, unlock the potential of land but also recognise the need for equity and to manage carbon emissions” Hague added. “There is still time to make a difference, but each year that slips by makes it harder to rectify the diseconomies of urban growth, such as traffic congestion, car-dependent sprawl or slums lacking basic services. Planning – preventative urban medicine – is urgently needed. Strategic urban planning is essential. It can reduce uncertainty, facilitate efficient infrastructure provision, and provide transparency in the development process.”
For further information contact:
Professor Cliff Hague,
Commonwealth Association of Planners.
Phone: +44 (0) 131 447 5265
Mobile: + 44 (0) 771 471 8900