City challenges can be overcome with innovative planning: UN

UNITED Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week called for the use of science and technology to build better cities and address issues such as housing, land use, equitable access to land, shelter rights, sanitation and energy efficiency.

With most global population growth in the coming years expected to occur in urban areas of developing countries, the UN said there would be rising demand for land, housing, basic services and infrastructure.

In his message to the delegates attending the 23rd session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), which opened this week in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr Ban said that policies were needed to strengthen urban good governance and improve the way cities handle issues and challenges.

President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, officially opened the event and said that more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas. The President said that estimates predict that the world urban population will reach 4.2 billion by 2020 and rise to 70 per cent by 2050.

"Our collective challenge is to stimulate sustainable urban development and the transition towards a green economy," the Secretary-General said in the message, delivered by Inga Bjork-Klevby, the UN-HABITAT Deputy Executive Director.

Mr Ban pointed out that since the articulation of the Millennium Development Goals by world leaders at UN Headquarters more than a decade ago, 55 million slum dwellers have been added to the global population.

UN-HABITAT Executive Director Joan Clos said that whereas the world's cities were faced with myriad of challenges, they could be overcome with innovative urban planning.

"For the last 20 years the city has been seen as a place of problems, a form of pessimism that has led to inaction," said Mr Clos.

"Instead, we should be optimistic, after all if you go back  in time, you find that the city has been a place of freedom and growth – economic as well as personal," he said.

He stressed that cities and urbanization should be considered an asset, not a liability, adding that urban areas provided decent jobs and development, equality, opportunities for the youth and chances for gender equality.

In a related development, the southern Italian city of Naples has offered to host the sixth session of the World Urban Forum in September next year. The theme of the event will be 'The prosperity of cities: balancing ecology, economy and equity.'

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