A range of issues including higher fuel prices, climate change and fresh water depletion turn to be major challenges to urban growth, according to Dr. R. Seetharaman, Group CEO of Doha Bank, the leading private commercial bank in Qatar. These challenges provide an opportunity to demonstrate that growth can occur at lower rates of environmental degradation, albeit innovations required on a wider canvas to deliver sustainable urban development.
Dr. Seetharaman says that urban equity ensures redistributive mechanisms are put in place for a fair, more efficient use of resources, skills and opportunities. One of the key challenges faced by the world is rapid urbanisation. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the global agency for human settlements and sustainable urban development, has noted that cities face unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges with six out of every 10 people in the world expected to reside in urban areas by 2030.
“The UN Habitat works on rapid urbanisation with focus on areas such as urban legislation, urban planning and design and urban economy. More than 90 per cent of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Considering this growth, urban areas are central to sustainable development efforts. Rapid urban growth is mainly occurring in countries least able to cope with the demand for decent jobs, adequate housing and urban basic services. Close to one billion people, or 33 per cent of the urban population in developing countries, live in slums, in inequitable and often life-threatening conditions. If left unaddressed, these trends may become sources of social and political instability,” he added.
“About 60 per cent of the surroundings required to accommodate the earth’s urban population by 2050 remains to be built. Cities of short distances known as compact cities constitute the world’s most efficient settlement pattern. Compact cities are based on an efficient public transport system and encourage walking and cycling, low energy consumption and reduced pollution,” Dr. Seetharaman said.
“The World Urban Forum (WUF) is organised by UN- Habitat, every 2 years and examines rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies. The seventh session of the World Urban Forum (WUF7) was held in Medellín, Colombia in April 2014 with the theme “Urban Equity in Development-Cities for Life.” According to the concept paper “Urban Equity in Development-Cities for Life” presented in WUF 7, “Equity relates to fairness and in order to be achieved, it requires leveling the playing field politically, socially and economically in the local and global arenas,” he elaborated.
“Bringing urban equity into the center of development means that no one should be penalized for where they live, the way they think or believe, or the way they look. It also means that public goods and basic services should be available to everyone, creating conditions to be distributed according to needs. Urban equity in development implies that the urban space should not contribute to reproduce unequal relations or reinforce existing ones. Urban equity is a useful tool needed to redefine the urban policy agenda at local, national and regional levels to ensure shared prosperity; and a factor to enhance the city’s transformative capacity to bring about collective well-being and fulfillment of all,” Dr. Seetharaman highlighted.
“WUF7 has recognized the need for: an urbanisation model that puts people first and fosters social cohesion, especially among socially marginalized groups such as women, youth and indigenous peoples; comprehensive and participatory planning; national urban policies; gender equality and balanced land development; better urban resilience to climate change and other disasters; and safe and affordable transportation. WUF7 has aimed to further advance the outcomes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) as well as set the stage for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda to affirm the importance of well-planned cities and the potential for urbanisation to be a positive force for present and future generations,” he concluded.
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