Cities, Magnets of Hope
The Third World Urban Forum in Vancouver earlier this year made it clear that for the first time in history, urbanites are rapidly outnumbering rural dwellers. The majority of the projected population growth is occurring in the urban areas of the world's poorest countries, such that they will have to build the equivalent of a city of more than one million people each week for the next 45 years.
By 2050, two thirds of the global population (around 6 billion people) will be made up of urban dwellers. This unprecedented global urbanization is attributed to the growing populations of cities and to North-South and South-South Migration. People escape poverty, conflict, environmental degradation and other injustices in the hope of a happier and more prosperous life.
World Habitat Day 2006 is being celebrated this year under the slogan “Cities magnets of hope”, highlighting the important status of cities as refuge for the displaced and home to expanding populations in search of a future.
In his speech on World Habitat Day, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reminded the world that despite the bright lights of the cities, “we must also bear in mind that cities can also be places of considerable despair. Never before has the world witnessed such a large proliferation of urban slums. Today, 1 billion people, or 1 of every 3 urban dwellers, live in slums. If municipalities and governments fail to manage urban growth and migration sustainably, this number is expected to double in the next 30 years.
The environmental consequences of urban growth are considerable. Cities are prolific users of natural resources and generators of waste. They produce most of the greenhouse gases that are causing global climate change. They often degrade local water quality, deplete aquifers, pollute the marine environment, foul the air and consume the land, thereby devastating biological diversity.
Creating environmentally friendly cities is admittedly a big challenge, but the technologies and expertise we need already exist. Clean transport, energy-efficient buildings, safe sanitation and economical water use are possible now, not just in the future, often in a manner that is affordable for all.
The international community, lead by the United Nations, is coming to grips with global urbanization as sustainable, environmentally-friendly cities are becoming increasingly important to the future health of the planet.