Not only is our world population growing at an exponential rate, but patterns also show that the population is concentrating along coasts and in cities. A report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates that by 2050, 66% of the world population will be living in urban areas.
As seen throughout history, the process of urbanization is usually associated with positive social and economic transformations. Cities are the heart of economic activity, its inhabitants have greater access to social services, citizens are much more culturally and politically involved and health and literacy tend to be much better. However, these positive outcomes require effective city management with proper policy implementation and the necessary infrastructure to support them. Without some sort of organized control, rapid unplanned urban growth can be dangerous for sustainable development. Issues stemming from uncontrolled and almost hectic growth include things such as pollution, rapid environmental degradation and unsustainable production and consumption patterns. Yet, with proper oversight, organized urban growth is the key to sustainable inclusive development.
In November, Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito will be held for world leaders to come together and agree upon a plan to move forward with urban development in a way that is sustainable and ensures that all parts of society have equal access to all parts of the city (Class Lectue). Habitat III is committed to “strengthening the coordination role of national, sub-national and local government’s” in order to fulfill their vision for urban settlements (Habitat III). Such settlements are meant to be participatory, fulfill social functions, achieve gender equality, promote age responsive planning, adopt and implement disaster risk reduction, eradicate poverty and protect, conserve, restore and promote their ecosystems (Habitat III). While all these goals are incredible, what is left to be seen is how successful the international community will be at producing the desired and intended results. In the past, most issues with global frameworks have always been encountered at the oversight and implementation stage primarily but it appears that increasingly various actors are finding better ways to be productive and work together toward the common goals. So personally, I am more confident that this time around the results of the conference will be much more concrete and effective.
While trying to achieve the established goals, it is important to observe the side effects that some seemingly successful projects might have. For example, when it comes to creating more inclusive cities and reducing poverty, some of the eradication efforts to eliminate the presence of slums in major cities cause more disruption than anything else (ADB). The two common eradication methods are complete demolition and resettlement or upgrading existing slums. Resettlement most often creates more problems for the individuals being uprooted despite the fact that their physical living environment might improve, simply because individuals are taken away from their familiar surroundings and their jobs. By moving them, many people are relocated without jobs and they feel more helpless because they are now living in a completely unfamiliar environment. Upgrading can be more successful, but also depending on the level of improvement of the individual slums, the cost of living in these communities increases to the point that its original inhabitants can no longer afford to the live there and are indirectly forced out of their homes. Therefore, it is crucial that projects be implemented with these negative externalities in mind and that local communities contribute to the betterment of their surroundings so as to avoid a narrow, one-sided approach.
The goals that Habitat III lays out are exciting and it will be interesting to follow how the world responds to them and works towards achieving them.