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World Cities Day – getting urbanisation right

World Cities Day – getting urbanisation right

As the majority of people around the world continue to migrate to urban areas, the issues surrounding all aspects of cities has become the top planning priority. To underline the importance of this development, UN-Habitat celebrated the first World Cities Day in October this year with a series of world events. What are the implications for Africa? Alexa Dalby reports.

On 31st October, for the first time, the planet celebrated World Cities Day. Initiated by UN-Habitat, the UN agency focused on the creation of socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements, World Cities Day is a new annual event that will recognise the importance of the role cities play, not just for the 3.5bn people that live in them, but also in the social, environmental and economic future of our world.

“We now have an annual date on which to celebrate one of humankind’s greatest and most complex creations,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “The theme of this first World Cities Day – Leading Urban Transformation – highlights the pioneering power of cities.”

Shanghai, China, was the inaugural host city and, around the world, cities held their own celebrations.

As urban areas inevitably expand, both in their sheer size and in their growing populations and prosperity, they need to be better planned and managed.

Many burgeoning cities have been allowed to turn into urban sprawls. In some parts of Africa, slums are home to more than 50% of the urban population. Basic services, such as sanitation, have not kept up with the rapid urban growth.

Congestion caused by lack of transport infrastructure also has a disproportionate economic and environmental cost – as much as 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by cities, yet they take up only 4% of the world’s land mass.

“Urban transformation is inevitable: it will continue, for better or worse. If not critically re-examined, it will continue to propagate negative trends,” says Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat. “It is time to overturn negative perceptions and recognise that cities are also drivers of growth. World Cities Day has been created to remind us about the critical role that urbanisation plays in our everyday lives,” he said, “and to celebrate the positive impact that well-managed urbanisation can have on economic, social and environmental development.”

Among their positive effects, cities account for 70% of the world’s wealth and are centres of technological advances and innovation. They are natural places for meeting and social interaction, as well as hubs of culture and employment.

A well-designed city can improve its employment rate by as much as 15%, Dr Clos says. However, by 2030, more than 60% of urban populations will be under 18, which will make even greater demands on education, healthcare and work opportunities.

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Written by Alexa Dalby

Alexa Dalby is a freelance arts and business journalist, with over 20 years varied experience of writing and broadcasting about Africa, and is currently assistant editor of African Business and African Banker magazines. She is a film critic and a specialist in African and Middle Eastern cinema.

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