The Urban Future and Prosperity of the City

As the world builds and consolidates the foundation of the urban future, urgent steps are required to rectify past imperfections by recognizing fully that development is an evolutionary assignment that cannot be entirely resolved in one decade and by one agency acting alone.

The Sixth Session of the World Urban Forum will be held in Naples, Italy in September 2012. This Forum is conceived as a platform where various segments of society can discuss, learn, practice, agree and disagree on different ways to build and sustain a more prosperous urban future for our cities. Four broad thematic areas in the WUF6 will constitute entry points for the overall discussion:

  • Urban planning, Institutions, Regulations and Quality of life  
  • Equity and Prosperity Productive Cities
  • Productive Cities
  • Urban mobility, Energy and Environment

A background paper for this WUF highlights some of the ‘urban’ issues our cities are facing. Below are excerpts from that background paper and are aspects to chew upon and work upon.

Cities are the past, the present and the future of humanity.  The need is to envisage an urban future where economic growth and prosperity proceed with equity; one where human exploitation of the natural environment is carried on sustainably; one where poverty, inequality and employment/underemployment are attenuated by strong human‐centered policies; and all rooted in the right institutional contexts. Toward achieving this, there is a collective need to address the following questions:

  • If we all agree that the future of humanity is urban, then what are the broad defining parameters of that urban future?  
  • What key decisions and actions should be taken now to reorient city development towards the desired urban future? What are the key levers for change? How should we invest on that urban future?
  • What are the implications for that future in relation to the current trajectory of urban development that we are pursuing? What needs to be changed as well as reinforced?
  • How can prosperity be enhanced, sustained and optimally shared without generating adverse social, economic and environmental effects?;  
  • In the current continuum of the urban development model being followed, are there positive and negative lessons that can be shared?;
  • What role should UN‐Habitat play in steering the world towards the desired urban future; and how should it relate with other key actors with respect to the evolving urban agenda?.

This urban growth will see some continuing trends and some hard realities. The trends that shall continue in the 21st century are:

  • Urban growth will concentrate in the cities of the South
  • Role of Local Governance will be further strengthened  
  • Urban growth is slowing and will become increasingly diversified  

The contrasting realities of the 21st century shall be:

More united or divided cities? ‐ An uncertain future.  

  • Cities that improve inter‐connectivity and create new forms of interdependence between cities enhance urban infrastructure to induce industrialization, trade and mobility. They create conditions to improve quality of life and ensure the fair distribution of resources and opportunities for more united and prosperous cities.
  • In contrast, those cities that despite their potential to generate wealth, fail to create conditions for the equitable distribution of income, resources and opportunities might become more divided cities. It is very likely that these cities will perpetuate poverty and extreme inequality, various forms of exclusion and marginalization, in addition to serious environmental problems.   
  • The current century will be known for widened inequality, deepened poverty and greater exclusion. Different forms of deprivation and social marginalization will emerge and the conventional forms of poverty will intensify. At the end of this century, if no corrective action is taken, the world may have 1.4 billion urban dwellers living in slum‐ like conditions. Asia alone will account for more than 700 million people living in chawls, iskwater, and katchiabadis, as informal settlements are known in this region and this number of inhabitants is larger than the whole population of Europe today.
  • A critical underlying issue is whether wealth distribution and equity will go hand in hand with economic development or whether more prosperous cities and countries will protect their gains, resulting in a “zero‐sum game” instead of a “win‐win” situation with benefits for everyone.
  • National and international institutions promoting the integration of innovative policies related to wealth and income distribution as well as better urban design in tandem with affordable housing and improved quality of life will have a critical role to play in this regard
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