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FWD: Day 1 of UN discussion on future urban issues

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  • Randall Hunt
    ***BEGIN ORIGINAL*** Subject: Quick Internet Discussion on Future Urban Issues: Summaries of Contributions for Day 1, Part 1 To: habitat discussion
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 12, 2001
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      ***BEGIN ORIGINAL***
      Subject: Quick Internet Discussion on Future Urban Issues: Summaries of
      Contributions for Day 1, Part 1
      To: "habitat discussion" <habitat.discussion@...>
      From: "habitat discussion" <habitat.discussion@...>
      Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2001 18:53:34 +0300

      Dear discussion participants,

      Welcome to our internet discussion on Future Urban Issues. We have received
      a large number of contributions and more messages are still coming in every
      minute. Thanks to everyone for sharing their opinions and valuable
      Please see below the first summary of contributions. A second summary will
      be available by tomorrow. Reactions to the opinions expressed can be sent
      in on November 15 and 16 (day 4+5 of the discussion) where we will have a
      general debate.

      You can also find the summaries on our web site at

      Please send your further contributions to habitat.discussion@....

      Best regards,

      Jasmin Enayati


      1. What would a new urban ethos be?
      Some contributors dismiss the relevance of a question for a new urban ethos
      altogether, they entirely reject the idea of an urban future and the
      desirability of such a future. Taking into account the diversity of cities,
      many do not see a need for a single ethos.

      I am shocked at the tone of the premise that considers the
      inevitability of urbanization a desirable and progressive phenomenon.
      A new "earth ethos " should be based on the inextricability of rural
      and urban
      environment. The eradication of large numbers of poor rural
      inhabitants and their forced transfer to impoverished urban land is
      not a solution.
      Paola Somma

      Some contributors accept that there is a clear urban transition but wish to
      resist this by, for instance, proposing that limits be set to the number of
      people in urban areas or limits to cities per se:

      The Greek planners and philosophers were correct, in my opinion that
      the ideal size for a city is about ten thousand.
      C Harris

      I do not fully subscribe to the idea of reversing the city-and-rural
      -occupant ratio. Instead a pre-defined population threshold for cities
      has to be demarcated by each country. This will maintain manageable
      control on support services.
      Anand Upalekar

      Most contributors accept that we are heading for an urban future, albeit
      with problems that need to be solved.

      Cities can and will supply all of our basic needs and wants. There is
      diversity to be found in urban areas. Privacy and the desire to be
      part of
      a community are opposites but must be addressed.
      Marie Ann Hebert

      Gradual development of a new urban ethos
      A new urban ethos should be developed, given that we have entered the
      urban century. But this aim can only be achieved gradually, as more
      people realize that in this new urban century, the urban question will
      loom ever larger, especially in developing countries. Developing the
      urban ethos should begin with people in general, awakening their
      understanding and the urgency of the problem, gradually working
      towards policy-makers and others in charge of making decisions that
      will influence urban development and resources.
      Yue-man Yeung
      Hong Kong, China

      A metropolitan ethos?
      I wonder if the assumption that the world is urban is correct? There
      are good reasons for distinguishing contemporary metropolises from
      anything we have traditionally understood as urban - they are
      polycentric, dispersed, road transport dependent. Are we entering a
      metropolitan rather than urban era? In other words might it not be
      better to think of:
      rural - urban - metropolitan
      and if metropolises are different, then the traditional civic
      institutions which have embodied an urban ethos don't work in them. In
      particular political parties have far less apparent role than in
      traditional cities, especially industrial cities. Instead we have
      'urban regimes' combining business and administration with most people
      excluded from any determinant role in shaping change and development.
      They are merely passive consumers - a big obstacle to developing a new
      urban ethos.
      David Byrne
      Reader in Sociology and Social Policy
      Dept of Sociology and Social Policy
      University of Durham

      A development ethos?
      What we need is a 'development ethos' that recognises and embraces
      both rural and urban areas; one that seeks to exploit /advance the
      advantages offered by both domains while at the same time seeking to
      minimise conflicts and tensions that limit human development.
      Beacon MBIBA (Dr)
      Urban and Peri-Urban Transformations Research Network (PeriNET)
      South Bank University

      Along the same lines, many contributors emphasize the need for an
      integrated vision of the urban and the rural environment.
      Urban ethos should be about "a better balance among the built
      and the natural environment and the urban citizens who inhabit
      the neighbourhood level to the metropolitan region". We cannot keep
      separate references and policies confined to the rural or the urban,
      we need
      to vision a balanced environment, no sustainable environment is
      without an urban environment. Concentrating the human population in
      is essential to preserve both agricultural and wilderness areas.
      Urban emphasis should be placed in cities with populations over 1
      inhabitants, to avoid making the same mistakes most mega cities have
      and avoid becoming the new mega problems in the future.
      Cecilia Martinez

      The urban-rural dichotomy is not a viable paradigm
      I think it is important in both urban and rural areas to manage
      in an integrated way with a strong focus on poverty alleviation and on
      environmental issues, transcending the limitations of sectoral
      A densely populated country like the Netherlands is almost one big
      However, with well planned or preserved green areas. In my view
      managed its urbanisation process quite well. There are hardly any
      inner-city areas and there are no shantytowns. In principle everybody
      has a
      basic income and the cities are relatively safe. The Dutch central and
      governments have ensured that the cities are inclusive (in terms of
      age group, ethnicity, religion, etc). I consider this an important
      of successful urbanisation.
      Compared to countries in Latin America and Africa the process of
      urbanisation has been more gradual in Holland and there are more
      available for physical planning, urban renewal, socio-economic
      etc. However, it is also a matter of political will and social
      not to accept that parts of cities deteriorate; not to accept that
      parts of
      the population live in extremely poor circumstances; not to take it
      granted that many people, especially young people, are completely
      from society; not to accept that public (and private) space in urban
      becomes unsafe, etc.
      Janny Poley

      An analysis of the "old" urban ethos should be at the basis of the
      establishment of a new urban ethos
      In the 1970s, the bulk of aid work concentrated on improving urban
      areas, slum reclamation and infrastructure. This was based on a
      "trickle-down" hypothesis that most economic growth would occur in or
      through the cities (on the model by which developed countries had
      grown) and would eventually reach the poor and rural dwellers, that
      urban projects had more "bang for the buck", affecting a greater
      number of people, and that developing country governments were calling
      predominantly for urban projects.
      By the 1990s urban-focused work and analysis had sunk into disrepute
      in favour of assistance that was increasingly oriented towards
      agricultural and rural assistance. There were a number of reasons for
      1. It was perceived that urban improvements were largely being
      appropriated by the middle classes and were not proceeding through to
      lower income earners. The rural poor were increasingly being attracted
      to cities where there were no jobs for them and the urban situation
      was worsening.
      2. High-profile larger urban infrastructure projects were prime
      targets for pork-barreling and corruption by mostly city-based local
      3. Measurement of poverty such as the Human Development Index
      repeatedly showed the lowest figures in rural areas. Direct poverty
      alleviation in aid, which became the dominant aid paradigm in the
      1990s, therefore was directed primarily towards rural areas.
      4. The new cities of Asia had proved to be too successful and were
      economic competitors to the West. There was a strong economic
      incentive for the West to spend in rural areas, where the results were
      likely to be complementary to Western development.
      5. There was a general move away from modernism and towards relativism
      as a philosophy. The Western way of life, which largely proceeded
      through cities, became synonymous with the destruction of local
      cultures and environments. Rural-based self help was not seen to pose
      the same threat to local autonomy by developing country governments.
      The lead in the change of culture away from an urban ethos came from
      the West, but was rapidly appropriated in developing countries.
      A New Urban Ethos clearly must provide answers to the above
      criticisms. Urban projects must be seen to avoid corruption, benefit
      the poor and the environment, be participative and non-threatening to
      local culture, and deliver lasting benefits which will not be swamped
      by new arrivals. This must be the role of the United Nations and other
      aid bodies, to establish the circumstances in which this can take
      The process by which urban growth ultimately benefited Western
      societies needs to be carefully documented and compared with the
      present situation in developing countries where benefits have proved
      intangible. The city-country nexus needs to be carefully examined,
      seeing one not as a "parasite" on the other, but as partners where the
      benefits of growth are clearly and fairly distributed.
      In the end, however, the issue of competition with the West cannot be
      solved, and ultimately all countries will have to take responsibility
      for their own urban areas without benefit of aid.
      Joe Flood
      Urban Resources
      Urban and Housing Policy Solutions

      Balance between the economic, environmental and social dimensions
      A new urban ethos would be the partnerships in urban governance to
      assure a
      balance between the economic, environmental and social dimensions
      leading to
      sustainable development. Facing the market economy, there is a need to
      implement 5 points of the eco-development ( I. Sachs, 1960) with:
      (1) social pertinence and equity of proposed solutions,
      (2) ecologic prudence (impact of human actions on eco-system and
      climate, availability of natural resources, their recycling)
      (3) economic efficiency ( accounting indirect costs, micro-economic
      (4) cultural acceptability of proposed solutions,
      (5) territorial equilibrium through space distribution and management
      human settlement and socio-economic activities)
      Bui Thi Lang

      Elements of the ethos of a renewed civilisation
      What would a new urban ethos be? Certainly one that would underline
      solidarity instead of the competitivity allegedly required by
      neo-liberal economics. Society should overcome the present economic
      constraints that results in a neo-monopolistic phase of capitalism,
      through an over-concentration of assets and capital, and an increasing
      social and even countries exclusions, in order to build a renewed
      economy (not far from Keynes positions...). Urbanization and
      globalization (intense collective connectivity) seem to point to the
      two opposite, although integrated, trends of cosmopolitan and "tribal"
      lives. Cosmopolitan because of global connectivity; and neo-tribal
      (non ethnical), connoting a bonding trough affinities and a
      commonality of interests. New safety nets will be formed by
      "neo-tribal" affinities as well as cosmopolitan nets, over-ruling but
      not excluding the family safety net. In both trends one needs a place,
      a loci in which to fulfil activities. Although virtual places are a
      place, physical places will increase in importance; thus the
      increasing importance of urban space, even in an internet-linked
      world. Other issues related to the new urban ethos, to be identified
      by historians of the future, as the 21st century Renaissance: gender
      differences will be valued bringing the "feminine" values and
      strategies to a role, accepting it as different of the male strategies
      and not trying to equalize them; elder people social value will
      consist in sharing experience with youth; decentralization will bring
      along the necessity of different social contacts.
      Jorge Wilheim
      Architect and Urbanist, São Paulo, Brazil

      A new conceptualisation of urban dwellers

      Addressing such a broad question requires to face a few basic
      conceptual issues. Answering basic needs through the provision of
      elementary goods have proved the wrong answer. Looking for a better
      one implies a new conceptualisation of the inhabitants of the city,
      i.e. an idea of what a sociable city would be. I would like to suggest
      the need for a re-conceptualisation of urban dwellers recalling the
      sentence by L. Chevalier: "city is crowd".

      A more sociable city may arise from a better understanding of the life
      of crowds in the city.

      Crowd is an old (and somehow cumbersome) name for the idea of a dense
      social life. From this point of view it does not coincide with
      density, rather with the movement and gathering of people. Density is
      hardware, crowd is software.

      Meetings in public spaces, which possibly generate a crowd, are
      primary qualities of the urban life; from this point of view, it is
      right to say that crowd and city are synonymous. Urban planning
      sometimes succeeded in arranging the "wedding" between movement and
      city, governing as well the complex rituals implied by social (as well
      as infrastructural) inventions like Parisian avenues and boulevards,
      or the Sisto V's axes in Rome. Such infrastructures were probably able
      to create a space and an "etiquette" for the distinctive public of
      flaneurs and pilgrims, a task that modern highways have neglected.

      From this point of view, the invention of a new public space appears
      as a major tool for a new urban ethos. The new ethos will sprung from
      such diversified urban fields, from the gatherings of urban dwellers
      who do not anymore belong to places, but rather commute between
      several spatial identities.

      Marco Cremaschi

      The planning stage is key for developing a new urban ethos
      What should be and what will be should be looked upon as what kind of
      planning is possible. No solution is apparent for most areas due to
      political conditions within states which have become marginalized.
      Those states usually have the most central planning.
      C Harris

      The new urban ethos would be made of the following axioms:
      1) cities are our destiny;
      2) the city idea is a profoundly good idea (the fact that aspects of
      its application do not always work well does not mean that there is
      something fundamentally wrong with that idea);
      3) we are so lucky! - to be heading towards a destiny resting on a
      profoundly good idea is not such a bad historical position;
      4) the fact is that many things about cities are not working well;
      hence we need an agile and proactive attitude rather than a fatalistic
      or reactive one; cities have their momentum but nevertheless can be
      steered pro-actively in more desirable directions;
      5) today we have on our disposal 7000 years of accumulation of
      knowledge about what works and what does not work in cities, as well
      as unprecedent access to methodologies and technologies of knowledge
      management and utilisation (computers, networks, etc..);
      6) planning, design, management, and governance of cities should be
      the ultimate art of the 21st century.
      Dushko Bogunovich
      Associate Professor (Urban Design & Environmental Planning)
      Landscape Architecture Programme
      Unitec Institute of Technology
      Auckland, New Zealand

      Better resource management is a precondition for developing a new urban
      - A city that makes better use of its total resources.
      - Air that is clean. Vehicles that use compression or a combination of
      hydrogen/solar with recharging stations in parking places.
      - Energy: Commercial Buildings and residential locations that have
      passive solar heat design, lighting from rooftop fiberoptics and fiberoptic
      cables that maximize the sun's light in daytime, while also using
      photovoltaics to store energy for evening lights. Domestic hot water
      derived from solar energy and wind power.
      - Water that is utilized from rooftop rainwater to dish and shower water
      (reused for irrigation), to storm water runoff filtered and reused for
      vehicle maintenance facilities. Municipal Commercial and residential
      compost toilets lessening waste water issues.
      - Municipal Solid Waste systems that reuse 80-95 % of the waste stream.
      Packaging designs for all commodities that are based upon recycling from
      the start.
      - Manufacturing that is based upon "cradle to grave" considerations for
      waste reduction (i.e. standardized white goods that would offer
      interchangable components that could be broken down for recycling of
      "gearworks elements" while maintaining white goods that could be separated
      and reused in other applications).
      Mike Toomey, Marketing Communications for Science, Communications &

      Suggestions for a model future city
      When Dr. Wally N'Dow, Chair of Habitat II was lecturing in Vancouver I
      attended and reminded him of the PREVI, Peru, project from the 70's. A
      model "future village" was designed by 13 eminent architects from 13
      countries. How about repeating the PREVI Project here in BC, with the
      model village project at False Creek designed with full international
      input and the model city under provincial auspices at Bamberton also
      designed as a UN project? Of course the sites could be changed to
      accommodate the broader perspective. Perhaps a site on a SOVEREIGN
      NATION would be suitable for the "Future City" to herald entry into
      the UN General Assembly. It would provide an ongoing earnings engine
      that First Nation as well. Collaboration of BC and Canadian levels of
      government would be a sign of goodwill and international co-operation
      between Canada and that Indian nation. Which one will it be?
      Franklin Wayne Poley

      2. What are major obstacles in making the global transition to an urban
      The current 'dualist' thinking is seen by many as the major obstacle
      The greatest obstacle to a 'new ethos' is within the way of
      thinking that is used in communicating development and one which is
      imposed on society; the dualist thinking departs from our lived
      reality where livelihoods are multi-centred (both locally and
      Beacon MBIBA (Dr)
      Urban and Peri-Urban Transformations Research Network (PeriNET)
      South Bank University

      Lack of partnerships between the sectors
      There can be no urban transformation without forming collaborative
      partnerships among mutually distrustful sectors in every city,
      including a
      strong civil society and grassroots initiatives, working hand in hand
      public and private sectors.
      Cecilia Martinez

      Traditional modes of thinking are a barrier towards a transition
      The major obstacle in making the global transition to an urban ethos
      is that people have been entrenched into the traditional mode of
      thinking the rural sector as being more important. This is perfectly
      understandable, as humankind began with a rural way of life for so
      many centuries. In developing countries, as a whole, rural population
      still constitutes the majority, at least for another two decades or
      so. However, the transition is being made. The sooner, the better.
      Yue-man Yeung
      Hong Kong, China

      Some perceive a general lack of awareness by key - local to international -
      stakeholders as a major barrier
      Lack of awareness of alternative energy capabilities among the
      building trades.
      Lack of desire from the general populations to change their attitudes
      to adopt better habits.
      Lack of municipalities desire to break from the status quo, and
      implement new infrastructure.
      Vested lobbying of groups opposed to new technology.
      Failure of governments to offer incentives for new energy conversions.
      Mike Toomey, Marketing Communications for Science, Communications &

      Very few countries have a national economic development policy that
      includes an explicit comprehensive urban component. Almost all
      countries, on the other hand, have policies on rural development.
      There is still a prevailing rural ethos in development co-operation ?
      as well as in most national policy-making. Therefore, there is a need
      for more advocacy and awareness raising activities to promote an urban
      Dr. Edmundo Werna
      Urban Development Specialist,
      Headquarters, United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV)

      The key obstacles towards making a global transition towards an urban ethos
      are of triple, overlapping character:

      1) epistemological - few people can comprehend the complexity and the
      historical relevance of cities, as cities are the most complex human
      invention of all the times;
      2) demographic - a great majority of people in this world have been
      shaped by non-, or semi-, or quasi-urban environments;
      3) political - most power at the scale of global politics and culture
      is in the hands of national governments and transnational banks and
      corporations, not local governments, the civic society, or the local
      economic enterprise.
      Dushko Bogunovich
      Associate Professor (Urban Design & Environmental Planning)
      Landscape Architecture Programme
      Unitec Institute of Technology
      Auckland, New Zealand

      Market economy
      The market economy is favoring the minority rich, excluding the
      majority of
      low- income and vulnerable groups. Under the globalization the
      society is fragmented to informal sectors (mostly rural immigrants),
      cannot have access to urban resources and opportunities.
      Bui Thi Lang

      Lack of resources for matters of social integration
      At all levels not enough tax money is transferred from international
      bodies and central governments to local governments and not enough
      available "urban" funds are used to bridge the gap between poor and
      rich citizens.
      Reactions to urban threats are wrong: more guns are bought and used;
      parts of cities are fortified; more prisons are built or the death
      penalty is (re-)introduced, etc.
      Instead it might make more sense to stimulate social cohesion, to
      develop youth policies, etc.
      Janny Poley

      As summarised by one contributor, these are the major obstacles:
      violence and its banalization, organized crime as a global
      organization, fundamentalisms and intolerance; demography and its
      consequences (old age, migrations etc.); environmental disruptions;
      ignorance; lack of governance; neo-liberal adjustments instead of real
      changes in economy.
      Jorge Wilheim
      Architect and Urbanist, São Paulo, Brazil

      Commentators identify good urban governance as the driving force to reduce
      the barriers for making a transition to a new urban ethos.

      3. What should the role of the United Nations be in the process of

      Provide access to information and more comprehensive sharing of knowledge
      As a librarian I believe that all regardless of their means people
      must have access to information and communication. The United Nations
      can be a clearing house for
      information about what works best and what needs to be addressed by
      nations of the world. Planning must be proactive rather than reactive.
      Marie Ann Hebert

      United Nations role should be to help sharing knowledge and experience
      among collaborative partnerships in cities worldwide. The glue for
      partnerships can be provided through information access and helping
      resources, particularly in poorer cities.
      Cecilia Martinez

      Cities are at the same time causes and effects of the prevailing
      trends, and the United Nations should and could give a positive
      providing an explicit, realistic and non-sectarian presentation of the
      intertwined problems.
      Paola Somma

      Promote a new institutional framework that focuses on the urban dimension
      and be a catalyst in this transitional process through its specialised
      The UN should:
      1) bring its own house in order first - firstly, by promoting the idea
      that all of its activities, programmes and agencies (UNDP, UNEP,
      UNESCO, ILO....), whatever their main focus is, always must have an
      urban dimension to it; secondly, by giving higher status to UNCHS and
      2) facilitate a consensus among its members states that:
      (i) in future, urban problems must be very high on the agenda of all
      central governments;
      (ii) strategic research and professional education in the sphere of
      building and running cities will be given utmost priority;
      (iii) the central and state/provincial governments will give more
      power, and more support, to city governments and city-level NGO's.
      3) Target its projects not only at cities with known problems (e.g
      Chennai, or Ibadan), but also at cities with perhaps not so well known
      solutions (Curitiba, or Chandigarh). UN must associate itself more
      with the positive aspects of the urban condition if it wants to
      promote a global urban ethos and a feeling optimism about the urban
      future for the humankind.
      Dushko Bogunovich
      Associate Professor (Urban Design & Environmental Planning)
      Landscape Architecture Programme
      Unitec Institute of Technology
      Auckland, New Zealand

      Further develop coordination among relevant UN agencies
      Collectively the UN system already has a vast portfolio of activities
      related to urban development, from upstream advise to policy-making at
      regional and national level, to downstream implementation of projects.
      There are different UN agencies working in the field of urban
      Habitat is obviously the chief agency in this field, but other
      agencies also
      act in urban matters related to their respective mandates. I am a
      of this, as I work at the headquarters of one of such agencies, UNV,
      on its urban agenda. UNV promotes and supports the different types of
      volunteerism in cities, and also mobilizes teams of UN Volunteers to
      projects. Further examples include WHO, which has initiatives in the
      of urban health; UNICEF, with activities related to children and youth
      cities; UNESCO, which promotes and supports the cultural heritage of
      among others.
      There are some interfaces among the aforementioned agencies in regard
      urban activities, and indeed between each agency and Habitat.
      overall co-ordination and co-operation among agencies becomes crucial
      for a
      better performance of the UN system in urban development.
      There have been indeed a number of efforts to increase co-ordination.
      example, the Istanbul process, led by Habitat. At the country level,
      UNDAF exercises are also worth mentioning (bearing in mind that UNDAF
      is for
      all UN activities, not just the urban ones). The UN system (and
      Habitat in
      particular) should build upon the work carried out so far, and further
      promote co-ordination as well as co-operation among agencies.

      Advocate for urban development within the UN system
      Another issue is that many UN agencies still have a prevailing rural
      This has clear consequences on the way funds are distributed between
      rural and urban activities of each respective agency. The focal points
      for urban development at the different agencies have this important
      and challenging role.
      But changing the policy of a UN agency in regard to urban matters is
      always easy. The focal point or group responsible for urban matters
      within a
      given agency may be weak, exactly because the agency has not given
      support to urban development. Therefore, for this reason it is also
      important that the 'urban converted' within the UN system join hands
      to help
      change this situation.
      Dr. Edmundo Werna
      Urban Development Specialist,
      Headquarters, United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV)

      The United Nations certainly can facilitate in the transition. First,
      it should recognize the increasing importance of the urban sector and
      the urban question. Allocation of resources and committee structure
      should reflect this on an increasing basis. There should be greater
      involvement and participation of qualified professionals from
      developing countries in the committees, as professionals, advisors,
      and in other capacities. Second, allocation of funding and other key
      decisions should recognize the changing world situation of the
      increasing saliency of developing countries in urban population
      increments in the foreseeable future. Third, there should more
      efforts devoted to helping third world cities to manage their teeming
      cities, through training, sharing experiences, publicizing best
      practices, etc.
      Yue-man Yeung
      Hong Kong, China

      The UN should encourage ethnic and cultural distinction to reflect in
      city planning.
      Anand Upalekar Pune

      The first role of the UN is to keep peace.
      ? to keep peace, to work for it, means to set up programs intended to
      abate the effects and to clarify the dangers of each of the obstacles
      mentioned before. The setting of all changes being the urban scene, it
      would also be useful to debate the new tasks of urbanism and city
      governance, as well as the new relation between rural and urban.
      Jorge Wilheim
      Architect and Urbanist, São Paulo, Brazil

      The UN should promote better resource management
      Teach better energy self-reliance, better stewardship of raw
      commodities (air, water, food). use less - respect more.
      Switch to renewable energy sources to ease conflicts.
      Mike Toomey, Marketing Communications for Science, Communications &

      One commentators believes that the UN has no role to play
      None. The UN wishes to become another layer of taxing so that its
      planners can effect whatever policies are, within their view,
      considered good. This means transferring wealth from the successful
      to political hacks.
      C Harris
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