Urban total soon to surpass rural: but we lack urban environmental policy.

Michael Wolf Photography Image: Hong Kong Michael Wolf Photography

David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, who contributed a chapter to State of World: Our Urban Future (published by the Worldwatch Institute) talks about the importance of good urban policy, particularly as the world’s population becomes more urban than rural.

He says, ‘ Some time this year or next, humanity will officially cross the line from being a rural to an urban species. For the first time in history, more of us will live in cities and urban areas than in the countryside, and the social and environmental implications of this transition to a predominanatly urbanised world are enormous.’

‘Unplanned urbanisation is taking a huge toll on human health and the quality of the environment, contributing to social, ecological, and economic instability in many countries.

Yet few governments or aid organisations seem to have grasped that a large part of the world’s poverty is now in urban areas. Most aid agencies have no urban programmes and although reducing greenhouse gases will need strong urban programmes, urban issues are hardly mentioned in most discussions on climate change.’

‘In Latin America, much progress has been made since democratically elected mayors were introduced and city governments got more scope to plan, act and raise revenues. Porto Alegre, in Brazil, which pioneered participatory budgeting – giving each district’s population more influence in prioritising municipal investments – has a life expectancy and quality of life that rivals cities in Europe and North America. In Asia and Africa, hundreds of thousands of the poorest urban dwellers have benefited from better housing and services through their own slum-dwellers’ and shack-dwellers’ federations.’

‘Such federations are now active in 16 nations and, where city governments work in partnership with them, the scale of what can be achieved multiplies. Urban resource centres in cities in Pakistan have shown how citizen alliances that include grassroots organisations can successfully challenge anti-poor and anti-environment policies and present viable alternatives. Similar centres are developing in cities in many other nations.’

‘External funding is still required, but it has to support these kinds of processes. Aid agencies and international development banks were set up to fund national governments, not local processes. Yet the best support for urban areas would be funding that could be drawn on by grassroots organisations, local NGOs and local governments as and when needed, over long periods, while drawing in local resources wherever possible.’

‘Cities also provide many opportunities to address global issues, including breaking the link between higher living standards and increasing greenhouse gas emissions – for instance, through urban designs that encourage people to choose to walk, cycle or use public transport. Concentrating people and industries and their wastes is dangerous without good waste management, but it provides more possibilities for waste reduction or recycling.’

Complete article here.

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