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Urban Development

World Urban Forum

At this very moment, approximately 3000 people are gathered in Naples to participate in the World Urban Forum.  Topics on the agenda include: urban- and water-management, housing, urban development, and climate change (see programme). Urban development in impoverished countries is of particular concern because it is here that population growth has increased most rapidly over the last decades. The 10 biggest cities in the world each have more than 14 million inhabitants, and 3 of these are situated in India (New Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta) (Data from 2011, weltbevoelkerung.de).

Climate change will increasingly impact urban development. Almost all megacities are located in risky regions: by the coast, big rivers, and/or mountains. Costal- and riverside-construction can prevent floods from seeping into the earth, and therefore these floods cause the destruction of homes and livelihoods. The urban heat island effect impacts almost every megacity, and entails a rise in temperature. (see epa.gov). The effect is intensified if there is a lack/absence of green space, effective water management systems, and public transport options. Furthermore, during hot weather people will be more likely to use air conditioning and their own vehicles, thus consuming more energy and contributing to air pollution. Here one sees how cities directly contribute to climate change: by the increase of global warming.

Cities are also facing a stronger influx of rural migrants and consequently a growth in and of slums. Extreme weather, droughts and floods endanger the livelihoods of farmers and their workers, some of whom (men in particular) try to find more secure employment in urban regions (see Bartlett et al., 2010). However, cities often cannot provide the job opportunities, infrastructure and housing which is needed for the new inhabitants. Urban development simply cannot progress fast enough or in line with the increase in population. The problem, of course, is where cities would find the financial resources in order to be able to manage such change.

And cities do not just have to cope with men seeking work as a result of climate change in rural areas. Some Nepalese families send their children to work in distant cities on their own: many young prostitutes in Mumbay are originally from poor villages in Nepal where bad harvests forced families to essentially sacrifice one child as “additional breadwinner” for the sake of the others’. (Bartlett, 2008)

To me, these examples suggest that future plans for urban development must start with consideration of, and implementation in, rural areas. Livelihoods and living conditions have to be improved in rural areas in order to mitigate rapid urbanisation. In addition, I hold strongly that urban development should be planned according to an interdisciplinary approach. (more information in “Megacities without slums”).

In any case, solutions relating to climate change adaptation and sustainable urban development cannot be developed on a global scale, since each city has its own local circumstances to consider. Besides geographical situation, other factors are:

– the composition of the population, entailing

  • ethical groups
  • religious groups
  • different cultures
  • age structures and the accompanying roles of men, women, children, etc.

– a city’s history,

– conflicts and politics.

The World Urban Forum offers a platform for different issues to be discussed, rather than a promise for solutions. But what can be done? An international information portal could be founded and implemented in which participants document and reflect their activities for their city. Others could make use of this database and apply appropriate methods to their local circumstances. Thus city officials and others can learn from each other and in a way find individual solutions for their city together. But then, perhaps, such a database already exists?


(Christine N. Davies, proofreader)




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