Preparing the Urban Transition: A Last Word
The anti-urban policies common in the developing world during the last quarter-century misapprehend both the challenges and the opportunities of urban growth. Urban poverty is unquestionably an important and growing problem in many developing countries. Environmental problems are increasingly clustered in urban sites. Yet to blame cities for poverty and environmental problems is to miss the point. Dispersing or deconcentrating population and economic activities would not bring relief—even if it were possible.
For humankind to benefit from the urban transition, its leaders must first accept it as both inevitable and important for development. They must recognize the right of the poor to what the city has to offer and the city’s potential to benefit from what the poor have to bring.
Rather than attempting in vain to prevent urban expansion, planners must objectively examine the available policy options for addressing it and building on its possibilities. Urban improvement and slum upgrading draws a lot of attention from city governments and urban planners. Such action is necessary, but it is not enough: Cities must look urgently to the future.
The projected expansion of the urban population in Asia and Africa, from 1.7 to 3.4 billion over a period of only 30 years, and the reduced level of available resources, stress the need for a more imaginative but pragmatic response. In turn, this will demand a realistic vision for the future, better information at the local and regional level, as well as participatory approaches and negotiated agreements that build on the knowledge and experience of the poor.
Decisions taken today in cities across the developing world will shape not only their own destinies but the social and environmental future of humankind. The approaching urban millennium could make poverty, inequality and environmental degradation more manageable, or it could make them exponentially worse. In this light, a sense of urgency has to permeate efforts to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the urban transition.