By Denis McClean
Geneva - At the opening of the 6th World Urban Forum in Naples today, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Dr. Joan Clos, said many countries were being overwhelmed by urbanization which he compared to a tsunami.
More must be done to develop national urban policy and institutional capacity to ensure jobs and prosperity and to tackle environmental challenges. “We need to re-design our cities to face these challenges,” he said.
“What we are seeing now is a huge process of urbanization in the south which goes hand in hand with development. You cannot have one without the other. The problem is that the institutional architecture cannot keep pace with urbanization.
“Here we have a gap which needs to be covered. If there is no proper anticipation urbanization becomes a mess and if you try to correct the problem afterwards it costs a lot to fix. Countries are overwhelmed by urbanization. It’s like a tsunami. Urbanization goes faster than the capacity to manage it.”
Dr. Clos said that in order to avoid informal settlements and slums and concentrations of people in mega capitals you need to plan for it, “at national level you need urban policy and at local level you need city extensions.”
He thanked the Italian Government and Naples for hosting the event and said the vitality and complexity of the city would add real content to the Forum discussions on urbanization.
Luigi de Magistris, Mayor of Naples, told the opening day press conference he was struck by the fact that “so many things are identical in many communities whether they consist of thousands of people or millions.”
The Mayor said they all faced similar issues in their efforts to make their cities more livable including financial autonomy from their governments, closing down streets to cars and other measures which could make cities less stressful and more enjoyable for citizens. Urban renewal was the best antidote against insecurity in some city areas.
Tomorrow, Dr. Clos and Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, are scheduled to launch UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient Report 2012. It is the first in-depth study of the two year old campaign which now has over 1,000 members.