World Habitat Day Recognizes Need for Continued Action on Sustainable Cities
1 October 2012: UN officials made statements on the occasion of World Habitat Day 2012, held under the theme “Changing cities, building opportunities," which aimed to highlight the role of cities as engines of growth. According to the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the main challenges confronting cities and towns include unsustainable energy consumption patterns, economic and social inequalities, and unemployment, especially among youth.
Urban areas also produce the majority of the world's waste and pollution, and many cities and towns are particularly vulnerable to disasters, including those associated with climate change.
In his message for the Day, Joan Clos, Executive Director, UN-HABITAT, urged creating “the city of the 21st century – a smart, people-centered city… able to rid itself of the inefficient, unsustainable urban habits of the previous century.” Clos described urbanization as a historical source of development, noting that well planned cities can provide opportunities to current and future residents. Clos called for a mind shift among decisions makers and a paradigm shift among citizens, “from viewing urbanization as a problem…towards seeing it as a tool for development.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged commitments promoting sustainable urban environments. While noting that the world has achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of significantly improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, Ban stressed that absolute numbers of slum dwellers continues to grow, with nearly 25% of urban residents, or over 850 million people, living in slums or informal settlements. Both Ban and Clos highlighted recent recognition of the importance of cities to sustainability at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). Ban said Rio+20 “stressed…global partnerships in implementing the Habitat Agenda and highlighted the key role of municipal governments in setting a vision for sustainable cities, from planning new urban areas to revitalizing older cities and neighborhoods.”
Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur on housing, said housing policies worldwide increasingly focus on housing finance, neglecting adequate housing for the poor. She called for a shift to a human rights-based approach, to foster opportunities for all. UN Women highlighted sexual harassment and violence experienced by women and girls in public spaces, which often forces them to stay inside after dark. Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, UN Women, said no city could be considered safe, smart or sustainable until women and girls could enjoy public spaces without fear of violence.
This year's theme for World Habitat Day is in line with UN-HABITAT's “I am a City Changer” campaign, which aims to involve all citizens in improving quality of life in cities and towns. [UN Press Release] [UN Women Press Release] [Website of World Habitat Day 2012] [Statements and Speeches on World Habitat Day] [I'm a City Changer website]