In June the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development will be held. Few will place much confidence in the capacity of national governments to drive forward an inclusive and environmental agenda for the world, as happened at Rio in 1992. Rather, the leaders of change today more and more seem to be the mayors of cities in Latin America. For example, Mexico City is at the forefront of planning and implementing strategies for environmental improvement and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
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Last week’s forced departure of the President of The Maldives has brought global attention to this small country. It is one of 29 small island developing states (SIDS) listed by the UN Commission on Trade and Development, though there is no official definition of a SIDS. These small countries face a range of sustainable development challenges, as I discussed in a recent article in Small States Digest. For example, many have to deal with debt and economic volatility, a particular problem for countries economically dependent on the export of a few natural resources. Energy dependency, HIV/AIDS and youth unemployment can be added to the list. While there has been some recognition of the threats from climate change to small islands, the urban growth dimension of all these issues has attracted little attention, yet is critical to the future of these places.
Richard Florida’s writings on the creative class have underpinned much of the urban regeneration work in Europe, Australia and North America over the past decade. The creative sector is also getting increasing attention in India, Brazil and China. A new publication from ESPON shows regional patterns and trends in the creative workforce across Europe. It argues that the ability to attract creative workers is highly linked to the qualities of places, and that the opportunities are not confined to the urban centres.
I went to the cinema last night to watch a new film from China. I recommend “Mr Tree” as a film that gives you a flavour of the great transition that China is going through as people move to the cities. It shows some of the processes of change and their impacts on villages in the countryside. It will prompt planners, environmentalists and those involved in economic development to debate the costs and benefits of an annual growth rate of 8% per annum growth rate, and to ask could similar gains be achieved without some of the less desirable side effects?
Looking at planning and economic development from a global perspective, 2011 was a year that posed more questions than it answered. At the level of headlines, there was little to raise the spirits or to make you confident that the world is on a more sustainable track. Governments still struggle to grasp why urbanisation is a strategic issue. The de-regulatory temper in England has echoes elsewhere. Depressed economies and austerity measures have set back regeneration and stalled housing markets. However, the quiet work of professionals and NGOs still has some bright lights and maybe points a way ahead.
We are facing a “deadly collision between urbanization and climate change”. This is the warning given in the 2011 Global Report on Human Settlements published by UN-Habitat. It comes at a time when expectation is rock bottom that governments will achieve a positive outcome at the climate summit in Durban. The UN-Habitat report recognises that many local authorities are implementing adaptation and mitigation measures. However, it says that climate change is still seen as a “marginal issue” by most policy makers. Furthermore, the connections between urbanisation and climate change are often overlooked, though they are crucially important.
Nowa Huta was a showcase development by the communist government in Poland in the 1950s. Today, on a bright, cold central European winter afternoon, I took the bus from the old town of Krakow, and rode out to see the place that in 1949 promised poor people “a better future”. In this homage to socialist realist town planning and architecture I was also retracing my own past. In 1970, during my first year teaching in the Department of Town and Country Planning at Heriot-Watt University/Edinburgh College of Art, I came here on a study visit with my students.
“From 1 January 2012 all of Australia’s capital cities will have in place planning systems to guide their futures, and it is these plans that will inform the Federal Government’s infrastructure funding. In this way, our essential social and economic infrastructure will all be funded in a coordinated way that best serves the needs and priorities of the nation.” With these words, Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport introduced the 2011 State of Australian Cities report. This explicit connection between the state of the cities, plans and investment in infrastructure sets a marker that other countries could learn from.
The palm trees sway in the breeze. Under a blue sky, the waves lap the beach of a sandy cove. The nearby mangrove forests are home to an amazing diversity of wildlife. How will Brunei, this tropical paradise, cope with the development pressures coming its way over the next 40 years? What does it tell us about planning in small countries?
A doubling of the urban population
Brunei Darussalam is less than 500 km north of the equator and has a population of about 400,000. It is squeezed into the north coast of Borneo. Bandar Seri Begawan is the capital and largest settlement with almost 250,000 residents. In all about 300,000 people live in the urban areas. Thus it is highly urbanised already, but the rate of urbanisation remains at over 2% per annum. In addition, the rate of natural increase is high. UN-Habitat forecasts that Brunei’s urban population will double by 2050.
The preparation of City Visions is celebrated in an exhibition currently on display in the Lighthouse, Glasgow, after previously being in Berlin and London. It focuses on four cities: Berlin, Chicago, London and Paris. It celebrates the centenary of the ‘General Town Planning Exhibition in Berlin’ in 1910, but also looks at the same 4 cities in 2010. What can we learn for today from this exhibition?