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“Sought by many, achieved by few” – Sustainable Urbanization
by Robyn L
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

A balloon of the World - Sandton Square
Photo: Mandy Paton-Ash
Johannesburg, South Africa •• Aug. 29, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• A meeting focussed on an initiative bringing together UN-Habitat, DFID, UNITAR and many other organizations in an attempt to create competent, sustainable cities was held at the WSSD in Johannesburg on Wed. 28th August. This coalition for sustainable urbanization looked at 5 major cities where this partnership for sustainable cities had been discussed and implemented.

To clarify the term, sustainable urbanization is a dynamic process that brings together linkages between cities and their environment at all levels, and incorporates population and economic indicators to ensure a sustainable environment. This definition moves beyond urban vs. rural debates to encompass the reality of urban growth and provide solutions to promote a sustainable living environment.

Speakers at this meeting emphasized that the results of this partnership should not overlap, nor conversely, leave any gaps in the planning and implementation, but rather complement initiatives already implemented – duplication was not advisable. When discussing the different roles of different sectors, the importance of local city authorities was emphasized: a prerequisite for Sustainable urbanization is local capacity, so as to allow mobilization of local resources.

Five cities gave report backs of the state of their urban areas after being involved in this initiative:

  • Durban (RSA, East Coast) stated that what was important to realize is that capacity building doesn’t start from zero: basic foundations already present must be built upon, not ignored and recreated. Durban was recognized for their successful water management programmes.
  • Curitiba, once Brazil’s ecological capital and now Brazil’s social capital, claims families and people are the core of city planning, and full environmental literacy and education are essential to sustainable development. Curitiba claims an excellent transport system, much green space and miles of bike paths. The Mayor of Curitiba stated that cities are the builders of bridges that turn dreams into reality.
  • Lyon, in France, has been applauded for their social housing and public health planning systems, while
  • Shanghai (delegates had not arrived yet) was recognized for good governance and technological advance.
  • The fifth city, Kuala Lumpar, became part of this initiative only recently, and thus little to report back. The mayor of this city did, however, express pleasure at being involved in this partnership (matters were not helped by a very thick accent!)
All cities were seen to be taking a sustainable urbanization approach to the reorganization of human society, and it was noted that third and first world cities both experienced the same issues and problems, and thus decision should not be made mutually exclusive.

The sustainable urbanization phenomenon has been discussed and implemented at various levels in various North and South global regions, and is seen as a cornerstone to sustainable environmental and human development.

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