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Address by Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka Under-Secretary General of the United Nations Executive Director, UN-HABITAT on the occassion of World Habitat Day 2009
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Hon. Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Your Excellency, Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations
Ms. Melody Barnes, Director, White House Domestic Policy Council
Dr. Judith Rodin, President, Rockefeller Foundation
Mr. Jonathan Reckford, President, Habitat for Humanity International
Mr. Jon Bon Jovi and fellow members of the Honorary Committee for World Habitat Day
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps
Distinguished Award Winners and Guests
Members of the Press
Colleagues from the United Nations system
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor for me and my colleagues from UN-HABITAT to be here on this historic occasion when World Habitat Day is hosted by the Government and people of the United States of America in the nation’s esteemed capital, Washington, D.C. At the outset let me extend my sincere gratitude to the leadership and commitment displayed by Hon. Secretary Shaun Donovan and the co-Chairs of the Honorary Committee, Ms. Valerie Jarrett and Ms. Melody Barnes, and their entire distinguished membership. Specific mention goes to Dr. Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and her team for the moral and material support for the preparatory process that has brought us here today in Washington DC. Our partners are many and varied and you are here today. I thank you all for your attendance. Habitat for Humanity in particular has played a key role in actualizing World Habitat Day under the able leadership of my friend, Jonathan Reckford. I am grateful for the support and guidance that we have received from the Department of State exemplified by the presence of H.E Ambassador Susan Rice at this international gathering on the implementation of the habitat agenda. The world is watching as Habitat day transforms into Habitat Week with a broad spectrum of activities in the city including those of habitat professionals like the American Planners Association led by our core partner Prof. Paul Farmer. Thank you very much for this support.

Your Excellencies

The theme of World Habitat Day 2009 is Planning Our Urban Future. As Executive Director of the United Nations agency for human settlements for nearly a decade, I can tell you that there has never been a time within human memory when planning for our urban future was more urgent than it is now. Today, more than fifty percent – almost three-and-a-half billion – of our planet’s inhabitants live in cities. That number will rise to six billion within the next forty years. Nearly all of the earth’s population growth between now and 2050 will take place in cities.

Regrettably, most of that growth will occur in the world’s urban slums where poverty, deprivation and exclusion combine to offer hundreds of millions little more than misery and suffering.

In the developing world, a combination of rapid rural-to-urban migration and natural population increases in cities has resulted in a situation where the rate of population growth has outpaced the ability to provide affordable housing; employment; essential water, sanitation, education and health services; efficient transportation; and a sustainable base of natural resources. Slum populations are on the increase. Natural disasters on the rise. Our youth cannot find gainful occupation and are succeed into anti crime and anti social behavior. Rapid and chaotic urbanization is now recognized as Africa’s most challenging threat after HIV and AIDS.

In many cities of the developed world, consumption patterns have not been sustainable leading to an ever-increasing ecological footprint, increased inequalities and social exclusions exemplified in limited access to services such as health care, education and affordable housing. How to resolve these issues remains a challenge.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, at all scales, from local to global, has today become so great that it is a politically destabilizing force within many countries, rich and poor, and across national borders. This disruptive state of affairs can no longer be ignored or simply addressed from the top, down, through governance mechanisms that are unresponsive to human and environmental needs.

While livable cities depend upon rational economics, that is just one leg of the stool. If our cities are to be truly sustainable and harmonious, we must improve the lives and well-being of everyone, especially the urban poor. We must not continue to consume natural resources at rates that deny opportunity to our children and grandchildren or, as is so often the case, at the expense of distant indigenous communities whose socio-economic and ecological equilibrium we have disrupted.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On this World Habitat Day, it is my mission – a mission begun almost ten years ago – to ring the bell for a more secure urban future for all through effective, participatory, public planning.

Forgive me for reciting what is familiar history, but it is instructive to recall that the profession of planning was a product of the American Progressive Movement. In a response to the abuses and failures of the unbridled capitalism of the late 1800’s, this venerable movement arose from the American middle class on a platform of good governance.

Specific aims of the Progressive Movement included:

  • Removal of corruption and undue influence from government through the taming of bosses and political machines;
  • Inclusion of more people more directly in the political process;
  • And an increase in the role of government in solving social problems and establishing fairness in economic matters.

Behind Theodore Roosevelt and other great American leaders of all political persuasions, the Progressives succeeded in altering the course of American government, making it more responsive to the needs of its citizens. It resulted in better city management, in social legislation that protected women’s rights and the welfare of children and in a new appreciation for the environment that found its way into city plans and national legislation.

Professionalizing city planning was one of the innovations of the Progressives, and over the next fifty years American planning matured and became an integral part of public administration. American planning practitioners were invited to work internationally. With America lighting the path, planning was recognized as a critical function of urban management and was adopted by nearly every city in the world.

Planning, as you know, is the uniquely human ability to anticipate consequences, to envision alternative futures and to identify a set of policies and actions that will help us move toward a more desirable future state. We all agree on the ideal future of adequate shelter for all in our urbanizing world. We all agree on the necessity of adequate employment with just compensation. We all agree on the wisdom of husbanding our natural resources. Today, as we prepare for the climate change summit, we must also add this recently acknowledged threat to the picture.

Planning has long been recognized as a multi-dimensional urban management tool that can assist the political process in balancing the ecological, economic and equity dimensions of development. Planning today is capable of organizing a myriad of subjective variables through new techniques of visioning and public participation. Planning is also capable of complex analyses using new technologies like geographic information and global positioning systems. Just as our problems appear to be beyond the control of established management functions, planning is adapting and reinventing itself to meet the challenges.

It is our responsibility as politicians, public officials and citizens to grasp firmly the one instrument – planning – that will help mitigate our penchant for public folly, to place our faith in an open and inclusive planning process. We must either plan with and for people or perish from the pressures of population, climate change, migration, consumption, irresponsible individualism and unaccountable corporatism.

Fortunately humanity has been active in countering these challenges. World Habitat Day is an occasion when we recognize best practices and innovation in overcoming the challenges to our sustainable future. In this regard, I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the winners of the Habitat Scroll of Honor and the Building and Social Housing Foundation of the UK for 2009. They embody best practices in sustainable urban planning and governance from different parts of the world which is discussed at great length in the Global Report on Human Settlements, 2009 launched today. I recommend this report as a must read to all of you concerned about sustainable development.

In closing, I wish to thank the host government of the United States for providing me with the opportunity to conclude my series of World Habitat Day celebrations in America, which is a world leader in all respects. And what better place to hold these global celebrations than this magnificent National Building Museum. I wish to thank the CEO, Mr. Chase Rynd for hosting us and according us wonderful hospitality.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that we shall meet once again at the forthcoming 5th Session of the World Urban Forum to be held in Rio de Janeiro, 22nd to 27th March, 2009 to continue sharing ideas and strategies to secure our sustainable urban future.

I thank for your kind attention.

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