4 June 2001


Press Briefing


The challenge of a divided city was the main message of two new reports of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), its Executive Director, Anna Tibaijuka, told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press briefing.  On Wednesday, the General Assembly would convene a three-day special session to appraise recent global progress in the development of human settlements.  

Ms. Tibaijuka was joined by Jay Moor, the coordinator of the report entitled "The State of the World's Cities", and Iouri Moisseev, the coordinator of the "Global Report on Human Settlements".  Sue Markham, Spokesperson for General Assembly President Harri Holkeri, introduced the participants.

Not unlike Charles Dickens' era 150 years ago, said Ms. Tibaijuka, the city was becoming increasingly divided.  For example, there were bona fide globe-trotters who lived in New York but never visited parts of the city.  Likewise, in the context of globalization, poverty and exclusion were dividing cities.  Globalization had created opportunities, but it had also created numerous challenges, particularly for cities, which were engaged in cut-throat competition to attract businesses.  For cities' residents, the results had been uneven.  Many cities boasted affluent central business districts in one part of town, and slum and squatter settlements in another.  Africa posed a special challenge, as people there were moving away from both city strife and wars in the countryside.  Hope lay in good governance and international solidarity. 

"The State of the World's Cities" report -- the first of its kind -- was an attempt by Habitat, to apprise the international community of the latest situation.  Its focus was based on the fact that half the world's population was now living in cities and that in the next 20 years, that number was expected to grow to 60 per cent.  Such rapid urbanization, which was taking place mainly in developing countries, posed a new development challenge.  Along with the gender dimension of poverty, there was now the double problem of the "urbanization" and "feminization" of poverty.  The report on cities was a situation analysis which paved the way for a more analytical in-depth version of Habitat's flagship report, "Global Report on Human Settlements".

Mr. Moor recalled that, in 1800, only two per cent of the population lived in cities.  That percentage remained small until the early 1900s, when the curve of the urban population suddenly rose dramatically. 

As the reports showed, institutions had not been developed well enough to manage cities.  Indeed, the process of governing cities was just now being learned, and only in very few places was it being done successfully.  Many people worried that national governments were losing their authority in a globalizing world.  In some ways, they were losing control over liberalized financial elements of globalization, but they still played a very strong role in development and regulation. 

He said that national governments must start to pay more attention to urban development through the formulation of national urban policies.  Most governments

did not have a cohesive national urban policy.  Rather, they had a series of

sectoral policies that affected cities, but those lacked a unified, cohesive approach.  Many national governments were beginning to realize that cities provided instruments to nourish national human and economic development.

Responding to a question about whether capital cities should be approached differently, Mr. Moor said that classifying cities should be avoided.  Each city was different from the next.  There were specific problems in governing capital cities, which were the seats of power and the sites of many extra activities.  Their management was ultimately a political issue.  Washington, D.C., was created out of a swamp and was purposely kept from becoming part of any state.  In the United States, the states regulated cities.  So the Congress, for the most part, had regulated Washington, D.C.  Consequently, its local government had not always been responsive to its residents. 

Ms. Tibaijuka said that the process of decentralization would define the relationships between national and local governments.  National constitutions differed with respect to the degree of autonomy of the cities.  The globalization process was leading to an evolution into governance, particularly with respect to the relationships between cities and States.  Undoubtedly, the twenty-first century was about cities.

To a question about what the upcoming Conference was asking transnational corporations to do in terms of changing the way they do business, Ms. Tibaijuka said the Habitat Agenda was the most complicated Agenda of the United Nations since it dealt with the living environment, under which everything else came into focus.  Progress required its implementation in the context of globalization.  In the end, it was an "agenda of conscience" requiring international solidarity both within and between States.

Asked in a follow-up question what lines of communication had been established with multinational corporations, Ms. Tibaijuka said that Habitat had a broad spectrum of partners, including some of the big corporations.  One of the biggest problems facing cities in Africa, for example, concerned the provision of clean water.  A programme called "Water for African Cities" was supported by the Turner Foundation.  The multinational corporations had a very big role to play, particularly with resource-intensive challenges such as the building of infrastructures for human settlements.

What had been the response of Africa to the Habitat Agenda, particularly to the aspect of decentralization? another correspondent asked. 

Ms. Tibaijuka said that commendable progress had been made in the developing countries, particularly in Africa.  Among the main instruments being used to launch the Habitat Agenda was a campaign called "Secure Tenure" which sought to raise awareness of the right to housing and to security of tenure.  Its focus was on the economic empowerment of women and all other dispossessed and poor.  Another key campaign concerned building the capacity of city mayors.  The campaign had had a positive effect in Nigeria and Brazil.  Tomorrow, the Mayors, who were the main advisers on how to proceed with implementation of the Agenda, would hold a special event at Headquarters

Asked for a recent update according to region on progress made in improving the quality of human settlements, Ms. Tibaijuka referred the correspondent to the two reports, which contained information submitted by individual countries.  Indeed, many countries, both rich and poor, had submitted their reports to the special session, which was basically an auditing exercise.  Her report summarized the country reports.  The "Global Report on Human Settlements" was designed to stimulate discussion and focus attention on the work that remained to be done. 

"We are not here to congratulate ourselves," she said, "but to focus on unsolved problems and see the best way forward".  The fact was that 1.2 billion people were without adequate shelter.  Habitat's challenge was to bring shelter and housing back into the centre of the fight against poverty. 

Replying to a question about how to deal with cities that had been destroyed by war, Ms. Tibaijuka said that the issue had been a focus of Habitat's activities and analysis.  Habitat had extensive programmes in post-conflict and disaster areas, such as in Kosovo, where it was working within the framework of the United Nations Mission in terms of housing and property rights restitution.  The Centre was also very much involved in reconstruction efforts in Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Wherever there was conflict, Habitat was there.

Asked to respond to the assumption that tackling rural development would mitigate the move to the cities, Ms. Tibaijuka said that structural transformations in societies should not be ignored.  Urbanization was occurring because cities were centres of opportunity and engines of growth.  They could also be sources of exclusion and misery.  People moved, not because they would be better off, but because they expected to be.  While no one should give up on rural development, the approach needed to be balanced.  Moreover, it was unrealistic to fight poverty without doing something about urban poverty. 

To a question about her definition of an ideal city, she said that was one in which there was no social exclusion; an ideal place was one of inclusiveness.  She was born in an African settlement with lots of problems, but there was inclusiveness and no one slept under a tree.  Despite the wealth of some affluent cities, people clung to the pavements below skyscrapers.

Mr. Moor added that the evolution of cities was about change and opportunity.  An ideal city activated democracy.  It had a diverse economy, a lot of social capital, and associations among people.  It also provided opportunities for upward social mobility, which was the key to extracting people from poverty.  It might not be possible to eradicate poverty, but cities did that much better than rural areas.  Indeed, rural areas should not ever be developed in a way that stopped people from moving to the cities.  That had not worked on a sustained basis anywhere in the world at any time, he said.

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For information media. Not an official record.