Press Conference by New Executive Director of UN-Habitat

3 November 2010

Press Conference by New Executive Director of UN-Habitat

3 November 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by New Executive Director of UN-Habitat


To help curb the growing number of people that call a slum their home, Governments must develop comprehensive urban policies that moved beyond the “megalopolis” to envelop villages, university towns and mid-size cities, the newly named Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN‑Habitat) told reporters at a Headquarters press conference today.

“Urban planning is not only about big cities”, said Joan Clos, the former mayor of Barcelona who assumed his post with UN-Habitat at its Nairobi base last month.  Constructive urban planning dealt with people’s mobility patterns and how people left rural areas and how they organized in all types of locations: from small villages to market towns to mid-size cities as well as the megalopolis.  By crafting a comprehensive and complex urban policy that helped people who were abandoning the countryside, officials could create economic value for people and their cities, he said.

Acknowledging that urban planning had gone out of fashion, Mr. Clos said “We have seen the lack of urban planning affecting the big cities.  Now we are seeing another chapter in the lack of urban planning in university towns, market towns and villages”.  He added that any “policy is a political decision”, and said slum populations would increase over the next decade unless industries in urban areas produced more jobs.

The General Assembly nominated Mr. Clos to his UN-Habitat post in August 2010.  A Minister of Industry, Tourism and Trade in the cabinet of former Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Mr. Clos had served for decades with the Spanish government at both the local and national levels.  He was mayor of Barcelona from 1997 to 2006 and implemented many investment programmes, including Barcelona@22.  This programme helped renovate the city’s industrial and technological zones.

In response to a reporter’s question about how he would now apply lessons learned from his time in Barcelona, Mr. Clos noted that the Spanish city’s response to its urban crisis in the 1980s was to submit an application to serve as host of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.  This decision aimed to deal with a 22 per cent unemployment rate and double-digit inflation.  In addition to turning around the city’s economic fortunes, the planning for the Olympics also united the city’s stakeholders in a common project.  It “created a sense of purpose and will for change”.

He stressed that it was crucial to leverage all of a city’s stakeholders to generate change that would curb poverty and improve living conditions for urban dwellers.  Governments needed strategic planning to manage the surge in slum populations around the world as technology eliminated jobs in the agricultural sector and rural residents moved to the city in search of employment.  Governments had “to generate a circle…a dynamic of prosperity” as people looked to city governments for jobs, and not just basic city services, such as streets.

Urban planning solutions needed to be applied at the local level, even if those solutions were initially developed at the federal level.  “Local problems are always political issues”, he said.  Solutions come from the inside. They don’t come from heaven or other magical places”.

In response to a reporter’s query on UN-Habitat’s role in curbing the forced evictions of urban citizens, Mr. Clos said those evictions were a violation of human rights and they should not occur.  As a country’s economy developed, protections and compensations were usually developed for people evicted from their homes.  It was UN-habitat’s role to defend the rights of these people and help countries advance and develop protective measures for them.  Governments needed to tap into the “added value” produced during the urbanization process and build on the economic value produced by cities.

Mr. Clos succeeds Ana Tibaijuka, who had headed UN-Habitat since it was formed in 2001 to replace the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS).  The agency was mandated by the General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

Mr. Clos addressed the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) on 2 November.  (See Press Release GA/EF/3294)  He aimed to follow a two-prong goal of continuity and renewal at the agency, as it worked within the United Nations family to help countries and cities address their problems.  Those issues ranged from the traditional problems of poverty and development to emerging issues, such as climate change and people’s health, he said.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.