| Healthy Cities: our cities, our future |
|Part I: Perspectives|
Professor Dr Klaus Tipfer
Federal Minister for Regional Planning, Building and Urban Development
Federal Republic of Germany
Chairman, United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development
The global urban challenge
The role of urban communities in global sustainable development and in the improvement of local health conditions has already been recognized by the Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. The conference underlined the key roles of human health and of human settlements for our common future. One of the main documents of this conference, Agenda 21, calls in Chapters 6 and 7 for international, national and local action in these fields. As many worldwide health problems arise from unhealthy living conditions in cities, this congress focuses on two interlinking cornerstones for sustainable development.
The challenges are indeed both urgent and impressive. Urban growth of large cities, metropolises and even "mega-cities" is about to continue. At the turn of the century, half of the world's population will live in cities. In the year 2025, the earth is expected to be home to almost 100 mega-cities with a population of more than 5 million. 80 of these agglomerations will be located in what we call today the developing countries.
Big cities often witness excessive and wasteful consumption of water, energy and other resources. With lack of appropriate infrastructure and technology, these cities suffer from wide-spread pollution of air and water, even contamination of soil and food. Health conditions in cities of developing countries are often far below decent standards. Even in prosperous countries, many health disorders are related to specific influences from an urban environment.
The Social Summit in Copenhagen once again highlighted the importance of social issues for sustainable development. In many cities of the world, the absence of well coordinated urban and regional planning contributes to economic and social deprivation, loss of community, social segregation and other negative urban trends, which in turn contribute to social diseases like crime, alcohol abuse and drug problems as well as to psychological disorders.
After many years of analysis and discussion, it is now time for action. For progress toward healthy and ecological cities, three areas of action are of prime importance:
First, we need a modern infrastructure for environmental and health protection. Drinking water supply, wastewater treatment, waste disposal and remediation technologies are essential for adequate urban living conditions. Millions of people in developing countries do not even have access to the most basic life support systems.
Secondly, urban production and consumption patterns, often linked with highly mobile and energy-intensive urban life-styles, need to be adjusted to the needs of resource protection. Let me quote a very impressive example. A European city with 1 million inhabitants requires on average more than 10 000 (metric) tons of fossil fuels, more than 300 000 tons of water and 2000 tons of food per day and at the same time it produces 1500 tons of harmful emissions, 300 000 tons of wastewater and 1600 tons of solid waste. It is quite obvious that we cannot count on modern technology alone if we want to solve these problems. More attention has to be given to strategies for product recycling and product responsibility of manufacturers; last, but not least, changes in behaviour patterns related to mobility, energy use and leisure activities need to be encouraged. For the necessary adjustments, environmental and health protection need to be integrated into mainstream economic, development and planning policies and to be supported by economic instruments using the market mechanism.
Thirdly, the internal structures of the cities and in particular those of the large agglomerations, need to be examined. When growing cities lack a focus on existing or new centres, when they "dissolve" into the county-side, creating vast suburbs where people have to use a car when they want to buy a loaf of bread, the result will be a very unsustainable physical structure. It has become evident in the context of climate protection policies that much of the energy consumption in transport is the result of the settlement structure and of ill-advised planning policies. Data from research on urban travel patterns show that very clearly: to satisfy the same set of daily needs, residents of a typical, purely residential suburb of a large German city travel three times as much by car as people living in a city sub-centre. In the search for a sustainable land use pattern, we may come to rediscover the wisdom of traditional urban design which has, to this day, contributed so much to urban vitality and the community spirit. At the same time, a concentration of settlements around well-equipped centres can help preserve the open space which is necessary for an environmentally sound and healthy region. In looking for what makes urban neighbourhoods vital, attractive and socially stable, a healthy mix of urban functions is seen to be a key element.
The agenda for sustainable urban development
Future generations may look back on the Rio Conference and on Agenda 21 as a turning point in the history of urban planning philosophy. For the first time in history, urban policies are not defined solely from the perspective of individual needs, but also from the requirements for the survival of this planet. "Think globally, act locally" - this slogan stands for a new comprehensive and integrative approach which is the essence of sustainable development.
The broad scope for local action is demonstrated by the Agenda 21 chapter dealing with sustainable human settlements development, which includes programmes for shelter development, sustainable land use planning and management, provision of environmental infrastructure as well as sustainable energy and transport systems and construction industry activities. With regard to the estimated financial needs, the section relating to human settlements stands out as the most capital-intensive section of Agenda 21.
The UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which was subsequently installed to monitor the implementation of the Rio decisions and to provide global leadership on the road towards sustainability, has from the beginning attached high priority to issues both of human health and of human settlements development. In the 1994 session of the Commission, which I had the privilege to chair, the Commission undertook an in-depth review of the state of global and national actions in these fields. The interlinkages between poverty, lack of basic urban infrastructure and environmental services and poor health conditions were foremost among the concerns of the Commission.
The message has come through that - on a global scale - the future of mankind will be shaped largely by urban conditions. Whether or not governments find ways of coping with accelerating urban growth, whether or not local authorities succeed in combating pollution, limiting automobile traffic, securing basic health and social needs - this will determine the quality of life for the generations to come and with it the chance to solve conflict within nations and between them.
Let us be clear that it is not the city as such which can be blamed for the conditions which we find wanting and often appalling. There will be no road back to a pre-industrial world with a majority living in the countryside in harmony with nature. The Commission has recognized the potential of cities for housing a growing population with minimal impact on landscape and other natural resources. The challenge is to organize large urban areas in such a way that allows for efficient provision and management of housing, job opportunities, commerce and trade, mobility and leisure.
Let me say a few words about the mandate of the Commission. The Commission's role is to draw together the various activities on all levels - global, national, regional, local - and to provide leadership on the road towards sustainability in development. It is not going to substitute for any existing international institutions, but it is also more than a coordinating body. It is the Commission's mandate to bring together governments and international institutions, in particular those of the UN system and to provide leadership, analysis and coordination on the path towards sustainability. It is in this spirit that the Commission on Sustainable Development invites governments and international organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the OECD, as well as non-governmental organizations and individuals, to share the task of designing and implementing global strategies for sustainability.
The role of OECD countries
What is the challenge for the OECD countries in a global strategy for sustainable human settlements?
First of all, the developed countries have to recognize that their urban life-styles, their patterns of production and consumption are an important part of the global environmental problem. It is one of the important messages of UNCED and its follow-up that the developed countries, even though their health standards are generally better, are in no way the environmental models of the world. They are, however, better at externalizing negative environmental effects to other regions, to the atmosphere, to the oceans.
Second, the developed countries are in a position to provide the blue-prints, the know-how and the technology for managing large conurbations in ways which provide minimal standards for health, safety and basic services. The vision of "ecological and sustainable cities" is gaining more and more ground with local government institutions, with planners, architects, with contractors and engineers and most importantly, with the citizens who in their daily lives will make the adjustments for a sustainable life-style. We need the power of this vision, the imagination and the talent of all these people for our own cities, but we also need to offer this innovative power to the local authorities in the developing countries which are often overwhelmed by the sheer size of their tasks. It would be a great symbol of global urban solidarity if more and more cities from OECD countries would form partnerships with cities from developing countries, or countries in transition, for the transfer of know-how and technology and for the exchange of experience. Let me say it again: developed countries cannot claim possession of higher wisdom in urban planning. Learning for sustainable urban development is not a one-way street. Many traditional local practices have proved their superiority over imported expertise. And yet, the institutional and technological capacities of developed countries can be an important boost to the struggling urban authorities in the southern hemisphere.
Looking towards the upcoming United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, HABITAT II, it is appropriate and urgent that the nations united in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development define their specific contribution to a global picture of human settlement policies. In my view, the work going on in the urban programme of the OECD and in particular in this "Ecological City Project", stands for the most innovative and the most enlightened elements which OECD countries have to offer to the urban communities of the world. Linking this work to the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development and to the preparatory process for HABITAT II would greatly help in creating the powerful partnerships needed for mastering the global urban challenge.