The regions have a message for Habitat III

Hong Kong

There is a view that the New Urban Agenda and the topics that will be discussed in Quito during the Habitat III Conference have to do basically with cities. In ORU Fogar, though, we believe that the regions also have a lot to say. It won’t be easy to take our message to Quito, but we will endeavour to make our voice heard. It might work with a small provocation that casts a doubt on Habitat III focus…so I will dare say that cities need the territory to be sustainable! 

Cities cannot produce all the food they need for their inhabitants. Cities do not have the water they need, nor the energy they consume. Big cities, conversely, generate a large amount of waste that is unlikely dumped, recycled or incinerated within the boundaries of the municipality. Cities, per se, are not sustainable. Tokyo with 38 million inhabitants, New Delhi with 25, Shanghai with 23, or México, Bombay or Sao Paolo with 21 are not sustainable, and neither are many other smaller cities that constitute a major environmental challenge. 

Thus, in ORU Fogar we call for cities in harmony with the territory. We believe that cities cannot be conceived as an entelechy, as an abstraction, as an isolated element. They are part of a country, of a region, of a territory with which they interact. Cities obtain resources of all kinds from the territory and, in their turn, they provide them with services and infrastructures.  

I believe that this inclusive vision should permeate meetings like Habitat III. In ORU Fogar we are very concerned to see that the continued growth of cities is discussed in forums without alarm. In 1900 only 10 % of the world population lived in cities. According to the United Nations, in 2008, the urban population surpassed the rural population. Today it represents 50% and according to current forecasts, it will reach 66% in 2050. This means that if today more than 1,000 million people live in suburban areas and substandard housing, in 2050 it could increase to 1,500 million, with all the consequences this situation implies in relation to safety, public health and social service management.

In September 2015, the United Nations took stock of the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000. Overall, in the last 15 years all goals showed substantial improvement. Extreme poverty, for example, dropped from 1900 million to 883. Figures relating to education, girls’ education and health also improved. The only thing that we have not yet succeeded in is stemming migration to the cities, which, in our view, should be a priority in the New Urban Agenda

This issue should be dealt with in Quito. We need balanced and well-cohered territories, with infrastructures and facilities able to retain people in their home land. It is important to attend to the needs of people living in dense quarters, but also to make sure that the territories have enough schools, outpatient offices, hospitals, libraries… in the same conditions as in the city.  And we must also ensure mobility with well-knit and safe transportation networks in the whole territory. 

We want to have strong intermediate cities, villages with good quality of life and an improved rural environment. For that, we need to modernise agriculture and make it a dignified activity in everyone’s eyes. We must combat stigma that the rural environment is backward and entrenched in the past. We might need to talk about land property and agrarian reforms to progress in this matter. 

The best thing that can be done for cities is to stop them from continuing to grow. Urban planning worldwide should draw a line that will bring an end to urban sprawling. During the Summit we held in Rio de Janeiro last April, the Governor of Santander (Colombia), Didier Tavera, in a great speech on Habitat III, talked about reclaiming rurality, enhancing the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and embarking on a process of repopulating rural areas. In Colombia, this has to do with the peace process. The conflict caused the depopulation of the countryside, crowding Bogotá, and now is being repopulated. We propose to replicate the Colombian rural repopulation process in a broader scope

In any event, we believe that regional –or intermediate- governments have a great deal to say in these discussions and also a lot to do. 


Paúl Carrasco

President of ORU Fogar

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