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| Commission and UN-HABITAT team up for sustainable cities

Lives lived out wholly in the slums of the world are the focus of the uphill struggle to bring urban living up to basic standards and reduce poverty worldwide. The European Commission and UN-HABITAT are collaborating to share research results and disseminate new solutions to cities globally in the cause of poverty reduction and sustainable development. A new joint publication, Creating a World of Sustainable Cities, highlights the importance of research and development.

Slum in Romania © Belga
Slum in Romania © Belga

The challenge to solve urban poverty

As our towns and cities grow at unprecedented rates, sustainable urbanisation is one of the most pressing challenges facing the global community in this century. In 1950, one-third of the world’s people lived in cities. This proportion has risen to one-half and will continue to grow to two-thirds, or 6 billion people, by 2050. Cities are now home to half of humankind. They generate wealth and opportunity, but they also create disease, crime, pollution and poverty, and lead to a huge consumption of natural resources.

The appalling circumstances of the world’s urban poor are recognised by the United Nations’ Millennium Declaration. The Goals of the Declaration commit the international community to promote human development as the key to sustaining social and economic progress in all countries. The Declaration includes a commitment to improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, a task mandated by the UN General Assembly to UN-HABITAT, the UN’s human settlements programme, to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

Sustainable development is also a fundamental objective under the Treaties of the European Union and the draft Constitution, which must be applied in all policies. On this basis, the European Union Sustainable Development Strategy was agreed at the Göteborg European Council in 2001, which includes the urban thematic strategy.

The European Commission has joined forces with UN-HABITAT to collaborate on research on urban development. This new joint initiative to make cities around the world more sustainable is part of a new stage of closer co-operation between the two organisations. The Habitat Agenda is a global call to action and offers, within a framework of goals and principles and commitments, a positive vision of sustainable human settlements.

Research is key

Mitrovica Bridge divides Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, where UN-HABITAT has several urban governance initiatives.
Mitrovica Bridge divides Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, where UN-HABITAT has several urban governance initiatives.
Speaking at the September 2004 UN World Urban Forum in Barcelona, Spain, Eric Ponthieu, Head of Sector at the European Commission’s Research DG, stressed that research provides enormous potential in helping moves towards the sustainable and equitable upgrading of urban areas. “Managing cities by trial and error, following instincts or adopting short-term views, limited to the horizon of the next elections, are all wrong attitudes,” he said. “Research can bring innovative and durable solutions that enable local authorities to reform their cities at lower cost.”

His speech affirming the willingness of the Commission and UN-HABITAT to explore new fields of joint intervention was part of the launch of their first joint publication, Creating a World of Sustainable Cities, available in English, French and Spanish (a version in Chinese will be ready in April 2005). This report highlights the importance of research and development in achieving international and EU policy goals. It brings together a mixture of case studies, drawn from the research programmes of both organisations, which can be applied to urban renewal projects throughout the world.

From information to knowledge

The report marks the start of a process of intense cooperation. In the short term, this new initiative will focus on two areas of work aimed at bringing new solutions to urban problems. The first is to collaborate on a shared database of research results, while the second is to organise a joint conference in China in November 2005.

The establishment of a common database of research results in the fields of urban planning and development is much needed by local practitioners who are eager to access state-of-the-art knowledge on the improvement of the quality of the urban environment. The database will be supplied with research results from the EC’s Fifth Framework Programme Key Action The City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage and UN-HABITAT research results. Its presentation will be designed to make the knowledge accessible to non-experts.

The two organisations have common interests in sustainable urban development and management, including sustainable housing, water and sanitation, and sustainable land use. Both are also committed to the eradication of urban poverty, and good and effective urban governance, as part of realising the Millennium Development Goals.

This collaboration between the EC and UN-HABITAT could be furthered through the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development (2006-2010), whose content is currently being debated between the Commission and stakeholders

Related research themes


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