Daily News (Sri Lanka)
BASIC RIGHTS: The United Nations celebrates ‘World Habitat Day’ since 1985 on the first Monday in October of each year to focus the state of human settlements and the basic rights to adequate shelter for all. This occasion has been celebrated on several themes by the UN-Habitat. This year it has been decided to celebrate the “World Habitat Day” on the theme of ‘A Safe City is a Just City’.
The safety of city has been threatened due to the following facts.
* Insecurity due to crime and violence
* Forced eviction and insecurity of tenure
* Natural and man-made disasters including climatic changes.
The combination of these threats to urban settlements poses a great challenge to both national and city governments.
Urbanisation is a positive development factor. If properly managed it can help reduce poverty by providing adequate shelter through a gender sensitive and participatory approach. It can give communities access to services, infrastructure, governance, security and employment opportunities.
But in both urban and rural areas of developing countries, properly managed urbanisation requires tremendous improvements and much needs to be done to reach minimum standards on services, infrastructure and housing as well as in local governance, gender development and security of tenure.
According to UN-HABITAT slum population in urban areas of the developing regions of the world estimated at more than 870 million in 2001. This figure is expected to increase by over 560 million by the year 2020, representing an average of 29 million . of new slum dwellers per year.
Currently 78.2 percent of the urban population in the world’s least developed countries live in slums. 71.9 per cent in Sub Sahara Africa and 43 per cent in developing regions.
Figures published by the UNDP Human Development Report 2004, shows that in the least developed countries, 38 per cent of the population requires sustainable access to improved sanitation, while 38 per cent still require sustainable access to an improved water source.
Efforts to improve the living conditions of those and the needy are focused on urban slums. But these efforts have been failed to deliver improvements at the rate slums are expanding. In addition, the urbanization needs of rural populations have been neglected, leading to increased rural urban migration and poor living conditions in urban centres.
In terms of process, urban plans were designed by bureaucrats and experts, generally ignoring political and social dynamics of the city. City planning is a top-down technocratic exercise, not too different from economics plannings.
* In terms of product, urban plans were essentially spatial zoning and land use maps, not associated with investment planning and resource mobilisation.
* In terms of implementation, urban planning was generally blind on institutional issues such as the relationship between sectoral ministries, and between central and local governments.
It does not associate with long-term goals with daily city management constrains and short term priorities.
* In terms of strategy, urban planning tried to go around the need for policy and legal reforms, and often unquestioningly accepted existing situations. Consequently, it failed to address the root courses of many urban problems.
As a result of these limitations, most master plans were simply not implemented.
The international debt crisis of the early 1980s dealt a fatal blow to traditional urban planning as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) were implemented in many developing countries.
Under SAPs governments had to slash social spending, including the basic services in order to repay their debt. As there were no other plan Urban Planning became relevant planning came back through the environmental window in conjunction with the earth.
Urban planning and subsequently introduced participatory planning and management as an elements of good urban governance. This new planning was expected to meet the following criteria.
* In terms of process of urban plans should be prepared in democratic way, involving civil society organisations and all concerned stake-holders. Experts should mainly play a facilitating role.
* In terms of product strategic plans or city development strategies should replace master plans. The forces should be on a shared vision for the city (linking social development, economic productivity and environmental protection) and on multi partner action plans to translate this vision in to reality by addressing priority issues.
* In terms of implementation, local authorities should be in the driving seat as the level of government closest to the citizens.
Powers and resources should be decentralized and local capacities strengthened. Planning and urban management should be closely integrated.
* In terms of strategy planning, it should be considered as a tool, its effectiveness dependent directly on the quality of the urban governance system. Good governance and appropriate urban policy should almost automatically lead to good planning.
The urban management program and the sustainable cities program, have demonstrated that this new type of city planning is feasible provided it is focused locally-owned and politically supported. However, it seems too early to claim that a urban planning is back on the global development scene.
The new planning approach promoted by international organisations and already adapted by several developed countries is complex process requiring a lot of discussions, commitment and continuity it leadership and adequate capacities at different levels. This process is hardly affordable by least developed countries (LDCs) which lack institutional capacities, financial resources and often clear policies.
The challenge therefore is to identify and promote a minimalist approach to urban planning. It is an approach that would generally respect the above mentioned criteria.
While simultaneously focusing on very few top priorities considered as essential for guiding urban development. This concept could be called “Affordable Participatory Planning” by definition the mineralized planning approach should not be comprehensive but selective.
* The process should mobilised civil society and political organisations in the definition on the vision (“The City We Want”) and priority areas (Hot Spots) through popular consultations.
* In terms of product, priorities should be given for infrastructural development emphasising (specially in LDCs) on primary road and water networks and on pricing and municipal finance.
* Implementation should include a strong component on institutional strengthening, particularly at the local level.
* The strategy should preferably be associated with a review/reform of urban governance legislation, rules and practices.
Of course minimal planning requires maximum political commitment to ensure impact and sustainability with such commitment, urban planning can certainly become affordable and useful. But planners should also accept to play a more modest and more targeted role in the management of urban affairs.
The writer is the Senior Manager Housing Development, Housing Development Division National Housing Development Authority
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