OXFORD, England April 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With
70 percent of the world's population expected to live in cities
by 2050, getting urban planning right is crucial to ensuring
future cities are safe, resilient and fair places, particularly
for the poorest residents, experts said Wednesday.
As Africa urbanises, its cities will need 700 million more
homes, 310,000 more schools and 85,000 additional health centres
by 2050, said Christian Benimana, a Rwandan architect.
"How we set up all this infrastructure has to be carefully
thought through," said Benimana, who works with MASS Design
Group, which focuses on architecture that promotes human
"It can't be a random thing, in the way we've been doing it
for 100 years. We have to think seriously. If we don't, the
current situation where economic inequality is blatantly visible
will worsen," said Benimana.
Rapidly expanding Lagos, for instance, a megacity of 23
million, would like to "sanitise" itself and look more like
Singapore, said Liz Agbor-Tabi, an associate director at 100
Resilient Cities, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative.
But in its efforts to make that happen, authorities in
recent months have demolished swathes of waterfront slums,
leaving thousands of people homeless.
"When cities approach their desire to develop this way, it
undermines....cohesion, ownership, well-being, belonging and
communities," Cameroon-born Agbor-Tabi said during a panel
discussion at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.
MAKING THE POOR VISIBLE
What needs to happen instead, said Sheela Patel, the chair
of Slum Dwellers International, is a genuine rethink of planning
efforts to ensure the poor are not seen as invisible or simply
an obstacle to growth and development.
"The real fault line in cities is the difference between
formal and informal," said Patel, who directs the Mumbai-based
"The old rules make all informal (settlements and
activities) criminal, illegal and unacceptable," she said.
That makes it very hard to effectively include slums and
poor people in plans to spread the use of clean energy or
address climate change, for instance, she said.
When "everybody who is poor is invisible", city data
collected is often inaccurate and that means "the chances you'll
get anything right, even in the next century, seems dismal," she
"Engineering, planning and architecture are very far away
from looking at the kind of changes that are needed to create
equitable cities that are welcoming to all," she added.
Some cities, however, have shown how changing planning to
include the poor can fundamentally improve urban life for all.
As Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, expanded
rapidly a decade ago, slums sprung up in the hills above the
city, said Agbor-Tabi.
Without effective transport to reach the city centre or
opportunities to find work, many slum dwellers ended up working
instead for cocaine cartels.
When city officials tried to turn things around they not
only took on the cartels but consulted with slum residents to
try to find out how they could better connect them to the city
and give them other opportunities.
In time, cable cars and escalators were installed, linking
previously separated parts of the city, and facilities from
libraries to cultural centres were built in poor areas.
Eventually the city's once notorious homicide rate collapsed
and poverty was on the decline too, Agbor-Tabi said.
YOUNG AND AMBITIOUS
Benimana, the Rwandan architect, said good design and
planning can help avoid in the first place the kind of problems
"We strongly believe if we curate the design and
construction process as architects we can curb hindrances to
economic equality, to gender equality," he said.
The risks are particularly large as more people gain access
to the internet, smart phones and a clear view of how people
live in other parts of the world.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has called this a
"convergence of aspirations" as more people demand a
"Many people are young, they all have smart phones and they
have seriously big aspirations," Patel said. "They are not like
their migrant parents, humble and grateful to be fed two times a
day, ready to suffer all injustices."
(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering.; Editing by Astrid
Zweynert @azweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers
humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights,
trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)