The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) is the lead United Nations agency for World Habitat Day. The Centre has dedicated this year's celebrations to "all urban residents who are excluded from enjoying the benefits of urban life, either because their physical, social or economic condition does not allow them to participate in urban activities, or because they are not legally or politically recognized as citizens of the cities in which they live".
According to United Nations estimates, over half the urban population in most developing countries lives in informal settlements which are neither recognized nor serviced by city authorities. "The urban poor are the most excluded group in cities," says Klaus Toepfer, the Acting Executive Director of Habitat. "They live in constant fear of eviction and most do not have access to formal finance and loan schemes which could enable them to improve their living conditions."
Women and girls are also excluded from fully realizing their rights to the city, says Habitat's Acting Executive Director. "Urban planners often fail to acknowledge that women's needs are different from men's."
Women experience several constraints in the city, such as gender-insensitive transportation systems and unfavourable zoning laws. Women are also poorly-represented in the city's decision-making structures, leading to their marginalization in the city's agenda-setting processes. Other groups which are often excluded from the city's planning processes include the homeless, youth, the elderly, persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities.
"Transparent and accountable urban governance and the promotion of participatory decision-making processes can go a long way in making cities more inclusive", says Toepfer. By involving all urban residents in the city's agenda-setting processes, governments and local authorities can create a sense of ownership and responsibility among all inhabitants of the city.
Democratic debate and participatory decision-making have already transformed the ways in which some local authorities plan and manage urban areas. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, for example, approximately 25 per cent of the city's budget is managed by residents of the city, who not only set priorities, but also decide how the money should be spent.
"Urban managers are relying less on top-down processes based on blueprints and masterplans and more on interactive, dynamic processes built on partnership", says Toepfer. "It is only through such processes that cities of the future can truly become cities for all."
The city of Dalian in the People's Republic of China will host the global celebration of World Habitat Day 1999.
For further information, please contact:
Ms. Christina Engfeldt,
Chief Information & External Relations
P.O. Box 30030
Tel: 254 2 623067: 623151
Fax: 254 2 623067