By Gloria Schiavi
Currently, 54 percent of the world's population lives in urban centers, a proportion that will rise to 66 percent in 2050, according to the projections of the UN agency (United Nations Organization) for human settlements, which warns that planning is essential to achieve sustainable urban growth.
“In the hierarchy of ideas, urban design comes first and then everything else,” declared the Spanish Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, while in New York for a preparatory meeting for Habitat III, the world conference. on sustainable urban development that will take place in 2016. "Urbanization, subdivision, construction, in this order", said Clos, explaining that in many cities the order is reversed and then it is difficult to solve the problems.
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs points out that the urban population rose from 746 million people in 1950, to 3.9 billion in 2014, and is expected to exceed 6 billion in 2045.
There are currently 28 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants, and by 2030 the world will have at least 41 of these giant cities.
A UN report reveals that urban settlements suffer from unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial problems, and that spontaneous urbanization often ends in informal neighborhoods.
Although the proportion of the urban population living in these slums has decreased in recent years, and one of the Millennium Development Goals achieved its goal of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, the absolute number continues to grow, due in part to the rapid pace of urbanization.
The same report estimated that in 2012 there were 863 million urban residents living in slums, compared with 760 million in 2000.
“In the past, urbanization was a slow cooker and not a fast food,” said Clos, who was mayor of the Spanish city of Barcelona from 1997 to 2006.
"We have seen in many cases that spontaneous urbanization does not deal with public space and its relationship with building plots, which is the essence of the art of city construction," he stressed.
Clos believes that to build cities you need to have a vision. And by that he is not referring to the construction of buildings, but of healthy and sustainable communities.
Relinda Sosa is the president of the Peruvian National Confederation of Women Organized for Life and Integral Development (Conamovidi), whose 120,000 activists work to make their communities more inclusive, safe and resilient.
The women's network runs more than 10,000 soup kitchens in Peru to ensure food security, identify problems and prevent natural disasters in cities.
"Due to the configuration of society, women are the ones who spend more time with families and in the community, and that is why they know it better than men, who often only rest in the area and then go to work far away" Sosa told IPS.
“But despite the position they occupy, and due to the macho culture that exists in Latin America, women are often invisible. So we work to ensure that they participate in the planning process, due to the data and knowledge they have, "he added.
The link between public and elected leaders is crucial, and Conamovidi tries to facilitate it through the participation of organized women. "When access to basic services is poor, women are the ones who have to face these situations first," said Carmen Griffiths, a leader of GROOTS Jamaica, an organization linked to Conamovidi.
“We observe the patterns of settlements in cities, we speak of urban densification, of people living on the periphery, in informal settlements, in irregular housing, without water or sanitation in some cases, without adequate electricity. We talk about what causes violence against women ”in urban centers, Griffiths explained.
As Clos told IPS, the protection of public space is fundamental, ideally in a 50 percent ratio compared to building plots, as well as public ownership of building plans.
The local government has to guarantee the existence of services in public space, something that does not happen in a slum situation, where there are no regulations or public investment, he added.
Griffiths meets monthly with the women in her organization to discuss their issues and needs and ensure they are raised with local authorities.
"Sometimes it happens that you meet good politicians, but other times they just want the vote and do not interact with people at all," he added.
Griffiths is also on the UN-Habitat advisory council, to express the needs of his people at the international level and then bring knowledge to the communities, he explained.
These battles generate some good results, especially in the urban environment. Sosa assured that women in cities are gradually gaining broader participation, while in rural areas the mentality remains very conservative.
On the relationship between urban and rural areas, Maruxa Cardama, project coordinator for Communitas, the Coalition for Sustainable Cities and Regions, told IPS that an inclusive plan is needed.
Cities are dependent on the natural resources of rural areas, such as agriculture, so urban planning should not stop where apartment buildings end, he explained. This will ensure that the rural environment is not isolated and has the necessary services, he added.
Although they will not be completed until 2015, currently one of the goals of the Sustainable Development Goals being discussed by the international community is that “cities and human settlements are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
Edited by Kitty Stapp / Translated by Álvaro Queiruga