United Nations calls for a ‘planning revolution’ to save Asia’s megacities
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United Nations calls for a ‘planning revolution’ to save Asia’s megacities

WITH 64 percent of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050 and mounting pollution problems, the United Nations is calling for a “planning revolution” that reimagines cities as we know them, making them sustainable and safe places to live.

“We are at a tipping point,” head of the Cities Unit at UN Environment, Martina Otto, said in a statement.

“We have seen sub-national and local governments stepping up and taking forceful commitments… While it is increasingly recognised that urban planning is critical, in many places planning capacity is lacking.”

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Otto called for a strategic overhaul, forcing planners to strive for compact cities with mixed-use neighbourhoods and buildings, and with an emphasis on integrated urban systems.

She would also like to see green roofs and walls and biodiversity corridors; decentralised energy systems, complementing grids and powered by renewables; and a better use of spare capacity through a sharing economy.

Her calls echo those made by the International Resource Panel in a recent report entitled The Weight of Cities, Resource Requirements of Future Urbanization.


Sewage drain canal full of garbage next to the Taimur Nagar slum area in New Delhi, May 30, 2018. Source: Dominique Faget/AFP

The group, set up by UN Environment, believes the world has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shift future urbanisation on to a more environmentally sustainable and socially just path.

The expert group said urban demand for resources could rise by 125 percent by 2050 with at least 200 new cities expected to be built in Asia over the next 30 years.

Asia’s current megacities are already struggling to keep up with the inflow of people and infrastructure is struggling under the weight.

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Dean of RICS School of Built Environment, KT Ravindran, said in an article for Economic Times that cities in India will need to create hundreds of new housing, provide access to quality education, health care services, water, and transportation infrastructure to accommodate the flow of migrants. But the municipal government is failing and woefully underresourced, meaning it will never reach these goals.

“City infrastructure such as water supply, sewerage, solid waste management and transport are all under pressure. There is a complete lack of planning and governance at the urban local body level,” Ravindran said.

“Urban planning is critical to ensure success of cities. Planning allows cities to make informed decisions. Indian municipalities do not have the management capacity to either plan economic activity or execute it.”


People gather near their houses at a slum area at the Ciliwung river bank at Jatinegara district. Source: Reuters

But there are signs of improvement. India’s capital, Delhi, which is home to 19 million people, generates over 9,000 tonnes of waste every day. To combat the build-up, the city recently opened a composting plant to produce compost and resource-derived fuel from municipal waste. The plant handles 200 tonnes of waste per day, but that capacity is due to be expanded.

What is needed in developing countries to ensure a sustainable urban development path is support in devising and enforcing sustainable planning and cross-sectoral policies, Otto said.

“We cannot afford to get the infrastructure investments, which will be made over the next 15 years, wrong,” she said.