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The first Monday of October has been designated by the United Nations as World Habitat Day. The day is all about reflecting on the state of our towns and cities, and reminding the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

The theme of this year’s World Habitat Day is ‘Changing Cities, Building Opportunities’, with the focus being on cities as the world’s growth engines – currently more than half the world’s population live in towns and cities, and within a generation, that number will rise to two-thirds. It is also said that by 2030, up to 60% of these urban dwellers will be under the age of 18. The reason people flock to the cities in ever increasing numbers is that it is seen as the place where they can realize their dreams of a better life. Well planned and well built cities can provide a healthy support structure for this urbanisation; unplanned growth leads to chaos and urban sprawl.

Auckland, NZ. With a population of almost 1.4 million it is small by world standards, yet big in New Zealand – it is home to almost a third of the country’s population, and growing. The city thus aptly markets itself as the ‘Big Little City”.
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Urbanisation brings with it major challenges, but also great possibilities. To quote Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of World Habitat Day 2012:

“The main challenges confronting cities and towns all over the world today include unemployment, especially among youth; social and economic inequalities; unsustainable energy consumption patterns; urban sprawl; high percentages of people living in slums; high levels of vulnerability to natural disasters; inadequate urban basic services, especially water, sanitation and energy; poor mobility systems and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Given that, historically, urbanisation has been a source of development rather than a result of it, it is clear that it can be used as a powerful tool for transforming production capacities and income levels in developing countries. This requires a mindset shift on the part of decision makers, away from viewing urbanisation as a problem, and instead towards seeing it as a tool for development.

Major changes are necessary. We have the science and the knowhow. And we know too that our ever growing cities are just where the changes can be implemented fastest and new opportunities created. We must all become city changers.”

Through the last line of Dr Clos’ message, World Habitat Day also ties in nicely with the wider UN-Habitat ‘I’m a city changer’ initiative. The idea being that making cities a better place to live is not just the responsibility of the authorities and the city planners, but that ordinary citizens can get involved as well. The initiative promotes these 10 reasons to be a city changer, and have released the little video below to promote the concept.

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