By Categories: Limelight

This is first of many upcoming article on our new initiative called – Project Limelight – Click here to read more about it .



UN-Habitat is the United Nations programme working towards a better urban future. Its mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the achievement of adequate shelter for all.


Cities are facing unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges. There has been a phenomenal shift towards urbanization, with 6 out of every 10 people in the world expected to reside in urban areas by 2030.

Over 90 per cent of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic.

In many places around the world, the effects can already be felt: lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and out-dated infrastructure – be it roads, public transport, water, sanitation, or electricity – escalating poverty and unemployment, safety and crime problems, pollution and health issues, as well as poorly managed natural or man-made disasters and other catastrophes due to the effects of climate change.

Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change in order for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind. UN-Habitat, the United Nations programme for human settlements, is at the helm of that change, assuming a natural leadership and catalytic role in urban matters.

New Urban Agenda:-

In October 2016, at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Habitat III – member states signed the New Urban Agenda. This is an action-oriented document which sets global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development, rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities.

Through drawing together cooperation with committed partners, relevant stakeholders, and urban actors, including at all levels of government as well as the private sector, UN-Habitat is applying its technical expertise, normative work and capacity development to implement the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goal 11 – to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Birth of UN-HABITAT:-

Mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1978 to address the issues of urban growth, it is a knowledgeable institution on urban development processes, and understands the aspirations of cities and their residents.

For years, UN-Habitat has been working in human settlements throughout the world, focusing on building a brighter future for villages, towns, and cities of all sizes. Because of these four decades of extensive experience, from the highest levels of policy to a range of specific technical issues, UN-Habitat has gained a unique and a universally acknowledged expertise in all things urban.

This has placed UN-Habitat in the best position to provide answers and achievable solutions to the current challenges faced by our cities. UN-Habitat is capitalizing on its experience and position to work with partners in order to formulate the urban vision of tomorrow. It works to ensure that cities become inclusive and affordable drivers of economic growth and social development.

Goals and Strategies-

UN-Habitat envisions well-planned, well-governed, and efficient cities and other human settlements, with adequate housing, infrastructure, and universal access to employment and basic services such as water, energy, and sanitation. To achieve these goals, derived from the Habitat Agenda of 1996, UN-Habitat has set itself a medium-term strategy approach for each successive six-year period. The current strategic plan spans from 2014 to 2019.

The seven focus areas for 2014 to 2019-

  • Urban legislation, land, and governance,
  • Urban planning and design,
  • Urban economy,
  • Urban basic services,
  • Housing and slum upgrading,
  • Risk reduction and rehabilitation, and
  • Research and capacity development.


UN-HABITAT’s Holisitc approach to Urbanization:-

Beyond its traditional core areas — such as city planning, infrastructure development, and participatory slum upgrading — UN-Habitat, today, also focuses on urban legislation and risk management, as well as gender, youth and capacity building for all actors involved in the urbanization process.

Through its global advocacy platforms such as the World Urban Campaign (WUC), and events, such as the World Urban Forum, UN-Habitat also establishes think tanks and networks that enable governments, experts, civil society groups, multilateral organizations, private sector, and all other development partners to jointly address present and future urban predicaments

It approaches the urbanization question in a thematic way, the themes are –

1) Legislation

Many cities are burdened by laws that do not match the prevailing urban reality. Worse still, the capacity to enforce laws and regulations that are already in place is often lacking. Municipal authorities often have limited access to specialist legislative expertise, and struggle to respond to these situations.

The multiplicity and rigidity of laws and regulations compel citizens to pursue informal routes to conduct land and property transactions, to do business, to acquire means of a livelihood, and even to access basic services. As a result, parallel systems flourish and Urban Legal informality becomes the norm.

UN-Habitat’s knowledge pertaining to legal reform is used to support cities. In addition, UN-Habitat is developing mechanisms for the creation and dissemination of legal knowledge and a network to develop capacity and access external expertise, with the aim of producing:

  • an increased awareness of legal systems operating at the city and national levels;
  • recommendations for more robust strategies to reform urban legal systems; and
  • improved capacities of local authorities to design and implement legal reform.

The Urban Legal Network (ULN) is an initiative of UN-Habitat. Its aim is to become a leading global network that promotes and facilitates the exchange of urban legal knowledge in the field of urban development. ULN is a global focal point for:

  • Urban legal knowledge and idea exchange;
  • Urban legislation best practice and tools; and
  • Urban legal partnerships and experts in the urban legislation field

The ULN forum themes include:

  • General principles governing urban law;

  • Property law and tenure;

  • Governance (administrative law);

  • Planning;

  • Housing and buildings regulations;

  • Infrastructure and basic services;

  • Municipal taxation, finance, and economic development;

  • Environment, natural, and cultural resources; and

  • Urban resilience and post disaster recove

UN-Habitat also believes that ‘rights based’ legislation can help to promote participation, and UN-Habitat is therefore committed to the daily involvement of urban dwellers in the development decisions and planning outcomes that affect their daily lives. UN-Habitat’s work on Urban Law operates on several levels:

2) Land

Land is a finite resource and competition for it is intensifying because of rapid urbanization, growing populations, economic development, persistent insecurity of food, water and energy, and the effects of conflicts and disasters. The divide between urban and rural is diminishing. These areas are today interconnected by flows of goods, money, resources and people. Climate change and different land-use patterns also affect rural areas, including farmland, drylands, wetlands and forests.

Given that by the middle of this century 70 per cent of the world’s people will live in urban areas, cities need to adapt to urban expansion Rural land also needs to be managed cautiously. Pressure on rural land is increasing as a result of a rising world population, climate change, declining soil fertility and the need for global food and fuel security.

Challenge of Land Tenure and Ownership-

Everyone has a relationship to land. Unfortunately, millions of people around the world face difficulties related to the land where they live, work, grow crops, tend animals and run businesses. Even though they or their families may have lived on the land for many years, it is a serious obstacle that they have no formal relationship to it.

Land is a scarce resource governed by a wide range of rights and responsibilities. And not everyone’s right to land is secure. Mounting pressure and competition mean that improving land governance – the rules, processes and organizations through which decisions are made about land – is becoming increasingly urgent. These are the problems that the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) is working to solve.

GLTN recognizes that conventional ways of managing land are not realistically going to meet the needs of millions of people. By law, practice or custom, many individuals find themselves unable to own land or to make decisions on how to use it. Women and young people tend to face disproportionate barriers in accessing land. Without secure rights to the land they live on, these residents have little incentive to invest in their homes. Poor farmers become unable to invest in their land, further aggravating environmental degradation, which may greatly affect their harvest, their income and, in turn, their survival.

The GLTN solution-

The Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) was started in response to requests to UN-Habitat from governments and local communities worldwide. Together with several partners, UN-Habitat inaugurated the Network in 2006, which has since grown to more than 65 partners. GLTN is an alliance of global, regional, and national partners contributing to poverty alleviation through land reform, improved land management, and security of tenure particularly through the development and dissemination of pro-poor and gender-sensitive land tools.

3) Governance

Governance is the enabling environment that requires adequate legal frameworks, efficient political, managerial and administrative processes to enable the local government response to the needs of citizens.

It can be defined as the many ways that institutions and individuals organize the day-to-day management of a city, and the processes used for effectively realizing the short term and long-term agenda of a city’s development. Urban governance is the software that enables the urban hardware to function. Effective urban governance is characterized as democratic and inclusive; long-term and integrated; multi-scale and multilevel; territorial; proficient and conscious of the digital age.

Local governments are instrumental in urban governance

Strong and capable local governments are the key levers to ensure inclusive and sustainable urban development, accountable and transparent city management, and a dynamic multi‐stakeholder engagement.They have the proximity and legitimacy, in most countries of the world, to effectively, manage, govern and lead the development ofthe city.

UN-Habitat works at empowering local governments as pivotal actors of urban governance, by improvingtheir capacities related tourban planning, local finances and budgeting, public asset management, e-governance and open government, data gathering and fostering other stakeholders’ participation. In doing so, our work is oriented towards the strengthening of institutional capacities and local leadership skills.

Effective multilevel governance is the overarching prerequisite for urban governance,which should be characterized by well-defined spheres of government (national, regional and local) and based on appropriate decentralization policies.

It calls for a balanced distribution of resources and responsibilities between the different spheres of government, enabled by legal and financial instruments that take into account the key principle of subsidiarity. UN-Habitat work focuses on the establishment of permanent structures of dialogue between the local and central governments on one side, and the public and private sectors, on the other.

Institutionally and financially sustainable local governments

Urban governance mostly rests at the hands of local governments who have the responsibility to provide affordable, reliable and quality basic services and to ensure equitable urban citizenship. To be able to “do their job”, local government need good public financial management systems to ensure that public services reach all, including the urban poor.

Local governments should work along with national governments and public, private and the informal sector in order to achieve these objectives. Effective provision of services needs also to be coupled with national urban and territorial policy that promotes a strong system of cities and balanced territorial development.

Legal and institutional framework at the metropolitan level is also the enabling condition that leads to a dynamic, sustainable and equitable urban future. Metropolitan governance arrangements require adjusting the distribution of power and resources to match the reality of where people live and work (functional urban areas), while helping to address externalities and spillover issues and creating synergies to boost metropolitan development.

Urban governance is inextricably linked to the welfare of the citizenry: it must enable women and men, youth,ethnic minorities, the urban poor and other disadvantaged groups to access the benefits of urban citizenship.As such, local governments are bound to facilitate and promote inclusiveness, civic engagement and effective participation of the civil society in city management.

Transparent and accountable local governments

With the devolution of powers, responsibilities and budgets, local governments are playing a greater role in designing policies and delivering key public services often within a context of weak institutional and governance structures. As a result, some sectors and services are prone to corruption and misappropriation, and thus to inefficient and mismanaged administration.

Consequently, there is a tangible effect on the quality of services, eroding public trust in the accountability and merits of government. Transparency and accountability are essential for cities today as the essential means to create the necessary trust with the citizens.

As governing without the citizen has become an almost impossible alternative, local governments need to communicate better and to understand the needs of their constituency. On the other end, citizens across the world are also requesting better instruments to control that public administration is efficient and accountable.

Opportunities for a more regular and direct way for citizens to participate in the development, control and monitoring of the formulation, spending and performance of public policies are higher at local level. In that way, local governments should facilitate and promote such scenarios and thus take advantage of the enormous potential of SMART technologies.

URAIA Network (a Joint initiative of UN-HABITAT and FMDV ) UN-Habitat encourages innovative, transparent and accountable interfaces between governments, civil society and the private sector to make public interest and municipal innovation the driving force behind the deployment of information technologies.

*FMDV – The Global Fund for Cities Development (FMDV) is an NGO which supports emerging and developing local authorities in accessing the necessary financial resources to finance their urban development projects. The FMDV is a technical assistance and financial engineering organisation. The FMDV supports local authorities throughout the entire urban development project process, from designing and planning programmes to funding, implementation, and assessment.

Local governments in global agendas

With the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, which gathers all main local government networks and its partners, aim together at advocating for an increased recognition of the pivotal role of local governments in sustainable development. It supports the ‘localization‘ processes to contribute to the definition implementation and monitoring of the main global agendas in their local dimension (2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, New Urban Agenda).

*The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments is a coordination mechanism that brings together the major international networks of local governments to undertake joint advocacy relating to international policy processes, particularly the climate change agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and Habitat III. The Global Taskforce was set up in 2013 at the initiative of UCLG President and Mayor of Istanbul, Kadir Topbaş.

4) Planning & Design

Largely due to the absence of urban planning strategies, frameworks, and coordination, population growth tends to result in large conurbations and urban sprawl, as residents spill from the core municipalities to occupy land in surrounding urban centres, often lacking accompanying services, amenities, and infrastructure. As a result, pressure on land and natural resources —  as well as mobility and energy constraints — start to have a negative effect on the urban economy and overall efficiency of the city region.

Despite presently hosting more than 60 per cent of the global urban population and experiencing the fastest growth, intermediate cities – areas with a population between 100,000 and 500,000 –tend to be neglected by national and regional authorities, and often lack the financial and technical influence of larger cities to ensure proper planning. Nevertheless, neglecting urban planning today will only create a larger situation that will be even more costly to solve in the future.
In regards to urban design, many cities still underestimate the importance of a city’s look and feel, public spaces, and public infrastructure, failing to fully comprehend the correlation with quality of life, social development, and other key components of human well being. Likewise, appealing cities are more likely to attract a creative, innovative, and skilled workforce and the investments that are needed to drive the urban economy. Unfortunately, when this understanding is present, lack of finance and capacity often deprioritizes urban design in favour of more urgent development needs such as enhancing the provision of basic services
In general, one of the key hindrances to good urban planning is the lack of adequate frameworks and legislation at the national or sub-national level. In particular, the mismatch between local needs and national urban planning frameworks is increasingly recognized in many countries.
In order to balance the economic and environmental aspirations of the wider area at the regional and supra-municipal levels, collaborating authorities need to coordinate urban planning through regional and metropolitan plans.  From the environmental perspective, plans need to take into account ecosystem and biodiversity protection, natural disaster prevention (such as avoiding floods or erosion), and provision of recreational opportunities.
To accommodate a growing population with a smaller ecological footprint — while realizing economic agglomeration advantages (including lower costs of providing infrastructure and services), as well as strengthening social interactions and reducing mobility demand — authorities also must incorporate densification strategies (e.g. allowing mixed land use and taller building structures).
High density neighbourhoods with adequate public space, infrastructure and public transport facilities encourage walking, cycling, and other forms of eco-friendly non-motorized mobility, thereby reducing carbon emissions and cutting down reliance on fossil fuels.
Furthermore, the provision of pedestrian friendly streetscapes and public structures where residents can gather — such as athletic, recreational, or cultural centres — will promote social connectivity and diversity, thus making neighbourhoods more cohesive, lively, and ultimately more attractive to residents and investors alike. From an environmental point of view, city planning should create a green economy that is not reliant on fossil fuels. When designing their urban development plans, authorities should incorporate low emission strategies as well as resilience to climate change.

5) Economy

Cities are the main creators of economic wealth, generating over 70 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Because most employment opportunities are within urban areas, cities attract large parts of a country’s job seeking population.

This causes rapid rural-to-urban migration. Today, over 50 per cent of the world’s population is urban dwellers, with this figure expected to rise to over 65 per cent by 2030. If urban economic opportunities do not keep pace with the influx of job-seekers, urban poverty can have dire results for the health and well-being of large shares of the population.

Agglomeration economies are key drivers of economic growth, but need to be harnessed. Cities exist because there are economic benefits associated with urbanization. However, unplanned or poorly-planned urban expansion can create dynamics which stifle the drivers of the urban economy.

UN-Habitat offers assistance to national and local governments as they plan the infrastructure and regulatory frameworks to support economically dynamic cities. Well-informed planning and policy-making can maximize the benefits of urbanization and prevent or mitigate negative impacts, helping to create and keep quality local jobs.

Local economic development (LED) approaches support inclusive economic growth. Despite cities being the biggest providers of both formal and informal jobs, urban unemployment and underemployment are still major issues around the world. The resulting poverty leads to problems such as malnutrition, social exclusion, crime, and slum formation. Youth unemployment is particularly high, with youth being three times as likely as adults to be unemployed. The informal economy tends to develop in parallel to fast demographic growth and supplants other more stable forms of revenue generation, as formal job supply cannot meet rising demand.

In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, more than 70 per cent of the labour force is vulnerable, confronted by insecure working conditions, lack of labour rights, underemployment, and an uncertain regulatory environment.

Cities have a critical role to play in linking people with jobs. Governments can help to make cities competitive and can ensure that the benefits of economic growth reach the poor. Youth, women, and vulnerable social groups require special consideration in efforts to create jobs. A participatory approach toward the creation of an LED strategy can help to identify critical needs and barriers and build on endogenous assets at the local level. Additionally, governments can take proactive steps to address economic leakages and supply chain development while creating a business-enabling environment with regulations that are fair, transparent, and stable.

UN-Habitat assists local governments in generating and implementing local economic development (LED) strategies which are strategically aimed to capitalize on existing areas of comparative advantage, leverage local assets, and generate equitable outcomes. LED strategies can be developed as a stand-alone exercise or in conjunction with broader efforts such as national policy reform, city master planning, or other planning or policy effort.

6) Water and Sanitation

Huge progress has been made in the past 25 years to provide people with safer water, and as of 2010, over 6 billion of the world’s population has access to improved drinking water sources, up from 4 billion in 1990. Likewise, sanitation coverage has also increased in the developing world, from 36% of the population in 1990 to 56% in 2010. Although this is commendable, over 1.1 billion individuals still lack access to a water from a clean, safe source, and over 2.6 billion people do not have access to toilets and other adequate sanitation facilities. This lack of access is a primary cause of water contamination and water-borne diseases.

Today, 11% of the world’s population still lack access to water that is safe for consumption. This figure rises to over 40% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, in densely populated areas, the absence of proper sanitation facilities almost inevitably leads to massive pollution and contamination of the available water resources, for instance through the improper disposal of fecal waste. Unclean water poses serious health hazard risks, which have tangible impacts on education and economic activities due to illness impairment, especially amongst the most vulnerable population groups such as the urban poor. Prioritizing water and sanitation issues is therefore crucial in the overall urban development effort.

UN-Habitat set up high priority water and sanitation (WATSAN) programmes,  to help the UN member states attain the water and sanitation targets set by the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to “halve by 2015 the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”

Through these programmes, UN-Habitat provides both policy, technical, and financial support to governments and local authorities, thus contributing to the achievement of these internationally agreed goals. Focus is particularly set on the urban poor, in order to facilitate equitable social, economic, and environmental development.

The WHO states that-  Every person needs a minimum of 20 litres of water per day to meet the minimum basic requirements, although this amount may still lead to health concerns. Governments and authorities should therefore aim to guarantee at least 50 to 100 litres of water per person per day.

In 2003, to support its WATSAN initiatives, UN-Habitat established the Water and Sanitation Trust Fund (WSTF) which currently supports water and sanitation projects in 27 countries (as of 2012)

Water Operators’ Partnerships (WOPs) are peer-support arrangements between water and sanitation​ operators, carried out​ ​on a not-for-profit basis, to support the operators’ capacity to provide quality​ services to all.

The Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) is the global mechanism ​​set up to promote and support WOPs worldwide​ and led by UN-Habitat​. GWOPA is the global leader in WOPs promotion, facilitation and coordination, and the principle source for WOPs knowledge and guidance. It aims to see effective WOPs contribute to meeting national and global water and sanitation objectives including those relating to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Human Right to Water. 

7) Energy

Regardless of the source, energy is a major factor for development. And cities are energy intensive enterprises. They consume about 75 per cent of global primary energy and emit between 50 and 60 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gases.

Because of the current mono-dependency on fossil fuels, supply drops or price hikes can easily disrupt economies. Fossil fuels are also all too often a source of regional conflicts and are misused as a means of political pressure. Besides, fossil fuel resources are not infinite, and their depletion is a near reality.

A sustainable urban energy system will need low carbon technologies on the supply side, and efficient distribution infrastructure as well as lowered consumption on the end-user side. Cities therefore need to shift from the current unsustainable fossil fuel energy generation towards using renewable energy sources, not only because of looming resource depletion but also to curb the negative externalities such as pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Lastly, because energy is paramount to revenue generation, its distribution needs to become more inclusive and fair to foster universal development, especially for the urban poor.

Smart grids electric grids that harmonize supply and demand – provide another solution for the intermittent power supply by helping to balance variable power generation and end-user needs. These grids are also more efficient in transmission and distribution, thus reducing energy loss. Machine shifts can be automated to run during hours of the day when there is enough power to meet demand (for example, washing machines do not need to run at a specific time, so they can turn on automatically while the customer is asleep, or at work).

The major change, however, needs to come from the end-users – residents, businesses, industries –who must control their consumption. The less energy that is used, the less needs to be produced. 

Savings can be made by integrating efficient heating, cooling, insulation, lighting, and water distribution systems in new or rehabilitated buildings that will increase energy retention. Likewise, on site alternative energy sources such as solar panels on a roof can supplement power from the grid. The use of recycled, reused, or low energy building materials will also contribute to a better energy balance.

To cut fossil fuel use for transportation needs, cities need to develop attractive public transport systems and must increase the share of non-motorized transport in developing specific infrastructure (such as cycling lanes and walkways), and optimize delivery of goods, (for instance by promoting the use of rail for cargo transport).

Curbing food and water waste will therefore also contribute to lowering overall energy use. Besides reducing energy on the production and delivery side, cities also need to promote urban agriculture, such as rooftop farming (it is estimated that 30% of urban spaces could be covered).

Consumption habits need to change, residents should be encouraged to use more local produce and to take on prosumption, the production of one’s own food. The same reasoning can be extended to consumption habits in general, with residents adopting more sustainable consumption habits and recycling concepts. Cities need to ensure that industries pool their resources in order to create synergy effects.

This can be achieved by establishing eco-industrial parks, where waste and by-products of one industry serves as the raw material of another, thereby improving material and energy efficiency and decreasing environmental emissions. From an economic perspective, this would also make companies more competitive, as better waste management results in cost savings and a higher environmental and business performance.

Governments of developing countries should consider private-public partnerships to develop their energy systems, as current costs cannot be carried by a country alone. For each city to be able to adapt to its own local particularities, authorities need to design decentralized energy systems and infrastructure, and also be permitted to have specific legislation and tax systems to either promote the use of sustainable energy, or to curb and dissuade the use of polluting, inefficient technologies and consumption habits.

Case Study-

UN-Habitat, in conjunction with  the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi initiated a project in 2011 to promote energy efficient buildings in East Africa. The project will directly influence at least 600,000 housing units, 100 large office buildings, as well as numerous hotels, and public institutions. In doing so, the project (calculated over a period of 20 years) will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 7 million tons, due to a reduction in energy consumption.


8) Mobility

By 2005, approximately 7.5 billion trips were made in cities worldwide each day.  In 2050, there may be three to four times as many passenger-kilometers travelled as in the year 2000 (infrastructure and energy prices permitting). Freight movement could also rise more than threefold during the same period.

In some cities, the physical separation of residential areas from places of employment, markets, schools, and health services force many urban residents to spend increasing amounts of time, and as much as a third of their income, on transportation.

In the developing world, and especially in African cities where walking can account up to 70 per cent of all trips, this low-density horizontal urban development causes further exclusion of the urban poor. Due to transport poverty, many residents cannot afford to travel to the city centres or to areas where businesses and institutions are located, depriving them of the full benefits offered by urbanization.

Mobility should not only be a matter of developing transport infrastructure and services. It has to be placed in a systemic context including city planning as a whole, to overcome the social, economic, political, and physical constraints of movement.

Addressing the mobility challenge calls for a paradigm shift in urban planning, encouraging compact cities and mixed-land use as a way to increase accessibility and to reduce the need for transportation altogether.
Understanding that the purpose of mobility is to gain access to destinations, activities, services and goods, urban planning should therefore be resident-centered, so that functional endpoints – the reasons for travel – are as close as possible to each other, in effect reducing distances and transportation needs.
Because most trips involve a combination of several modes of transport, cities need to provide multi-modal transport systems and address modal integration as a major component of any urban mobility strategy. For example, high-capacity public transport systems  – metro, light rail, or bus rapid transit (BRT) – need to be integrated with other forms of public transport that serve as feeder services to ensure full utilization of their conveyance capacity. Emphasis is therefore to be placed on “last mile access,” to allow residents easy access to the public transport system.
The urban space needs to be rethought in order to optimize flow of traffic, but also to increase and encourage the use of non-motorized transport, such as pedestrian movement or cycling. Streets need to be adapted, with walkways, crossings, and cycling lanes. Transport junctions need to be established to create connection points between different transport modes, thus facilitating access to and extending the range of a public transport system, on both the macro level – the city, the region and beyond – and micro level – the neighbourhood.

9) Safety

Global studies show that 60% of all urban residents in developing countries have been victims of crime at least once over the past five years, 70% of them in Latin America and Africa. Urbanization, particularly in the developing world, has been accompanied by increased levels of crime, violence, and lawlessness.

The growing violence and feeling of insecurity that city dwellers are facing daily is one of the major challenges around the world. In some countries, crime and violence have been exacerbated by the proliferation of weapons, substance abuse, and youth unemployment. Crime and violence impact the on everyday life of city residents.

Women and children are often the most affected, especially when fear hinders their access to services. The impact of crime and insecurity restricts urban social and economic development, and often jeopardizes opportunities and pro-poor policies. Without a deliberate effort to address this issue, the prospects of future development and poverty reduction are limited.

Criminal justice systems, including police, courts, and prisons alone cannot cope with escalating urban crime. They play a key role in deterrence and repression, but alone they cannot offer sustainable solutions. Public safety must be considered a right for all, and all members of society must work with together with their municipalities and governments to improve it. Mayors and local authorities have a key role to play in community-wide crime prevention strategies. These strategies must address the rising public demand for crime reduction.

UN-HABITAT’s  Safer Cities approach maintains that crime and violence do not happen spontaneously. Inadequate urban environments that exclude some members of society from the benefits of urbanization and participation in decision-making and development motivate crime. The lack of long term solutions to social, economic, and governance issues in the world’s cities, and the failure to promote inclusive policies targeting the most vulnerable groups, is at the root of increases in urban violence and crime. UN-Habitat’s Safer Cities approach is increasingly incorporated as an important solution to crime prevention. Safer Cities spearheads the urban crime prevention approach within the agency.

10) Housing and Slum up-gradation

Housing is one of those basic social conditions that determine the quality of life and welfare of people and places.

Housing is also part of the relationships between society and the environment. On the one hand, housing construction and operation consume large amounts of natural resources (land, energy, water, building materials), while producing waste, air and water pollution. On the other hand, housing itself is exposed to a variety of environmental impacts and hazards, including those associated with natural disasters and climate change. These aspects are also significant considerations for sustainable development. This complex web of inter-relationships between sustainability and housing is addressed by the policies for sustainable housing.

The right to adequate housing (as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living) is enshrined in many international human rights instruments. Most notably among these are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 25.1) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (art. 11.1).

During the 1990s, the right to adequate housing gained further increasing recognition among the human rights community, and many governments adopted or revised housing policies to include various dimensions of human rights.

The Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in 1996 harnessed this momentum.The outcomes of the Conference, the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda, constitutes a framework where human settlements development is linked with the process of realising human rights in general and housing rights in particular.

The United Nations Housing Rights Programme (UNHRP) is a joint initiative of the United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) mandated and endorsed by their respective governing bodies and the United Nations General Assembly, and launched in 2002 by the Executive Director of Habitat and the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

The initiative’s objective is to support the efforts by governments, civil society and national human rights institutions to realize the right to adequate housing as described in international human rights declarations and reaffirmed in the Habitat Agenda which states that “Within the overall context of an enabling approach, Governments should take appropriate action in order to promote, protect and ensure the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing”.

*  Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) –joint effort of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, the European Commission (EC) and UN-Habitat

The United Nations five characteristics defining a slum
  1. Inadequate access to safe water
  2. Inadequate access to sanitation and infrastructure
  3. Poor structural quality of housing
  4. Overcrowding
  5. Insecure residential status

11) Reconstruction

By end of 2011, over 42 million people worldwide were displaced as a result of conflict and persecution. Although many of these people remain displaced years later, all of them needed some form of shelter support. In addition, 336 natural disasters in 2011 affected 209 million people, and created significant short and long term shelter needs. While most of these needs were met by the affected populations themselves, a significant number of people depended upon support from their governments and external organizations.

The number and plight of internally displaced persons and refugees living for months, sometimes years, in situations of prolonged dependency argue in favour of more sustainable solutions that combine short-term emergency efforts with the longer-term development.

During reconstruction after a disaster or conflict, UN-Habitat advocates that special attention be paid to the environment, women’s secure tenure, rights to land, and adequate housing, among other matters. UN-Habitat advocates that the survivors should be treated as assets and partners in the rebuilding. UN-Habitat provides assessment, planning, and monitoring support for reconstruction of neighbourhoods and informal settlements. Disaster risk mitigation and reducing vulnerability to future crises is a fundamental cornerstone of all interventions.

12) Resilience

Globally, 80 per cent of the largest cities are vulnerable to severe impacts from earthquakes, 60 per cent are at risk from storm surges and tsunamis, and all face new impacts caused by climate change. 

Resilience refers to the ability of human settlements to withstand and to recover quickly from any plausible hazards. Resilience against crises not only refers to reducing risks and damage from disasters (i.e. loss of lives and assets), but also the ability to quickly bounce back to a stable state. While typical risk reduction measures tend to focus on a specific hazard, leaving out risks and vulnerabilities due to other types of perils, the resilience approach adopts a multiple hazards approach, considering resilience against all types of plausible hazards.

How can cities become more resilient?

An increasingly common methodology used by local governments and the international community to build resilience are the UNISDR’s “Ten Essentials.” UN-Habitat’s City Resilience Profiling Programme introduced the following “essentials” in order to further upgrade this framework by making it more rigorous, objective, and fit to conduct quantitative assessment and profiling of city resilience.

  • Essential 1: Put in place organization and coordination to understand and reduce disaster risk, based on the participation of citizen groups and civil society. Build local alliances. Ensure that all departments understand their role in disaster risk reduction and preparedness.
  • Essential 2: Assign a budget for disaster risk reduction and provide incentives for homeowners, low-income families, communities, businesses, and public sector to invest in reducing the risks they face.
  • Essential 3: Maintain up-to-date data on hazards and vulnerabilities, prepare risk assessments, and use these as the basis for urban development plans and decisions. Ensure that this information and the plans for your city’s resilience are readily available to the public and fully discussed with them.
  • Essential 4: Invest in and maintain critical infrastructure that reduces risk, such as flood drainage, adjusted where needed to cope with climate change.
  • Essential 5: Assess the safety of all schools and health facilities and upgrade these as necessary.
  • Essential 6: Apply and enforce realistic risk compliant building regulations and land use planning principles. Identify safe land for low-income citizens and upgrade informal settlements, wherever feasible.
  • Essential 7: Ensure education programmes and training on disaster risk reduction are in place in schools and local communities.
  • Essential 8: Protect ecosystems and natural buffers to mitigate floods, storm surges, and other hazards to which your city may be vulnerable. Adapt to climate change by building on good risk reduction practices.
  • Essential 9: Install early warning systems and emergency management capacities in your city, and hold regular public preparedness drills.
  • Essential 10: After any disaster, ensure that the needs of the survivors are placed at the centre of reconstruction, while supporting them and their community organizations to design and help implement responses, including rebuilding homes and livelihoods.

Note-No need to remember the essentials, just give it a cursory reading.

13) Climate Change

The effects of urbanization and climate change are converging in dangerous ways. Cities are major contributors to climate change: although they cover less than 2 per cent of the earth’s surface, cities consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of all carbon dioxide and significant amounts of other greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through energy generation, vehicles, industry, and biomass use. At the same time, cities and towns are heavily vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of millions of people in urban areas across the world will be affected by rising sea levels, increased precipitation, inland floods, more frequent and stronger cyclones and storms, and periods of more extreme heat and cold.

For most cities in developing countries, the pressure to adapt to climate change is mounting. The measures needed to help cities cope with climate change vary considerably depending on political, cultural, historical, and climatic conditions. Such measures can range from “working with nature” (e.g., placing a greater emphasis on coastal resource management, or protecting mangrove and natural reef ecosystems), to a concerted “climate-proofing” of infrastructure, including storm-drainage systems, water supply and treatment plants, as well as protection or relocation of energy or solid waste management facilities. Some coastal cities may need to plan for investments related to a rise in sea level.

In regions where droughts are more likely to occur, on the other hand, improved water saving and water management measures may be required. Of equal, if not greater, importance to such physical and infrastructural adaptations are a broad range of measures that reduce vulnerabilities and increase community resilience to climate change. These include:

  • local economic development strategies
  • community early warning systems
  • better shelter options and participatory in-situ slum upgrading
  • relocation of urban populations to appropriate or improved locations (when in-situ upgrading is not feasible)
  • improved public health interventions
  • urban and peri-urban agriculture that takes into consideration a changing climate

UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) seeks to enhance the preparedness and mitigation activities of cities in developing and least developed countries. It emphasizes good governance, responsibility, leadership, and practical initiatives for local governments, communities, and citizens. Building on UN-Habitat’s extensive experience in sustainable urban development, the Cities and Climate Change Initiative helps counterparts to develop and implement pro-poor and innovative climate change policies and strategies.

CCCI is also developing a suite of tools to support city leaders and practitioners in addressing the impact of climate change (adaptation) and to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation). To these ends, UN-Habitat is working closely with a diverse range of partners: donors, government at all levels, other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations, institutions of research and higher learning, capacity building and training agencies, land and property organizations, and private sector entities, among others.

14) Gender

At present, rapid urbanization is challenging both national and local governments in their role to develop compact, inclusive, connected and integrated cities.  In this process of fast urbanization, failure to fully mainstream gender equality into urban planning, legislation and economic development is hindering the inclusiveness of cities and preventing the full integration of women and girls in the economic, social, political and cultural life of cities. UN-Habitat is committed to the goal of gender equality in human settlements development. Women and men, girls and boys, experience urbanization and cities differently and benefit differently from the opportunities available therein.



Informal Settlements

Many girls living in these areas fail to attend school, particular-ly after the onset of puberty, when separate toilet facilities for boys and girls are not available. The concentration of poverty in informal settlements aggravates gender inequalities in issues of safety, lack of access to security of tenure, water, sanitation, transport and health services.



Poor urban design choices, such as poor street lighting and secluded underground walkways can put women more at risk of violence in public spaces. Women’s safety involves strategies, practices and policies which aim to reduce gender-based violence, including women’s vulnerability to crime. Making communities safer for all requires a change in community norms, patterns of social interaction, values, customs and institutions. Thus gender sensitive policies, planning and approaches to the prevention of crime and violence against women need to be inclusive of development and safety strategies.


Gender_3Young Women

Young women face dual discrimination because of their age and gender, and are often among those living with the highest levels of poverty and marginalization in urban settings. Female-headed households, which can reflect and lead to a change in traditional gender roles where young women take a lead role in their communities are not uncommon, particularly in informal settlements. In addition, young women continue to face challenges relating to security and mobility, rights and access to land, freedom of expression, sufficient basic services, educational and economic resources.


Gender_4Economic Empowerment

Women have more opportunities for gainful employment in cities; however, they continue to earn less than men, due to the gendered division of labour which segregates them to lower-paid jobs. For women living in poverty there are immense challenges in accessing credit and financing for themselves and their organizations. Ensuring the integration of women to public life and jobs through the specific location of economic activities for market and accessible commercial uses, public venues and other services, in which social and economic dimensions are developed, is shown to lower poverty levels



Improving women and girls active and meaningful participa-tion in decision-making and policy development will change women’s political and socio-economic status. In sum, unless women and communities are involved in decision-making and policy development at every level of governance, changes to women’s political and socio-economic status will likely be minimal, and the improvement of human settlements will be greatly constrained.


Gender_6Land ownership

At present, Women own less of the world’s private land, in some cases as little as 2 percent. Lack of secure tenure over housing and land affects millions of people across the world, but women face harsher deprivations with some traditions and customs denying them direct entitlements to property. This translates into policies and laws that prevent women from buying land directly, having a house in their own name, or having control over decision-making regarding land and housing issues.



Legislation is essential to gender mainstreaming and improving the lives of women and girls. Often it is the first point of evolution in women’s rights, although these changes experience challenges when translating into the lives of women and girls on the ground. Moreover, rapidly growing urban areas are burdened by laws that do not match the prevailing urban reality and evolving gender-roles of both women and men.



15) Youth

Globally, 85 per cent of the world’s young people live in developing countries, and an ever-increasing number of them are growing up in cities. It is estimated that by 2030, as many as 60% of all urban dwellers will be under the age of 18.

All over the world, young people are finding it increasingly difficult to break into the labour market. Youth make up 25% of the global working age population, but account for 43.7% of the unemployed. This means that almost every other jobless person in the world is between the ages of 15 and 24.

The exclusion from the economic, political, and social life of their countries breeds disillusionment, hopelessness, and upheaval. Research has found links between youth unemployment and social exclusion, and suggests that this may lead to political and social instability, and possibly to violence.

Action is required to achieve economic prosperity for, and the inclusion of, the youth. Although evidence shows that governments and cities are making efforts to tackle youth poverty and their lack of engagement in governance, resources to undertake such interventions are very limited.

Urban Youth Research Network (a global network of urban youth experts), UN-Habitat provides a range of research and strategic planning services, including:

  • national or city-level empirical research on the challenges and opportunities of urban youth populations;
  • national or city-level workshops to discuss the results of the research on urban youth; and
  • participatory formulation of a national or city urban youth strategy, which encompases skills development, job creation, sports, and recreation.

Through its Urban Youth Research Network (a network of 15 key research agencies focusing on urban youth, such as the Children, Youth and Environment Centre and the International Institute for Child Rights and Development), UN-Habitat seeks to enhance national and city level decision-makers’ understanding of the challenges facing urban youth, as well as of the opportunities for dealing with those challenges.

One of UN-Habitat’s flagship reports, the State of Urban Youth, is launched biannually as part of the State of the World Cities report. The World Urban Forum Dialogue series on Urban Youth is a biannual publication launched at the World Urban Forum, which highlights cutting edge research on urban youth issues. UN-Habitat’s city partners use the Series to develop programmes that engage youth and help them to become productive citizens. 

16) Human Rights

Human Rights, including the rights to adequate housing and safe water and sanitation are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments, including  the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which have been ratified by most UN Member States. These rights, once so endorsed, do not have a voluntary character. They impose obligations on states and on the international community, they are universal, cannot be waived or taken away, and are legally protected.

The challenges of urbanization, such as rising inequality and the prevalence of slums, are symptoms of a larger deficit to respect human rights in cities, particularly the right to adequate housing and the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Only when all dimensions of human rights are respected will urbanization realize itself as the transformative force that it is. The human rights dimensions relate to the availability, accessibility, acceptability, adaptability, quality and appropriateness of the rights to adequate housing, safe drinking water and sanitation.

The human rights-based approach defines a pattern of human rights relationships between the individual – who is the claim-holder with justified claims on the state – and the state – which is the duty-bearer. This has the effect of removing many decisions from the realms of benevolent or charitable decision-making by the member state, and placing an obligation on it to show evidence of serious efforts to realise the rights it has ratified. The state is held accountable through international governance institutions for making progress in fulfilling the relevant rights. A human rights-based approach involves moving away from assessing the needs of beneficiaries towards empowering and building the capacity of claim-holders in asserting their rights.

The human rights-based approach adds value to urban planning by legitimizing prioritization of the interests on the most marginalized in society and their participation in the planning process.Indeed, the creation and implementation of an appropriate form of urban planning is a precondition in many national contexts for the fulfilment of human rights obligations in the urban context.



Dubai International Award For Best Practice

The Dubai Municipality and UN-Habitat present the Dubai International Award for Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment.


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