World Urban Forum Examines Rapid Growth of Cities

slums In 2007, for the first time in history, more than half the human population will live in urban areas, according to the United Nations. To discuss the implications of this momentous demographic shift, thousands of delegates from more than 150 countries have gathered in Vancouver, Canada, for World Urban Forum 3, a five-day event organized by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

The World Urban Forum is held every two years to discuss the most pressing issues related to urbanization. A key focus of this year’s conference, held June 19–23, is the rapid growth of slums and squatter settlements, particularly in developing countries. According to UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka, slum dwellers “often live under worse conditions than their rural relatives” and thus deserve greater international and domestic attention than they currently receive.

Rising urbanization has important implications for the environment as well, as housing, businesses, and transportation systems put growing pressure on water, energy, food, and other resources. “The urban environment is inextricably intertwined with the rural one and inextricably linked with the way local, regional and global natural resources are soundly and sustainably managed,” notes Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “It is vital that we get cities right if we are to meet the internationally agreed development goals, if we are to deal with such pressing global issues as climate change.” By 2050 some six billion people are expected to be city dwellers, according to Steiner.

Today, the Worldwatch Institute will be hosting a preview of its upcoming publication, State of the World 2007: An Urban Planet, at a side event of the Vancouver conference. The book discusses the fundamental question, “On a planet where cities house a growing share of the human population, including the poorest, what is needed to foster a socially equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically vibrant urban future?”

Related Links:

Hear State of the World 2007 Project Director Molly Sheehan on NPR’s Marketplace

Worldwatch Research Library: Urbanization

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.