CLOS: Urbanisation science to prosperity - Daily Nation

Urbanisation science to prosperity

Wednesday May 10 2017

An aerial view of Nairobi City in this photo taken on February 6, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

An aerial view of downtown Nairobi in a February 6, 2017 photo. FILE PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

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UN-Habitat, the specialised programme of the United Nations dealing with cities, urbanisation and human settlements, which is headquartered here in Nairobi, is about to host a strategic event vital on the future of world urbanisation.

This follows the UN’s largest ever summit, Habitat III, that took place Ecuador, Quito, in October last year.

In Quito, the United Nations adopted the New Urban Agenda, an innovative action plan to address the pressing challenges of world urbanisation.

This week, from May 8 to 12, world urbanisation leaders and pundits, are meeting in Nairobi to discuss the opportunities for the effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda on the occasion of the 26th Governing Council of UN-Habitat.


In Habitat III, an insightful analysis of the evolution of urbanisation over the last 20 years revealed an increase of urban inequalities, challenges in housing affordability and also environmental degradation in our cities as a result of the rapid speed of urbanisation, coupled with unplanned and spontaneous practices, a deficit of regulatory frameworks and weak financing models to steer our cities.

Just as the challenges are huge, the opportunities for well governed urbanisation are so much greater.

Habitat III culminated in a recognition of the relationship between good quality urbanisation and prosperity and development.

Although our cities today generate both 70 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) and creates 80 per cent of the total new employment, the specific contribution of urbanisation to increased prosperity was not clearly understood and analysed until recently.


Economies of agglomeration encourage a general increase in productivity due to the proximity of the factors of production.

In the developing countries, the economies of agglomeration are of most relevance since they lack other ways to achieve high levels of productivity.

Affordable housing helps to generate economies of agglomeration.

When people live close to work and opportunity, in well-planned and affordable areas, urbanisation is obviously more efficient and with much less infrastructural costs per capita.

Equally important is the relationship between urbanisation and climate change.


The effect of urbanisation on fossil fuel consumption is a massive environmental challenge in many parts of the world.

Indeed, the urban dwellers tend to consume energy 10-fold more than rural dwellers.

A radical commitment to the de-carbonisation of energy worldwide is so vital, especially at a time when urbanisation is increasing and the people use more energy per capita.

This is especially critical for developing countries since they will need more energy for their development, in comparison to their current energy consumption.

Fortunately, renewable energy is already at the current price level of fossil energy, and can and should become even cheaper.


Unless action is taken now, climate change promises a future of extreme events such as droughts, floods and long-term sea-level rise.

Remedial measures would be a chance for developing countries to leapfrog the economies reliant on fossil fuels.

The New Urban Agenda has defined a clear set of strategies that if implemented properly, will alleviate many of the major problems faced by millions of citizens worldwide: unemployment, inequality, unaffordability of housing, slums and lack of a decent life.

UN-Habitat, with more than 40 years supporting national and local governments in improving the condition of human settlements around the whole world, is leading the delivery of the New Urban Agenda.


Our normative and operational capacities to national and local governments in elaborating national urban policies, rules and regulations, urban planning and design and sound financial models, make us the leaders worldwide in ensuring sustainable urban development.

The 26th meeting of the Governing Council of UN-Habitat is a crucial opportunity to succeed in building together a better urban world, and an opportunity for Nairobi and Kenya to excel in leadership worldwide.

Dr Clos is the executive director of UN-Habitat, headquartered in Nairobi.