A poorly managed urban settlements will be unable to keep pace with the urban expansion, and unserviced slums will proliferate, bringing with them poor health, poverty, social unrest and economic inefficiency. Environmental hazards are responsible for the most common causes of ill-health and mortality among the urban poor. Sustainable development is multi-dimensional and requires an understanding of complex and often conflicting relationships. And this is called for an integrated approach and an integration culture.

Variety of strategic approaches to integrating the environment into the urban planning process exist. Environmental activities can be targeted at different levels. Cities can also use different instruments to integrate the environment into urban planning and management approaches policy instruments, process instruments, planning instruments and management instruments.

Cities are centres of excellence, bringing together innovators, entrepreneurs, financiers and academics. They attract a rising tide of humanity, of people hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. Cities provide opportunities, economies of scale, a future with more choices.

And yet cities have also been blamed for causing environmental catastrophes, for marginalising communities, for diminishing the quality of life of the poor. They have been castigated as centres of disease, social unrest and insecurity. Cities are also at risk from industrial hazards, natural
disasters, and the spectre of global warming.

A successful city must balance social, economic and environmental needs: it has to respond to pressure from all sides

A successful city should offer investors security, infrastructure (including water and energy) and efficiency. It should also put the needs of its citizens at the forefront of all its planning activities. A successful city recognises its natural assets, its citizens and its environment and builds on these to ensure the best possible returns.

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Today’s cities are part of the global environment. Their policies, their people and their quest for productivity have an impact far beyond the city borders. City-level experiences are essential to the formulation of national policies, and city and national policies, in turn, translate onto the global level. Today, global policymakers recognise that cities have a tremendous impact on issues ranging from local economic stability to the state of the global environment.

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Over the past 50 years, cities have expanded into the land around them at a rapid rate. Highways and transport systems have been built in tandem to support this physical growth. Valuable farmland has been eaten up and automobile dependency has increased. Urban populations are expected to grow by another 2 billion people over the next three decades, and it is expected that cities in developing countries will absorb 95% of this increase.

To avoid being victims of their own success, cities must search for ways in which to develop sustainably

No single recipe for managing change can be applied to all cities. Cities are affected by their location, their climate and natural features. Cities and urban settlements don’t operate in isolation they are part of a national structure, subject to the central government, strengthened or limited by regional and national infrastructure, budgetary policies, development priorities, decentralisation policies.

To meet the urban challenges of today, and the challenges to come, appropriate management frameworks must be available, through which cities can apply innovative approaches suitable for their local circumstances. Urban settlements can learn from the natural world cities can be seen as ecosystems. In the same way that a natural ecosystem like a rainforest or coral reef is a complex system of interlinkages between elements, everything in a city is connected to everything else.

If land use is changed in one area of a city, it will affect the transportation system, infrastructure and economy in other areas. Local governments today play a leading role in developing new approaches to treat the natural and built environment, and the people that interact with it, as one interconnected “city ecosystem”. Their innovation and creativity in striving for sustainable urban development will reach into all areas of policy development and decision-making.

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