Nanjing conference tackles rapid urbanization


NANJING, China (eTN) – The Fourth World Urban Forum has ended here in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing with a call for concerted action to tackle one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on the poor. The theme this year was “Harmonious Urbanization: the Challenge of Balanced Territorial Development.”

“When the world converges on Nanjing, the global urban population will have passed the halfway mark and more people will be living in cities than in rural areas,” said Anna Tibaijuka, executive director of UN-HABITAT, at the opening ceremony of the forum. “In this era of rapid urbanization, compounded by the complexities of climate change, we look forward to a stimulating exchange of ideas on how best to make the process of urbanization more harmonious and less divisive.”

Apart from senior Chinese government figures, international leaders attending the opening included Philippine Vice President Noli de Castro and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

More than 10,000 people ranging from non-governmental organizations, community-based groups, urban professionals and academics to governments, local authorities, and national and international associations were at the forum. Through a series of round-table discussions, seminars and dialogues, participants exchanged ideas and discussed formal and informal ways to come up with action-oriented proposals to create sustainable cities.

The city of Nanjing, located on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, dates back more than 2,000 years and is known as the ancient capital of the Six Dynasties of China. Today, home to 6 million people, it is a rapidly-growing, modern city and is one of the most dynamic in eastern China.

China itself is one of the fastest-urbanizing countries in the world. Its urban population rose from 191 million in 1980 to 380 million in 1997, imposing heavy strains on city administrations. The number of Chinese cities also soared from 223 in 1980 to 668 in 1997.

The Chinese hosts spared no efforts to make sure this year’s forum would be one to remember. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular with dazzling performances by dancers and acrobats. Armies of eager, young, English-speaking volunteers were on hand to direct and advise the thousands of delegates and attend to their every need.

The World Urban Forum is a biennial gathering established by the United Nations in 2002 to address the issue of rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, and policies. Its previous three sessions were held in Nairobi, Barcelona, and Vancouver. The next forum will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2010 – after Nanjing; it will be a hard act to follow.