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Name of academic: Eugenie L. Birch at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
Main course information: The world is beset by interconnected economic, social, and environmental challenges of a magnitude difficult to grasp, much less address. Population growth and urbanization are at the heart of these challenges, with 2.5 billion additional people expected to be living in urban places by 2050. Poverty (3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day), environmental deprivation (75% of the earth’s land is degraded) and low productivity (global productivity has increased only .5% in the past decade) are key issues. To have a sense of the magnitude of today’s urbanization, realize that accommodating the increased population will require the construction of a city of a million every week for the next forty years – mainly in Asia and Africa. The speed with which city growth is occurring is overwhelming places’ abilities to provide formal employment and core services both necessary to achieve sustainable urban development. Dealing with mounting concerns with be a central task that city and regional planners will confront in the next decades. In 2019, UN Habitat, the focal point for sustainable urban development at the UN recently developed its 2020-2025 Strategic Plan. It diagnosed the issues related to urbanization and the associated opportunities as follows: Urbanization is one of the global mega-trends of our time, unstoppable and irreversible. In 30 years, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. NInety per cent of urban growth will occur in less developed regions such as East Asia, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa at a rapid pace and in situations where capacities and resources are most constrained and development challenges are most intense. Urbanization in these parts of the world is largely unplanned, fueling the continuous growth of informal or slum settlements. Unchecked and unplanned urban sprawl and inequality are universal concerns, both within cities and across territories; over 75 per cent of the world’s cities grew more unequal over the past 20 years. Although the world has made significant progress in reducing poverty since 2000, inequality is rising in the cities of both the developing and developed world. Today, the gap between the rich and the poor in most countries is at its highest levels in 30 years; the global one per cent earners captured twice as much of that growth as the 50 per cent poorest.1 In developing countries, slums and informal settlements, which currently accommodate close to 1 billion people, are the physical manifestation of urban poverty and inequality. About 2.3 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation service in 2015 and 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water worldwide. Fewer than 35 per cent of the cities in developing countries have their waste water treated. Moreover, today, 1.6 billion people globally live in inadequate housing and often do not have security of tenure. It is clear that climate change is one of the greatest challenges that cities must contend with, as indicated in the Paris agreement. Cities account for 60 to 80 per cent of energy consumption and generate as much as 70 per cent of the human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through the consumption of fossil fuels for energy supply and transportation. Climate change projections predict significant impacts on human development progress within just a few decades. Urgent and radical action to transform urban systems is required well before 2030 to contribute to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Urban areas also absorb significant climate risks and must be prepared to withstand the climatic extremes currently predicted with 3 to 4 degrees of global warming. The current economic model of investment, consumption and growth also drives the exploitative extraction of the planet's natural assets. Urban development is increasingly occupying land that was previously used for forestry and/or food production, at the same time the growing population's demand for food, timber products, biomass for heating etc. is increasing. Urbanization has not completed a full transition away from fossil-fueled energy, resulting in extensive air pollution which damages the health of vulnerable groups of people, particularly children and the elderly. The shift to a greener and more resource efficient economy is still in nascent stages. Migration adds complexity to the numerous issues, cities and other human settlements must deal with. Currently, there are 763 million internal migrants and 224 million international migrants in the world.6 This means that every seventh person in the world is a migrant. Most of these migrants are found in urban areas. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in particular require special attention in the overall context of sustainable urbanization. Today there are 25 million refugees and 40 million IDPs who have fled conflict and crisis. The majority are not in humanitarian camps but seek refuge in cities.7 Gender-based discrimination persist in many parts of the world, and challenges associated with children, youth and older persons are growing. As the world witnesses an increased feminization of poverty, women make up a large proportion of the informal sector of employment in cities and are disproportionately affected by limited access to safe places of work, education, skills, resources and technology. Poverty, humanitarian crises, and conflict are becoming increasingly urban phenomena. Rural areas do not benefit from overall growth, feeding a continuous rural-urban migration. Despite the challenges, urbanization is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change at all levels and all types of human settlements, from small rural communities, villages, and market towns, to intermediate cities and metropolises. Research now shows that urbanization can have a positive catalytic impact on development and deliver improved living conditions to the furthest behind. Cities and towns can help drive the sustainable agenda across social and cultural change, environmental protection and economic growth as the principles of the circular economy are embraced. Contributing about 80 per cent of global GDP, cities function as catalysts, driving innovation, consumption, and investment worldwide, making them a positive and potent force for addressing issues related to poverty, social exclusion and spatial inequality, shared prosperity, climate and the environment, and various forms of crisis. Most importantly, sustainable urban transformation presents an opportunity to work with all types of actors and communities, particularly those traditionally excluded from such processes Between 2015 and 2016, the 193 members of the United Nations approved five global agreements to deal with development issues that are of great importance to city and regional planners. These agreements, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015), Addis Ababa Action Agenda (2015), Transforming Our World, Agenda 2030 (2015), Paris Agreement (2015), and New Urban Agenda (2016), represent a worldwide consensus to frame current and future development policies over the next decades. Each will require significant efforts in aligning national and subnational programs and their financing. In fact, estimates for the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (a proxy for core service provision) calls for some $4.5 trillion/year in investment for the next 15 years. In this class, students will explore the agreements, their underlying theoretical concepts, their evolution, and their implementation. They will focus on the explicit and implicit urban implications and the challenges faced by subnational governments in coming to grips with integrating aspirational goals with political and economic realities of their specific contexts. In particular, the students will pursue two critical questions: 1.) How can a city or region achieve transformative change? That many strategies exist is common knowledge, but how to apply them locally is a matter of politics, economics, and capacity. 2.) How can a city recognize and incorporate informality in its approaches service delivery and economic development? That informality requires new policy attention is captured in two key data points: • informal workers constitute 50-80% of the workers in the Global South; producing 25-50% of Global South’s GDP (World Resources Institute 2018). • some one billion people currently live in informal settlements (UN Habitat 2018). While students, in pursuing these questions, will identify and critically examine gaps in the agreements (e.g. a lack of attention to how to achieve balanced territorial development; the absence of disaggregated data necessary to diagnose and monitor issues; the dearth of significant references to worldwide migration patterns and their humanitarian impact), they will spend a good deal of time discussing how planners might use their expertise to contribute to solutions to the identified issues."
Year of publication (last updated max 5 years ago): 2019
Topic: Adaptation
Region Examined: Global (more than one region)
Language: English
Other language: Please specify: English
Geographical scale: Global
Level of Instruction: Semester/Quarter Length Courses/Modules
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