Sustaining Urban Partnership: the Strategic Considerations and Opportunities Ahead

This paper was delivered by Anwar Fazal  at the South-South Mayors Conference “Developing Solutions for Cities of the 21st Century, 3-4 July, 1997 held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

History has two important lessons for humanity:

Firstly, every major civilisation was destroyed because if did not make peace with the environment. They sometimes labeled it as an “Act of God” or called it a “Natural Disaster” when these events were in fact the “Revenge of Nature” or due to the “Stupidity of Mankind”.

Secondly, if you want to know where any country’s future is heading, look at their main cities – if they cannot manage their cities, they have little hope in managing their future. A “sick city” is a sign of a sick civilisation.

The Five “Plosions”

Cities in Asia are undergoing some of the most dramatic and spectacular changes ever. Five processes are impacting on them:

Firstly, we are seeing a horrifying explosion of people and new kinds of richness and poverty.

Secondly, we are witnessing a deafening implosion, a deepening of alienation, and anger, manifesting itself in urban violence, and even more, in urban terrorism. The cities are becoming battle zones.

Thirdly, we also see a painful displosion, a disintegration, a breaking up of family, community, and indigenous values. We have wasted lives of young children turned into sick streets, and sicker values.

Fourthly, we face a “techplosion”, the introduction of a new complex, often ruthless, technologies operating in environments inappropriately prepared for such ventures. We see them side by side with problems requiring, but not getting, the simple technologies that will give clean water, adequate nutrition, basic literacy and the kind of livelihood opportunities that could wipe out poverty in a decade, if not in a generation. Instead we get potential Bhopals. (Bhopal is a city in India that suffered an industrial holocaust, that became a mega gas chamber) and we get Chernobyls. Our cesspools of sewage also end up as poisoned cocktails. Not so long ago, a test for lead levels was done on the umbilical cords of some two dozen babies born in a leading hospital in one of the Southeast Asian capitals. The shocking news was that every one of those samples had lead levels higher than those acceptable. These innocent babies were doomed to mental retardation. Is that to be our future – maddening development, and mad people!

Fifthly, we are also seeing an “infoplosion” – proliferation of mindless entertainment and propaganda that is overwhelming and confusing, often creating new addictions and new distractions, often enlarging the power of bureaucracy and commercial propaganda. The taping of the power of these new information technologies by the community, especially the “information poor” for knowledge and advocacy is going to be necessary but it will not be easy, for power will more readily move to the already powerful.

Forgive my use of pyrotechnic images – explosion, implosion, displosion, techplosion and infoplosion – but these are “hot” issues and our cities are in crisis.

Good Growth and Bad Growth

Growth can be good and growth can be bad. The United Nations Human Development Report describes five kinds of bad growth:

·         Jobless growth – the overall economy grows, but fails to sustain, enrich or expand job opportunities.

·         Ruthless growth – the rich get richer, and the poor get nothing.

·         Voiceless growth – the economy grows, but democracy/empowerment of the majority of the population fails to keep pace.

·         Rootless growth – cultural identity is submerged or deliberately outlawed by governments or destroyed by the global telecommunications revolution.

·         Futureless growth – the present generation squanders resources needed by future generations.

There is fear that in many of our cities, we are being trapped by “bad” growth.

The Vision

There is a need for a clear vision for our cities.

I suggest a “Panchasila” or five principles that can help us with shaping the future of our cities, the five key elements are that if we want our cities to be our homes, they have to be developed in ways that are:

·         Socially Just

·         Ecologically Sustainable

·         Politically Participatory

·         Economically Productive

·         Culturally Vibrant

We can make villages, towns and cities outstanding examples of this “Panchasila” with the five values central to their vision, planning and actions.

Sick Cities

If you wanted a strategic checklist of the “Sick City”, there are 10 areas that are crying out for attention

1.       Garbage

2.       Air Quality

3.       Water

4.       Sanitation

5.       Cancer

6.       Housing

7.       Access/Mobility

8.       Stress

9.       Literacy

10.   Violence

We have to address these in a creative and integrated way. Unfortunately, at the present time many of our cities are barely coping. We have both a “caring” and “caring” crisis. If we are not careful, we may end up with what one sociologist had called “Urbcide”.


Move Forward – The Partnership Way

There are, of course towns and cities doing well and there are a host of good practices that now are available through the United Nations Centre on Human Rights (UNCHS) Urban Observatory Programme.

There is one overarching lesson from all the recent experiences culminating in HABITAT II, the  UNCHS held in June 1996. The way forward is the partnership way. Getting governments, civil society groups and the private sector to work together jointly to create the sense of community that is required for the tasks ahead.

There are at least seven active modalities that you may like to consider and share with your colleagues. Briefly, they are as follows:

1.       The Healthy Cities Programme – facilitated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is a innovative step by step diagnostic tool for analysis and action using health as the entry point.

2.       Local Agenda 21 – facilitated by the International Council for Local Environment Initiatives (ICLEI) which uses Chapter 28 of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (The Rio Summit) as its entry point.

3.       Urban Forum – facilitated by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) – which is a highly flexible participatory modality for building local partnerships on urban issues.

4.       The Sustainable Cities Programme – facilitated by UNCHS which is a detailed indicator centred process that can help build frameworks for action.

5.       The Integrated Action Planning (IAP) Programme – facilitated by GTZ – the German Development Agency – which is a physical and environmental planning process that is highly inter-active requiring a multi-sectoral approach. Nepal had adopted this approach.

6.       Community Action Planning (CAP) – initiated by UNCHS with the support of DANIDA, the Danish Development Agency – builds on a bottom up community approach to urban planning and action. Sri Lanka has adopted this approach.

7.       The Local Initiative Facility for Urban Environment (LIFE) Programme – facilitated by United Nations Development Programme is a mechanism to facilitate local policy dialogues and initiate small-scale projects involving government community partnership.


Partnerships are the wave of the urban future. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has launched the process of the “Urban Partnership” in its work in facilitating and coordinating urban programmes in the Asia Pacific Region. We can provide you more details on each of these or give you the key contacts. We welcome you to the partnership. Get our publication Urban Links or check our Website maintained by the Asia Institute of technology (AIT) in Bangkok, Thailand at http://www. hsd.ait.ac.th

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