The Governance and Management of Urban Communities - Challenges for the 21st Century

History has two important lessons:

Firstly, every major civilisation was destroyed because it did not make peace with the environment. They blamed it as an "Act of God" or called it a "Natural Disaster" when these events were 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 impact on them:

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

Secondly, we are witnessing a deifying 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, of community, of indigenous values. we see wasted lives of young children turned on to 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 the mindless proliferation of armaments of all kinds. 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 Bophals. (Bhopal was a city in India that suffered an industrial holocaust, that became a mega gas chamber.) And we get Chernobyl's. Our cesspools of sewage also end up as poisoned cocktails. Not so long ago, a test for lead levels was done on umbilical cords of some 2 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 poor for knowledge, for 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.

Good growth and Bad growth

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

  • Jobless growth – the overall economy grows, but fails to 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. We need a local Vision 2020 that is developed to deal with and covers that urban community.

I suggest a "Panchasila" or 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

You can make your villages, your towns and your cities outstanding examples of this "PANCHASILA", with the five values central to their vision, the planning and their actions.

We can incorporate the great ideas of Vision 2020 into these and develop a Local Plan of Action. I attach as appendix an elaboration of this "Panchasila".

Sick Cities

There are ten areas that are crying out for attention:

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 our cities are barely coping. We have both a "caring" and a "car-ing" crisis. If we are not careful we may end up with what one sociologists has called "Urbicide".

Some challenges for Malaysia

Perhaps the single most important area that needs action is the area of participation. Participation can be real or manipulative. The following ladder of Citizens Participation has been identified:

We also can elections to neighbour and local governments perhaps as a non-political party bases to help foster a new commitment to the spirit of community, transparency and accountability.

25 years ago the first Royal Commission ever to be created in Malaysia was on local government. The Report popularly called the Athi Nahappan Report supported very strongly the idea of popular participation and local democracy. Perhaps the time has come again to look at it as this nations matures in human development in all spheres – economic, social and environmental.

We should seriously begin an Institute for local government . Local government has been neglected in many ways . This year the UN Conference on Human Settlements , renewed interest in human settlements and local government. There is the "Habitat Agenda : goals and Principles , Commitments and a Global Plan of Action". I invite you to study that document which has been endorsed by the Malaysian Government. I attach the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements" which captures the essence of the document . Make it a guiding document.

One of the key ideas on that World Conference was "Partnership". We cannot make our cities better, safer and livable if we do not involve all sectors. Too many cities in the world are either out of control or too much dominated by an "unholy" alliance between bureaucracy and business in which the people's interest are ignored.

Malaysia can set a model for partnership, for participation and for people-centered development. If the UN can help you in any way let us know.

Lastly, I just want to remember and share the wise words of Datuk Rosli bin Buyang, the first Malaysian to hold the post of Director-General of Town and Country Planning. He said "There is so much to be done. Do something good today as if you are going to die tomorrow".

Do whatever you can the future of our cities, the future of our civilisation depends on it.

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