2008 National Planning Conference: United Nations Keynote

Anna Tibaijuka

By Tre Jerdon
APA Research Associate

Understanding the role of planning on a local scale is critical to developing and sustaining healthy vibrant communities. How these best practices translate on the global scale is equally valuable. Planners must not only consider what is best for their own neighborhoods and communities and populations; however, we must come to the realization that good effective planning must be fostered and sustained for all people.

This was one basic principle highlighted throughout the pre-recorded United Nations Keynote address from UN Undersecretary General and UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka. An inspiring and captivating orator, Dr. Tibaijuka outlined the urgency facing populations outside of the United States. She argued that the urbanization of poverty is a real issue facing real people, and she challenged planners to find the solutions. How should we address the disconnection between the good planning practice and principles and populations who have never seen these valuable assets in their communities? How do we include all of humanity in this greater cause?

Born and raised in a small Tanzanian village, Tibaijuka witnessed rampant impoverishment as a result of failed urbanization efforts. The global challenges of urban poverty stem from several issues including failed urban finance and infrastructure concerns. We cannot properly achieve sustainable development without sound principles of sustainable urban development. Populations in cities must have the same hope as those outside of urban centers. Tibaijuka urged all American planners to learn from other models of good planning, which will be the hopeful lesson of planners outside the U.S.

Tibaijuka stressed the importance of making efforts to address social economic improvement. Keeping the status quo means continuing abject poverty. In the future, 90 percent of all new population growth will occur in cities primarily in the developing world, thus making it imperative to solidify the proper solutions to these issues. One toilet for 300-plus people in one village is commonplace, which promotes the spread of diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Tibaijuka shared her experiences in Nairobi of the poor being swept away, hidden from view. These populations are forced to move to the most marginal locations so as to forget that their problems exist. We cannot effectively plan for these populations in this manner. Global accountability is critical. We must share good planning practices with all communities around the globe.

Tibaijuka asserted that planning tends to be focused on a formal process. At times, these formalities make it difficult to keep up with the results. Urban sprawl, infrastructure concerns, poverty, and environmental damage cannot be readily and effectively addressed. Planners do not necessarily have all the right tools so we must learn from each other. The urbanization of the poor is becoming the weakest link in the chain of sustainable development. How do we address these problems? Tibaijuka challenged all planners to find effective solutions. Planners must implement sound smart growth practices and reduce our carbon footprint. We must also address social equity problems and value inclusion. Good planning must consider all communities, neighborhoods, and populations on a global scale. Planning must assess social, economic, and environmental pressures in the developing world, otherwise, only the most fruitful nations will reap the benefits.  

Planners should decide what their profession stands for in the world arena. What is our value and worth? Tibaijuka argued that planning is one of the first professions to pioneer public participation. Understanding what your communities and populations need is an invaluable step in the overall planning process. Tibaijuka urged planners to consider the benefits of the internationalization of planning organizations. She values the profession and it has a tremendous presence through UN-HABITAT. The future of planning and sustainable development is important, and she looks forward to the World Urban Forum and the Global Planners Network in China in this fall, where she will learn more about how we can solidify the solutions to better connecting planning on the global scale.

Before Tibaijuka's address, the audience heard from UN-HABITAT Deputy Undersecretary Paul Taylor. A planner by training, Taylor spent a number of years in London's East End before accepting his current position. Sustainability and climate change concerns are at the forefront of the planning agenda, and he reiterated that planning is a collaborative interactive profession, which requires us to consider the broader picture. We must understand how poor planning impacts regions, cities, and populations; and how good planning can sustain these same areas and populations. Sustainability in one country is impossible and good effective planning requires us to think globally, and act locally.

Send an e-mail to WebsiteEditor@planning.org for permission to reprint this article.