China recently hosted a strategic conference in its contemporary history of urban development of the last three decades. The National Urban Development conference, which took place in December last year, enriches and stimulates the current debate over the transformative power of urbanization as a foundation for economic and social prosperity. The conference comes at a very timely juncture for several reasons.
First, because the international community is presently immersed in an unprecedented debate on rethinking and reshaping the urbanization of the last two decades, with the aim of forging a New Urban Agenda expected to be adopted in October this year during Habitat III: the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.
Second, and crucially, is the view of President Xi Jinping that urbanization was the principal source of prosperity for the Chinese miracle of the last 20 years. This view goes to the core of UN-Habitat’s vision that considers good and well planned urbanization as the driver of economic growth, social prosperity, and environmental sustainability.
Third, this new vision of urbanization is already a step forward in the implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. This new global agenda recognizes, for the first time in the history of development, the linkages and contributions of urbanization in achieving sustainable development, with a specific goal dedicated to cities.
I am very pleased to notice that the Government of China has moved from its past policy of facilitating the urbanization process at high speed, to a strategy of emphasizing the quality of urbanization and urban livability. Another significant change is that the government recognizes the right of urban residents to know and participate in decision making processes and encourages wider public participation in urban development and management.
I commend the Chinese authorities for launching such an important debate at a crucial moment for urbanization. I encourage the Chinese authorities to take an active part in Habitat III. China has a lot to offer the world, and an enormous opportunity to continue driving economic growth, while improving social inclusion and also protecting local, national, and global ecosystems.
The time has come to move on from past, sometimes negative, assumptions that have characterized urban growth and realize the value of urbanization as a source of development and an engine for social and economic advancement and prosperity.
Joan Clos is the Executive Director of UN-Habitat and Secretary-General of Habitat III.