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We need people-focused urban planning

Published at: 13 June 2016


In a recent talk by architect Alejandro Aravena the possibility of real economic inclusion, social development and environmental protection converge in a universal roadmap for global action

The United Nations recently hosted this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, and curator of the 2016 Venice Biennale, Alejandro Aravena to listen to him discuss his work. “We are living in an urban age – which is in principle great news, because cities hold the prospect of greater opportunity, education and jobs – but the problem of the scale and speed with which the urbanization process is taking place, has no precedent in human history,” the Chilean architect told reporters at the briefing, co-organized by the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDGF), as part of a new partnership with the Pritzker Prize.

“To give you an idea, out of three billion people living in cities today, one billion are living under the poverty line. By 2030, we will have more than five billion people living in cities and two billion of them are going to be under the poverty line,” he explained.

Describing the breadth of the challenge as the “3S” menace – the scale, speed, and scarcity of means – he said that to cope with the current influx into urban areas, “every week, we would have to build one new city for a population of one million people, with $10,000 per family. And if we don’t solve this equation, it is not that people will stop coming to cities – they are going to keep coming – but they will live in awful conditions.”

So how does the international community respond to such a phenomenon? Mr. Aravena offered a key clue; one that he has put to use in his work: “We [must] use peoples' own capacity, ideas and resources to provide a better environment. The scarcest resource in cities today is not money, but coordination. So we need to create open systems that can include people’s own capacity to add value to their living conditions and opportunities.”

This notion is at the heart of Mr. Aravena’s work, which the Pritzker Foundation noted in its selection “gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space. Innovative and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives.”

The Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F) is a multi-agency and multi-donor development cooperation mechanism created in 2014 by UNDP, on behalf of the UN system, with an initial contribution of the Government of Spain to support sustainable development activities through integrated and multidimensional joint programmes.

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