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On behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, UN-HABITAT, and our distinguished partners we welcome you to World Habitat Day 2009.

Photo of HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan
Secretary Shaun Donovan

On behalf of the Obama Administration, it is an honor for all Americans to host World Habitat Day 2009, and I'm proud to serve as this year's global co-host.

This year's theme, Planning our Urban Future, is an opportunity to bring attention to some of the most promising urban planning ideas being explored across the globe – to create a platform for international partnership that helps make socially, environmentally and economically sustainable urban communities a reality for all of us.

The moment for this discussion couldn't be more appropriate. For the first time in history, the majority of the world's population lives in cities – and that figure projected to grow by 37 percent by midcentury. By 2030, almost 5 billion people will live in urban areas, with that growth most concentrated in Africa and Asia. In the words of UN-HABITAT, cities are increasingly becoming "hubs of national production and consumption."

And while the United States is poised to be a leader in helping friends around the globe grapple with these trends, it is by no means immune. Eighty-three percent of Americans and 85 percent of all jobs are located in our metro areas, generating nearly 90 percent of the United States' economic production. Increasingly the assets and key institutions that anchor and drive its economy-from its skilled workforce and infrastructure to its airports, hospitals and universities-have become concentrated in America's metropolitan regions.

All of this tells us that we are living in a truly urban age – that the fundamental shift to a more urban and metropolitan society we are seeing across the globe demands a new global vision and policy. But realizing that vision requires us to see cities not as the problem, but the solution – the key to fostering economic competitiveness, environmental sustainability, and social and economic inclusion.

Indeed, the global economic crisis offers an opportunity to make the kind of investments our cities need to thrive in the 21st century. Because President Obama recognizes that change comes from the bottom up, in the United States, Recovery Act funds have been used in an integrated, multi-jurisdictional, collaborative, and flexible way, working in concert with our budget to advance sustainable and inclusive growth patterns at the metropolitan level, communities of choice at the neighborhood level, and energy efficiency at the building scale.

World Habitat Day offers the opportunity to share ideas about how we can take these and other promising approaches to scale across the globe – to promote equitable, affordable housing, provide more transportation choices and create economic opportunity for those who need it most.

For all our challenges, the transformation we are witnessing at this moment could be our greatest opportunity to lift the standard of living for billions of people across the globe. Seizing that moment is the goal of World Habitat Day 2009.

[Signature: Secretary Shaun Donovan]
Shaun Donovan
Photo of Dr. Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat
Dr. Anna Tibaijuka

Hosting the global celebration for World Habitat Day 2009 in Washington D.C. demonstrates the commitment of the Administration to fix what has not worked well in the past, and to forge a better future. This year's theme on Planning Our Urban Future responds to both challenges. In many parts of our world urban planning systems have changed very little over the past decades. In countries experiencing rapid urbanisation, planning systems are often unable to catch up with or even guide the realities of growth. In other countries, planning systems too often perpetuate models of land use, human habitation and transportation that contribute to urban sprawl and to increasing the carbon footprint of cities.

A new role for planning is essential if we are to achieve sustainable urban development.

This new role has to fully embrace the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainability. It also has to be an integral part of public policy while it harnesses the full potential of technology.

Planning must also address the shortcomings of existing decision making systems which have allowed the simultaneous emergence of some of the most sophisticated technological innovations to improve our lives and living conditions side by side with slums and sub-standard housing which are the worst manifestations of urban poverty, deprivation, and social exclusion.

Many of the challenges we face in our cities derive from the fact that planning has been divorced from governance. As long as planning is not understood and practised by people, their communities and their leaders as an integral part of participatory democracy, then planning will remain on the margins of how real decisions are made, be it by special interest groups or by people in search of better opportunities. The end result is chaotic and unsustainable patterns of urban growth that threaten our common future.

In overcoming this challenge, planning has to open itself to public participation and to very diverse stakeholder groups to establish a set of social, economic and environmental goals that contribute equitably to a wide variety of interests. These interests invariably include job and wealth creation as well as social harmony and justice.

As the world grows more and more urban, it becomes more vital that all spheres of policy and decision making view urbanisation and planning as an unprecedented opportunity to green our cities and economies and, in so doing, to improve access to services, increase economic opportunities, and enhance social justice for all women, men and children.

[Signature: Dr. Anna Tibaijuka]
Dr. Anna Tibaijuka
UN-HABITAT Executive Director
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