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Green Week 2016

How urban planning can tackle inequality

30 May May 2016 1249 30 May 2016
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“Cities are not only facing increasing heterogeneity, but also growing economic inequality and spatial segregation.” Explaining the crucial role of urban planners in fostering social cohesion and advancing sustainable urban development is Franziska Schreiber, expert on urbanisation at adelphi, the leading independent think tank and public policy consultancy on climate, environment and development.

“Cities function as a melting pot for people with differing cultural backgrounds, religions, interests, and social statuses. As a result, cities are not only growing in population, but are also becoming increasingly diverse. The impact of immigration and ethnic diversity on the urban fabric is being discussed in countries around the world, yet with particular intensity in the European Union due to the recent influx of refugees," writes Franziska Schreiber in a recent newsletter for adelphi.

It is EU Green Week this 30-3 May, and this year’s theme at the biggest annual occasion to debate and discuss European environment policy is "Investing for a greener future".

More than two-thirds of the urban population lives in cities where the income gap has widened sharply in the past three decades

Franziska Schreiber, urbanisation expert

With more movement and diversity than ever before in our urban spaces, there has also been a sharp rise in levels of inequality and spatial segregation. Urban planners are being called upon along with national policymakers to work together with planning and design measures in order to tackle the increasing challenges in our cities related to inequality, social inclusion and sustainable development.

"The search for solutions to inequality and socioeconomic polarisation often leads to common responses such as more restrictive immigration policies, investments in social and affordable housing, and a better regulated employment market. Most of these policies need to be translated into urban solutions. Thus, the role of urban planners in fostering social cohesion should not be underestimated. While they cannot solve the roots of social and economic problems, they can plan for well-connected urban patterns and functioning public spaces that facilitate interaction and social mixing," continues Schreiber.

With 54% of the world’s population living in urban areas, and the proportion set to increase to 66% by 2050, UN projections predict that urbanization combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban populations by 2050. This makes tackling the growing inequality in our cities a key priority and subject of focus in the upcoming Green Week.

"To ensure that the above mentioned planning and design interventions do not remain one-off, stand-alone measures, it is critical that they are embedded in national policies that involve a range of approaches in education, health care, employment, housing, and finance. Urban planners can then help to translate these policies into local action and link them to the most suitable planning and design measures."

Inequality in cities is not only a matter of economics. In their Safe Cities for Women campaign, Action Aid highlighted the importance of gender-sensitive urban planning.

The profound consequences of privatisation on the urban realm can be observed in cities around the globe: the quantity of spaces where new forms of social relations can take shape is gradually diminishing.

Franziska Schreiber

Much like politics, urban planning is still a very male-dominated field, and the needs of women are often ignored. Practically, gender sensitive urban planning means - amongst other things - reducing areas with poor lighting, dark streets, and dangerous public transport systems.

According to UN Habitat’s Under-Secretary-General Joan Clos, “the effect of urban planning on people’s lives, well being and quality of life is not sufficiently recognized by the majority in the women’s movement. The link between urban planning, poverty reduction, economic empowerment of women, and ending violence against women is hardly understood by the drivers of gender equality and empowerment of women at local, national, regional and international levels."

Photo Credits: Getty Images

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