At the World Urban Forum, participants are being asked to go online for one minute and talk about what needs to happen to create the urban future we want, and to commit themselves as ‘City Changers’.
Practical Action has committed itself. In the next five years we’re aiming to double the proportion of our work that is in urban areas, and we’ve identified our work on urban services (water, sanitation, hygiene, waste management) as the main focus for that work.
And the needs remain enormous. Well over half the world’s population now live in urban areas, and slums are growing every day. The lack of water, sanitation and waste management deny these populations a decent, healthy and productive life.
But it isn’t us that need to be City Changer. What we must do is help to harness the energy and efforts of the urban poor themselves. As I was reminded this afternoon by the wonderfully inspiring Thai woman Somsook Boonyabancha, it is their energy and dynamism that will force the pace of urban planners, policy makers and NGOs. We need to be there to support them, by bringing them together, introducing them to technical options for water and sanitation, allowing them to make their own choices, and making sure local governments are listening to them and allocating the money which is already allocated to their needs.
It is poor communities who can be empowered to change their cities, benefitting not only their own areas, but the city as a whole.