Cities worldwide grow at an unabated rate. In 2009, the global urban population reached 3.42 billion and surpassed the number of people living in rural areas (http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/urbanization/urban-rural.shtml). This unprecedented growth of cities and towns places great strains on public health, infrastructure and ecosystems; not surprisingly, these problems are most acute in developing countries, where nearly all population growth takes place in urban areas. This is particularly relevant for megacities with more than 10 million people in their greater metropolitan area, the number of which has increased from 10 in 1990 to 28 at the latest count in 2014 and is set to reach 41 by 2030, according to the United Nations (http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html). Megacities pose particular threats to health, ecosystems and sustainable development, not only on account of their size and population density, but also their rate of growth, as infrastructures are often unable to keep up.
These issues were discussed at the recent UN conference on future sustainable development of towns and cities. The conference takes place only every 20 years and the latest, Habitat III held in Quito in October 2016, was the third, with the aim of establishing a global agenda for urban development. It was meant to address a variety of factors including poverty, quality of life, climate change, the environment and health. The outcome was the New Urban Agenda (NUA), replacing the old agenda developed at the previous 1996 Habitat II conference in Istanbul.
A lack of science
Many scientists though were dissatisfied by the lack of attention paid to science and ecology at the conference. “Yes, it was absolutely disappointing”, said Susan Parnell from the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “Science was just dumped in with everything else and there was no provision for taking account of updates to the science …
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