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Impassioned pleas for safer, greener cities

Vancouver, 22 June 2006 – Mr. Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, drew a standing ovation at the plenary of the Third Session of the World Urban Forum on Thursday when said cities would save a lot of money if the use of cars was restricted or even banned during peak hours.

Mr. Peñalosa, now serving as Visiting Scholar at New York University, was joined at the podium by Ms. Evelyn Herfkens, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, in what was one of the most lively sessions of debate on problems facing a rapidly urbanising world.

Mr. Peñalosa warned a packed convention hall: "Be under no illusion," he said. Projections show that the world's urban populations would grow by more than 2 billion people in the next 30 years – the equivalent of one city the size of Vancouver, Canada, every week.

In 200 years' time, he added, the world would look back to the dawn of this millennium and regard our cities of today as dangerous places, as London is sometimes conceived. "They would look back on this period as a time, for example, when tens of thousands of children were killed by cars, and shudder with fear."

The world, he said, had to create an urban environment conducive to human happiness, even though said the developing world would not catch up with the wealthier nations for the next three to four hundred years. Wealthier people always enjoy leaving their cities to go on holiday, enjoy nature and a change of environment – something generally unattainable by poor people who had to stay put in their towns and cities. This was why it was important for cities keep close to nature with parks, cycle ways, better public transport to minimise car use. In short, cities had to be places where the public good prevailed over private interests. If cars were banned in peak hours, he said referring to restrictions introduced in Bogotá, most people would be better off. He explained how Bogotá had voted in a referendum to restrict car use in peak hours, and how new cycle lanes had been built throughout the city, along with a rapid bus transit system. All of this had freed up considerable resources for the city, all of them small steps leading to big change and a greener, healthier lifestyle.

As the moderator told him that his speaking time was due to end, the audience rose and cheered when he asked for a few more minutes. He said he wanted Vancouver 2006 to know that in Vancouver 1976 he had accompanied his father, Enrique Peñalosa, who served as Secretary General of the Habitat I conference. Vancouver 1976 had inspired him to take home to Bogotá years later many of the ideas he had picked up during that conference.

The moderator, Mr. Chris Leach, President of the Canadian Institute of Planners, said the World Planners Congress meeting in Vancouver earlier in the week had produced a declaration signed by 17 associations from both developed and developing countries. It laid the groundwork for a new Global Planners Network to confront the problems of rapid urbanization, the urbanization of poverty, and the hazards of climate change and natural disasters.

He added that the Canadian Institute of Planners was committed to combining its expertise with the excellent work already being undertaken by its global partners. He pledged that the global planning community would take action to address the sustainability of human settlements.

Handing the floor to Ms. Herfkens, he said the world planning community had a renewed energy, commitment and dedication to help the world's population enjoy a better standard of living and provide hope and opportunities for future generations.

Ms. Herfkens said she agreed with Klaus Toepfer, the former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), whom, she said, always maintained that poverty itself was the biggest polluter. This necessitated pro-poor sustainable growth; it meant the poor should join in urban planning, and that they had to be acknowledged and respected. It was a mistake to regard the poor as "client targets" – a view she said was now enshrined in the eight Millennium Development Goals forged in the consensus of world leaders signatory to the Millennium Declaration.

She waved a copy of a new brochure on the goals published with UN-HABITAT for the forum showing how rich and poor countries, at government and municipal level can apply the goals to their urban planning strategies. Use them, she pleaded. She was delighted to learn at the forum that the Mayor of Montréal, Gérald Tremblay, for example, had personally undertaken a campaign to publicise the goals. "Investment in the goals is an investment in your own future. We are the first generation with the resources and the knowledge to end poverty," said. To resounding applause, she added: "Don't let our leaders off the hook."

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