Life has numerous treaties and conventions that everyone has to face besides happiness. Climate change and demographic expansion inseparably combine an unprecedented challenge to cities. Admittedly, leaders worldwide need more time to allocate respective responsibilities and duties as far as global climate change is concerned. Thus, new impetus has to be formed from the turn of twentieth century – an era which witnessed two major world wars and the birth of United Nations Organization (UN). When the UN was founded in 1945, two thirds of the world’s people lived in rural settings. By 2000, the population balance had shifted, with half of humanity now living in cities.
Aspect of right way of living, other than arrays of rights, is more attuned to daily life. In addition to legal requirements, there are historical and philosophical grounds which ensure safe homes to all individuals. Thomas Hobbes postulated, “All men have a natural right to all things.” Also, John Locke espoused “natural rights to life, liberty and property” as the way to achieve happiness. Therefore, building inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements is not an option but a necessity for a country to be prosperous always.
Under the auspices of the UN, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which sets the minimum human rights standards was launched across the globe. “Right to life, liberty and security of person…” is one of the overarching provisions of the sacred document. This phrase has been propelled and further spelled through specific documents, viz. Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Child Rights Convention (CRC), Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and other supporting legislations. These initiatives were taken to address the needs of all walks of life – women, children, elderly and other minorities. Unfortunately, promises are yet to be practiced as evidenced by growing slums, unsafe passage for pedestrians, elderly and limited parks for children. In many cities, especially in developing countries, slum dwellers constitute more than half of the urban population, with little or no access to shelter, water, and sanitation. Insufficient clean drinking water and fresh air to breathe had become major discussions as cities grow by manifold.
Differently-abled has to be escorted in towns and buildings, ramps unthought-of, parks ill-equipped and drainage managed well. These scenarios culminated into series of problems – ranging from health to employment and leisure. Furthermore, loss of lives due to natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods have questioned how far did we take advantage of technology. Consumed by consumerist tendencies and high scale production, clean and scenic hamlets have turned into smoke laden industrial zones emitting harmful gases, and polluting serene environment. Had these accumulations made us become better? Are we happier now than before? Is reverting to primordial world a solution then? Change is inevitable and challenges become more obvious nowadays. Hence, it should be approached as an opportunity instead of adversity.
Aspiring for happiness without having well designed cities and human settlements will be that of ill-conceived pursuit of utopian human community. Against this backdrop, a human settlement should be equipped with – proper drainage, accessible and affordable infrastructure and transport system, basic telecommunication services, and sporting avenues for youths and those who passionate of and recreational sites for elderly. In addition, educational and health infrastructure, well-managed parks for children and early warning systems in places of potential natural disasters are crucial. Both city settlers and rural dwellers must be incorporated in planning process. And, those needs of toddlers, children, women, differently-abled, youth and elderly must be equally programmed. However, owing to geographical and cultural differences, there cannot be one single design all over the world. Diversification must take place in this case to adopt various cultures better. Meeting minimum standard become the key.
Given the limited resources, are we capable to fight this tough battle? Politicians have key responsibility to take key decisions which will affect vulnerable groups indirectly. Besides, establishing networks of cooperation between countries and actors, initiating and supporting civil society work, listening and delivering people’s need amongst others are the other ways which government can do to create inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements. Mainstreaming town planning and human settlement progr
For example, The United Nations Human Settlements Programme- UN-HABITAT- was established in 1978 to improve the growing slums. It streamlines climate change mitigation into its whole agenda- land and housing, urban governance, the environment, infrastructure and basic services, housing finance and disaster-related schemes. This new initiative shows that attitudes to urban expansion and even the climate issue are now changing, and for the better. As a result, the effort of creating more fulfilling life in turn would support and ensure the continuity of the plans and programmes of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) taking the world beyond 2015.