But the superpower to the north has long overlooked the importance of urbanization in its deployment of foreign assistance, according to legislation now being considered by the Senate. The Sustainable Urban Development Act of 2010 – introduced by Sens. Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland), Dick Durban (D-Illinois), and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) on 20 April – directs USAID to better tackle the problems of enlarging slums, increasing levels of pollution, overburdened transport systems, and lack of affordable housing.
“We all recognize that the 21st century is the century of the city. There is an explosion of urban growth around the globe – already the majority of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with approximately one billion people residing in slums. The phenomenon of urbanization will be ignored at our own peril. Responsible citizens of the world must consciously harness their creativity and ingenuity to increase the livability, economic viability, and environmental sustainability of our cities,” said Kerry, introducing the bill.
His point was reinforced at the recent World Economic Forum Africa meeting in Dar es Salaam, when Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT and UN Under-Secretary-General, emphasized that urbanization was one of the key challenges facing the continent. “Africa is urbanizing faster that any other continent, so much so that by 2030, Africa will cease to be a rural continent. Despite this, few African leaders are taking the issue seriously," she said.
"It is time that policy makers include plans for balanced territorial urban development. This is one of the keys to economic growth especially as investment in infrastructure and housing in African cities provides a great opportunity for the private sector,” she said.
Reversing the trend
William Cobbett, programme manager of the Cities Alliance, told IRIN the bill was significant because it showed the US was prepared to formally recognize the importance of urbanization. He said that in the wake of a “very steady” decline of US aid in this area, he was heartened by the possibility that trend would be reversed.
“I just applaud its existence,” he said of the bill, which he has been sending to colleagues throughout the world as an example of forward-thinking public policy.
The legislation directs the administrator of USAID to update the Making Cities Work Urban Strategy, which has been in existence for almost a decade. It also suggests establishing a seni