Last month Associate Professor Paul Jones was invited by United Nations agencies UN-Habitat and UNESCAP to an Asia-Pacific forum in Bangkok to address the problem of rapid urbanisation in developing countries.
He was one of four planning experts from Asia-Pacific universities attending to advise on the global urban policy to address the impact of urbanisation in the region.
The Regional Partners Forum of 30 representatives from UN agencies, governments, NGOs and universities in the Asia-Pacific were working on a framework for delivering a global policy on sustainable urban development ahead of UN-Habitat’s next World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur in February 2018.
“Knowing the complexities, challenges and diversity of urban development in this region is important for developing the framework that will be taken to WUF9 early next year for broader consultation,” said Associate Professor Jones, Program Director, Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning.
We advocated for the role universities can play in research, shaping curriculums, and teaching students so that they have the knowledge and skills to address the big city development issues right across the Asia-Pacific region.
In 2014 the Asia-Pacific was home to 17 of the world’s 28 megacities with populations of 10 million or more. Of the world’s total slum and informal settlement population, currently half resides in the Asia-Pacific. By 2018 more people will be living in cities than rural areas in the region.
This megatrend in rapid urbanisation has resulted in environmental degradation with growing pressure on natural resources, waste, pollution, disasters and communities left vulnerable to climate change.
The global community now has two bold agendas to address this problem – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda (NUA) adopted at the United Nation’s landmark conference Habitat III in Quito in October 2016.
“Key to the Agenda is sustainable cities driven at a local level. We need to encourage better leadership by city governments and understand what is urban success - rather than the 'bulldozer' approach being taken to remove local communities to make way for city development. This only results in new informal settlements popping up elsewhere that perpetuates the issue,” said Associate Professor Jones.
Over the last four years, a Masters unit of study on informal settlements, combined with the work of the Informal Urbanism Research Hub led by Associate Professor Jones, has been carrying out field work in Bandung, the capital of Indonesia's West Java province. This has provided deeper understanding of how informal urbanism occurs, and how it can be adapted by formal planning over time.
“We have run annual cross-cultural studios in Bandung with Masters students in architecture and in urban and regional planning, in collaboration with students from our partnering university, ITB, in Indonesia.
“In all, we have seen around 80 students immerse themselves for around 10 days in an urban kampung (village) surveying, mapping and talking to the local community to find ways to improve services, infrastructure, housing and governance. Obtaining the community’s views on physical and social solutions, in the context of issues of marginalisation and exclusion, has been vital,” he said.
In 2016 the University's field work and unit of study in Bandung was recognised by UN-Habitat’s World Urban Campaign as one of 150 innovative ways of planning and design to make a difference to cities.
“These field trips have provided some real ‘grass roots’ insights on how we might meet the goals of the New Urban Agenda to help people in the region whose livelihoods and communities are being eroded in the wake of rapid city development,” added Associate Professor Jones.