Cities feature endless opportunities for the people in the country. In recent years, more and more people have moved to cities to find a better standard of living. The increase in city population, however, has led to several city issues. Therefore, an open discussion about cities by the stakeholders is essential towards creating a better future.
City Expo Malaysia 2021 (CEM 2021), on Nov 8-Dec 8, 2021, aims to be the platform that gathers these like-minded stakeholders and city makers to come up with their solutions for these city issues. Organised by the Malaysian Institute of Planners (MIP) and Nextdor Property Communications, the virtual expo drives the debate, ideas, and solutions around cities.
The soft launch of CEM 2021 was officiated by Datuk Seri Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) on Aug, 25.
“Today, Malaysia is one of the most urbanised countries in Asia, experiencing significant cumulative growth in the last two decades, transforming the country from 34 per cent urban in 1980 with estimates of growing to 80 per cent by 2030,” said Maimunah.
“Recognised challenges associated with this rapid urbanisation include the urban-rural divide, increased urban sprawl, increased urban poor and lack of affordable and adequate housing, as well as green and open spaces, poor urban mobility and connectivity, traffic congestion and other social ills.”
However, she believed that by analysing and assessing all possible imaginative but realistic scenarios, well-planned and well-managed cities could be the source of solutions rather than challenges.
Following the soft launch, Maimunah delivered a talk titled ‘World In Pandemic Crisis: UN-Habitat’s Strategies in Handling It’ as part of the CEM 2021 Star Talk session, moderated by MIP President, Datin Noraida Saludin.
In her talk, Maimunah stated that the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic had reversed the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), especially SDG 3, as the virus shortens the life expectancy. She highlighted that the pandemic changed the world’s progress in healthcare, poverty and education.
“Covid-19 is a wake-up call. It also magnifies and shows proof of the deeply rooted problems and the failure of the system, especially the insufficient social protection, weak public health, inadequate health coverage, structural inequalities, not only in cities but also in rural areas.
“To recover, we need people to be at the centre of the response,” added Maimunah.
Lessons from the pandemic
“For the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic did not discriminate between developed and developing countries. No single country was prepared, emphasising foresight and preparedness.
“By mid-2020, UN-Habitat has come up with a study. It was stated that 90 per cent of (Covid-19) cases were in cities. We had the data from 1500 cities in urban areas. So, what we observed and learned is the importance of proximity and the network of connectivity.”
She then explained that this connectivity refers to a broader segment such as enhancing the economies of scale, transforming public places, looking at the critical investment in essential services like water sanitation, health services, and planning. She mentioned that although many argue that high density (in cities) is not good, the UN Habitat’s study noted that high density with proper planning shows the opposite result.
“It is not the densely populated that is the problem. The overcrowding is the problem,” said Maimunah.
She said the pandemic had shown that most city problems were caused by densely populated, congested, unplanned areas.
Highlighting the rapid growth of the global population, she said: “By 2050, around 66 per cent of the worldwide people will be in cities, and 75 per cent of the infrastructure will not be built yet.
“So now, we need to look into the innovation, creativity, guidelines, planning, economics or social, what type of infrastructure that is 75 per cent not built yet by 2050 that we want to do.
“We talk about green infrastructure, zero-carbon etc. But, we have to show proof, to implement (those things). We have enough talking. We want to see the impact on the ground.”
Maimunah mentioned that the pandemic had shown people the weaknesses and strengths of certain cities, organisations and countries. In mitigating related city issues, she said it was important to list these weaknesses and strengths and identify the weak spots of the cities and organisations.
“I believe we have to go back to the data. Without the information and data, we cannot do a comprehensive, resilient and sustainable plan,” she added.