7 October 2002

Within another two generations, the global change that began in the last century will have left two-thirds of the world's people living in cities. The city is becoming a new habitat for humanity. But it is a habitat where many of our old ideas, attitudes, customs and institutions leave us stranded, unable to foster our own collective well-being.

The evidence lies all around -- most tellingly in slums, where many of the problems illuminated by the Millennium Declaration cluster in defiance of common decency. If our urban world is to become sustainable, we must learn to rise more effectively to the challenge of urban self-improvement.

A key factor will be the ability of local governments and their partners to better manage growth and change. Many initiatives to strengthen local capacity are already under way at both national and international levels.

City-to-city cooperation adds a new dimension to the learning process. Given their increasing power and influence, cities are beginning to recognize the importance of working together to face common challenges.

Many cities have already joined hands on issues such as global warming and air pollution. But there is a wide range of other concerns - poverty, crime, drug abuse - where expanded exchanges of experience and expertise could yield significant results. Legal and judicial cooperation can also help cities improve public administration and build effective institutions.

If cities are the collective future of humankind, it is time for us to take collective responsibility for their future development. On this World Habitat Day, I urge local authorities and urban residents - rich and poor - to seek out and share ways to achieve a sustainable habitat for all of humanity.


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