Friday, November 27, 2009

avoiding work on black friday

Been more than a little while since I got on here. Semester has been a bear and I'm back home just trying to catch my breath and steeling myself for actual work later today. In the spirit of the holiday, though, I've been working my way through my google reader, 95 unique posts and articles from around the interwebs, and read the whole thing (I feel like an information glutton). An interesting one that popped up though, from the kind folks at Next American City is a review of the Wolrd Bank's ten year urbanization plan. It's a short column critiquing what seems to be a rehashing of some of the standard policy tropes the Bank loves to pull out, even as they pay service to greater "sustainability" and "pro-poor" development.

Now, I'm actually not a huge World Bank hater, I've worked for them as a sub-contractor and was an office manager at a non-profit that did a lot of work because of them and USAID. But I do know about the history that transnational orgs like World Bank, the IMF, USAID, and others and how harmful they've been. But I know that the Bank also funds and encourages some legitimately awesome projects that are run by great people, which is why the critiques leveled in this column are worrisome. The Bank is a worldwide thought leader and a major funding source of programs throughout the world. And what seems to be happening is that we are putting the cart before the horse on many of these issues of urbanization in developing nations, and even in some developed countries.

I was in Nigeria this past summer and got to see one of the world's famous megacities, Lagos. Let me tell you now, the government in that country should definitely not be encouraging further migration from rural areas to large urban centers like this. Lagos is but one of many startling examples of urbanization run amok due to poor government (including rampant corruption), nearly non-existent planning, lack of infrastructure, and little political power of a citizenry. A lack of housing, power, potable water, and food contrasted with the obscene oil wealth found in wealthier parts of the city show all of the ills of unequal growth. The Bank, and others in the development game, need to be attacking these issues now. There is no doubt that the urbanized population of the world is growing and will continue to grow. All the more reason for governments and aid organizations to push land and political reforms now. There are a lot of innovative programs coming from local groups and major international organizations the world over. From slum mapping projects, water programs, worker co-ops, financing reform, city management improvement, the world is filled with great ideas addressing the needs we have and even those efforts are woefully inadequate.

My point is that if the bank is really keen on further encrouaging urban population growth and migration between urban centers over the next decade and beyond, then they must be focusing on the basics. What good is so-called "sustainable" development if the vast majority of an urban area already lives in unregulated or semi-regulated squalor without access to proper infrastructure or social services? As planners, I feel we sometimes get caught up in the future and its possibilities that we forgot or misinterpret what's actually wrong right now. We all want a gree, equitable future but in order for that to happen we need to be pushing for greater attention on the lowliest in our respective societies. At the end of the day, we should be making sure that people live in safe environments, with stable work, adequate public health, education, and an efficient, fair system of government.

That's work that needs to be done today.