Cities for people and by people.

Author:Boonyabancha, Somsook

This century will see a substantial majority of the worlds population living in urban centers. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), to be held in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 to 20 October 2016, therefore has as its mission the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, an action-oriented outcome document that will set global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development. The Agenda will enable us to rethink the way we build, manage and live in cities by strengthening cooperation among stakeholders, urban actors at all levels of government and the private sector.

We recently visited Myanmar and met with a women's savings group in Htantabin Township. These women, who are among the very poorest squatters in Yangon, had for many years been uprooted and impoverished by evictions and faced all types of socioeconomic problems until they were able to work together to buy a small piece of unregistered land, lay out a tight community of 70 house-plots and build simple bamboo and wood houses for themselves for just $991 per family. The money came in the form of a community loan from their city development fund. Once they had secure land and houses of their own, and had built a friendly new community, the women could get better jobs outside of the community. Their incomes grew, and they were able to take loans to expand their small businesses. Soon they had set up a small welfare fund, and their children could go to school. Their health improved, their status in the neighbourhood increased, and their relations with the local government became friendly. They obtained official house registration and could sleep soundly at night. It would be fair to say that life had finally started for them. Their housing development process had transformed their lives, helping them overcome misery, poverty and isolation.

The beautiful city of Yangon is on the verge of a very big change, as Myanmar opens up with new democratic freedoms and new enthusiasm for the future. The economic opportunities that come with this political opening are transforming Yangon into a nexus linking the country's economy and global markets, like other big cities in Asia. Industrial areas are springing up around the city, yet for thousands of factory workers, there is no social support, no plans for affordable housing and no acknowledgement that their lives and well-being are part of the city's development. Accordingly, even in this upbeat atmosphere, we see squatters and small-room renters everywhere, living in squalor and isolation. Most have probably been evicted many times. Recently, the Chief Minister of the Yangon Region...

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