Aug 2, 2013

A Seminar by Joan Clos

Urban legislation is a very important issue in the legislation process. UN Habitat has a mission to know how things are progressing in urban areas on planet earth and advise the central governments of respective countries accordingly.



Whenever people live together in a compact community they adopt an urban way of life. Any human living that extends thirty families forms an urban living. The question then becomes who cares for the common space. This space is very valuable and there exists challenges due to the increasing complexity of modern urban societies.One of the first rules in human civilization was the organization of common space then came the rules for organization of agrarian space.


The settlement is one of the first places that a citizen learns of the existence of laws. There is need for the change of livelihood from an individualistic one to a more open mentality. As an urban society increases in complexity, so do the rules most if which are unwritten. There is need to accord to a code of human behavior.


By the fact of putting people together, the minds of the people are changed and if done well it becomes a way of civilizing people. The rules of the law are there to govern the people.


The Good City

The good city is one that is well governed. One in which you find ‘everything that you are not looking for’. The systems to achieve this are the unwritten and written rules. A city has traditionally been referred to as a dense human settlement. Economy is attached to this definition.

When population increases, there is more interchange of information compared to the ‘bush’ (sparsely populated and less developed areas).


From media, gossip all the way to classified information. The speed of access to information is heightened. This increases the productivity of the factors of production such as goods, money, and people. The city itself is a self-generating instrument due to the close proximity of the factors of production. The city then becomes competitive and hence lowering the values and prices leading to an absorption of more people. When the size of the market increases, there is automatic specialization. The specialists are more affluent and have higher chances of accumulating more wealth. Cities are engines of value and wealth.


The city is a consequence but also a source of debt

The problem is that in order for the city to attain this debt, it has to be well organized. It is not enough that people stay together. This sets in the necessity of governance in the city. Cities are made of people, stones (organization of common space) and rules.


Modern Urbanization

It has accelerated the world over from 2% to 10% to 50% in a matter of two centuries. It is predicted to reach 80% soon. People are increasingly moving towards the cities not only from this trend but also from the doubling of human population. People are reaching the cities.


Urbanization does have a problem because the speed of urbanization exceeds the capacity of society to establish organization structures that are proper. This is what is presently happening in Africa, not to forget other parts of the world. In sub-Saharan Africa, 65%of the urban population leaves in slums. This is a humanitarian catastrophe. The social amenities are lacking and where available poor.


In such a situation, one cannot have an improved market. There is need to improve the quality of organization. To improve we have to understand the principles of city organization. It is our responsibility as humans to create and develop our cities. We have the responsibility to dictate the forms our cities take. Law is important in this respect. We need to establish what kind of city we need so as to organize the common space.Most importantly, we need to have rules and regulations in place so as to achieve such a phenomenal feat.


The fiscal rules/taxation laws should also be taken to consideration. If good social conditions (public investments) are introduced, we gain value without doing anything. This can simply be referred to as the miracle of the street by which public investment generates private value.


The increase in value of private property creates a need to share with the rest of the city. Taxation is there to ensure that this increase in value as a result of public investment is equally shared amongst residents of the city.


If well organized, the good city improves social amenities. Cities are the most important human innovations on planet earth. There is,however, a need to organize the cities well.


The foregoing is a theoretical approach to urbanization. The practical approach to urbanization builds on the theoretical approach. Both are equally important. None can either be estranged or ignored in preference of the other.



Dr. Joan Clos is the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and former Mayor of the City of Barcelona, Spain

Contact Details

Madaraka Estate
Ole Sangale Road, PO Box 59857,
00200 City Square
Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 0703-034000, 0703-034200