UN report celebrates multicultural cities

Posted: 17 September 2004

The world's urban population is projected to nearly double from 2.86 billion in 2000 to 4.98 billion by 2030, partly from the flow of international migrants, resulting in increased multiculturalism which should be celebrated and not feared, says a UN cities report.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year in London. Photo: www.ukstudentlife.com
Celebrating the Chinese New Year in London. Photo: www.ukstudentlife.com
Celebrating the Chinese New Year in London.Photo: www.ukstudentlife.com
The State of the World's Cities Report 2004/2005 notes that already 50 per cent of the global population already live in urban areas. Urban populations are set to rise with the flow of international migrants into world's cities. This trend, says the report, is fuelling a new multiculturalism that has the potential to broaden the cultural and ethnic dimensions of cities, while infusing cities with colour and vibrancy.

However, the report states that despite the history of transnational migration, many cities have been unsuccessful in integrating ethnic minorities. This in turn has led to increased xenophobia and rising hostility towards migrant groups in recent years. Local governments should help create harmonious and inclusive multicultural cities, urge the authors of the report, by tackling racism and anti-immigration policies. Public institutions need to train their personnel to be better informed, better connected and more forward looking in their work.

According to the report, there are around 175 million migrants worldwide. The more developed economies attract most of the international migrants (77 million), followed by the transition economies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics (33 million), Asia and the Pacific (23 million) and the Middle East and North Africa (21 million).

'Segregated in ghettos'

In many cities, lack of affordable housing and discriminatory practices force the newcomers to live segregated lives in ghettos where they suffer labour exploitation, social exclusion and violence. This is unfortunate, says the report, because immigrants make important economic contributions, not only to the urban economies of the host countries, but also to the countries that they leave behind. Remittances back home are second only to oil in terms of international monetary flows, providing an important and reliable source of foreign exchange finance. In 2003, for example, the Indian Diaspora sent back US$15 billion, exceeding the revenues generated by the country's software industry, the report says.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in response to the report has called for policy-makers to plan for "cities of difference" that are open to all and exclude none. This requires legislation that guarantees citizens' right to the city, and judicial systems that enforce those rights.

Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, UN-HABITAT Executive Director, said, "the report shows how urban poverty has been increasingly concentrated in particular neighbourhoods that have generally become the habitats of the urban poor and minority groups: racial minorities in some societies, international immigrant groups in others," she said.

Economic inequality

According to the report, "the fruits of globalisation", which include economic growth, rising incomes and improvements in the quality of life, were rapidly being offset by the negative aspects of rapid urbanisation: increased poverty and greater inequality.

The last two decades have witnessed a transformation of the global economy. World trade in this period has grown from about US$580 billion in 1980 to a projected US$6.3 trillion in 2004, an eleven-fold increase. The trend towards open markets has enriched some countries and cities tremendously, while others have suffered greatly, says the report.

One region which has benefited most from globalisation is Asia and the Pacific. During the early 1970s, more than half the population of this region was defined as poor. Average life expectancy was 48 years and only 40 per cent of the adult population was literate. Today the percentage of poor people has decreased to about one-fourth of the total population; life expectancy has increased to 65 years and about 70 per cent of adults are literate. This unprecedented decline in poverty in Asia and the Pacific region has been described as "one of the largest decreases in mass poverty in human history." Of all the world's regions, developed and developing, Asia also ranks lowest in almost all types of crime, according to the report.

Flows of capital, labour, technology and information have transformed the role of cities in a globalising world, says the report. Urban-based economic activities account for more than 50 per cent of GDP in all countries, and up to 80 per cent in more urbanised countries in Latin America and Europe.

The State of the World's Cities Report 2004/2005 is published for UN-HABITAT by Earthscan, London and Sterling, VA. Price: £17.99.

Related links:


World Urban Forum 2004

The Millennium Development Goals