Main photo: HRH Prince Charles. Panel: Peter Oborn, Dyan Currie, Prof Barbara Norman, Dr David Howard, Astrid Haas,, VK Madhavan .Main photo: HRH Prince Charles. Panel: Peter Oborn (Commonwealth Assoication of Architects), Dyan Currie (Commonwealth Association of Planners), Prof Barbara Norman (University of Canberra), Dr David Howard (Oxford University), Astrid Haas (International Growth Centre, Uganda), Mr VK Madhavan ( WaterAid).

The “call to action” of the sustainable cities programme, organised by a number of Commonwealth associations, would have had some attention as Commonwealth movers and shakers gathered in Kigali around the Heads of Government summit. However, the message of building cities and building urbanisation to suit all people – through the good and the bad times – had even more resonance at the programme’s 24 June virtual launch during a time of a COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdown effect across the globe.

The Commonwealth Sustainable Urbanisation programme was launched by HRH Prince Charles via a Clarence House feed. The organising Commonwealth associations and main contributions at the launch represented the Commonwealth Association of Planners, the Commonwealth Association of Architects, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CGLF), the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), the Rwandan government and the Princes Foundation.

Rwanda’s Infrastructure Minister, Claver Gatete, spoke of “green urbanisation” and the aim of keeping the needs of all citizens at the heart of urban development, including issues of job development, affordable housing and the accommodation of migrants.

Launching the programme, Prince Charles said that urban development had been challenging enough and now faced the new threats posed by the COVID-19 virus. “We have become used to talking about our times as unprecedented,” Prince Charles said, adding that such times presented unprecedented opportunities. He said that the lockdown caused by the pandemic had given people time to reflect on important issues.  He added that it had also shown the world the strength of human nature, the value of cleaner air and appreciation of local communities. Through a “post-COVID lens”, Prince Charles said that the world could see more clearly that it needed development that heals rather than harms.

Referring to SDG 11 (sustainable development goal to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable), Prince Charles said that a multi-sectoral approach was needed to accelerate change and that the Commonwealth was well placed to do this through its wide range of associations, planning tools and examples of best practice. He said that sustainable urban development was a “crucial issue” for the Commonwealth given the percentage of its people living in cities and the number of coastal settlements in its countries.

The CLGF Chairperson for Botswana, Rev Mpho Moruakgomo, spoke of creating “liveable cities” across the Commonwealth. ACU Council Member and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said that universities had a role to play in informing the rapid urbanisation taking place across the Commonwealth. He said that work on exploring climate resilience building provided a crucial role for the Commonwealth’s universities to play in the process of sustainable urbanisation.

The first joint survey of urbanisation, conducted by the Commonwealth’s architects, building, planning and engineering associations, was launched and explained by the Senior Vice President at the Commonwealth Association of Architects, Peter Oborn.

Discussion on the survey looked at the supply base and need to educate more professionals to work on sustainable urbanisation, the lessons learnt from the coronavirus pandemic about building cities which also protected the urban poor and the failure to design cities to provide safe accommodation and water provision.

Some urged participants to “stop, pause and plan” and others suggested the need to manage the next pandemic. Chief Executive of WaterAid, India, VK Madhavan, told the opening panel to remember the importance of migrants. He told the virtual gathering “migrants make cities run and, without the urban poor, our cities will collapse.”

Details of the ten-part programme are available online.

Find out about upcoming virtual conferences on the Round Table’s events page.