Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Ceremony Marking World Habitat Day, at the National Building Museum, Co-hosted by HUD and UN-HABITAT

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
Washington, DC
October 5, 2009


Thank you all. And thank you, Dr. Rodin, for that warm welcome. I’m particularly excited to see
Jon Bon Jovi is here along with so many colleagues from the Obama Administration. 

I want to begin by congratulating Secretary Shaun Donovan and Executive Director Tibaijuka for all the work that has gone into today’s event—and for all that they do every day to provide shelter for those in need. 

Let me also thank the other participants here with us today, including the many private firms, international organizations, and NGOs that share our common vision of developing ways to live in cities around the world that strengthen societies and sustain our shared planet.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States is serving for the first time as global co-host of World Habitat Day. We do so at a critical moment. 

As we have heard, more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities; in the next generation’s time, that figure will have increased to two-thirds of the world’s people. This in itself is not necessarily a troubling trend.  Throughout history, cities have been centers of diversity and learning, and the movement of populations from rural to urban areas has been an engine of economic growth.

But as the world’s cities have swelled in recent decades, poor urban planning and unsustainable development have too often resulted in sprawl and slums instead of broadly shared prosperity.  More than 1 billion people—one sixth of humanity—now live in urban slums.  And that number will increase dramatically in the near future, if current trends continue. 

With strong encouragement from UN Habitat, UN member states have started to pay more attention to issues of urbanization in our development programs and in our humanitarian efforts.  The Millennium Development Goals, which the United States has now fully embraced under President Obama’s leadership, set a target of achieving “a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers” by 2020. 

This will be a daunting task, but the work of UN-Habitat and other development partners has shown that better urban planning and relatively modest investments in public infrastructure can produce impressive results.

The major efforts that the United States has launched just this year to improve food security, to strengthen global public health systems, and to promote clean energy technologies in least developed countries will benefit the urban poor and help put urban development on a more sustainable path.  Our efforts to tackle armed conflict—through prevention, peacekeeping, and better strategies for rebuilding shattered societies—are also crucial to alleviating the pressures on towns and cities whose populations are often swollen by rural people fleeing violence and by demobilized ex-combatants.

There is growing global awareness, in America as well as in nations around the world, that climate change and other environmental issues pose enormous challenges for all our countries and all our children. 

The troubling environmental consequences of poor and irresponsible urban policies are not just felt locally; they ripple across the globe.  These problems are by definition too large for any one nation to solve on its own.

The intersection of these trends—urbanization, globalization, and environmental degradation—means that now more than ever, we all need more encompassing and better integrated urban planning and development strategies. 

We look to the developing world as partners in this important work.

Too often, the wider public interests of sustainable economic growth and sensible planning have been sacrificed for the private interests of a few.  We must now work together to ensure that international organizations, national and local governments, civil society, and community groups all have appropriate input into shaping the future of our cities. 

UN Habitat remains at the forefront of international efforts to tackle the challenges of urbanization, to promote more responsible urban planning, and to work with UN member states to provide newer, better, and greener housing.

That is why I’m particularly pleased that, in 2009, Congress doubled its regular contribution to UN Habitat.  The United States provides additional support to UN Habitat’s housing and urban development projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and the Palestinian Territories.  UN Habitat has cooperated with country projects with USAID valued at more than $70 million.  And several U.S. companies, foundations, local governments, and NGOs have their own collaborative efforts with UN Habitat.

Yet we aim to offer our partners more than simply financial resources. The United States has a wealth of urban planning experience and technology to share with developing countries across a broad range of areas—and I should acknowledge that much of that talent is here in this room today.

We hope to work together on such issues as basic infrastructure, transportation, safety, security, affordable housing, and urban planning governance. 

World Habitat Day provides us with an important spur—an opportunity to move forward on this common work, to discuss recent trends, share new ideas, and to build upon our growing international network. 

This is an enormous task, and the United States does not pretend to have all the solutions. No country could. Even as the Administration, under the tremendous leadership of Secretary Donovan, works quickly and effectively to deal with the challenges facing our cities and to help the economy recover, we are all too aware that this is a time of national struggle for our country as well as others—a time where we face serious problems in all too many or our cities and neighborhoods. But we believe that our government can be a place for excellence and innovation. We believe in sharing lessons learned in America or abroad.

And we believe that it’s important that we join the global conversation about how to make real our shared vision of stronger, safer, greener, more inclusive, and more sustainable cities. The citizens of today’s cities, both in America and around the world, are looking for better ways to grow, to build, and to thrive. This is a great challenge for a new century—and together we will face it and succeed.

Thank you very much.


PRN: 2009/197