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January 21, 2010

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A sense of place, belonging

IT is with distinct pleasure that I congratulate the City of Shanghai, the International Bureau of Exhibitions and the Government of China on this unique international gathering known as the World Expo.

The theme of Expo 2010 "Better City, Better Life" is particularly opportune. It is no secret, with over half the world's population currently living in cities, that our world is an increasingly urbanised one. The advent of Homo urbanus brings many challenges that require our urgent attention, including the sustained growth of slums, the threats posed by climate change and the lack of security of tenure. As the lead agency for cities in the United Nations system, UNHABITAT has worked at improving the lives of urban dwellers around the world ever since its inception in 1978.

At UNHABITAT, we consider that the attainment of a better life in the city is dependent both on the fulfillment of the basic needs of its citizens, including access to water, sanitation and housing, and on the enjoyment of the more intangible aspects of urban living, particularly those related to its social, cultural and historical characteristics. Fostering a sense of place, a feeling of belonging and a shared collective vision is in our view as important as ensuring that basic services are accessible to all.

Building better cities also requires a partnership of purpose between those who understand what is most at stake in cities, including local government, the private sector and urban dwellers. Urban actors who feel ownership of their city, who take pride in its achievements are the bedrock of the sustainable city. Without the commitment of all concerned, the city cannot flourish and attain its full potential as a place for social interaction, citizen participation, economic development and environmental engagement.

It is no coincidence that the host of Expo 2010 is itself one of the most rapidly developing urban centres in the world. Despite its exponential growth, Shanghai is an exemplar of how urbanisation can "go right" and rid itself of the cycles of exclusion and deprivation to foster equity and opportunities for all.

UNHABITAT is proud to have been mandated to coordinate the participation of the United Nations system at Expo 2010. We understand that the challenge is great and the stakes are high. We also recognise that the rewards of taking part in such a remarkable event as the Expo are of inestimable benefit to the entire United Nations family. Likewise, we hope that the United Nations vision on cities as showcased in our "One Earth, One UN" Pavilion will contribute to the international dialogue on cities and promote our common goals of sustainability and equity worldwide.


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