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October 7, 2009

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Green award for a city of blue skies and golden beaches

RIZHAO, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province, has won a United Nations award for urban planning that has transformed the city into a greener place to live.

"The municipal government embarked on major improvements starting with infrastructure which saw improvements to roads, parks, town squares, water supplies, drainage, sewage treatment as well as garbage disposal facilities," UN-Habitat, the UN's human settlements program, said at a ceremony in Washington DC to mark World Habitat Day on Monday.

In recognizing the achievements of Rizhao, UN-Habitat commended the city for emphasizing clean energy and vigorously promoting the use of solar, methane and wind power.

"Utilization rate of solar power has gone up 99 percent. In recognition of these efforts, Rizhao won the first World Clean Energy Award in 2007, and is still the only city in China to achieve that feat," UN-Habitat said.

Because of the city government's project, the UN body said, the local economy had improved and in 2008 GDP reached US$9.66 billion.

"People's living conditions have improved while the city is still holding dear to the concept of a 'primitive' ecological environment featuring a blue sky, a blue sea and golden beaches."

About a dozen individuals, local governments and non- governmental organizations from different countries won awards from UN-Habitat.

The United Nations designated the first Monday of October as World Habitat Day to highlight the state of towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of human habitats.

The UN chose the theme "Planning our urban future" this year to raise awareness of the need to improve urban planning to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

"The major urban challenges of the 21st century include the rapid growth of many cities and the decline of others, expansion of the informal sector, and the role of cities in causing or mitigating climate change," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in a message.

He said a troubling trend had emerged in many cities: the growth of up-market suburban areas and gated communities on the one hand, and the increase in overcrowded tenement zones, ethnic enclaves, slums and informal settlements on the other.

"Better, more equitable urban planning is essential," he said. "Planning is at the heart of this agenda. On World Habitat Day, let us pledge to do our part to follow through on our plans for a better, greener, more sustainable future for our increasingly urban planet."


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