Rapid urban population growth in the Mediterranean region in recent decades presents formidable challenges to decision-makers. In the 21 Mediterranean rim countries, the total urban population, that is population living in agglomerations of over 10,000 inhabitants, passed from 94 million in 1950 (44% of the population) to 274 million in 2000 (64%). The region’s urban population is expected to reach 378 million in 2025, according to the Plan Bleu. On March 14-15, Barcelona will play host to a conference on Mediterranean urban development strategies, organized by the Marseille Centre for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), the MedCities network and the Municipality and Area Métropolitaine de Barcelona (AMB). The Conference will offer an opportunity for stakeholders from around the Mediterranean region to exchange experiences.
The following are excerpts from an interview with Joan Parpal, Secretary General of MedCities.
CMI: What are the key issues which will be addressed at this Conference?
J. Parpal: The conference will highlight urban development policies in order to identify the most effective strategies that will address common challenges across the region’s urban landscape. This Conference is also a unique opportunity to encourage countries of the South to support urban development strategies. These issues are critical because economic growth and demographic pressures are concentrated in urban areas. Moreover, improvement in quality of life among urban populations is a key ingredient for social stability and economic efficiency. The overall development of the Mediterranean region is therefore dependent on the establishment of a network of cities that are economically and socially sustainable. Mediterranean cities often rely on planning instruments that have heretofore failed to deal with the complexity of urban challenges and present weaknesses in terms of efficiency, funding and governance.
What are the main thrusts of the Barcelona?
The Conference will present various methodologies adopted by decision-makers tasked with designing and implementing urban development strategies. In particular, several cities including Barcelona, Tripoli (Lebanon), Sfax, Smyrne, Alep, Malaga, Agadir and Ramallah will present their approach. For example, Tunis will present its climate change response plan. Representatives from Morocco, Egypt and Palestine will also present their efforts towards supporting urban development strategies.
Why are such exchanges of experiences important?
It is a necessary step to encourage diverse Mediterranean actors to adopt common approaches to urban development and to develop methodologies suitable to different environments. These exchanges and debates will also raise awareness that an effective urban strategic plan has to take into account a wide range of issues such as demography, environment, urban planning and financial resources. To be successfully implemented, a strategic plan also requires the participation of local actors, private sector support, a preliminary diagnostic, a priority list of actions, and a financing plan. The purpose of the Conference in Barcelona is precisely to allow for such exchange of experiences.
To what extent do you think recent political events in the Region have impacted on this Conference?
The trend towards greater democracy in the South of the Mediterranean may be a positive factor for mainstreaming local realities into the decision-making process. It is also an opportunity to develop a true public-private dialogue. It is not enough that a municipality prepares a development strategy; private partners must also accept and support the strategy.
Partners: Marseille Centre for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), MedCities, Area of Barcelona (AMB), City of Barcelona, the World Bank, Cities Alliance, UNDP/Art Gold, UN Habitat, Caisse des Dépôts and Consignations, AECID, IEMED, AFD, GIZ.