Working Paper
Habitat II and the Urban Economy

A Review of Recent Developments and Literature

The strategic conferences organized by the UN during the past 25 years have focused on assisting and mobilizing governments and other relevant actors of international life by enhancing collective thinking and action in those areas which may jeopardize the future of humankind. These forms of international action have proved to be useful and effective for the better understanding of the nature of the problems, for better articulation of the conflicting and converging interests influencing global cooperation in the given field and for the development of global coalitions of NGOs, academics, government officials, businessmen and others, for necessary or possible action. The strategic conferences on demographic issues, ecological problems, on social development and other topics have also increased global concern, making clearer the nature and the scope of the global issues humankind has to face. The United Nations University and its research and training institutes have been playing an important role by initiating new research and channeling new knowledge, developed in the academic community on these issues, to the UN system. This booklet, written by Pii Elina Berghall, a research associate at UNU/WIDER, is also such a contribution to the preparatory work of Habitat II, the strategic UN conference on urban development to be held in Istanbul in June 1996. It is an overview of the more recent results of research developed in the academic communities of a number of countries. The content of this booklet clearly indicates the great variety of issues related to urban development at the end of the 20th century. One of the important messages of the work is that urbanization must be looked at in a more complex manner. It is not just a question of the interrelationships of different dimensions of life and management in cities with the macro- and microprocesses of national economic activity. The fast increase of city dwellers, especially in the second half of the 20th century, has been the consequence of a number of interrelated demographic, economic, political, cultural and social factors. It has also become an important force in shaping many of the processes which determine major changes in the functioning of the society. While it is a global process, the specific problems of urban growth offer different challenges and opportunities for the developed and developing world, and represent a great variety of patterns even within the North and the South or in the transition economies. I present this booklet, not only to those who are actively involved in the preparatory work on Habitat II, but also to readers who are interested in an overview of the contemporary thinking on the broader implications and global consequences of urban development.