World Habitat Day 2013

Opening remarks were given by H.E. Pavena Hongsakula, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, Thailand.

Opening remarks were given by H.E. Pavena Hongsakula, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, Thailand. ESCAP Photo

Better Urban Mobility Promoted on World Habitat Day

The 28th Commemoration of World Habitat Day took place on Monday, 7 October. This year’s theme was urban mobility, and to mark the occasion, UN-Habitat, UNESCAP and UNDP co-organised an event at the United Nations Conference Center in Bangkok (UNCC) to gain different perspectives from various stakeholder groups on the future of urban mobility in Bangkok. Official United Nations World Habitat Messages were read out and H.E. Pavena Hongsakula, Minister of Social Development and Human Security honored the event with an Opening Address. This was followed by World Habitat Day related publication launches and an engaging panel discussion.

Mr. Shun-ichi Murata, Deputy Executive Secretary, UNESCAP read out the World Habitat Day message of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, which emphasized that cities “must face the issue of ‘transport poverty’. Millions of people are denied the benefits of public or private transport due to cost; persons with disabilities and the elderly are regularly excluded by practicality; and safety is a serious issue for many women”.

The message of the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Dr. Joan Clos, which was read out by Ms. Mariko Sato, Chief of UN-Habitat Bangkok, added that “Accessible cities encourage a shift towards more sustainable modes of transportation and draw more and more travelers out of cars and onto trains, buses, bike paths and sidewalks” and that “over time, the collective costs of ‘automobility’ have become abundantly apparent – including urban sprawl, air and noise pollution, climate change, road traffic accidents, and the physical separation of people by class and race”.

The Opening Address by H.E. Pavena Hongsakula, Minister of Social Development and Human Security highlighted the approach and achievements of the people-driven housing programme "Baan Mankong," and emphasized a need for enhancing mobility of low income populations.

This was followed by the launching of the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013: “Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility”, and a joint UNDP and UN-Habitat “Asia-Pacific Issue Brief Series on Urbanization and Climate Change”.

The World Habitat Day commemorations concluded with a panel discussion on urban mobility in Bangkok from the perspectives of different social groups, including women, youth, people with disabilities, and the urban poor. Panelists and audience came from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), the Baan Mankong Programme of the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), different Bangkok-based universities, the Thai Cycling Club, and the CBM – an organization advocating on issues of people with disabilities.

Ms. Natagamon Roongtim of CBM highlighted a need for enhancing access of people with disabilities to public transportation, adding “if mobility means connecting people with places, then she right now feels rather disconnected.” Discussions emphasized that improving safety, and accessibility of public transportation following universal design standards, will benefit every group of society, and also touched upon the issue of decentralization and inclusiveness, so local governments and citizens have the mandates and means to implement those mobility initiatives they see as most important. Urban poor representatives proposed lowering of public transportation costs or introducing subsidized group cards. They said, currently convenient public transport modes were either not affordable or not accessible, which mean they have to get up earlier and come back home later than other income groups. Dr. Vallop Suwandee, Chairman of Advisors to the Governor of Bangkok noted some of the efforts of the BMA regarding mobility, agreed that BMA’s hands were bound as so many decisions regarding urban mobility were made at other government levels and noted that, nevertheless, improving urban mobility for the different social groups would be one of the priorities of the Governor’s second term.