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Monday, January 24, 2011

MDG 2015 – Areas that need to be addressed: Point #1

After researching the efforts of the Millennium Development Goals outlined by the United Nations, I have outlined a brief history of the initiative and my reasons for why these efforts need the support of the like-minded professionals who may read this article. However, there are two related areas that I believe the Millennium Project could better address, and I would be remiss not to mention these areas and hopefully attract some attention and/or start a discussion to address these areas of need.

Point 1: Is there an actual Master Plan for the Millennium Villages?
I have often said that “the way we build affects the way we live” and nowhere is this more evident than in developing nations. The physical infrastructure is poor at best and building codes are practically non-existent. Buildings are constructed wherever there’s adequate space with little regard for location, access, or basic relationships to other structures.

Part of the Millennium Project process will involve the construction of various support structures including schools, hospitals, affordable housing types, etc. If these buildings are not properly sited, it will not matter how well designed they are because the urban infrastructure that develops around it will not be very effective and affect the lives of the citizens in a negative way. If the goal of the Millennium Project is to end up with sustainable places, time and effort needs to be invested in making sure that the master plan of these villages ensures a sustainable lifestyle.

Any master plan developed for the Millennium Villages needs to take a long-term approach in the 25 – 50 year range. The idea of the Millennium Project is to set a solid foundation for these villages upon which any further development and growth can be well managed, efficiently designed, and sustainably maintained while improving the quality of life.

The importance of having a master plan in place for all the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved cannot be emphasized enough. There needs to be a general idea of where everything is to be located within reason, and more likely a feasible phasing plan developed which will also act as a guide for the raising and allocating of funds. With an adopted master plan available the community will always have an official urban landscape guide of where every planned structure is to be located a year from now, 10 years, 25 years, etc. This leaves little room for error and enough flexibility to still be creative and dynamic while remaining sustainable.

The other important aspect of having a master plan in place is a notion that is rarely addressed and very difficult to comprehend by the developed western world, the issue of Land Ownership in most African countries. In most developed countries, you know the exact amount of property you own because you most likely have a deed that corresponds to a physical property line that has been surveyed, documented, and is legally binding. In most developing countries such documents do not exist. Most land is owned by the royalty and/or self appointed people of importance. Land is paid for and ownership transferred with a handshake. Now what happens when you’re ready to build and return to your bought and paid for property to find it already occupied by a structure not your own? What legal recourse do you have?

From personal experience in Ghana, people hire guards to watch over their virgin lands during the period between buying the land and finished construction. In some instances, you can be mid-way through construction and for one reason or the other, put construction on hold. With no guards around, other families come to live in your unfinished building. The official property owner has no legal recourse to evict these unwanted tenants and in most cases has to forcibly remove the unwanted tenants. Unfortunately people being killed over land disputes have become common place in most African cities.

Once we acknowledge the ambiguity that exists with regard to current land ownership in most developing countries, we have to accept the importance of a master plan for two reasons; 1. The master plan cannot be established without having accurate and accepted documentation to the rights of the properties in question. 2. The accepted master plan, a transparent document supported by the community will yield no surprises during implementation because the entire process from land survey, acquisition and development has been accurately documented and is now legally binding.

Current research is being done on issues of land ownership through actual surveying, documentation and planning by Professor Ahene at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania that the UN may want to pay attention to and perhaps incorporate into their Millennium Villages initiatives.
Through all my research I have yet to hear of any such plans being developed or required of the Millennium Villages and I believe this will lead to a very inefficient development process and most likely derail future efforts of the MDG. I would highly encourage UN officials to look at this issue and take appropriate measures to ensure the legacy of the Millennium Project stays true to its original intent.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MDG 2015 – A Significant Progress for Developing Countries

As outlined in the previous post, I have given a brief history of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals with the target date of 2015 toward achieving its initiatives and for those looking for a better reason to get involved, I would like to outline two very important areas of the MDG that in my opinion are worth noting.

Point 1: The Millennium Development Goals are feasible.
In our current political climate, we are all used to bold statements by our elected leaders without any substance. There rarely is an outlined process by which these statements can be realized, how to fund it, or how to sustain it. This is where the MDG separates itself from other bold initiatives.

The Millennium Development Goals are comprehensive without being unrealistic. After an exhaustive research process, the Millennium task force decided to focus their efforts in twelve (12) unique villages to use as the test cases for the MDG’s. These Millennium Villages were chosen due to their locations in relatively stable African countries in secure regions with a diversity of farming, water resources, diseases, and infrastructure problems that reflect challenges facing the continent and how a range of solutions can be tailored to resolve and overcome each issue.

The Millennium Villages approach provides the UN task forces with a well defined and reasonable land area within which the various research studies can be investigated and applied, making data collection quite feasible. It also makes an overwhelming issue such as the eradication of poverty feasible when taken into the context of 12 villages rather than an entire continent. Then if the strategies applied to these villages are successful, the practices can then be applied in other villages, towns and cities on the continent until a large percentage of Africa has been positively affected by the Millennium Project.

Point 2: Accountability.
Without being too harsh, corruption within most governments in African nations have been well documented (where in certain cases one needs a receipt for paying a bribe). Billions of aid dollars have been sent to African nations without any tangible results while many leaders are increasingly getting wealthier and opening Swiss bank accounts.

By deciding to focus on the 12 Millennium Villages, the UN task force had to create an environment of accountability, meaning that each location had to meet certain criteria to qualify as a Millennium Village including a commitment from the government through in-kind donations as well as local support from community groups and organizations. The Millennium Villages offer a scalable model for fighting the issues outlined by the MDG’s and require full accountability from local governments to achieve success.

In order to claim success, there needs to be an initial research done to set the baseline data upon which future research can be compared to. This research process requires a certain amount of transparency and accountability from the Millennium Villages and their governments. Once accurate data begins to be collected, its accuracy depends on the integrity of all the parties involved, and various organizations have been set in place to provide a level of transparency and accountability not seen before in developing nations.

Unfortunately corruption has become an accepted part of African culture and practically expected of our elected officials. As grand an idea as the MDG’s are, changing the culture of an entire continent is practically impossible. However, by focusing their efforts on these 12 Millennium Villages in 10 African countries, the issue of transparency and accountability becomes more feasible. It’s much easier to attempt to change the corrupt culture in a small village than it is to change the nature of an entire continent.

It is my assertion that the Millennium Project has chosen a prudent path to ensure its success and set a precedent for future developments of its kind to succeed, however the success of the MDG’s depends on a social and cultural change in African cities, and in particular within elected government officials. If they are successful in changing the culture of corruption by introducing accountability and transparency in the 12 Millennium Villages, then there should be great hope for the future of our continent, and a much improved quality of life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

UN Millennium Project: Millennium Development Goals 2015

The primary goal of initiating this on-line academic discussion was and still remains a forum to bring about positive change to the architectural and urban infrastructure of African cities, which in turn will improve the quality of life for the residents of these cities.

In a similar initiative, I highly encourage anyone who stumbles upon this article to review the United Nations Millennium Project website and look at the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). These goals are very specific and I believe an excellent start to getting developing cities on the right track, and if successful, these goals can set the precedent for how developing cities can chose to improve their current infrastructures.

I will attempt to give a brief history and outline of the UN Millennium Project and Goals, and to give you my professional opinion on these initiatives. I will also outline (in future posts) three areas that I believe have been neglected and/or have not been properly stressed and could use some improvement.

Brief History: The September 2000 gathering of world leaders at the UN in NYC was by far the largest such gathering in history. The gathering was for the Millennium Summit, and at this meeting the world leaders adopted the UN Millennium Declaration which was to commit their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting the target date of 2015 to achieve their target goals which have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

In 2002 the Secretary General of the UN commissioned the Millennium Project to develop a concrete action plan to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by identifying the areas of need and deciding their targets of success. In 2005, the Independent Advisory Board headed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs presented its final recommendation to the United Nations.

Millennium Development Goals: The advisory board identified eight (8) goals or the Millennium Development Goals as follows;
Goal 1 – Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
Goal 2 – Achieve Universal Primary Education
Goal 3 – Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
Goal 4 – Reduce Childhood Mortality
Goal 5 – Improve Maternal Health
Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
Goal 7 – Ensure Environmental Stability
Goal 8 – Develop a Global Partnership for Development

*For the targets and indicators for each of these goals, please visit the UN Millennium Project’s official website or the Millennium Development Goals’ official website for accurate information and project updates.

I would highly encourage all like-minded professionals in all related fields to look at these goals and offer any insight, help, advice, and/or donations to this worthy cause. I truly see the MDG has a very significant step toward a positive future for developing countries not just in Africa but world-wide.