Chinese cities may have some of the best solutions to be found anywhere in the world at a time when the global financial crisis has left everybody worrying about their housing financing and mortgages in the United States and other developed countries.
It is not by coincidence that this year for the first time, the highest award conferred by the United Nations system in this field-- the Habitat Scroll of Honour Special Citation -- goes not to an outstanding individual, but to a Chinese city, Nanjing.
According to a news release from the UN-HABITAT, at the next level, the cities of Shaoxing and Zhangjiagang were given the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award, along with the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the Tatarstan city of Bugulma, in the Russian Federation, and Ciudad Juarez a major Mexican city on the United States border.
"The Awards this year show us that we can learn from the great strides made by all of these Chinese cities, especially at this time of global financial crisis," said Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
"Indeed, all of our winners this year have some answers when it comes to the financial crisis. All show that Government has to take the lead and show commitment when it comes to affordable housing."
She also commended Angola for its national reconstruction program and the delivery of new roads, bridges, railways and other infrastructure either damaged or destroyed during the war.
In holding the global celebration of World Habitat Day in Luanda, Tibaijuka cited the importance that the Angolan government attaches, among other priorities, to the delivery of social housing and basic services, like water and energy for Angolan families.
The World Habitat Day prizes are conferred upon cities, governmental and non- governmental organizations, local authorities, public, private and research bodies, or individuals for outstanding achievements in the cause of sustainable human settlements.
The prize, granted in person each year by Tibaijuka, constitutes global recognition of a city's achievements.
The 2008 Habitat Scroll of Honour Special Citation is awarded to the Nanjing Municipal Government for its bold, distinct, exemplary and comprehensive redevelopment, revitalization and improvement along the Qinhuai River which runs through the Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province.
In November, Nanjing will host the fourth session of the World Urban Forum, the world's premier conference on cities. In response to a growing public outcry over the health dangers posed by industrial and human pollution of the river, the municipal government backed a comprehensive Improvement and Redevelopment Program.
It delivered affordable housing for many thousands of people, new flood prevention measures, the relocation of business and industries to better sites, a new waste management system with pipelines to keep all effluents directed at new treatment plants away from the river.
It also provided new conservation measures for the city's historic sites, and new landscaping with recreation facilities blending in with the natural environment.
It further provided alternative decent accommodation for those who lost their land to the new developments.
UN-HABITAT's Water for Asian Cities Program worked with the city to improve its water and sanitation systems with a 100-million-U.S. dollar Asian Development Bank loan.
The ancient canal city of Shaoxing in Zhejiang Province, eastern China, gets the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award for preserving a unique cultural and historical heritage at a time of rapid urbanization.
The city which dates back to 490 BC is known variously as the City of Waters, the City of Bridges, the City of Calligraphy, the City of Tea, and the City of Scholars.
Despite rapid urbanization, the urban conservation program has enabled this city to present itself as an elegant, peaceful and cultured place with a decent quality of life.
The award recognizes the restoration of its seven historic communities where buildings have been restored or renovated, the rivers cleaned up, and the streets spruced up to show off its traditional mix of white walls and black roofs.
The bustling port city of Zhangjiagang in Jiangsu Province, also in eastern China, gets the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award for setting a new trend in integrated urban-rural development and management through an initiative by the city's authorities to improve the quality of life for farmers and other residents in its hinterland.
Zhangjiagang, just half an hour's drive from Shanghai along a new super-highway, is the first Chinese city to explore a system of reallocating urban and rural resources so that people living intown or the countryside can derive the maximum benefit.
With a reputation for showing the way as one of China's cleaner and safer cities, its new shopping malls and high rise apartment blocks, in many ways symbolize the country's modernization.
Notable is its modern state-of-the-art community resource centers, the hub of the city's new found harmony.
The city of Bugulma in the Tartarstan Republic of western Russia gets the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award for transforming its contaminated water system into cheaper, safer water for its citizens. Founded in 1736, the city at the confluence of the Bugulminka and Stepnoy Zay rivers, is the center of petroleum mining in Tatarstan.
Other economic activities in the city include machinery production, the processing of agricultural products, and construction, all of which contributed to pollution of the river.
Such was the toxicity, that many people became ill. In 1996, the Clean Water Program was initiated under the guidance of the Bugulma's mayor and with the support of the Tatarstan's president.
It has since improved the standard of living and contributed towards the sustainable development of the city and its outlying districts.
Residents now enjoy high quality water. The use of many underground springs allowed for a considerable reduction in chlorine treatment, thus reducing the risk of cancer.
The capital of Rwanda, Kigali, gets the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award for many innovations in building a model, modern city symbolized by zero tolerance for plastics, improved garbage collection and a substantial reduction in crime.
Starting from 1998, the authorities in Kigali began restoring the city's lost glory. They targeted garbage collection, and banned the use of plastic bags.
The streets and pavements were beautified, and public transport was upgraded. Other areas included improvement of the sewage system and slum upgrading.
In just one decade, Kigali has been transformed into a place to which people come from all corners of the world to see and learn how they can replicate the Kigali modernization and urban conservation model at home.
Ciudad Juarez, a major Mexican city on the United States border, gets the Habitat Scroll of Honour Award for the innovative steps taken to help thousands of flood victims rebuild their homes and lives after the Arroyo del Indio burst its banks following heavy rains in 2006 largely believed to have been brought on by climate change.
Since these floods first started in 1990, an estimated 80 people lost their lives and 11,000 people have lost their homes and property.
In the last two years, the city's Municipal Planning Institute put the Arroyo del Indio Project into action and helped build 250 new homes for 1,050 people, while transforming the flood zone where they had previously lived into an attractive city park.