Drawing some 10,000 participants from 156 countries, the Third Session of the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006 marked UN-HABITAT's 30th birthday. It paved the way for a new drive forward on the international urban agenda in a world of rapidly growing cities.
Just as the Habitat I Conference in Vancouver in 1976 placed local community concerns on the international agenda and highlighted the critical importance of inclusiveness, the Forum in Vancouver, 30 years later, lived up to its promise of moving ideas to action. Compared to previous sessions of the Forum, there was a notable increase in private sector participation.
The new message that resonated from Vancouver in 2006 was: the urban population of developing countries is set to double from 2 to 4 billion in the next 30 years. In the same time span, the developed world's urban population is projected to rise by only 11 percent. In effect this means that the world will have to plan for, finance and create services for the equivalent of one new city of 1 million people each week for the next 30 years.
Vancouver 2006 also brought governments and municipalities closer to grassroots women's organizations, youth groups, the representatives of slum dwellers and other non-governmental organizations than ever before at such an international meeting, building on the precedent set by UN-HABITAT for more inclusive international meetings.
In a keynote opening address, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "The foundations of healthy cities are found in healthy neighbourhoods. And the foundations of healthy neighbourhoods are found in healthy families. Healthy cities have voluntary neighbourhood-based groups at the very core of their political organization."
The Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, thanked the Government of Canada for “inviting us to return to Vancouver, the birthplace of UN-HABITAT in 1976”.
The quest for innovative ideas and practical solutions was underscored in the six Dialogues, 13 Roundtables and more than 160 Networking Events. Ministers, mayors, academics, community-based organizations, federations of non-governmental organizations, and the private sector shared their insights and experiences on what would improve the quality of life in the world's growing cities. The inclusive approach followed at the Forum is a model for cities. Some are already following this model while others would benefit from doing so. To accommodate so many participants, the meetings were divided up into plenary sessions carrying the key messages, dialogues discussing the main themes, the networking events, caucus meetings, special sessions, roundtables, training events and an array of side events.
Surveying the forum's glittering exhibition hall in a space larger than a football field, Professor H. Peter Oberlander, the Senior Advisor to Canada's Commissioner General for the first Habitat conference said: "With the next session in Nanjing in 2008, we have to ensure that the wonderful momentum built up during this week in Vancouver is maintained, that we keep the connectivity."