World Urban Forum
The World Urban Forum was established by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies. It is projected that in the next 50 years, two-thirds of humanity will be living in towns and cities. A major challenge is to minimise burgeoning poverty in cities, improve the urban poor's access to basic facilities such as shelter, clean water and sanitation and achieve environment-friendly, sustainable urban growth and development.
Held every two years, the Forum, draws a wide range of partners, from non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, urban professionals, academics, governments, local authorities and various national and international associations of local governments. It provides them a common platform to discuss urban issues and come up with new ideas for sustainable cities of the future. Thus the theme was: Our Future: Sustainable Cities – Turning Ideas into Action.
The 10,000 participants at Vancouver showed a sharp increase in participation from 1,200 at the first World Urban Forum in Nairobi in 2002, and 4,400 at the second World Urban Forum in Barcelona in 2004. The Forum is successful because does not follow the formal rules of procedure that usually govern official UN meetings. Its working arrangements are kept deliberately simple and relatively informal to generate a healthy and inclusive debate on urban issues.
Canada’s Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Ms. Diane Finley said that Canada was pleased to partner with UN-HABITAT to hold the Third Session of the World Urban Forum in Vancouver, one of Canada’s most beautiful and sustainable cities. “It was in Vancouver, 30 years ago, that the first Unitd Nations Conference on Human Settlements took place. That historic meeting led to a new understanding about cities and communities, the urgent need to make them sustainable and to preserve a mutually supportive urban-rural balance.” she said. “Thirty years later, urbanization around the world is occurring at an ever more rapid pace, and we face important challenges to ensure that this happens in a sustainable way.”
Key points of agreement to emerge from the Third Session of the World Urban Forum in Vanouver 2006 were:
- The need for all urban players – citizens, local governments, state and provincial governments, national governments, the private sector and civil society organizations – to work harder to solve urban problems and challenges. There was widespread agreement that they all must do their part, rather than simply transfer responsibility to others.
- That risk-taking and the pursuit of innovation must characterise municipal leadership if cities are to achieve sustainable development. Vancouver's example in taking the lead in such areas as air and water quality, public transit and planning was mentioned often in this context.
- Agreement that appropriate engagements, partnerships and relationships need to be built in an inclusive manner to better understand challenges and develop practical solutions. Participants from many parts of the world presented examples that can serve as guideposts for these strategies.
- The importance of transparency and accountability. Citizens need to be informed of challenges and steps taken by governments to address them. Transparency goes hand-in-hand with accountability, which speeds up the process of enhancing actions that work and curtailing those that do not work.
The highlights of the meeting were:
- Coming to terms with the Urban Age in which planning to provide decent urban services for the new urban millennium is vital.
- From exclusion to engagement: All partners showed a willingness to build effective coalitions to address the needs of the urban poor. The Forum witnessed a dramatic and fundamental shift in the willingness of governments and local authorities to engage with all urban actors to improve the quality of life of people, their communities and cities. In several keynote addresses and in various dialogues, government representatives showed a keen interest in being actively engaged with civil society organizations and their representatives, and in supporting initiatives that improved housing and access to basic services. Most governments represented in Vancouver 2006 cited the need to engage with and support community initiatives to improve the living conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable groups, and to improve the urban environment.
- Meeting the financing challenge of slum upgrading and sustainable infrastructure development. The Forum recognised the critical need for increased financial resources to attain the slum upgrading target of the Millennium Declaration. It further recognised that the challenge is to shift from relying on international development finance to tapping local capital markets. In this context, the Forum acknowledged the need for international donors to play a catalytic role in building the capacity and improving the credit-worthiness of cities, and to package such assistance with seed capital, as piloted by UN-HABITAT's Slum Upgrading Facility, in line with paragraph 56(m) of the 2005 Millennium Summit Outcome which calls for investments in pro-poor housing and urban infrastructure.
- Re-inventing planning: applying new paradigms for sustainable urban development. The Forum placed a strong emphasis on planning as a tool for urban development and environmental management, and as a means of preventing future slum growth. This view was accepted not just by government officials and urban planners themselves but also by civil society groups that wanted planning to be more inclusive, transparent and ethical. The Forum stressed the important role of planners as agents of change and underlined the importance of sustainability as the backbone of new forms of planning.