Opening Session Summary
The Third Session of the World Urban Forum was opened by Mr. Charles Kelly, Commissioner General of the Third Session, Government of Canada, with a welcoming ceremony. The keynote address was delivered by Mr. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. The message of Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, was read on his behalf by Ms. Inga Björk-Klevby, United Nations Assistant Secretary‑General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. The opening sessions were addressed by dignitaries and representative of key partners.
Mr. Kelly welcomed the representatives present for the Session, saying that the Government of Canada, the City of Vancouver and UN-Habitat had worked together for two years to prepare the Session, which marked the thirtieth anniversary of the first Habitat Conference, in Vancouver in 1976. The occasion also commemorated the significant engagement of civil society in the Forum, which had had a profound effect and had laid the foundations for the more sustainable development of cities. He expressed his gratitude to the 17 Canadian Government departments and agencies, the City of Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia for making the Forum possible, and paid a tribute to Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, for opening up the decision-making process and seeking the engagement of cities and civil society.
He paid a tribute also to the hundreds of organizations which had participated in the Habitat Jam – a global internet discussion on urban sustainability held prior to the Third Session – and commended the grassroots women’s organization the Huairou Commission, youth organizations, Slum Dwellers International and over 400 partner organizations for their input.
He recalled the pioneering work of the late writer and thinker Jane Jacobs, who had described cities as organic for the way they grow, decay and rejuvenate. Thirty years on, the world had learned that the planet was also organic in that sense. In that connection, the need to engage the poor, women and young people in addressing the urbanization of our planet could not be greater.
Mr. Sam Sullivan, the Mayor of Vancouver, thanked the Prime Minister of Canada for giving recognition to the importance of cities by coming to address the Third Session of the World Urban Forum.
He informed the Session that the City of Vancouver had made concerted efforts to be sustainable, meaning that the city core was being managed so as to develop in a balanced manner that included residential, commercial and green spaces such as parks and pathways. The city’s strategy was to make the transportation system sustainable, with focus on public transport. As a result of that strategy, Vancouver was the only city in North America that did not have a freeway running through it and where the number of people using non-motorized transport was increasing. In that connection, he expressed thanks to the former Mayor of Vancouver, Mr. Gordon Campbell, for initiating policies that made Vancouver one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world.
Nevertheless, despite good initiatives, many Canadian cities were sprawling; consequently, cities needed to decide whether they should continue to invest in conventional infrastructure or to develop “eco-structure” to make them greener and healthier. He gave as an example Vancouver’s own EcoDensity Initiative, which would engage citizens in the process of increasing housing densities as a way of reducing the city’s environmental impact and make home ownership more affordable. In conclusion, he expressed the view that the outcome of the Third Session of the World Urban Forum would be crucial to ensuring the health of the planet.
Mr. Gordon Campbell, Premier of the Province of British Columbia, Canada, and former Mayor of the City of Vancouver, said that the aim of the Third Session of the World Urban Forum was to turn ideas into action through people learning from one another to make cities human and healthy: it was essential to plan in such a way as to create cities in which people enjoyed living.
The task of the Third Session was to plant the seeds for sustainable, welcoming cities with clean air and clean water. Sustainable urbanization was deliverable, but it required people to see the world differently. Meeting the challenge, however, was not a just a matter of dialogue, but of follow-up in cities and countries around the world.
The pursuit of a more sustainable City of Vancouver was rooted in and defined by its geography and natural environment, including its mountains, the sea and rivers. He concluded by describing major initiatives relating to green space, public transit and sustainable development based on public consultation that had taken place in Vancouver over the last 30 years.
The message of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, was read out by Ms. Inga Björk-Klevby, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat.
In his message, the Secretary-General described the Third Session of the World Urban Forum as a historic occasion for the United Nations, marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of an agency dealing with where and how all people live. Cities, now home to half of humankind, were among the greatest users of natural resources and were major emitters of greenhouse gases. Over half the urban population in the developing world lived in slums, with little or no access to decent housing, clean water, basic sanitation, regular jobs or steady income. Such was the deprivation there that families were forced to choose between sending their children to school or to fetch water.
In an interdependent world, opportunity and deprivation were interlinked. Thus, the consequences of overconsumption and pollution, hunger and deprivation, and crime and insecurity, knew no borders. If not handled well, they could generate intolerance and migration, instability and extremism.
The Third Session of the World Urban Forum was well placed to address the challenges facing cities. Wishing the meeting success, the Secretary-General urged representatives to scale up efforts and make the urban world more just, equitable and sustainable for all its inhabitants.
Ms. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, called for representatives to observe a moment of silence for the late urbanist Jane Jacobs and the late Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri. Ms. Jacobs, whom she described as “the mother of inclusive cities”, had been an irrepressible champion of integrated urban communities, and Mr. Hariri had been awarded the Special Citation of the Habitat Scroll of Honour at the Second Session of the World Urban Forum for his efforts in fostering the people-centred post-conflict reconstruction of Lebanon.
The period from 1950 to 2050 would, she said, be remembered by future generations as one that had led to the greatest social, cultural, economic and environmental transformation in history, that of the urbanization of humanity. She emphasized that the future of humanity was tied to the city and that the United Nations General Assembly, recognizing the complexity of cities, had decided to establish the World Urban Forum as a means of engaging and learning from all social actors to further the Habitat Agenda and the Millennium Development Goals.
She noted that when the United Nations was born in 1945, environmental and urban problems were not on the development agenda; it had not been until the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972 and the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, in Vancouver in 1976, that key actors had come together to seek consensus on how to govern cities more effectively and to pursue policies to make cities more sustainable.
Despite impressive gains in raising awareness concerning urban issues, slums were growing at a rate that outpaced attempts to deal with them, and urban sprawl and overconsumption of energy had severely hindered efforts to make cities sustainable. Citing the late Deputy Secretary-General of the first Habitat I Conference, Mr. Duccio Turin, she noted that lack of political will had resulted in lack of support for proper urban planning and urban development institutions, especially in the area of housing and infrastructure finance. The failure of political will, she added, had also led to a failure to recognize that cities and the people who live and work in them are integral to national development.
Mrs. Tibaijuka expressed the view that if the evolution of urban governance was to keep pace with the revolution of urbanization, politics must also become urbanized. Thus, new urban policies and new approaches to urban finance, tenure reform and participatory decision-making could place the city in the mainstream of national and international politics. The current process of United Nations reform, was evidence that States Members of the United Nations were eager to debate new approaches involving civil society and local authorities. If implemented in an open and inclusive manner, those approaches would offer political leaders at all levels bold strategies that would carry them and their constituents safely forward into an urbanized world.
In conclusion, she expressed her gratitude to the Government of Canada for hosting the Third Session of the World Urban Forum and for extending its hospitality to all participants.
Mr. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, welcomed all participants to the Forum and informed them that Canadian cities were attracting more migrants in quest of better economic opportunities. In that connection, he expressed the view that rural-urban migration, which had been taking place in the developed world for two centuries, was the most important and irreversible trend of the times. He recalled the words of the late Canadian urban visionary, Jane Jacobs, who had said that creative workable cities had always been at the core of human success.
He noted that the Economist magazine had named Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary among the top 10 major cities in the world, with Vancouver ranking first; healthy neighbourhoods and healthy families constituted the foundations of healthy cities with voluntary, neighbourhood-based groups at the core of their political organization. Fair taxes, the responsible exercise of personal freedom and a commitment to community and volunteerism were modest prices to pay for a country and cities that worked. Like all countries, Canada had its challenges and struggled with issues such as drug abuse, family breakdown, homelessness, poverty and crime, problems for which there were no quick fixes. Failed neighbourhoods were like failed States: breeding grounds for crime and violence. He pointed to the roles of various levels of government in Canada, and the contribution of the Government of Canada itself, in energizing cities, including the Government’s commitment to dealing with fiscal imbalance, which was constraining provincial and city financing.
The most serious challenge in the modern world was, however, the threat of terrorism. Although Canada had so far been spared the horrors visited on New York, Madrid and London, some had expressed the view that Canada’s open and culturally diverse society made it more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. He stressed that, to the contrary, Canada’s diversity, properly nurtured, was its great strength. The commitment to diversity had avoided the formation of ghettoes, the bane of urban existence in so many other places. Canada would ensure that terrorism found no comfort in its territory by preserving and strengthening its cultural diversity.
Mr. Noli de Castro, Vice-President of the Philippines and Chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, said that the theme for that Session of the World Urban Forum, “Sustainable Cities: Turning Ideas into Action”, reflected the important role that cities played as agents of local development. The Forum offered a real opportunity to bring the fight against poverty to the local level, the ground zero of development, where poverty was felt and seen.
Most of the world’s population growth in the twenty-first century would occur in cities of the developing world, and the coming decade would also see an increase in the urbanization of poverty: nearly 1 billion people living in cities would remain poor if currents trends continued. If the world’s nations were united, however, they could prevent a further decline in the living conditions of the urban poor.
The Philippines was, he said, committed to waging a battle against urban poverty. In 2002, the Government had launched campaigns on secure tenure and good urban governance. Those campaigns and the Millennium Development Goals and targets, especially target 11, achieving significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, were now fully mainstreamed in the national and local development plans.
Mr. Mohamed Shein, Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania, commended the Executive Director of UN-Habitat for transforming the World Urban Forum into a formidable movement which was gaining momentum with each session, drawing in more and more people from every walk of life in pursuit of the noble objective of sustainable urban settlements.
Emphasizing that he was addressing the Forum from the perspective of the developing world, especially Africa, he said that the outcome of the Forum would be important for improving the lives of millions of poor people living in urban areas. Given the colonial roots of urban centres in many developing countries, ways had to be found to make human settlements organic and dynamic parts of the national landscape and development. The experience in the developing world showed that sustainable urbanization must look at rural and urban as parts of an interconnected system.
Millennium Declaration target 11, seeking to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020, represented only one tenth of the projected slum population in that year. A situation in which 72 per cent of the population lived in slums needed urgent remedial measures. He highlighted the critical importance of increased financial resources in meeting the Millennium Declaration target on slums, as well as preventing the formation of new slums through the provision of affordable housing and related infrastructure, as emphasized in paragraph 56 (m) of the 2005 World Summit Outcome, which called for the capitalization of the United Nations Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation and its Slum Upgrading Facility; in that connection, he called for a greater allocation of resources and a strengthening of the role of UN-Habitat in meeting the slum upgrading target and in preventing new slums.
He recalled in conclusion that at their Summit in 2003, African Heads of State and Government had adopted a decision to promote and prioritize the development of sustainable cities and towns, as a result of which the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD) had been established, with a commitment to work with similar organs in other developing regions.