From Vancouver to Nanjing
The session was chaired by Mr. André Juneau, Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Canada, and moderated by Mr. Brock Carlton, Director, International Centre for Municipal Development, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canada. Speakers were Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, United Nations, Executive Director, UN-Habitat; Mr. Michael Harcourt, Co-Chair of the Canadian National Advisory Committee for the Third Session of the World Urban Forum, former Mayor of Vancouver; former Premier of British Columbia, Current Chair, External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities, Canada; Mr. Marten Lilja, State Secretary, Ministry of Sustainable Development, Sweden; Mr. Wang Guangtao, Minister of Construction, President, Association of Mayors, People’s Republic of China; Mr. Wu Zhiqiang, Dean, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, People’s Republic of China; Mr. Wu Tinghai, Deputy Director, Institute of Architectural and Urban Studies, Qinghua University, People’s Republic of China; Mr. Ping Fu, Assistant President, Shanghai Land Development Group, People’s Republic of China; and Mr. Lu Bing, Deputy Mayor, City of Nanjing, People’s Republic of China.
The session reflected on the challenges ahead, as identified in the various dialogues, round tables and other events at the Third Session of the World Urban Forum, as participants looked forward to the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum, to be hosted by the Ministry of Construction of China and the City of Nanjing in 2008. The session explored the changes and opportunities for urbanization in China and elsewhere, in particular with respect to sustainability, and provided insight on the issues that would be put before the Fourth Session.
The session was organized in two segments, the first focusing on issues of urban sustainability and the challenges ahead, and also on reflections on the changes that had occurred since the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements convened in Vancouver in 1976. The second segment focused on the achievements and challenges ahead in China as it prepared to host the Fourth Session.
Mrs. Tibaijuka noted the importance of analysing how the discussion during the Third Session of the World Urban Forum could chart the way forward to Nanjing. The fact that some 10,000 participants had met in Vancouver and discussed urban sustainability was in itself a major achievement. She also noted that the various sessions had engaged and involved all Habitat Agenda partners. She cited the gender balance in participation: about half the participants in Vancouver had been women. En extensive evaluation of the Third Session of the World Urban Forum was under way, through a variety of means, ranging from questionnaires to focus-group discussions. That evaluation was an essential part of ensuring that the World Urban Forum could continue to evolve. The discussions held during the Forum had proved the critics wrong, those who had been sceptical about the need for “another” United Nations meeting. The Forum had proved that there was need for dialogue, for exchange of experience and for learning from others, leading to actionable ideas, and indeed, actions on the ground.
Mr. Harcourt reflected on the enthusiastic and exciting atmosphere during the first Habitat Conference in 1976, with its focus on dialogue and consultation. Despite all the nice statements made in 1976, however, he noted that by the time the Habitat II Conference was convened in Istanbul in 1996, there had been a general lack of progress, particularly with respect to the involvement of women, youth, indigenous and other vulnerable groups. Among the issues raised during the Forum sessions he highlighted the importance of devolution of authority to local governments, and the need to engage and involve the various groups that constituted communities, including the disabled, indigenous groups, youth and women. The current session of the Forum had been an opportunity to share and learn from experiences in other parts of the world, good and bad, including those that had come out of the Habitat Jam internet discussion. The Fourth Session of the Forum would be an opportunity to measure improvements in the conditions of an increasing urban population living in poverty.
In the discussion that followed, a number of issues were raised by participants. Several participants noted the need to ensure adequate representation of all at all levels at the Fourth Session. In particular, it was noted that the panel of the Nanjing special session included eight men and one woman, no youth representatives, or those representing vulnerable groups. There were also calls for increased participation of the private commercial sector. The panellists noted that several prominent Chinese women were already involved in the preparation of the 2008 session of the Forum, and that the private sector was indeed welcome to participate. Representatives of the private sector noted that they were already acting, and called upon the participants of the Forum to follow. It was noted that sister-city programmes were already in place between cities in Canada and China which were facilitating the contribution of the private sector. Such programmes were in line with the spirit of partnerships between cities, as well as North-South cooperation.
One participant noted that the secretariat might consider rethinking the organization of the Fourth Session as she felt that there were too many events taking place during the first three days of the Session as compared to the last two days. Mrs. Tibaijuka noted that organization of the sessions was based on the experiences of the Second Session, and that it had been arranged to avoid dialogues and round tables clashing with networking events.
Several participants noted the importance of rural areas, and that those should not be marginalized in addressing the consequences of urbanization. Mrs. Tibaijuka noted that UN-Habitat was indeed focusing on rural areas as well, as part of its mandate, and highlighted programmes on urban‑rural linkages in the Lake Victoria region and in the Mekong Delta.
In the second segment of the session there were five presentations. Mr. Wang gave an extensive presentation on the activities and achievements within the field of human settlements in China as it had moved from a planned to a market economy. He cited the importance of women, the preservation of cultural and historical heritage, and the need for better urban planning, in particular land-use planning. He stressed the importance of balanced development between rural and urban areas, and pointed to cities as engines of growth, while stressing the importance of small and medium-sized cities, and noted also the importance of balancing economic growth and environmental concerns.
Mr. Wu Zhiqiang noted that the Chinese Government had come to realize in recent decades the true meaning of development, as it moved focus from economic to social development. He also noted that the challenges faced in urban areas of developing and developed countries were different. He informed participants that China was not only about to host the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum in Nanjing in 2008, but also the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. For the first time in its history, the latter would focus on urban issues. The Forum and the Expo would there provide opportunities to discuss urban issues in China over a period of several years.
Mr. Lilja noted the importance of sustainable urbanization, and sustainable cities. Rural‑to‑urban migration was creating a lot of problems, including scarcity of resources, but he stressed that it also provided a number of new opportunities for people. It was essential to integrate economic, social and ecological issues and concerns in the planning process; in that connection, he informed the meeting that Sweden was at the forefront of reducing dependence on fossil fuels. He pointed out that there must be a focus on the development of housing that was attractive as well as affordable.
Mr. Fu described development in Shanghai during the past 160 years, and noted that its growth posed major development problems. He highlighted the importance of infrastructure development and the importance of balancing economic, social and environmental concerns in urban development. He outlined details on the development of a new city, Gucun, north of Shanghai, which was to be completed by early 2008. It would be appropriate to report on that project at the Fourth Session.
Mr. Lu informed participants concerning the historic and cultural background of Nanjing, a former national capital, and outlined its unique geography and its role as a centre of research and development. He stressed the importance of preserving its historical heritage and cultural assets, and the importance placed on developing Nanjing as a green city. Green areas already covered 45 per cent of the city and all citizens had less than 500 metres to walk to a green area. In the process of increasing the size of green areas, the city was demolishing shacks and slum-like structures to make it even more beautiful. He called on participants to meet again in Nanjing in 2008, and informed the participants that the theme of the Fourth Session of the World Urban Forum in 2008 would be “A harmonious city”.
Mr. Juneau noted that the panel had not been able to address all the questions placed before it. He concluded, however, that the balance between urban and rural development was essential, and that it was necessary to follow up that issue.Other major issues raised during the session were the importance of moving from ideas to actionable ideas, and that that was a major challenge to the next session of the Forum, in particular how to ensure security of tenure and how to operationalize the rights of various vulnerable groups. The need for development to take account of economic and social as well as environmental concerns was also highlighted by most speakers.