During the recent 7th World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, the talk was not just about the hundreds of millions of people coming to cities—but also the tens of thousands of city managers and local governments who will need to manage cities more effectively to unleash the promise of urbanization. The WBI urban team, together with the Institute of Housing and Urban Studies and UN-Habitat’s Capacity Development unit, convened over 40 partners for a day of reflection on this challenge.
Such a gathering had happened twice before— in preparation of Habitat II in Istanbul (1996), again in the run-up to the third WUF in Vancouver (2006)—and now on the cusp of the next milestone (Habitat III in 2016). It is helpful to consider where we have been and where are we now on this critical (and somewhat slippery) subject, given the 20 years’ worth of perspective in this area.
Postcards from the World Urban Forum in Medellin, Colombia
From April 5th to 11th, in Medellin, the World Urban Forum (WUF) brought together a diverse group of urban thinkers and doers to discuss the world’s most urgent urban challenges. With participants meeting under the theme of “Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life,” the overall atmosphere was one of cautious optimism. On the one hand, participants were highly aware of the vast challenges facing cities and their inhabitants. Cities remain home to shocking levels of inequality and highly pernicious forms of social and economic exclusion. In that respect, hosting the Forum in Medellin helped drive the point home—as UN-Habitat Executive Director Jon Clos observed before the event, “We want a realistic world urban forum, we want a forum in a real city that has real issues.” On the other, attendees were buoyed by the conviction that today’s rapid urbanization represents an unprecedented demographic and economic opportunity. Medellin itself has made astounding progress in recent years, focusing on improving transport and mobility, inclusive governance, and education.
How do we go about bringing shared prosperity and ensure that development benefits the broad swath of population- and especially the bottom 40 percent of people living under 4 dollars a day? It is by no means an exaggeration to say that the path to shared prosperity inevitably runs through cities.
Today we are witnessing an unprecedented demographic and economic transformation. Some 2.7 billion more people will move into cities by 2030, mostly in developing countries and particularly in Africa and Asia. It is estimated that some 4 million people move to cities every week. They come to cities filled with hope and looking for opportunities.
Cities hold the key to jobs, housing, education, health. They also provide basic services such as water and sanitation and decent transport which are often missing in rural areas. So can urbanization be the platform to deliver these diverse goals? What makes some cities more competitive? Why do entrepreneurs and workers get attracted to some cities? Why do industries and services locate in one city and not another? Will mega-cities or intermediate-sized cities deliver these goals? What can policy makers do to improve the flow of goods, people, and ideas across cities? And what can be done to reduce fragmentation, segmentation, and social divisions within cities across formal and informal sectors, the rich and the poor, how do we ensure that cities are gender inclusive ? How does one tackle problems of air pollution, crime and violence, and the slums that one third of the world’s urban resident’s call home. Cities have not performed as well as can be expected in their transformative role as more livable, inclusive and people-centered places, and they face massive challenges from natural hazards and the impacts of climate change.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012
Originally published on April 4, 2012
Cities are often associated with mixed emotions. They can sometimes make us feel insecure, disconnected and lonely, even in a crowd; while, in other moments, they provide the setting for the happiest events in our lives.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, urban spaces have a huge impact on how people participate in public life. Regular readers of this blog know that the original concept of the public sphere originates from the agora in ancient Greek city-states. The agora was a physical place where people gathered to deliberate and exchange their opinions – a true marketplace of ideas. The modern public sphere has now shifted more into the virtual realm, through various technologies and social media.
- The World Region
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- Cities and Civic Engagement
Cities are often violent places – a social, ethnic and religious tinderbox of people piled up together with competing needs for space, housing or cash. Mostly the tension is contained, but not always - when and why does it spill over into bloody mayhem? That’s the question at the heart of a fascinating research project run by Caroline Moser, one of my development heroes, and Dennis Rodgers. The research team fed back on its findings in Geneva last week. They have a draft overview paper here and welcome any comments by the end of June (as comments on this post, or if you want to get really stuck in, emailed to urbantippingpoint@Manchester.ac.uk). Here’s a summary of the discussion in Geneva.
The Urban Tipping Point scanned the literature and identified four ‘conventional wisdoms’ on the causes, not always based on much evidence: they are poverty; ‘youth bulges’ (demographic, rather than waistlines); political exclusion and gender-based insecurity. It decided to test these with empirical research in four very dissimilar cities - Nairobi (Kenya), Dili (Timor-Leste), Santiago (Chile) and Patna (India).