World Urban Forum 6 – The need for better policies for our cities

The host city of the World Urban Forum 6Held every two years, the World Urban Forum (WUF) is the world’s premier conference on cities. The theme of this year’s WUF 6, which was hosted by the city of Naples from the 1st to 7th September, is “The Urban Future”. Organizers say 6,000 participants from 151 countries were on-site in Naples. The WUF is not a decision-making forum itself, but helps inform the agenda of UN-Habitat’s governing council. It allows stakeholders to keep abreast of each other’s urban development efforts, review progress in light of emerging urban challenges, and strengthen collaboration on urban development efforts.

The World Urban Forum was established by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing problems facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies.  Since the first meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in 2002, the Forum has grown in size and stature as it travelled to Barcelona in 2004, Vancouver 2006, Nanjing in 2008 and Rio de Janeiro in 2010.

Who was there?

WFC Networking Event at the World Urban Forum 6

Our networking event at the World Urban Forum 6

The Forum is one of the most open and inclusive gatherings of its kind on the international stage. It brings together government leaders, ministers, mayors, diplomats, members of national, regional and international associations of local governments, non-governmental and community organizations, professionals, academics, grassroots women’s organizations, youth and slum dwellers groups as partners working for better cities. The World Future Council together with its partners Energy Cities, REN21 and HafenCity University Hamburg hosted a networking event on the topic of Regenerative Cities – beyond sustainability. During this event policy-makers from different governance levels, academics as well as civil society organizations actively discussed, interacted and brainstormed about different urban planning opportunities and challenges especially with regards to local renewable energy sources, territorial resource management and enabling governance structures for successful implementation.

What was discussed?

By 2007, for the first time in human history, the majority of the population was urban as compared to rural. This causes immense pressure on the world’s ecosystems that are already badly damaged. We urgently need to reverse this trend. The challenge today is no longer just to create sustainable cities but truly regenerative cities: to assure that they do not just become resource-efficient and low-carbon-emitting, but that they positively enhance rather than undermine the ecosystem services they receive from beyond their boundaries.

The WUF6 showed that there are several cities in the world that provide great starting points for building regenerative cities. Maybe one of the most outstanding examples is Singapore. “Singapore is on its way to transform its water sector into a regenerative system”, said Nicholas You, Chair of the World Urban Campaign of UN Habitat and member of the WFC/ HCU Expert Commission on Cities and Climate Change. Singapore developed the capability to generate much of its own water and is well vested in recycling used water. Despite its rapid rise in affluence and having a well-equipped military to deter potential aggressors, Singapore’s lack of natural resources has always made it vulnerable. So far it has bought a large part of its water requirement from neighboring Malaysia, but this has become a contentious issue in often testy ties dating back to the their bitter separation more than 40 years ago.

As cities are human creations that configure themselves to development in totally different ways based on the social context, regenerative city is no one-size-fits-all concept but rather has to be operationalized regionally. In order to do that the following principles have to be taken into account:

  • the creation and enforcement of national policy frameworks for enabling regenerative urban development
  • the creation and enforcement of local policy frameworks for an integrated, regenerative urban planning process
  • ensuring that national and local policies are not contradicting each other but integrative, compatible and complementary – this may require a new national institution which monitors regenerative urbanisation progress.
  • ensuring that the results are measurable and comparable

In line with this, Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN Habitat called at the WUF6 on national governments to adopt national urban policies to proactively manage the expansion of cities, while also handing local authorities greater power and resources.

What can we conclude?

The main objective of the multi-stakeholder meeting was to forge stronger partnerships in a concerted effort to address shared urban development challenges. With a substantive focus on the WUF 6 theme – The Urban Future – the meeting generated a more robust understanding of the specific urban development challenges, interests, and competencies. It showed that the current discourse does not recognize enough the need to acknowledge planetary boundaries and human rights.

Furthermore, most of the world’s cities are woefully unprepared for the urban population explosion that will occur through the 21st century. However, the expansion of cities due to urban population growth cannot be contained. We therefore must make adequate room to accommodate it. Policies are fundamental to guide this process. Urbanization is the struggle of humans distributing the common goods. Enabling legislations and good policies are needed to provide rules and guide this process. Our cities need a global political debate, not just politically correct ideas.

The WUF 6 provided a perfect starting point for a Habitat III preparatory process. Habitat III (to be held in 2016) aims to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization made in Istanbul ,marking the launch of a new urban agenda, the “Twenty-First Century Urban Agenda”, built upon the Habitat Agenda and other internationally agreed urban development goals.

Friday, September 7th, 2012