More than 20,000 people from 165 countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur last week for the ninth edition of the World Urban Forum, one of the largest non-legislative technical forum of experts, policymakers and local government leaders, NGOs and practitioners on the field of sustainable urban development.This year’s theme was centred around the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, which was adopted in Quito, Ecuador in 2016. “Cities 2030 Cities for All”: in a world were more than half of the population lives in urban settings, sustainable urban planning is essential. Urbanisation has often been viewed as a challenge, one that needs to be tackled and solved. The New Urban Agenda however marks a substantial paradigm shift: urbanisation can be a powerful tool for sustainable development, if well managed. During the Forum, local governments and various stakeholders gathered to share important successes, lessons learned and continuing challenges in relation to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
It was a week of interesting discussions and very insightful examples of successes. For someone coming from the perspective of local risk reduction, it seemed evident that the links between DRR and sustainable urban development are strong. With 6 out of 10 people already living in urban setting, and with this number rapidly increasing, local governments are becoming more and more responsible for increasing the well-being of individuals. If we then consider that 80% of the world’s largest cities are vulnerable to natural hazards, it comes as no surprise that risk reduction and resilience were highlighted as one of the main themes of the Forum. Urban development cannot be sustainable if it does not incorporate a resilience approach that aims at reducing the threats faced by communities.
Stories from cities and subnational entities where development has been coupled with resilience show that this combination is a winning one, a practice that should be widely adopted.
One example is the State of Selangor in Malaysia, where technology is being used to foster sustainable development, leveraging Internet of Things solutions and the opportunities brought to the state by the continuous urbanisation wave. Smart Selangor is an initiative that touches on 12 different domains, from infrastructure, to waste management, disaster management, to education, based on the priorities identified by the citizens themselves.
Or the city of Santa Fe, in Argentina, where 80 hectares of inhabited land are being revitalised for better management of urban growth. The Parque del Norte project aims at improving housing conditions, employment opportunities and environmental and risk management all together.
Localisation, inclusion and integration.
These are for me the three main takeaways from the discussions at the Forum. The New Urban Agenda in primis, but all the main international frameworks as well, needs to be taken down to the local level, and local actors should have the means to ensure effective implementation. An inclusive approach is needed, one that brings together all concerned actors, and that adopts a holistic view of local development, considering that local priorities often cut across the international targets set in different agendas.
While local governments bear the main responsibility of ensuring sustainable development of cities and settlements, the Forum also highlighted the need for inclusion of civil society in the creation of urban policies and strategies. Civil society was recognised as an important actor, that brings in the perspectives of communities who are often most aware of what risks and threats they face.
GNDR’s Frontline programme, presented during some of the Forum’s side events, was used to showcase examples where local information on risks was used to feed into the development of policies and practices at local and national level. We brought experiences from Cameroon, Indonesia, India and Honduras, to demonstrate the role of civil society organisations in voicing the priorities of local communities. We also highlighted how communities do not differentiate between impacts of disasters, climate change or unsustainable development, but consider all threats in a holistic approach: as a result, local solutions are often not only the most effective ones, but also the best way to achieve integration in the implementation of all international frameworks.
The Forum showed that there is a clear need for integrating all international frameworks and agendas for development, as in the end cities and local communities manage their development efforts and priorities in a “naturally” comprehensive way.