Lessons learned at the World Urban Forum

The seventh session of the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia — with its focus on urban equity in development and its theme of "Cities for Life" — set out to address huge challenges and covered a lot of ground in the process. From urban poverty and the inclusion of informal communities to climate change, a broad array of dialogues, roundtables, assemblies, and side events brought people from all over the world to Medellín to grapple with some of humanity's toughest problems — and to continue laying the groundwork for Habitat III and the post-2015 global development agenda. What did we learn from WUF7? What new collaborations and alliances came out of the sessions? What strategic and tactical takeaways did we bring back to inform our own practice? Consider the perspectives of panelists Jorge Bela, Yahia Shawkat, Clarisse Cunha Linke, Omar Nagati, and Dara Kell — then join the conversation in the comments below.

Conversation hosted in partnership with UN-HABITAT and the Ford Foundation in conjunction with WUF 7.

Click on the pictures to see each panelist's perspective below.




Jorge BelaJorge Bela — Bogotá Community Manager, URB.im

According to UN-Habitat estimates, by 2050 there will be as many as three billion new urban dwellers worldwide — 70 percent of the population will be urban. This unprecedented change will bring enormous challenges. Dozens of new cities of more than 10 million inhabitants will have to be built, and many more will have to substantially increase their size. Urban growth will be the most important issue in development in the decades to come.

It is impossible to summarize in a short article all the ideas, often contradictory, shared at the 7th World Urban Forum. Perhaps the Declaración de Medellín is a good starting point. But I do want to mention some of the Forum's main themes. First of all, the need for careful planning. Chaotic growth fosters inequality, creates problems of transportation, and poses a threat to the environment. Planning should be inclusive, open and transparent — which the use of new technologies, such as GIS and social media, can facilitate.

Climate change and the greening of cities should be at the core of the planning process. Greener cities imply better quality of life for their inhabitants. Safe public spaces are also crucial. Strict zoning and the building of heavy transportation infrastructures often creates segregating physical barriers and isolated areas were citizens live in constant fear of their neighbors. Public spaces facilitate innovation and the exchange of ideas that make cities inherently productive.

Finally, sufficient resources should be allocated to the daunting tasks of creating safe and resilient cities. Massive urbanization will not be a cheap process, and shortcuts will turn out to be even more costly in the long term.

Medellín proved to be an excellent setting for WUF7. As a city that has overcome serious problems, it provides a perfect illustration of the need to identify and share better practices worldwide. These practices will be at the heart of the Habitat III conference, as will the discussions on the Sustainable Development Goals that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Social media allows all of us to participate in these crucial debates, so no one should be excluded.

Bogotá Community Manager Jorge Bela has been working as a freelance writer and journalist in Bogotá since 2010. Prior to that, he worked at El Pais, Spain's leading newspaper, and Analistas Financieros Internacionales. Bela has also worked as a researcher at the European Latin American Research Institute and as project manager at the University at Albany, State University of New York. He has an M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Florida and completed the coursework for a Ph.D. in comparative politics at the University at Albany.


Hi Yahia, I agree with you in the sense that equality and justice is far more easier said than done. Still, I had the feeling that many voices were heard during WUF7, not only some official version of what urban development is or should be. Many perspectives and viewpoints, often contradictory, were heard. Some of them were indeed highly critical on how things are going. Also, there was plenty of time for questions from participants. In some of the sessions I attended were more than 24!!!!!

The use of data also entails some risks, specially if it is poorly elaborated or interpreted (often interpretation is very very hard). I do not have the feeling that the use of data per se irons out the local struggles going on daily in any city in the global south. In fact, good data and analysis are the best tool to iron out political and other distorsions. Poor analysis or the lack of good data are often at the root of failed programs worldwide, some of them quite well intentioned. Yet again, perhaps Omar is right, and what the world really needs is a World Urban Poor forum! But as Clarisse points out, a ne culture of just and inclusive cities is necessary as the world prepares for a massive process of urbanization in the coming decades.

Medellin provided great logistics, but also space of protest and contestation. The main public plaza, just across the street from WUF7, hosted several events of local citizens that wanted to call attention to their causes.

Urbanisation is very good and part of the development stages of nations. However, urbanisation becomes more of a challenge than a blessing when it overgrows planning and development in general. The population explosion in Africa contributed significantly to urbanisation in Africa, yet, the plans are out of place to sustain the population. Leaders of Africa especially must devise ways to handle such concerns. Data and research is very important. Leaders should devise ways to evenly distribute the population as the urbanisation is labour motivated mostly.

Thanks you for Urb.im team who provided excellent coverage during the WUF. Congratulations. I wish I could be there too as I saw so many great experts and interesting topics during the events.

Picking up from Josephine blog on urban talks I completely on Mr Toderian statements that city should be design for people and that we need to perceive city not only as a challenge but also as a success and opportunity. Most mega cities currently reacted on urbanization by providing more heavy infrastructure – roads, busses, trains – but fail to really seen the root of the problem as the cause of urbanization. Coordination between regions never been performed seriously so as population growth and flow to cities seems unstoppable. Decentralization exercised in developing countries should bring more power for cities to manage their own development however, as Clarisse mentioned, there is a lack of culture of inclusive planning that made good and just city seems hard to be constructed.

I actually also interested if there is particular talk about how youth could be engage in these issues of informality and open space or any issue regarding their role as future generation in shaping city?

widya anggraini

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