Established in 2001 by the United Nations the World Urban Forum (WUF) is the world’s most important body to deliberate on urban
issues. It discusses the most pressing issue confronting the world today that is rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. The forum is convened by UN Habitat and is one of the most open gatherings to share and exchange views on urban challenges. The forum set off with the objective of raising awareness about sustainable development among all stake holders including the general public. It also seeks to enhance collective knowledge of sustainable urban development and exchange of best practices and good policies. Last but not the least it intends to increase coordination and cooperation between stakeholders for implementation of sustainable urbanization.
It is in this context that the World Urban Forum held at Kuala Lumpur in the month of February must be seen. Twenty five thousand participants from hundred and ninety three countries participated in the forum. The forum followed the ‘New Urban Agenda’ adopted by all 193 countries in October 2016 at UN Habitat
III conference. But the hard part is the question of implementation and that is why the forum at Kuala Lumpur is important as it was the first since the adoption of the New Urban Agenda and first to take up the specifics of its implementation. No doubt, obstacles are daunting. It’s business as usual at many places; yet we can see that there is ‘good news’ about reaping the benefits of urbanisation, be it improvement in health care, more opportunities for women, better access to services, better resources for human development and so on and so forth. The problem is that these benefits are not well distributed and that is the biggest challenge. What we need to do is create a form of urbanization that is equitable and must deliver on the promise of cities for all.
Statistics reveal that at the present rate world urban population will more than double in the next forty years. That is an unmatched rate of urbanization. It will require the best infrastructure that has ever been created in the history of mankind. At present the sprawl of our cities is fragmented, not fit for walk, hugely resource intensive and car dependent,
affecting largely the poor, the aged and the children. Resources are depleting, climate change is an ominous threat and there are other human challenges. It cannot be ‘business as usual’. But World Urban Forum threw up some hopeful trends. And New Urban Agenda is evidence of that. The international community needs to seize the opportunity. We need to change the nature of cities from a place where jobs are to creative engines of human development. We need to leave behind the profit oriented model of development to more sustainable model of 21st century urbanization which is more in tune with human needs and natural complexities.
In the words of just retired head of UN Habitat Dr. Joan Clos “we now have a landmark agreement by 193 countries to move in a new direction- a new paradigm”. One can hope this ‘new paradigm’ can be achieved with New Urban Agenda. We are still struggling on multiple fronts like resource depletion, climate change, inequality, geopolitical instability and other issues. We need to move away from ‘business as usual’ and look more deeply
to avert the dangers staring at mankind. We cannot wish away cities and towns and look for solutions elsewhere. They are there to stay. Hopefully the New Urban Agenda will throw up the answers