Forum Proves International Governments Are Not Worlds Apart: While the Language Used at This and Other International Meetings May Be Unfamiliar and More Cosmic Than We Would Use, the Substance Is the Same, and the Information Shared Is Directly on Point for Those of Us Working to Strengthen Our Cities and Improve the Quality of Life for Our Citizens

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It is reassuring and affirming to find that local governments and local elected officials around the world are confronting the same issues that mayors and council members in the U.S. are addressing.

Last week, thousands of local elected officials, other government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations met in Vancouver, Canada, for the World Urban Forum III. (See related article on page 3.)

The focus of the meeting was "Our Future: Sustainable Cities--Turning Ideas into Action." While the language used at this and other international meetings may be unfamiliar and more cosmic than we would use, the substance is the same, and the information shared is directly on point for those of us working to strengthen our cities and improve the quality of life for our citizens.

So why is it that local officials from the U.S. appear to be so underrepresented at this and other similar gatherings? I am often asked this question by my international colleagues who are genuine in their desire to engage and interact with American local elected officials, both to learn and to share.

Certainly there is the cost of international travel, although it is less a factor when such meetings are in Canada.

Concern that the media might frame participation in these events as a "junket" is also a real and legitimate consideration.

I suspect there is the often unstated but understandable concern about participating in a different culture and an unknown environment. One of our internationally-engaged local elected officials has acknowledged some trepidation before attending his first international meeting, but has since found the engagement and connections both enlightening and of direct benefit to his community.

What becomes abundantly clear at events like the World Urban Forum is that there is a vast spectrum of innovative programs and initiatives being carried out in cities around the world that are directly relevant to local governments in the U.S.

At this meeting, the focus was on a set of development goals (referred to as the Millennium Development Goals), which address such fundamental urban issues as affordable housing, public safety, transportation and poverty reduction. …