Eyes on Rio as It Hosts the World Urban Forum

By Peirce, Neal | Nation's Cities Weekly, March 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Eyes on Rio as It Hosts the World Urban Forum


Peirce, Neal, Nation's Cities Weekly


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- This city that stunned the world by capturing the 2016 Olympic Games will witness a different kind of show this week: How the world's metropolises sell the case that they've become key to the planet's 21st century sustainability.

The event is the United Nations' fifth biennial World Urban Forum, with more than 10,000 attendees expected. National governments are taking more interest: the Obama Administration alone is sending a delegation of 51, including State Department officials and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

The cities' big pitch: They are now home to more than half of the world's population, headed to 70 percent by 2030. Cities consume 70 percent of global energy output and contribute 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But across much of the globe, they're so swamped by rural in-migration that 1 billion people today--perhaps 2 billion by 2030--live in urban slums, many without safe shelter, clean water, sanitation or productive work.

Cities are beehives of human activity; they generate the wealth of nations. But the U.N.'s Habitat division repeatedly warns, unless they can be made environmentally sustainable and unless they can provide basic services for their growing billions of inhabitants, prospects for the human race in this century are not bright.

So a new World Urban Campaign, nurtured into existence by U.N.-Habitat senior official Nicholas You and enthusiastically backed by U.N.-Habitat Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka, gets officially launched Friday. City governments and their regional and global alliances are included, but so are multiple new types of partners--media groups, development banks, academics, trade unions and such corporations as Siemens, ARCADIS, CEMEX and Veolia Environment.

The World Urban Campaign doesn't reject the ongoing need of cities to capture the attention and support of central governments. But its focus is different: to unite a broad range of interested stakeholders to invest in sustainable cities, share knowledge of what works, and set benchmarks to help cities--and the world--monitor urban progress.

A top goal is "accessible and pro-poor" policies in land use, infrastructure, housing and transportation mobility--the key issue of Rio debates this week focusing on the concept of a "right to the city" for all urban dwellers.

Developing the World Urban Campaign has also led to planning for another "first"--a "100 Cities" initiative that appears the opposite of typical U.N. top-down operations. Instead, 100 Cities will employ user-friendly Web 2.0 tools to invite nominations. Anyone in a city--a mayor or corporation, a public transit official, a neighborhood activist--will be able to nominate a promising new initiative or practice. …

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