The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to promote and develop constructive relations between the United Nations and civil society organizations.
On 6 September, the sixth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF 6), organized by UN-Habitat, in collaboration with the Government of Italy, the Campania Region, and the Province and City of Naples, closed with as much dynamism as it had opened on 2 and 3 September in Naples, Italy. Dance, songs, a football match, and cultural performances energized the conference that had as its main task to discuss urban challenges and set in motion preparations for the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in 2016.
Through roundtable discussions, plenary sessions, assemblies, dialogues and other forms of events, a wide range of stakeholders – including government representatives, mayors, local authorities, leaders of grassroots associations, NGOs, universities, and research groups, discussed the overall theme of this year’s Forum: “The Urban Future.” This forward-looking theme aimed to trigger innovative thinking on urban development within a future characterised by ongoing global challenges (economic, financial, climate, food, etc.) that do not only feed urbanization processes, but also put increased demand on the capacity of cities and towns to meet the livelihood and employment needs of citizens.
Sharing UN-Habitat’s current thinking about the role of urbanization in developing countries, Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, drew attention to the positive correlation between development and urbanization, and called on policy-makers to no longer see urbanization as a problem per se but rather as an opportunity and a tool for development. While it is true that cities and towns in developing countries are facing serious challenges, such as widespread (youth) unemployment, slums; a dominant informal sector; inadequate urban basic services; conflicts over land; and high levels of vulnerability to natural disasters, Dr. Clos insisted that cities also constitute the drivers of national economic and social development. To face these challenges, UN-Habitat calls for the elaboration of national urban policy and properly planned city extensions based on (i) effective political decision-making; (ii) a good understanding of the use and productivity of common goods; (iii) effective governance capacity; and (iv) adequate technical capacity to plan, develop and manage the city.
In his message, presented to the audience by Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde, Director General of the UN Office at Nairobi (UNON), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the scale of the urban challenge, noting that in just over a generation, two-thirds of all people will live in urban areas, with megacities becoming more common. He reiterated the Rio+20 call for an integrated approach to sustainable cities; strengthened cooperation, partnerships and agreements; more support for local authorities; and citizen participation in decision-making processes. His message was supported by Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), who urged participants to move forward on various Rio+20-related initiatives, such as the one UN response to urban challenges in the context of the Habitat agenda; the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP on SCP); the Global Initiative for Resource Efficient Cities, and the International Sustainable Public Procurement Initiative. Moreover, he urged the mayors and urban leaders of 2012 to further the transition to an inclusive green economy.
Many of the issues discussed during WUF 6 were backed up by two new UN-Habitat publications: The State of the World’s Cities 2012-2013: The Prosperity of Cities, and Youth in the Prosperity of Cities: State of the Urban Youth Report 2012-2013 – both launched during WUF 6. While the first report calls for a new type of city – one that is more “people-centred;” includes vital dimensions such as quality of life, adequate infrastructures, equity and environmental sustainability; reduces disaster risks and vulnerabilities for the poor; builds resilience; creates harmony; promotes prosperity; and stimulates local job creation and social diversity; the second report draws attention to the fact that urban youth continue to face unequal opportunities, especially in terms employment, leading to economic and social exclusion, and growing informal economies.
During the World Urban Youth Assembly (2 September), participants emphasized that youth need to be empowered, have a voice in decision-making processes, and should no longer be ignored by policy-makers. This is especially vital considering the fact that youth constitute the majority of the world’s population with the median age in Africa being 18, while 23 in other parts of the world. Similar calls for the empowerment of women and gender equality were made at the Gender Equality Action Assembly (also held on 2 September), which highlighted women’s vital role in economic activities and as entrepreneurs.
Other highlights of WUF 6 included the launch of the landmark Manifesto for Cities – a document representing the consensus of all partners engaged in promoting the Habitat Agenda; the official launch of the Global Network on Safer Cities – a network advocating for urban safety and local crime prevention; the announcement of the 2012 Scroll of Honour Award winners for their active contribution to improving the living conditions in cities and towns; and the Habitat Cup – a new initiative of UN-Habitat to promote urban development and youth empowerment through sports.
The Forum further announced that the seventh session of the World Urban Forum (WUF 7)will be held in Medellin, Colombia, in 2014.
© UN-Habitat / Julius Mwelu