22.000 people took part in the World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur, + more or less 4.000 support staff. 48% of these people were women. I don’t know how many were from the Global South, but certainly more than 50%.
The great topic of this WUF was implementation of the New Urban Agenda. If you are not familiar with the New Urban Agenda, please read it. It is a binding document signed by all UN member states that is supposed to guide sustainable urban development in the next 20 years. http://habitat3.org/wp-content/uploads/NUA-English.pdf
The WUF was a marathon! Going from one session to the next, the feeling was you were always missing something. There were literally hundreds of events, maybe thousands. I had my own event on behalf of TU Delft, in which I discussed education for the New Urban Agenda.
A lot of the talks were very general, but the importance of such events lies in the shared commitment for inclusive, fair and sustainable urbanisation. Sustainable urbanisation is key for development, but it is also crucial for justice and for life. The faith of our planet and its inhabitants (humans, animals and plants!) depends on how we manage explosive urban growth in the next 20 years.
Besides, this was an opportunity to meet people, people who are different and people who “make the difference”. I met a young female mayor from a small town in Africa, an Indian man who works with empowering youth and training future leaders in his country, an American man who works for a gender equality advocacy group, African civil servants, Malay teachers, Indonesian researchers, Filipino grassroots leaders, Panamanian planners, Brazilian NGO organisers, Mexican scholars, Italian visionaries and many many many more!
It is incredibly humbling to have the grassroots talking in assemblies. As Ophelia, the Filipino grassroots leader said: people want to be the rightful planners of their own settlements. The age of the all powerful, male, technocrat planners and designer is passed. We need to understand that people must be empowered, trained and capacitated to be planners and designers of their own cities. I don’t think planners and designers will be out of a job. On the contrary: they will have more work than ever training, capacitating, facilitating, organising and also planning and designing WITH people, in co-production.
Despite all the challenges of our world today, it is heart-warming to see so many people really trying to do the right thing. I come back to my university fully energised and full of ideas.