The World Urban Forum was created in 2001 by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 56/206 as a biannual event to discuss the global trend of urbanization and its impact on communities everywhere. In fact, according to the UN, “in 2016, an estimated 54.5 percent of the world’s population lived in urban settlements. By 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60 percent of people globally and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants”. This means that building sustainable cities is an important issue that affects not only the majority of people, but people of marginalized groups across the board.
The WUF conference prides itself on its inclusive multistakeholder nature at the highest level, claiming that by bringing these groups to the table, conversations will be more productive and beneficial to those lives it wishes to help. Some of the included groups are “national, regional and local governments, non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, professionals, research institutions and academies, professionals, private sector, development finance institutions, foundations, media and United Nations organizations and other international agencies”. These groups all have an interest in sharing best practices and engaging in conversation about city planning to promote economic growth, accessibility, human rights, and more. They have a framework for participation in the General Assembly of Partners (GAP), but it is unfortunately expensive and constantly pulled in many directions at once. However, the major benefit is that all fourteen Partner Constituent Groups (PCGs) under the GAP contribute to the advancement of sustainable urbanization.
WUF9 will be held in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, in February of 2018. This location connects Asia back to WUF after a hiatus since the 2008 hosting of WUF in China. UN Habitat reports that it is also the first WUF conference to be held after the most recent Habitat conference in Quito. Building off work done at HabitatIII, WUF9 is to be called “Cities 2030, Cities for all: Implementing the New Urban Agenda”, specifically the role of technology in NUA. It brings together a multitude of frameworks by including the guidance of the SDGs and NUA, working towards four major goals: raising awareness of sustainable urbanization, improve collective knowledge, increase multi stakeholder cooperation, and incorporate those the inputs of multilateral organizations. The momentum gained through these conferences cannot slow down, instead using WUF9 as an opportunity to make real gains, networks, and a plan to implement the right to a city for every individual. By specifically including PCGs in the decision making process, sustainable urbanization becomes a grand challenge that actually looks attainable.
I agree that addressing grand challenges like sustainable urbanization requires efforts of not only state actors, but also civil society participation, especially participation of those who are traditionally marginalized. But the General Assembly of Partners creates the dilemma that, while civil society representatives can attend the conference, their travel cost is not covered. If the inclusion of multistakeholders is really to be implemented, there needs to be more funding mechanism or new technologies put in place to facilitate participation of civil society members.