The World Urban Forum

The World Urban Forum (WUF) is convened by the UN-Habitat in the United Nations Settlements Programme (“Kuala Lumpur to Host”). The WUF was established in 2001 and was created to address the timely issue of rapid urbanization and its effects on cities, communities, climate change, economies, and policies (“About WUF”). Many different descriptions of the WUF characterize the Forum as inclusive and as having high-level participation (“About WUF”).

The structure of the WUF supports inclusive sustainable development as the WUF’s objectives are to 1) raise awareness of “sustainable organizations among stakeholders and constituencies, including the general public;” 2) improve “collective knowledge on sustainable urban development through open and inclusive debate, exchange of best practices and policies, and sharing of lessons learnt;” and 3) “promote collaboration and collaboration and cooperation between different stakeholders and constituencies engaged in the advancement and implementation of sustainable urbanization” (“About WUF”). All three objectives mention sustainable urbanization, and as we learned in Week 4’s lecture on Habitat III and the NUA, cities and urbanization are central to development as physical infrastructure determines many areas of development, such as health, education, and food security, and primarily, because the world’s urban population is growing rapidly. The WUF is inclusive as it gives representation to diverse groups. In the Declared Actions of WUF10 in Abu Dhabi, it states:

We, the participants of the tenth session of the World Urban Forum, represent national, subnational and local governments, international and regional organizations, parliamentarians, civil society, older persons, women, youth, children, persons with disabilities, grassroots groups, indigenous peoples and local communities, professionals, the private sector, foundations and philanthropies, academia, professionals and other relevant stakeholders. (“Abu Dhabi” 1)

This first declared action reveals the multitude of voices that represented participants in WUF10—voices that are traditionally left out of decision-making. In addition, the International Organizations List states that the World Blind Union partnered with UN-Habitat to work towards “mainstreaming disability inclusion, universal design and accessibility within its strategies policies and programs, and operations in line with the 2030 Agenda, the New Urban Agenda, and the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy” (“Abu Dhabi” 5).  These alternative voices and their inclusion in WUF10 shows great progress in achieving inclusiveness in development initiatives. Of particular interest is the inclusion of persons with disabilities, as my capstone project will examine how persons with disabilities are excluded in the implementation of SDG3 in India. Further, the WUF is connected to the SDGs, NUA, and other initiatives we have covered in class, and is therefore relevant to my project on the SDGs.

What stood out to me most in these readings was the connection between the WUF with other forums/frameworks/initiatives that we have previously discussed in this course. With each new forum/framework/initiative that we learn about, the more I learn how they build off of each other and help reinforce each others’ aims. For example, WUF10 included six dialogue sessions that helped explore the role of culture and innovation in the New Urban Agenda and in achieving the urban components of the Sustainable Development Goals (“About WUF”). The interplay of each of these distinct initiatives translates explicitly into our projects; in other words, while our projects may focus on one initiative, such as the SDGs or NUA, the many different schemes we’ve discussed are relevant and influential to our project. 

While reading about WUF9, I learned a bit about Asia’s urban population. WUF9 was hosted in 2018 by Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (“Kuala Lumpur to Host”). This is the second time that the WUF has been hosted in Asia, the first time being in Nanjing, China in 2008, despite the fact that Asia “is where more than half the world’s urban population is,” as stated by UN Under-Secretary-General and UN-Habitat Executive Director, Dr. Joan Clos (“Kuala Lumpur to Host”). Dr. Clos claims that “This region [of Asia] has accounted for about 65 per cent of the demographic expansion of all urban areas across the world since the beginning of the 21st century” (“Kuala Lumpur to Host”). If Dr. Clos, who sits in relatively high positions of power, recognizes the issue of Asia housing much of the world’s urban population while simultaneously, the WUF has only taken place in Asia twice, who has the power to address such a problem so that the Forum can proportionately and effectively serve the expanding urban population?  

The WUF has a role in my capstone project by contributing another lens through which to examine inclusiveness and sustainability. As the WUF focuses on physical infrastructure in cities, in addition to policy and agency in development, my project on SDG 3, which concerns health and well-being, must also take into account how physical infrastructure is essential to analyzing access to health care services. As Rachel helped me realize in last week’s discussion post, I cannot analyze SDG3 implementation without focusing on how persons with disabilities have or do not have physical access to healthcare services as outlined by 3.8 (achieve universal health coverage including access to quality health care, etc.). A report titled, “Disability Considerations for Infrastructure,” addresses universal design and its implementation in various cities, a few of which are in India. I aim to draw on the efforts of the WUF and the World Blind Union as outlined in the Abu Dhabi Declared Actions to examine universal design and how it has impacted access for persons with disabilities in India.