World Urban Forum – Cities for All

The World Urban Forum is a global platform for discussing urban challenges. The United Nations established the Forum to “examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies.” WUF’s goals include raising awareness for sustainable urban development in both the public and private spheres, increasing knowledge on sustainable urbanization, and improving coordination among global actors. With high participation rates and a focus on inclusivity, WUF is the world’s best platform for global environmental discussion.

The most recent WUF forum was held in February 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The forum included 250 speakers, 25,000 participants, and over 500 events. The sessions include high level roundtables, dialogues, networking events, assemblies, and training events. High level roundtables are the most prestigious events, as they feature high profile decision makers. WUF 9’s high level roundtables included discussions about the urban impact on climate change, innovative governance in inclusive cities, and peace and security in sustainable urbanization. Dialogues include debate on policy recommendations regarding the New Urban Agenda. WUF 9’s dialogues included urban conflict and crisis, creating resilient cities, and legislative frameworks. Assemblies provide a platform for various stakeholder groups, allowing each of them to have a voice in the discussion on sustainable urban development. WUF 9’s assemblies provided a special voice for youth, women, businesses, and grassroots organizations. Training events are a different way to approach the advancement of sustainable development, as they build knowledge and develop skills for both participants and international audiences. Training events at WUF 9 included women’s safety in cities, homelessness in cities, and rebuilding cities after natural disasters.

The next WUF (the tenth forum) will be held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in 2020. In the next forum, I hope to see more discussions and trainings about sustainable natural resource use. While WUF 9 covered a wide range of topics necessary to developing inclusively sustainable cities, there were not too many sessions about natural resource conservation. As cities hold the largest concentrations of populations in the world, it is important these populations not only use natural resources sustainably, but also have access to resources for generations to come. Promoting sustainable resource use is one of the most important ways we can support a future of environmental inclusion for all, so that every person will always have equal access to the resources they need to survive each and every day.


Sustainable Cities as Solutions: The New Urban Agenda

Sustainable cities are the present and future powerhouses of inclusive development. A city cannot be considered sustainable without being inclusive and providing “equal rights and access to the benefits and opportunities that cities can offer” (New Urban Agenda iv). If a city does not include all of its population in its development, it is both ignoring fundamental human rights and missing out on the special talents that each person has to offer. In addition,When cities focus on sustainable urbanization, the population’s quality of life and employment opportunities increase (New Urban Agenda iv). The United Nation’s New Urban Agenda presents a set of standards for urban development. The agenda’s pillars include topics such as urban design, legislation policy, and local implementation strategies (New Urban Agenda iv).

The New Urban Agenda states that inclusive cities promote “a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants,” and “leave no one behind” (New Urban Agenda articles 13-14). Inclusive cities promote racial, gender, and economic equality (New Urban Agenda article 13). Inclusive cities reduce vulnerability to environmental disasters, minimize their environmental impact, and promote sustainable consumption and production patterns (New Urban Agenda article 13). The agenda provides necessary vision for an inclusively sustainable future, and one in which each country can strive towards within the framework of their current systems.

An important part of the New Urban Agenda is the “call to action.” The call to action states that “While the specific circumstances of cities of all sizes, towns and villages vary, we affirm that the New Urban Agenda is universal in scope,” recognizing that each area has its own unique strengths and challenges (New Urban agenda article 16). The agenda’s “implementation plan” provides a more specific call to action, with specific examples of steps that actors at the local level, national level, and private sector can take. Cities have the power to connect issues of sustainability, inclusivity, equality, and development. It is vital that people at each level of society recognize the powerful potential of sustainable cities, and take the necessary actions towards them. The New Urban Agenda’s creation is a valuable step forward towards the achievement of sustainable cities, with an organized vision and action plan for both present and future generations.

Measuring Society’s Success: Inclusion and the SDGs

In an ideal world, a society’s success would be measured by its level of inclusion. Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities defines inclusion as coming down to “somewhere to live, something to do, someone to love” (Rimmerman 35). The more citizens in a nation that are included in this definition, the higher a nation’s level of success. Instead of measuring a country’s success through its overall economic growth or strength in the international political arena, we should be asking ourselves, do this country’s policies promote equality and inclusion for its people? Do all communities feel they are included in society?

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were created in 2015 to tackle the issue of climate change, reduce inequality and promote inclusion. With 17 tangible goals centered around sustainable social and economic development, the SDGs are “the blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future for all.” Each SDG has concrete goals, targets and indicators that provide a clear vision for what each element of a sustainably developed society would look like. The SDGs are also medium-term goals, with the target accomplishment date set at 2030. It is so important to have a coherent plan that each country can strive towards and apply to their own situations, so that everyone can do their part to create a more inclusively sustainable global society.

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom theorizes that the alleviation of poverty and societal development will lead people to freedom. He writes that poverty limits the choices a person can make, and limited choices cyclically results in a lack of freedom. Sen’s indicators for freedom include: life expectancy, education, infant mortality, and gender equality. For example, if a person does not have the money to make choices that will benefit their health, a lower life expectancy results in a lack of freedom because a person cannot make choices if they are not alive. Empowering people to make choices allows them to have the best possible life. By making an emphasis on inclusion in society, a society can strive to provide all of its citizens with the freedom to make choices for themselves.

The SDGs are an important mechanism for inclusion and freedom, and the UN High-Level Political Forum makes sure that the program continues to stay on track. The HLPF meets annually under the Economic and Social Council for eight days, with a special three day segment every four years with the Heads of State and Government. The forum provides “a dynamic platform for regular dialogue” and “political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development. The HLPF is indispensable resource towards the successful implementation of the SDGs around the world.

States, NGOs, businesses, and individual actors are all important and necessary contributors to an inclusive and sustainably developed future for all. Everyone must play their part by using the platforms available to them to take action, raise awareness, and promote inclusiveness and equality in their communities. A truly inclusive society has the mindset that everyone deserves to be a part of the community and everyone has something valuable to offer. Societies with inclusive mindsets are the most successful ones, and we must do everything we can to promote inclusivity in every corner of the globe.


Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, Ari Rimmerman

Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen