It is hard to sum up in a few words the significance of an event as momentous as the World Urban Forum that took place last month in Vancouver. The sheer numbers involved are testament to what clearly was the most successful event in the World Urban Forum series.
· Over 10,000 registered participants from over 100 countries
· 162 Networking events
· 70 Actionable Ideas arising from the HABITAT JAM
· 388 Media Representatives
· 6 dialogues, 13 Roundtables, 6 Special Sessions, 6 Training sessions
· 48% women participants
· Over 400 Youth participants
But the significance of WUF3 goes beyond the numbers. The true measure of our success was whether we met our objective of turning ideas into actions to deal with burgeoning poverty in cities; to improve access to basic facilities such as shelter, clean water and sanitation for the urban poor; and to achieve environment-friendly, sustainable urban growth and development throughout the world.
Reports coming back from networking event organizers, session leaders and from individual participants all suggest that WUF3 did attain the goals set for it. (These reports will be posted on the UN HABITAT website along with the final assessment report on WUF3.)
These reports clearly show that groups that often are under-represented in United Nations deliberations – women, youth, disadvantaged slum dwellers, and aboriginal peoples - were fully engaged at WUF3 and their voices carried equal weight to those of representatives from national and regional governments, major corporations and other non-governmental organizations.
Indeed, some of the most intriguing ‘Actionable Ideas’ emerging from WUF3 and the HABITAT JAM session that preceded it, came from those who daily have to cope with the problems of squalor, poor sanitation, unsafe air and water, and inadequate housing that are all too common in many urban areas of the world.
This alone demonstrates the significance of the World Urban Forum model of bringing representatives of civil society together with government officials to debate important social, economic and environmental issues. What WUF3 was able to achieve was to make the arena much larger and much more inclusive. The HABITAT JAM process – a true innovation in participatory democracy – engaged 40,000 people from every corner of the globe and from every walk of life.
Together, WUF3 and the HABITAT JAM represent a model of inclusiveness that other agencies within the family of United Nations organizations might wish to emulate. Certainly, we will be working closely with the organizers of the 4th session of the World Urban Forum scheduled for Nanjing, China in 2008, UN Habitat and other key stakeholders, to ensure that the momentum of this form of dialogue continues.
I could not close off this series of personal reflections without praising the many people and organizations with whom I have worked over the past 18 months. Government officials, private sector executives, and leaders of a host of non-governmental organizations worked tirelessly to make WUF3 such a success. I was particularly amazed at the professionalism and dedication shown by the GLOBE Foundation of Canada, which was responsible for organizing all the logistical aspects of WUF3. The very fact that WUF3 was able to accommodate without mishap 35% more participants than originally planned is testament to a job well done.
For me, WUF3 is but one step on a journey that began 30 years ago at the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, the predecessor to the UN HABITAT Programme. The path next leads to Nanjing, China, where I hope to join many thousand fellow travellers search for solutions to the problems of urbanization.
In particular I will be looking for examples of how an Actionable Idea that arose in Vancouver at WUF3 has been implemented somewhere in the world and has begun to make a difference in the lives of urban dwellers.
Until then …