Arc. Gaetan Siew
Competence, Resources, Leadership, Governance, Resilience, Climate Change, Innovation, Inclusivity, Participation, Dialogue. These keywords were repeated over and over like a mantra throughout the week at the World Urban Forum of Medellin or WUF7 for those who affectionately named it. It was a unique opportunity for all to help to solve some of the basic
and fundamental problems challenging us.
Paradoxically it was very refreshing in these days of global crisis to feel and perceive a general note of optimism among the 22 000 participants from 164 countries. Said in different words, WUF7 MEDELLIN – 07th – 11th April 2014:
Notes by G. Siew these notes of optimism were on the lips of everyone from mayors to activists, industry, professionals and most importantly among the youth. The feeling was contagious. A few years back UN-Habitat celebrated the World Day of Habitat as Cities – Magnets of Hope. Today it would seem that they have gone beyond the concept of hope, they are really becoming drivers of development and of the economy. They have become the place to integrate all solutions ranging
from sheer common sense to the latest innovation of technology. From magnets of hope they have become Cities of Opportunities.
People are convinced that we have the resources and capacity to do it and to make the planet a better place to do it.
This strongest message was that cities are on the rise as economic centres, centres of innovation and centres of learning. When asked how they will achieve that, most answered through “inclusivity”. Each presented it in extremely different ways. They ranged from Asker, Norway, a city near Oslo, with its strong economy and social welfare state, to Goma, The Congo, which has just emerged from civil war and where the most basic problems such as clean water must be addressed; from Seoul, South Korea, where tradition had led to the marginalisation of women, to Johannesburg, South Africa, where millions live in shanty towns and remain in extreme poverty.
Not surprisingly, we learned that ways to achieve inclusivity, and therefore opportunity, varied from city to city, based on size, economy, politics, infrastructure, location, history, etc. Asker-Norway by a broad-based democracy through non-stop dialogue.
Goma-Congo through investment in its youth.
Technology came in as a natural enabler. However most stakeholders associated the human factor to it. In short, all were enthusiastic about new technology but not fanatics. It was clearly stated from all sources that technology and statistics often Ignored the intuitive and important human factor. The concept of integration was mentioned over and over without using THE word. It was understood as people working together, information sharing, designing single solutions to multiple problems.
George Ferguson, (an Architect) the Mayor of Bristol has understood very well the lesson and has transformed his city in 18 months with the human factor and Leadership. He is nominated to be one of the best Mayors in the world just like Jaime Lerner, former Mayor of Curitiba (another Architect!) Other abstract concepts such as Truth, Beauty and Trust were intuitively felt as essential although they cannot be scientifically proven. More intuition and less data; all accumulating to a collection of small differences, but important ones. It was repeated
through various forums, discussions and debates that three factors were essential for a liveable city – social engagement, open mind diversity and beauty!
At the end, I perceived that the unsaid objective of it all was Cities for Life, a Better Life. A city they would be proud of. I am one of those, an Urban Optimist.