World Urban Forum – and now what?

The last three days of the WUF were packed with meetings, sessions and an unrelated concert before leaving.

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I am impressed on how Medellin has addressed the importance of libraries as means to improve social wellbeing and improve the feel of the city. The last saturday before returning to Chile, I spent the whole day at the Biblioteca EPM. The internal space and the atmosphere was amazing. I could only wonder what would my native Maracaibo (with almost as many people as Medellín) would be with not only a similar library but also the network of libraries Medellín has. Maybe an unfair comparison, but something that hasn’t been on the city plan.

On Wednesday I attended two very well prepared and interesting sessions by the IADB on Sustainable and Emerging Cities and by CAF on City Innovation. Indeed, cities and its actors are key to move towards sustainability and essential to foster the environment needed to create and test new ideas. I would like to see more of these initiatives being applied in 150-300 thousand size cities, as they would have more impact (as 50% of the world lives in this size-cities). Now, I hope the video presented by IADB on this initiative is on internet soon. It was a cartoon-like video with simple commentaries on how cities have grown, messed up the environment (among others) and can be part of something different. A must see for all to feel more engaged with the potential of a “green” city. The night ended at El Poblado enjoying the Medellin scene with some of the panelist from the CAF session with talks about politics, music, idiosyncracies of nationalities and food.

On Thursday, after attending a training by the WB on Climate Change (interesting, but could have been more engaging with participants). I got to meet some people from the electric company CELSIA. It was a 3 hour visit to their offices and discussing what they are doing in terms of environment, innovation towards more renewable matrix and stakeholder engagement. It was nice to see how companies are eager to do more and better, and gaining a competitive advantage when communicating their results is starting to be critical, thus the need for tools like GRI, ISO 26000, etc.

The last session attended on Thursday was on energy efficiency in social housing, a topic that I have been working on at UMayor. The experiences were from Brasil and Mexico, and mainly about financing mechanism. Indeed, better mechanism are needed to build the type of quality that energy efficiency requires to work. Nonetheless, when asked about the technical part it is evident that a big issue is the quality of labour in our countries.

Friday, was a more relaxed day. Went into a UN-Habitat session on energy efficiency in East African countries and was able to get some copies of their book, which is to be online soon. A very nice book, that I will get to use with my students, and thinking it might be a nice idea to do something similar for other regions around the world, i.e. maintain the methodology adapting the strategies for better results.

At the end of the day I attended a session where my colleague Irene Perez was presenting on the resilience of cities. The diversity of the panelist was good, covering infrastructure, urban development and community participation. The concept of resilience was discussed as a term that it still being defined, i.e. in terms of time frame, adapting to what conditions, etc.

The WUF at the end, was an event where I got to reflex on issues which I normally don’t get the change to think about, e.g. role of youth in decision-making, how are central and local government approaching the issues of financing and opportunities, what do other professionals think when confronted with a “future” city? It was also a time to see what other organizations are doing and some relevant practices that could be replicated.

But overall, it was an indication that in 2014, several years after Rio, Johannesburg, Rio +20 and soon post-2015 MDGs, we are still trying to figure out how to live on this planet… and there are a lot of shades of grey to that question.

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