The Point of the World Urban Forum

Skeptics may say major conferences like the World Urban Forum are an exercise in listening to your own echo chamber.  For me, as a participant and urban practitioner, the week spent at the convening in Kuala Lumpur at the Ninth Session of the World Urban Forum provided an opportunity to listen to other perspectives on the challenges and solutions to creating more resilient and sustainable cities; share my own experience; and connect with organizations with financial and technical capacity to support the 100 Resilient Cities network.

On the second day of the Forum, I participated on a panel hosted by Arup, a 100RC Platform Partner, titled “The role of urban governance in resilience building.” I had the privilege of sharing the stage with respected colleagues including Pak Oswar Mungkasa –  Chief Resilience Office and Deputy Governor of Jakarta City Government, and Emeritus Professor Yves Cabannes from University College London (UCL). In a packed room,  we explored the different perspectives, experiences and solutions we each brought from our work with cities across the developed and developing world as they undertake resilience-building.

Here were my key takeaways:

  • In complex mega-cities like Jakarta, there are huge opportunities to convene donors, NGOs , private sector and government agencies around key resilience issues like wastewater and water supply, identify areas where progress can be made under current policy umbrellas, develop an action plan and get on with it. Jakarta’s ‘Grand Designs’, recently launched by the Governor of Jakarta and the Resilient Jakarta team, are working across silos, building capacity, and getting on with the business of solving some of Jakarta’s many challenges.
  • The benefits of investing in resilience – strengthening the economic base, creating jobs, and reducing the costs of recovering from disruption – mean that cities can afford to do more. This dividend to the city can be accessed, according to PwC and the Coalition for Urban Transitions, through value capture, municipal bonds, and pooled risk if designed in the right way.
  • Participatory budgeting puts decision making (governance) fora component of the local government budget in the hands of local communities. UCL research from over 300 examples of participatory budgeting, including from 20 cities in our network, suggests that communities are better than governments in prioritizing resilience building in deprived areas, and at directing funds to benefit the most poor and vulnerable.
  • My own input focused on how cities manage to build resilience at the metropolitan scale in the absence of a Mayor or Governor who oversees that whole area. Although cities like Sydney and Melbourne are made up of 30+ local governments, their respective Lord Mayors of oversee less than 1% of the land area and population. The Chief Resilience Officers of Sydney and Melbourne have worked to build coalitions of actors at the local and regional (”state”) government levels, and with business and utility providers, to build resilience at the metropolitan scale. In both cities, in addition to creating a resilience strategy that is a product of metropolitan scale collaboration, the “work around” has also included a focus on connecting the cities’ resilience challenges with decision making at the organizational scale.

As our session ended, the questions and conversations flowed out into the main hall and continued for almost the length of the session itself. It was clear to me that there is a real hunger for practical experiences in how to build resilience in cities, and the World Urban Forum provided a valuable opportunity to connect challenges with solutions.