Voices of WUF9

by Rebekah Revello

The exhibition hall at WUF9 was the most entertaining room to be in. A bright, wide open space, it served as the setting for nations and organizations showcase their programs and engage with each other. Free food was everywhere; a line of people waited for freshly brewed coffee from the German booth; creative spaces were abound, from Mexico's cinder block fortress to UN-Habitat's take on an indoor forest. But the most interesting of all were the people buzzing around, excitedly exchanging business cards and ambitious ideas, sharing a common goal of a better urban future. I was able to speak with some of these urban dreamers, and gather their perspectives on the success of the global conference, and our collective next steps. Click on each name below to view our conversation.

Jharana Bhattarai- Urban Researcher, RMIT Center for Urban Research, RMIT Australia

Why are you at WUF9?
Well, I just wanted to know what the New Urban Agenda was, and how the developing countries are adopting it, and maybe learning from the many other countries around the world, especially those in Africa, the Middle East and Asia

What does WUF9 mean to your work?
Oh, it means a lot, because I am currently researching urban governance and urban issues which includes almost all the topics that the NUA have and how they are carrying it off. And also I want to focus on how the local governments in cities are prioritizing this conference.

How has the conference upheld its main themes of sustainable urban development for social inclusion and ending poverty, sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all, and environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development?
Oh well, I have gone to many of the sessions and stalls, and I think they have almost included everything. But one thing that I haven’t seen is how to deal with homelessness in cities, which is very crucial; until you can embrace everyone in a city, you can’t have smart, urban, liveable cities. I hope they include this issue more in the next conference.

What will the global impact of this conference be?
I think the conference is very global, but I still wait to see if it will have an impact on the national and local level. On the national level, we see many high ranking people attending, which is good. Hopefully they will learn from other countries and understand what their urban agendas are and will be able to apply it to their own uban policies. On the local level, we see a very high presence, not just from government officials, but from the private sector and bilateral agencies that are working in these sectors, especially in poor countries. So, we are able to gain so much knowledge from all of these perspectives. Also, I’m very surprised to see this level of grassroots participation, especially from women. I had the privilege of meeting an 80-year-old woman from Panama who was so keen to work on making urban areas inclusive areas, which was so great.

Syarifah Nuraida Binti T Mohd Apandi- Urban Planner, Plan Malaysia

Why are you at WUF9?
Because I am a town planner in the department of town and country planning, and we have been focusing on planning and development in Malaysia since independence day in 1957. And my department wanted to promote our products in terms of spatial planning, in national, local and state level. We want to show that all the policies and projects we have done are implementing the SDGs and NUA.

What does WUF9 mean to your work?
It’s really important in terms of promoting, and it’s very related to our work, because the NUA and SDGs have the indicators that line up with how we in Malaysia want to make our cities liveable, and sustainable.

How has the conference upheld its main themes of sustainable urban development for social inclusion and ending poverty, sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all, and environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development?
Yes, I think they reflected them well. Because the NUA has these themes of resilience and inclusivity, and I’m seeing from my own organization as well as others.

What is missing from this conference?
I don’t think anything is missing, especially because I heard from the Secretariat in Malaysia about how much better the WUF is now than ever before. What I mean by this is that attendance to this conference increased by 33,000 participants, and you have 190 countries! So I think this conference was really important for us planners, architects, engineers, to share everything we’ve learned.

What will the global impact of this conference be?
I think this will absolutely help the implementation of the New Urban Agenda move forward. I hope that every country in the world can share their experiences, especially in terms of environment, so we can all make sure our environmental resources can be there for the next generation.

Joerni Makmoerniati Suhardi (Right)- Head of Sub-Directorate of Monitoring and Evaluation, Indonesia Ministry of Public Works and Housing
(L-R) Martina Liebermann, Lisa Kathmann, and Marie-Sophie Schwarz- Urban Policy Consultants, German Society for International Cooperation and Development (GIZ)

Why are you at WUF9?
MS: We are from Urbanet, which is one part of a project that we work in for the German Society for International Cooperation and Development.

K: We are basically implementing German development policy worldwide.

MS: Yes, and within the project we do policy advice for the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, and one part of our team is responsible for the German representation here at WUF9. We’re also very engaged with COP23.

What does WUF9 mean to your work?
MS: I think for our work, the networking is a big part, because there are so many different actors from all around the world and different stakeholders have come here, so I think that’s the most important part. But also, I think for the government and other agencies, it’s important for them to show their work, to find new partners, to engage in a dialogue, and to see what’s new and what can be done together in coproduction and things like that.

LK: And WUF9 is important for communicating what Germany wants to do in the field of urban development, so the German position on sustainable urban development.

MS: We also came here for finding out a little bit more on the follow-up and review process of the NUA. And we really wanted to discuss with UN-Habitat the status, sort of; what has already happened so far, where are we currently, and unfortunately we didn’t get that much information. We got a lot about action frameworks and things like that, but very little about what things are going to happen.

How has the conference upheld its main themes of sustainable urban development for social inclusion and ending poverty, sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all, and environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development?
LK: On the part of inclusion, I think the participation of this many stakeholders is very noteworthy. There were a lot of events by lots of different stakeholders, and the participation was very good. On the other themes...

MS: I can basically speak for the German pavilion- I think we tried to cover most of these topics, and had a program of our own here, and so we had quite a diverse program, I believe. As for WUF program in general, I really can’t say if they covered all of these topics, because I’ve been here mostly.

ML: On participation, there was an advisory board held every day that had huge participation of all the different stakeholders, specifically not just governments and state representatives, but NGOs as well. That’s worth noting because tomorrow’s declaration was formulated by all of them.

What is missing from this conference?
LK: I think a more concrete focus on action. That’s what I got from my conversations with other people.

MS: Yeah, more innovative discussions maybe. What I’ve heard a lot is that discussions are sort of repetitive, from conferences that we’ve had before. So what people are saying is not that new anymore, and maybe that would be something we should take this with us for future conferences, just changing the dialogues a little bit, and make them more innovative and new, you know, add new things to the pot, ask new questions-

ML: Move the discussion forward.

MS: Yes, exactly. We are always staying in this circle.

LK: And we all agree on most points (laughs), and have discussed them, so we should be able to move forward.

ML: Also regarding the format of these sessions, it’s a little bit old fashioned. It’s all very stiff, and most of them are panel discussions with lots of panelists and they are giving statements, but it’s not really lively discussions.

Do you think this conference will have a global impact?
MS: I hope so! I think especially because of the dialogues people have had with one another, and just talking to one another and seeing what other people are doing, if we can co-produce things and trying to prevent the doubling of efforts… I think that’s all helpful, and could help moving implementation forward a bit, and more precisely towards the gaps that are still there.

LK: Furthermore, I think what we also did here at the pavilion, was we really wanted to create a space where partners could talk, foster their partnerships, and maybe even create new ones. I think that’s the most important takeaway, is creating more partnerships, because we all need to do this together.

Tom Dallessio- President and CEO, Next City

Why are you at WUF9?
Well, our mission is about inspiring social, economic, and environmental change in cities through journalism and events, and we can’t think of a more perfect place to do that than here in Kuala Lumpur during WUF9. As part of the advancement of the NUA, we’ve brought journalists and opened our World Stage for the world to provide comments, questions and dialogue about the NUA.

What does WUF9 mean to your work?
Well, I guess, simply, it’s all about a dialogue of civil society organizations, elected and appointed officials, academics and citizens in the conversation. We’ve been told that WUF was originally organized so that civil society organizations could have a place to actually identify concerns they had an present ideas, and it seems it’s only grown from that.

How has the conference upheld its main themes of sustainable urban development for social inclusion and ending poverty, sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all, and environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development?
All of those issues have been front and center on the World Stage. They are key opportunities, everything from resilience, climate change and sustainability to dealing with social aspects, questioning the roles and opportunities for women, people of color, children and youth, for elderly, for the disabled, and folks who may have been marginalized in the conversation in the past. And then last but not least, how do we transform government, both in cities and regions as well as in nations around the world, into systems that can serve their interest.

What is missing from this conference?
I consider myself very fortunate that I’m here, but I recognize that most of the world is not here, moving forward. So Next City has not only produced journalism, but we’ve also put together podcasts. And our hope is that people around the world will be reading our posts and listening to our podcasts and engaging in the conversation. I think all of us need to do a better job of opening up the conversation to everybody, and finding ways to make the NUA recognizable, applicable and implementable.

Do you think this conference will help spur on the implementation of the NUA and SDGs?Absolutely. And the conversation that I’ve been hearing among a number of folks is that we need to find both qualitative and quantitative measures to be able to gage levels of success, as well as to think about where we want to be in two years, five years, ten years, twenty years, etc. So that when we’re in Abu Dhabi in 2020 for WUF10, we should have a clear understanding of what national commitments have been made, what cities have actually accomplished and what they hope to do, and what our aspirations are for moving forward.

Hamad Al Romaithi- Planning Professional, Department of Urban planning and municipalities in Abu Dhabi

Why are you at WUF9?
I’m part of a team back home that refers back to our youth council in Abu Dhabi, and I’m representing the youth team in my organization.

What does WUF9 mean to your work?
First of all, we’re thrilled that we’re going to be hosting the next WUF in 2020. And we’re pretty much promoting WUF10, and telling the forum here more about Abu Dhabi, its planning process, what’s been done and what’s next.

How has the conference upheld its main themes of sustainable urban development for social inclusion and ending poverty, sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all, and environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development?
I think that they did a good job covering those themes. I attended a couple of sessions around here that not only represented those themes but exceeded them, going into deeper issues.

What is missing from this conference?
I think- you get to see what other people are doing, which is something good, but everyone is talking about something really specific, and we’re mostly focusing on promotion right now. So I would have loved it if we had more to say more about our experiences in planning, and how we have created and run a city of skyscrapers out of a desert. I wish we had more time to show more about Abu Dhabi.

Do you think this conference will have an impact on the implementation of the NUA and SDGs?
I think more needs to be brought to the table, but I think the connection is good, and getting to know each other and what everyone is doing and sharing the knowledge and passing on studies done in different parts of the world is really helpful. You hear a lot of really good ideas and experiments done here and there, and I’m hopefully gonna take this knowledge back home and share it with my team and see if we can find solutions to our issues.

Zuzana Matusova and Sanjee Singh- Partnerships Specialist and Urban Planner, Habitat for Humanity International

What are your roles at HFHI?
Z: I work in the Europe Middle East and Africa Office, and I work with institutional partners, mostly fundraising, and a little bit with advocacy as well.

S: I am an urban planner and I work in the international dept focusing on our urban programs and urban approach.

What does WUF9 mean to your work?
Z: Wow (laughs). Well, since I’m not necessarily an expert on the issues, it means that I get to get a lot more information that helps me with the fundraising efforts from European and institutional donors, and how to basically connect the work and the themes discussed here to make them relevant to both ours and our donors’ goals.

S: So I think it’s really kind of central to the work that I do. We are trying to really focus on implementing the NUA and one of our key commitments was the new urban approach, so it’s really a forum where we come together to understand the common themes around the issues, to network and to find partners.

How has the conference upheld its main themes of sustainable urban development for social inclusion and ending poverty, sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all, and environmentally sustainable and resilient urban development?
Z: from my perspective, I thought the themes were really upheld. Of course, I only went to specific sessions, but I think the themes were really at the forefront.

S: I think it addressed all the core issues, but maybe some more than others.

What is missing from this conference?
S: I didn’t see much around poverty alleviation. There was a lot around resilience, upgrading and smart cities, so maybe the people aspect was missing to some extent.

Z: It’s true, and I heard it brought up in some sessions and it was kind of- I don’t want to say swept under the rug- but it was kind of put on the backburner.

S: However, I was impressed around how much of a focus there was on housing. It’s an urban conference but there was a big focus on housing, and I think it really speaks to the fact that people are saying that housing is a central component, or at the heart of the NUA.

What will the global impact of this conference be? Do you think it will help spur implementation of the NUA and SDGs? Or is there something else that will do that?
Z: I think there could be a global impact, we just need to leverage the momentum. And at least from the fundraising perspective, the urban issues are getting higher on the agendas of donors, especially European donors. So I’m kind of hoping that this will serve as an impetus for them to finally move forward in more practical terms rather than theoretical. Because it was discussed in the past years among donors as an issue but with no clear ideas of what to do about it, so hopefully this conference will contribute towards coming up with concrete solutions from on the ground organizations and therefore more partnerships with donors.

S: So I think that the good thing about WUF is that it happens every two years, so it’s easy to keep the momentum going. And I liked that we are beginning to hear the same themes and language. I think people are on the same page, and it brings us closer together to figure out how to move the New Urban Agenda forward.