On the occasion of the 14th Anniversary of our foundation, CSU wants to thank its patron, guiding light, muse, and mentor, Talal Abu-Ghazaleh (TAG), the Inaugural Chair of the Advisory Board of the CSU,  for his fourteen years of support and sponsorship.

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of attending the recent United Nations World Urban Forum 11 (WUF11) in Katowice, Poland, was the absolutely amazing concentration of optimism, especially in this time of global warming, COVID, and adjacent violence. The entire five-day event was an exciting and successful gathering with much of value to be unpacked going forward.

Travel to Katowice was, for many, a trial as air travel around the world is greatly disrupted. But canceled and/or delayed flights, lost and/or delayed luggage, and the paucity of taxi drivers did little to dampen the excitement and camaraderie of those who came to discuss and share ways to increase equity and diversity, respond to the serious challenges of climate change, resource availability, and distribution, constructive systems of governance, needs of older persons and youth, and inclusion. The proximate violence in Ukraine and the need for current support and reconstruction was a constant presence.

My own travels to Katowice began with two stops on the way. It is hard to fly directly to Katowice, so a visit to Warsaw was an easy choice and allowed a pilgrimage to Warsaw’s reconstructed Old Town and Market Square. Flattened in World War II, this district is arguably one of the most successful reconstructions of a war-damaged environment. Witnessing the success of this undertaking with my own eyes was both informative and encouraging.  This case study in historic reconstruction has been a staple in my Urban Reconstruction graduate seminar for almost 50 years, and I was gratified to confirm its success. My second stop was an excursion to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. While in proximity to such a millennial atrocity, I could not fail to bear witness to the horror. Visiting while only 400 miles away from the current genocide in Ukraine, it was impossible not to reflect on how far we have or have not come from that terrible time 75 years ago.

Warsaw’s reconstructed Old Town and Market Square

I arrived in Katowice by train, and ultimately, CSU colleagues and I, for a relatively small contingent organization, presented a sizeable footprint at the UN WUF11. We were three of the over 22,000 people who registered, over 10,000 of those who attended in person, and of the almost 6,000 who attended virtually: Vice President Theodore Liebman, recently appointed Board Member Anna Rubbo, and myself, CSU President. The season leading up to the WUF was fraught with uncertainty as daily the reports of the war in Ukraine become increasingly dire and the idea of moving the WUF location or postponing the meeting circulated until late April when the Polish government declared its support for the meeting and the UN responded in kind, and the many of those planning to attend who remained uncertain were finally able to confirm their plans.

Lance Jay Brown, CSU president, and Theodore Liebman, CSU Vice President at WUF11

For those unfamiliar with the World Urban Forum (WUF), it is the premier global conference on sustainable urbanization. The WUF was established in 2001 by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change, and policies. Organized by UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme), the first WUF was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2002 and has been held around the world ever since. WUF11 is co-organized by UN-Habitat, Poland’s Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, and the Municipal Office of Katowice. The theme of WUF11, Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future, was intended to provide greater insights and clarity on the future of cities based on existing trends, challenges, and opportunities, as well as suggest ways cities can be better prepared to address future pandemics and a wide range of other shocks.

Theodore Liebman, Anna Rubbo and myself participated in multiple events. The CSU main session, a WUF Networking Event organized by CSU that I moderated, was titled Climate Change and the Role of Cities Redux and was a continuation of our May 18 Flagship hybrid event discussion that took place at the United Nations. Four speakers presented four topics, including New York’s Setha Low, CUNY DP Anthropologist, who discussed the role and importance of Public Space as we move into the 21st century. Architect Dr. Mona Rady, from Egypt and Chair of the Habitat Professional Forum (HPF) discussed Green Buildings using the increasingly important lens of rating and assessment systems in achieving ever-lower carbon emissions in the design and building process. Chhavi Lal, from the Mumbai office of Perkins Eastman architects, discussed the current and future generation and expenditure of Energy in the built environment, and fourth, Canada’s Eleanor Mohammed, co-Chair of the HPF, discussed Mobility issues. All four spoke across silos and reinforced the idea that we must move forward holistically if we are to both mitigate and adapt to our changing climate. Their presentations were responded to by CSU Board Members Anna Rubbo and Theodore Liebman, who were followed by intense commentary from the audience.

CSU Networking Event panelists at WUF 11 | Left to right: Chhavi Lal, Dr.Mona Rady, Setha Low, Lance Jay Brown (Organizer), Eleanor Mohammed, Anna Rubbo, Theodore Liebman, Jose Luis Cortes (guest)

As the CSU representative and leadership nominee to the HPF, I participated in the press conference to launch the recently ratified “Roadmap for Recovery” at WUF11. The CSU was admitted as the most recent member of the HPF and is proud to have contributed to the drafting and launching of this living document, and we look forward to its promotion and distribution. The HPF is a voluntary affiliation of 24 international and regional associations of Human Settlements Professionals involved in sustainable urban development. The HPF “Aims to foster cooperation and partnership between the Human Settlements Professionals and UN-Habitat through dialogue and partnerships and by providing leading-edge information and expertise that contribute to the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and sustainable urban development.”. Following the launch of the “Roadmap” Eric Huybrechts of the Institute for the Paris Region and I led a breakout session on Crisis and Reconstruction, one of four HPF UN Roundtable breakouts sessions.

Theodore Liebman led another on Public Private Partnerships, and Anno Rubbo participated in the session on Ethics. The Roadmap is available here, and the Executive Summary is included in this edition of the CSU News.

In addition, CSU is a member of the UN World Urban campaign, the UN component that fosters the Urban Thinkers Campuses (150 to date!) I participated in the special session WUC Roundtable event that presented The City We Need Now! This is an action-oriented manifesto prepared by the World Urban Campaign, the UN-driven coalition of 220 partner organizations representing six regions. The session presented action areas, solutions, and game changers meant to accelerate the implementation of the new Urban Agenda and the SDGs. I was one of the x speakers invited to discuss the 10 WUC Principles and the subsequent 60 priority actions that were developed to help clarify and promote the UN New Urban Agenda. My comments were focused on principle 8, Urban Design, and related back to SDG 11 as well. A full report on this special session can be found here.

Both Theodore Liebman and I were invited to speak as respondents at the WUF Older Persons Roundtable event. The event was expertly moderated by Angela Mwai, the Chief of the Human Rights and Social Inclusion Unit of UN-Habitat. Co-chair Michael Kanyingi Kimuhu and our CSWG colleague Kathy Kline helped organize the session, and a series of speakers helped define an agenda that would promote the involvement and well-being of older persons everywhere. It was encouraging to see the mix of attendees to the event, especially the youth, as integration across age groups is critical to achieving both equity and inclusion of our ever-increasing Older Persons population. We look forward to reading Kathy Kline’s detailed notes on this event.

As mentioned above and of special note during the five-day conference were the special sessions devoted to the conflict in Ukraine. Support for the Ukrainian people was palpable throughout the conference and throughout the city. Representatives from Ukraine who spoke included x Alexander Chizherskyi, President of the National Union of Ukrainian Architects, and Lidiia Chyzherska, Deputy Chief of the Association of Spatial Planners-Urban Council for International Affairs. Both shared their thoughts on current events and future actions and invited all to help going forward. A number of Mayors shared videos of the painful and destructive situation on the ground but also the enormous positive energy and optimistic plans they have for building back better.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the WUF, in person, was the enormous opportunity to network. Each of us from CSU met many new colleagues or encountered old friends with whom we will continue to work. We once again encountered UN-Habitat Executive Director Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif and shared platforms with Christopher Williams, Director of the UN-Habitat New York office.  I worked with the leaders of the HPF, Dr. Mona Rady and Eleanor Mohammed, and the World Urban Campaign’s Director, Christine Auclair. At Christine’s invitation, I wrote an article titled Transforming Our Cities for a Better Urban Future: Can We? that was published in the June 28 2022 edition of URBANET that can be found here.

Of special note were the many sessions shared with the new UIA leadership, including UIA President José-Luis Cortés, Pei Ing Tan, UIA secretary General, Ishtiaque Zahir Titas, UIA Council Member for Region IV, Istelianna Atanassove Regio II vice President, RTPI President and Global Planners’ Network Chair Timothy Crawshaw and RTPI Chief Executive Victoria Hills. I met with CSU Correspondent in Rio de Janeiro, Theresa Williamson’s Catalytic Communities representative Tarcyla Fidalgo who shared information on Favela Community Land Trust initiatives.  I met a wonderful new colleague, Anne Leemans,  Secretary General of the Brussels-based Yellow Design Foundation. With support from ESG matters in Copenhagen, Yellow Design has produced an easy-access Climate Emergency Manifesto on decarbonization. It can be found here. I encourage readers to peruse it and distribute it.

In addition to my own encounters, Board members Anna Rubbo and Theodore Liebman had many of their own. Anna’s encounters with the Mayor of Bogotá and the young Mayor from Barranquilla and Theodore’s with members of the Ukrainian contingent and many others will no doubt bear fruit going forward.

A major sponsor of WUF11 was ARCADIS, the global Design, and Consultancy. I met with Tanya Huizer and Luuk Byitendijk of their Global Shelter Program and look forward to working with them in the future.

We will be unpacking WUF11 for many months to come. Amplified by COVID and global unrest, once again, we see the cry “code red” and all hands on deck. CSU will continue to advocate for creative solutions to the many urgent issues raised during WUF11, including the protection of the natural environment and biodiversity, social and economic equity, global warming, climate change, the most urgent and priority emergency, and ever-greener cities.  

The CSU has now attended and participated in five World Urban Forums (WUFs) in Rio de Janeiro, Medellin Columbia, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and Katowice, Poland. We helped both frame (as one of 200 global experts serving on Policy Panel 8) and contributed to the adoption of the New Urban Agenda at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador. Our role and participation have increased with each as our capacity and network have grown. We look forward to Egypt in 2024, when we hope to hear about critical challenges met and ongoing, urgent initiatives to further green the planet, secure the natural environment, and more fully support our global community, especially those who are suffering through no cause of their own.

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