Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization: CSU events and participation at WUF9

Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization: CSU events and participation at WUF9

Better Cities for All: The Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU) at WUF9
Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, DPACSA

The Setting

Lance Jay Brown, CSU Founding Board member and Theodore Liebman, Board member, attended and presented programs during Habitat III conference in Quito where the New Urban Agenda (NUA) was adopted. The February  2018 World Urban Forum 9 that took place in Kuala Lumpur was the first global forum following Quito and was devoted to the implementation of the NUA. Brown and Liebman organized two meetings that were included in the list of WUF9 events.

The venue for the WUF9 meeting, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC), in the heart of the city was an excellent setting. The location, capacity, and functional efficiency of the KLCC encouraged ease of movement and maximum opportunity for networking while providing easy access to the city transit system, and the KL Petronas Towers and the adjacent exemplary Roberto Burle Marx designed park.

WUF9 opened with and included a series of plenary events. The very first event introduced Maimunah Mohd Sharif of Malaysia as the new Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).  Brown and Liebman had the opportunity of witnessing her first public presentation as such. Under Ms. Sharif’s leadership WUF9’s theme was “Cities 2030, Cities for all: Implementing the New Urban Agenda” as a tool and as an accelerator for achieving Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Speaking with the head of the World Bank she stressed the importance of collaboration and partnership for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals stating “Let’s work together to implement the New Urban Agenda” and during the celebratory closing plenary she offered that she “is listening” and plans to work closely with the grassroots representatives in attendance. The new Executive Director declared that her three operating ideas would be first, to promote the just distribution of urban resources (including affordable and accessible housing), second, the creation of economic opportunities, and third, the support of strong and effective local action. 

CSU Programs: World Stage

The CSU prepared two events for the WUF9, a Nextcity World Stage and  a Side Event. Both events were well attended and generated more dialogue that the schedule allowed for.

The World Stage event "Gateway Portals to the City: Infrastructure for Sustainable Urbanization" was opened by Brown who presented a synopsis of the event at the UN that led to the CSU Portals publication and set the stage for Liebman. Brown revisited the range of presentations on portals from Calatrava to Pena-Mora including the African Droneport project. Liebman then delved more deeply into two significant case studies. He delivered a history of Potsdammerplatz, the central node in Berlin that underwent a post WWII reconstruction as mixed-use complex and transportation hub. The central open space, covered by radiating sails, provides a new gateway to the rebuilt city. The second project was a proposal for a new New York City gateway that incorporated a new regional bus terminal into an elaborated waterfront amenity. Katherine Kline, a GAP member and staunch support of older persons and other abled persons, followed with a detailed discussion about from large scale to detailed concerns related to older persons and the issues and challenges they confront when using urban gateway portals. General Assembly of Partners (GAP) president Eugenie Birch concluded the panel discussing the history of GAP and how the 17 interest groups that participate in it act as gateways for their constituencies.

CSU Programs: Side Event

The CSU Side Event “The Public Realm:  Equity, Inclusion, and Sustainability” was an hour-long event discussing the role and realities of the public realm and how critical this component of the urban landscape is to the healthy functioning of the urban environment.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) # 11 asks that “By 2030, [we] provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces”.  This “leave no one behind“ commitment is further supported by the New Urban Agenda item number 37. That states “We commit ourselves to promoting safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and cycling lanes, squares, waterfront areas, gardens and parks, that are multi-functional areas for social interaction and inclusion, human health and well-being, economic exchange and cultural expression and dialogue among a wide diversity of people and cultures….”.

The second CSU panel aimed to demonstrate through illustrations of historic, existing, and new communities how the public realm  supports the goals of SDG 11 and NUA #37 including the creation of successful urban multi-family housing environments.  In multi-cultural cities, the balancing of existing cultural identity and cultural expression become an essential issue for the health of the city.  Panelists discussed how the planning, programming, and design of both large and small public spaces support the social and economic development of communities and engagement of its citizens. There are many definitions of sustainability concepts essential to SDG 11, and the NUA however there is a strong belief and evidence that it is the ability of people to gather to discuss issues of the day that is the ethical underpinning of a healthy sustainable community.

Lance Jay Brown set the stage for the panel by presenting, in rapid fire, a history and typology of physical public realms that begin to illustrate the richness of what we seek under the SDG 11 and NUA targets.   The typology presented referred greatly to a western canon of the public realm however; it is a reasonable model to use when unpacking the possibilities in other contexts. While rich in its content Brown did not go deeply into each case but how these spaces are created, who pays for them, how they are managed, and how the typology is expanding as urban agriculture and new models of community emerge but much of these were discussed further during the dialogue after the presentations.

Theodore Liebman then took the floor and discussed  Community Space in the Residential Environment.  Liebman illustrated the rich history of Brownsville from 1890 to the present and Marcus Garvey Park Village, a seminal project of low-rise high-density housing undertaken by the NY State Urban Development Corporation. This project in Brooklyn, NY was a prime case study developed by Liebman to illustrate how the public realm might best create community.

Liebman was followed by landscape architect Achva Benzinberg Stein who gave a rich discussion on open space and ecology and the importance of the multiple ways in which nature and urbanity can successfully intersect for mutually beneficial results.  Robert Wong, an architect from Hong Kong presented a richly focused case study on participatory open space design and Sion Jones then detailed the needs of older persons when designing an inclusive public realm.   Luisa Bravo founder of City Space Architecture based in Bologna, concluded the program with a rich array of juxtaposed urban spaces that illustrated design principles behind public realm design and further explained the soci-political role that the public realm supported in our complex urban condition.

Next Steps

The Women’s Caucus,  a group that each morning assessed the progress made in achieving both equity and inclusion as put forth in the policies of the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs was an emblematic meeting. Women from all over the world came to share their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and plans beyond WUF9. CSU Fellow Silvia Vercher Pons translated Spanish language comments.  The session organized by the Huairou Commission included testimonials by women from around the world discussing the issues of grassroots involvement with representatives from Ecuador, Zambia, India , Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria, Spin, Australia, Hungary,  and other countries. The general sense was positive in terms of engagement and acquisition of knowledge and techniques to take home and use in promoting the NUA. CSU panelist Achva Benzinberg Stein also attended and the meeting concluded with a rousing song allowing that  all could be empowered by loving one another. 

The CSU WUF9 programs and presentations focused on the visualizing of the ideas being promoted. Few other sessions were as rich with illustrations of best practice possibilities. As CSU understands that while policy and economics are always integral to the creation of the public realm it is our ability to illuminate the critical role of design in its actualization. We will continue to illuminate the role of the design professions in all aspects of sustainable urbanization. We applaud the ideas of resilience presented Kuala Lumpur, especially the constructive ambiguous definitions of resiliency discussed. CSU looks forward to working with the rich array of organizations encountered during the WUF9 week, from SDI (Slum Dwellers International) to 100RC (Rockefeller Foundation funded 100 Resilient Cities).   Many WUF9 plenaries and events, including a wonderful closing conversation between PK Das and Dr.Joan Clos, can be found online.

About the Author: Lance Jay Brown is an architect and urban designer, an ACSA Distinguished Professor of Architecture at The City College of New York, an author, a curator and a Founding Board Member of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization.

Article by: Lance Jay Brown, CSU
Photo Credits: CSU