It seems there are no experts at the World Urban Forum. Government ministers, scholars from prestigious universities, and career practitioners of urban development all profess limited knowledge at best. The sentiment is refreshing.
At WUF the days are a quest in search of ideas and solutions. In the awful heat of Rio, rooms are full of eager workshop participants. Presentations go forward with or without air conditioning; mostly without. Adolpho Carrion, the White House urban affairs chief, gamely discussed economic development strategies well into the early evening despite the heat.
Genuinely enough, the Americans have come to learn too. Regardless of rank or prior experience every U.S. speaker whether from HUD or State or local government acknowledged that they did not have all the answers and that they were impressed by the outpouring of information available from one end of the conference venue to the other.
And so the ideas flow. The mayor of Alicante, Spain launched the 100 Cities Initiative. Rather than focusing on best practices, the aim of this effort is to identify “living practices;” those which offer a holistic and forward looking approach. A website will soon be available and a conference will be convened next April.
On a more concrete level the ECOPASS program in Milano, Italy is a congestion pricing scheme to reduce vehicle emissions. Cars and trucks moving within the center city at peak hours pay fees. New public transport systems offer commuters alternatives.
Kyoto, Japan has a city planning process that literally involves every citizen. Neighborhood centers facilitate communication among and between residents. Guidelines for renewal efforts are adopted by consensus.
The Loading Dock in Baltimore, Maryland is a nonprofit that serves as the state clearinghouse for salvaged surplus building materials. Diverted from landfills, the supplies are made available at minimal cost to those who could not normally undertake building repairs or upgrades using traditional retail store supplies.
People are proud of what they have accomplished, often against terrible odds. They share what they can and absorb the possibilities put forth by others. The joy of community is palpable. Margaret Mead was right. You should never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. And there is one thing for certain; the world is in need of change.