RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- The Fifth World Urban Forum concluded last week with a consortium of Latin American nations vowing to address climate change in the urban development of low-income areas, and advances in addressing deplorable conditions in the slums of major cities in the developing world.
The Contribution of the Americas to the World Urban Forum, which includes a set of policy recommendations for national and local governments and non-governmental organizations, was drafted after a series of meetings preceding the forum attended by Armando Carbonell, senior fellow and chairman of the Department of Planning and Urban Forum at the Lincoln Institute, at the request of the U.S. Department of State.
“The goal was to address cities and climate change in the context of the developing southern hemisphere, a particularly challenging task,” said Carbonell. “Much of the urban form there, including Informal settlement, is remarkably energy-efficient now. The challenge is to maintain lower greenhouse gas emissions while advancing quality of life, living standards, and housing adequacy."
Addressing a gathering at the World Urban Forum that included representatives from the US Department of State and Housing and Urban Development Undersceretary Ron Sims, Carbonell said, “The way of life the West has enjoyed is not something we can withhold, but it should proceed with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions possible. There are rich countries that have very low GHG emissions. We believe it is possible to decouple emissions from development -- a very promising concept, to deal with poverty, and at the same time deal with the problem of global warming.”
The consortium of nations, led by Brazil and its Ministry of Energy, recommended the use of sustainable technologies in green building, sanitation, and transit, and the embrace of clean and renewable energy resources. The group urged international organizations to provide incentives for energy-efficient housing construction, urban densification wherever possible, and a priority for transit.
Claudio Acioly, a past Lincoln Insitute fellow and a World Urban Forum organizer, said there was a “missing link between environmental policies and housing policies.” To address this, he said, nations must rethink economic development, the creation of jobs, and the urban form of cities. “This continent has been at the forefront of many initiatives in this area,” he said.
The World Urban Forum, held March 22-26 in Rio de Janeiro, with some 18,000 registered participants, had a theme of “The Right to the City-Bridging the Urban Divide,” based on UN-HABITAT's flagship report, State of the World's Cities 2010-2011, which was released at the event. Martim O. Smolka, director of the Program on Latin America and the Caribbean at the Lincoln Institute, was ubiquitous, moderating a gathering of mayors of cities from around the world on the first day, followed by a well-attended training session, “Towards Preventive Housing Policies to Mitigate Informality,” co-sponsored with UN-HABITAT and theInstitute of Housing and Urban Development Studies. The discussion centered on the causes of informality and its persistence in cities, and alternatives to slum formation. Smolka, whose program has developed a major network of researchers and partners in Latin America, was also a panelist in the thematic open debate, “Adequate Access to Shelter (including Basic Social Services),” and a concluding policy discussion “Moving Forward on the Housing Agenda.”
"Informality is costly to individuals and to society. It should not be glorified or stimulated," Smolka said. "Many of the public policies have been more part of the problem than of the solution. It’s time to take on bold policy alternatives that address the fundamental causes of informality, and enhance affordability of low-income families."
Solutions include increasing the capacity of low-income families to pay for housing, while at the same time keeping housing and serviced land prices down -- in contrast to titling, special zoning, and site-specific programs. Transportation improvements, land value taxation, value capture (the mobilization of the land value increment resulting from urbanization) and smarter city-wide land use regulations are all unconventional alternatives to be considered, Smolka said.
Members of the Lincoln Institute delegation saw firsthand improvements in the Tijuacu favela aimed at the provision of clean water and sewage treatment, and efforts to protect risky and environmentally sensitive areas. This essay on slum upgrading initiatives was published in GlobalPost’s Worldview section.
At-risk urban populations were also a central topic in “Sustainable Urban Responses to Climate Change: Vulnerable Populations,” a networking session with Armando Carbonell, Alberto Harth, president of Civitas in San Salvador, El Salvador and a member of the board of the Lincoln Institute, and Douglas Meffert, professor at Tulane University in New Orleans and deputy director at the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research. This panel explored both adaptation and mitigation responses, including strategies in the location, intensity, and design of new development and redevelopment.