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May 18, 2010
Q for the World Urban Forum
In Conversation with Jonathan Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity International

What is Habitat for Humanity doing in response to the issues of urbanization and "the right to the city"?

Habitat for Humanity is seeking to address some of the root causes of urban poverty worldwide. Recently, Habitat joined lawmakers and other organizations in support of legislation that will aid affordable housing efforts worldwide. The Sustainable Urban Development Act of 2010 (S. 3229). S. 3229 will act as a crucial vehicle for supporting sustainable solutions to expand access to basic shelter and affordable housing. Additionally, the bill's focus on security of tenure, access to basic services and other essential programs will ensure a more holistic and effective approach to U.S. development assistance.

Habitat for Humanity has also been a long time supporter of the objectives of the World Urban Forum and this year I was honored to be part of the United States delegation attending the forum in Rio de Janeiro. The World Urban Forum's Fifth Session, The Right to the City: Bridging the Urban Divide, is one of the few international platforms addressing, head on, the most pressing challenges facing the world today– rapid urbanization and the growth of slums. As our organization celebrates benchmarks for serving families around the world - helping people live in simple, decent homes - we face the daunting challenge that the world's cities are growing exponentially and that people are crowding into spaces inadequate for shelter.

We are also shifting our emphasis a bit in the U.S. to help struggling neighborhoods. With so many foreclosed and vacant properties on the market, people began asking if we should be building new homes. We realized that we needed to make some strategic plans to step in and respond to hurting neighborhoods. We will continue to build new houses where needed - but in many locations around the country, we are already seeing great success purchasing vacated properties at below market costs, rehabbing the houses and then selling them at affordable prices. We will also repair and help weatherize homes to be more energy efficient. This actually puts our U.S. program more in alignment with the way we work in the rest of the world.

What issues are most impacted by housing and how does that affect Habitat for Humanity's operation?

Every year, millions of people around the globe die from housing-related health conditions. Millions more earn less and achieve less in school than they could in a stable, healthy environment. Habitat for Humanity is beginning to focus on the important linkages between health and housing and will launch its third annual Shelter Report in October on this topic. Infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, Chagas and other debilitating and life-threatening conditions continue to wreak havoc in communities large and small around the world. Increasingly, public health advocates are coming to understand that housing conditions greatly impact individual and community health. The Center for Disease Control in 2006 noted that people in the United States spend 50 percent or more of every day inside their homes, and in the words of the U.S. Surgeon General, a "comprehensive, coordinated approach to healthy homes will result in the greatest public health impact."

Global housing advocates, including Habitat for Humanity, must move beyond just advocating for and providing shelter for those in need. Improved construction standards – including concrete floors, screened windows and adequate space help, but, as the World Health Organization noted, improving the immediate environment as well as the overall health of the communities in which we build is key. That will mean establishing strong, ongoing partnerships with local and national governments, aid organizations and individuals to integrate social, health and housing needs. Habitat must become a leader for programs aimed at improving the health and wellness of the families we serve and the communities in which they live.

What can individuals do to support healthy homes and healthy cities?

I encourage everyone to start thinking about and planning for World Habitat Day 2010, especially after the success of the World Urban Forum. Habitat for Humanity's annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project will kick off this year on October 4, in recognition of the United Nation's World Habitat Day. We are expanding our celebration of World Habitat Day into weeklong events that will highlight the needs of communities in recovery in the U.S. and will focus on the critical link between health and housing worldwide. We, at Habitat, are excited to continue the momentum of our successes in Rio de Janeiro and invite all those who wish to build on these accomplishments to get involved on World Habitat Day and beyond. Let it be known that affordable, adequate housing should be a priority everywhere - in our communities, in our towns, in our country and in our world.

May 13, 2010
Q for the World Urban Forum
In Conversation with Steve Feldstein, Staff Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

What is the interest and commitment by the U.S. Congress to urban issues?

Only recently has the U.S. Congress – along with the international community – begun to recognize the policy imperatives of urbanization, especially related to U.S. foreign assistance and development programs. Attention and awareness are starting to rise in a significant way. The numbers present a stark and compelling narrative – over half of the world's population lives in urban areas, with over one billion residing in slums. We can no longer look upon urbanization as something that is temporary or transient. It is inevitable and unavoidable. As policymakers recognize that the key to future prosperity, social and political stability, and environmental sustainability is directly linked to how effectively we can preserve, manage and develop our cities, a new climate of ideas and policy innovation is taking hold. In the United States, we tend to overlook the fact that, despite our agrarian roots, our country is largely urbanized. According to the 2000 U.S. census, over 79% of the population lives in urban areas. That number is only expected to increase for the 2010 census and beyond. To that end, Senators Kerry, Durbin and Cardin recently introduced a bill - S.3229, the Sustainable Urban Development Act of 2010 – to demonstrate support and commitment to international urban development issues. It is the first step in a larger process of reshaping the way we think, respond, fund and implement development programs, and it calls for U.S. agencies to update and strengthen a comprehensive international strategy to help emerging cities manage urban governance and planning, promote access to essential urban services, and prepare for environmental and climatic challenges.

What surprised you the most at the World Urban Forum?

Two aspects made a big impression. First, the diversity of the participants was remarkable. Even for United Nations conferences, which tend to bring in a multiplicity of actors and perspectives, the background and range of World Urban Forum participants was extraordinarily diverse. I spoke to advocates from indigenous rights organizations, city planners from Sub-Saharan Africa, environmental policy experts, sustainable housing leaders, parliamentarians and politicians, heads of museums, trusts and foundations, graduate students and regular citizens eager to learn more about how they can positively impact the future growth and development of cities. Second, many of the more contentious policy issues that have marked the evolution of urban planning and thinking remain intense topics of debate. I attended an interesting plenary near the conclusion of the Forum that featured a panel of architects, city planners, academics and advocates. They discussed whether the rise of a new "planning" movement, with a renewed emphasis on developing city strategic plans, is too closely linked (at least in spirit) to city master plans of the past, which often featured minimal community input and participation. In effect, how do you balance the need to provide ownership, equitable growth and a voice to all inhabitants of the city, yet also ensure that leaders are able to balance policy trade-offs and undertake tough decisions for the broader good of the city? Most recognize there are no easy answers to these issues, but encouraging a robust, participatory and inclusive dialogue is critical to ensuring we do not repeat the planning mistakes of the past.

Did WUF V influence the thinking on the recent legislation that was introduced – the Sustainable Urban Development Act of 2010 – S.3229? If so, how?

Several factors significantly influenced the development and introduction of S.3229. The successful launch of World Habitat Day last November in Washington, DC was an important harbinger of the increased level of commitment of the Administration to urban issues. It was the first time the United States has hosted the event, and it garnered significant participation from senior U.S. officials, foundation heads, NGO and private sector leaders. Subsequently, the large U.S. delegation to the World Urban Forum - with participation from over 50 persons – reinforced the message that urban issues are a priority for the Administration and that there is a strong willingness to put time, resources and energy towards critical issues facing cities worldwide. For the Congress, determining which pieces of legislation to advance involves a balance of factors, from assessing the extent of policy support in the community, to gauging how strongly the Administration and other key stakeholders will support the legislation. Thus far, the signs have been encouraging.

May 3, 2010
Reflections on US Participation in World Urban Forum
In Conversation with Chris Williams, Representative, UN-HABITAT Washington Office

What is the history of WUF and how was Rio different?

In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly called upon UN-HABITAT to hold a World Urban Forum every two years to promote innovation in affordable housing and urban development. It requested the agency to create a space for exchange among governments, cities, private industries, urban poor organizations, professional associations and international organizations. The first WUF was held in Nairobi, Kenya at the global headquarters of UN-HABITAT. It attracted 1,500 participants, including 400 slum dwellers. WUF II was hosted by City of Barcelona, Spain in 2004, convening 3,000 participants from 40 countries. Organized by Mayor Juan Clos, WUF II creatively built upon the Forum of Cultures and its excellent facilities and services. The third session of WUF took place in Vancouver, Canada in 2006 on the 30th anniversary of Habitat I, the conference that gave birth to UN-HABITAT. It drew over 5,000 participants from 60 countries. In 2008, the City of Nanjing, China hosted WUF4, drawing 7,000 participants from 70 countries. The Government of Brazil and the City of Rio de Janeiro broke new records when they hosted the fifth session of WUF in March 2010 by attracting over 12,000 participants from 90 countries.

In addition to size and scope, WUF5 set several important precedents. First, it took on an important, complex theme, “the right to the city,” that forced participants especially governments to consider how to overcome economic, social, political and cultural exclusion to “bridge the urban divide.” Second, the WUF5 attracted very high level delegations including Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Cabinet-level Ministers. A third precedent, was that Forum offered participants a far more sophisticated set of dialogues, thematic open debates, partner roundtables, networking events and side events each with quite substantive discussions. Fourth, WUF5 round tables on youth, researchers, private sector, ministers, mayors, etc., provided a more focused, and outcome-oriented discussion among specific partner networks. Lastly, the Forum included very high-level special sessions on topical issues such as Haiti and on sustainable urbanization in Americas.

How do you see the links between US domestic policy and US foreign assistance as the world becomes increasingly urban?

I think we are witnessing a watershed moment. Americans, and not just the government officials, are keen to explore new ways of engaging with their counterparts in other countries. Advances in information and communication technology and spaces like the World Urban Forum have made it possible for such engagement. Perhaps the massive recession has made us a bit more humble but it’s also that Americans are curious to know what other people are doing and how they are doing it. This is particularly so with climate change – something that is impacting on us as much as it is hitting the rest of the World. It’s also true for how we link the core city with the suburbs and the surrounding rural areas. That is, how we think about metropolitan and regional development. Like other countries, we haven’t figured this out. And then there are the skeletons in the closet, our urban past, the historical inequalities, and how we invest in housing, social services, education to overcome divisions and make cities places with a strong social fabric. Here too, we’ve got a long way to go. And then there is the realization which I think WUF made all participants come to terms with, that the planet is urbanizing rapidly, and that if we’re not careful, a potential opportunity will become a huge problem.

If you take these things together, you can see that in terms of things urban, our domestic agenda and our foreign policy are heading in a similar direction --both seek to promote sustainable metropolitan development. That there is coherence is ultimately a good thing because we will be in learning mode while at the same time we are sharing our own experience and offering technical assistance and support.

Given the growing interest in the US about sustainable urbanization, what are the future directions and where is this going?

There are several broad directions that lie on the horizon. The first is the domestic agenda and how to tap international experiences to strengthen and deepen it. The Obama Administration has taken important steps. In addition to dealing head on with the housing crisis, it has established an Office of Urban Affairs in the White House that is looking at big-picture issues from an inter-governmental perspective. It has also launched a creative placed-base strategy of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to promote sustainable communities, integrating housing and services to revitalize neighborhoods, etc. These are important signals. WUF helped give these an airing on the international stage. Crucial for the future, will be to keep the process of global engagement going, find ways of drawing upon experiences in other countries, and distilling from these references abroad those that work at home.

Sustaining global engagement through peer exchange will also provide a creative way for the US to work with and support other countries as they embark on their respective urban challenges. For Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) and countries of the European Union energy efficiency, social cohesion, city management, place-based strategies, public/popular/private partnership, sustainable metropolitan development, could be ongoing topics discussion.

Regarding, countries experiencing situations of conflict or disaster, and low-income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South and Southeast Asia, there will be need to re-think foreign diplomacy and development. The draft legislation recently tabled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee lays out a possible framework for sustainable urbanization in US foreign assistance policy and programs. This is just one perspective but it helps to elevate discussion about how best to support cities to manage rapid urbanization.

March 25, 2010
UN Habitat's World Urban Forum V: Bridging the Urban Divide
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs María Otero

I am eagerly anticipating the World Urban Forum V in Rio de Janeiro and the assembling of many different perspectives on urban planning. As two-thirds of the world's population will be living in towns and cities in the next fifty years, all political leaders, educators, scientists, and members of the business and civil society at large need to join together to marshall our intellectual and financial resources to build safe and inclusive urban environments. At the World Urban Forum, I will contribute to the discussion about crucial human security issues associated with this significant demographic transition

As the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, I understand how urbanization is linked to many of our current foreign policy initiatives and priorities such as the promotion of Democracy and Human Rights, Food Security, Global Health, Climate Change and Empowering Women and Girls.

All stakeholders should have a part in contributing to their own security, and governments can encourage this by promoting civil participation from men, women, youth, rich, poor. By involving stakeholders, governments ensure both a shared burden of planning and shared benefit of long term security for all individuals. Such participation is the foundation of democracy.

With the increase in the global population from 6.7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050, providing basic needs such as food, water and energy is going to be even more of a challenge, particularly in developing countries already struggling to meet the needs of their people. For this reason, I understand that water security is a critical issue in urban planning. Access to safe drinking water and good sanitation are paramount to safeguarding health, security and economic development in any setting; the challenges in urban settings are particularly difficult. And, the demand for water as part of irrigation practices will increase as food demand increases for growing populations. At the same time, we know that climate change will disrupt the global water cycle, leading to more droughts as well as more extreme weather events, including those that impact coastal populations. Tensions surrounding competition for water are expected to increase. We are already seeing conflicts around the world sparked or fueled by competition for natural resources, whether they be precious metals, timber, fish or arable land. We must do more to protect the natural resource base upon which our health, security and development depend.

Additionally, we are working to expand economic opportunity through financial inclusion initiatives that are essential for bridging the wealth gap within cities as well as between cities and rural areas. We work to include gender consideration in this initiative as well as all of our efforts to ensure equal rights and participation for women and men in all parts of society.

I am pleased that I will be joined in Rio de Janeiro by my State Department colleagues Esther Brimmer, the Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, and Reta Jo Lewis, our new Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs. Our unified government approach, evidenced by this inter-agency delegation, enables us to link the considerable experience of the U.S. agencies engaged in domestic urbanization issues. We are also pleased to be working with state and city governments, our development experts, and with others around the world who are addressing the challenges of urbanization first hand.

Together, we are working to find solutions, maximize opportunities, and collaborate for efficient and innovative strategies around the significant demographic transition of global urbanization.

Under Secretary Otero will moderate the World Urban Forum Networking Session on "Youth and Technology" on Wednesday, March 24 and will serve as a panelist for the Dialogue on "Governance and Participation" on Thursday, March 25.

March 19, 2010
Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research
Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research

People refer your office, the Office of Policy Development and Research, as the brain trust in the Department of HUD. As the U.S. and other countries are weathering through the financial crisis, what do you think your priority should be?

My office is responsible for maintaining current information on housing needs, market conditions, and existing HUD programs, as well as conducting research on priority housing and community development issues. It is critical to understand the problems clearly and objectively so that we can find the best solutions. My mission is to provide reliable and objective data and analysis to help inform different programs at HUD and to support them in policy decisions.

The biggest challenge of the office is that our scope is the scope of the entire department. Our concerns and challenges encompass the entire arrange of housing and urban problems that this country faces. Given the economic climate, housing finance is a major concern for us, but we are also focused on rental assistance policies, neighborhood revitalization, older industrial cities in transition and issue around the aging population.

We are able to accomplish such a wide range of priorities by capitalizing on our tremendously skilled professional and academic staff and by interacting and exchanging knowledge with other researchers both in the United States and nationally.


Why is Fair Housing important to the 2010 World Urban Forum?

Wherever we live, planning communities in a more integrated, sustainable and inclusive way is part of advancing economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for the individuals and families we serve. The principles of fair housing can have a great impact on families and their children. If left ignored, the pain and shame of housing discrimination is felt by a child for a lifetime. If the nations of the world work collaboratively, we have the opportunity to make fair housing relevant for billions of families across the globe.


What is the interest of the Assistant Secretary of Policy Research and Development of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a domestic housing and research organization, in participating in an international event such as the World Urban Forum?

As Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, one of the duties that I have been tasked with is spearheading a new office –the Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation –in order to engage more with the international community. The reality is that many solutions to our nation’s most challenging economic and social problems are being generated from outside-- outside of Washington, outside of the federal government. This new office is playing a key role in facilitating the Department’s engagement with other institutions and innovators who are behind such solutions.

The Department recognizes that there are many lessons and promising practices to be learned from international experiences in housing and urban development and that these lessons learned and best practices can be used to help shape policy in the U.S. Through the Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation, the Department is embracing the exchange of ideas and exploring collaboration with international housing and urban innovators, stakeholders and institutions to find, generate, and cooperatively implement innovative approaches to pressing problems.

A venue such as the World Urban Forum, with more than 120 countries represented, provides the opportunity to not only share the U.S. experience with my international colleagues, but more importantly facilitates mutual learning on housing and urban issues that affect all our nations.


The climate and the environment are affected by the rapid urbanization around the world. Facing the challenges of climate change and global warning, what do you think the new urban research paradigm should be and how can your research team support that new direction?

Our research paradigm focuses on understanding how urban places work and discovering the strategies and policies that help them work better to improve the quality of life for all city residents. In this regard, issues of sustainability, energy efficiency, and efficient movement of people and goods are critical. To that end, my agency is working with other agencies such as the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency in developing policy guidelines and incentives to reduce automobile and energy usage at both the community level and individual office buildings or households. In addition, my office is embarking on a new engagement with academic institutions, domestic and international think tanks, and philanthropic organizations to increase our collective understanding of how best to deal with our enduring urban and environmental issues. We are committing more research effort to issues of sustainability than we ever have before, and will be working hard to identify the innovative policies and practices in the U.S. and other countries and make sure that they are known and understood the whole world over.

March 16, 2010
Adolfo Carrión, Director of the White House Office on Urban Affairs and Deputy Assistant to the President.

What do you and the White House Office of Urban Affairs hope to contribute to this event?

This forum gives us the opportunity to share the American urban experience, from its rapid 20th century decentralization to its 21st century reconstitution as vibrant metropolitan regions.The White House Office of Urban Affairs is advancing President Obama’s vision of making metropolitan regions more competitive, equitable, livable and sustainable. I will share our experience in coordinating a federal urban strategy and the successes and challenges we have encountered.

Why is it important to the U.S. to participate in this forum?

Just as the rest of the world, we are increasingly concentrated in cities and metropolitan areas. Today, 83% of our population and 90% of our economic output is in rapidly growing metro areas. This trend is only expected to increase. By 2050, the United States will need to build 200 billion square feet of space to accommodate 120 million more people in homes, schools and places of business. We all have a responsibility to come together to face these challenges and build sustainable infrastructure platforms that will support quality living in an increasingly interconnected world.

How is the U.S. working to “Bridge the Urban Divide”?

American cities have been engines of innovation and economic opportunity, but they’re also places where pockets of poverty and inequality have persisted. President Obama understands we must invest in smarter ways to build strong metropolitan economies, supported by sustainable transportation and land use, and neighborhoods that prepare every child to be a productive citizen. This requires a new approach that brings everyone to the table, not just those with the resources to control the agenda. To bridge the urban divide we are investing in education, quality affordable housing, ensuring access to health care, building a smarter and cleaner energy grid, and reforming the financial system.

March 12, 2010
John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
John Trasviña, Assistant Secretary Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

What are you looking to learn from the World Urban Forum, and how would it benefit HUD’s Fair housing efforts?

No one should be denied housing because of their race, color or national origin, disability, religion, sex, or family status. Through honest conversation and open dialogue, I hope to share ideas and learn how other countries deal with housing discrimination. I am proud of the work we are already doing at HUD to affirmatively further fair housing and ensure that all United States residents have the opportunity to live where they choose, free from discrimination. I hope that what I learn will enhance what HUD is already doing to promote inclusivity.

Why is Fair Housing important to the 2010 World Urban Forum?

Wherever we live, planning communities in a more integrated, sustainable and inclusive way is part of advancing economic opportunity and improving the quality of life for the individuals and families we serve. The principles of fair housing can have a great impact on families and their children. If left ignored, the pain and shame of housing discrimination is felt by a child for a lifetime. If the nations of the world work collaboratively, we have the opportunity to make fair housing relevant for billions of families across the globe.

What is HUD doing about Sustainable Urban Communities?

HUD is identifying new forms of public-private partnerships to advance sustainable and inclusive growth patterns at the metropolitan level, communities of choice at the neighborhood scale, and energy efficiency at the building scale. For example, HUD is now establishing unprecedented partnerships with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Transportation, Education and Energy to ensure that the location of affordable housing enhances access to employment and educational opportunities and makes the way we develop and redevelop our communities a key part of the solution to both climate change and energy independence.