At UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum 7 in Medellín, Colombia 2014

WUF7 exhibition hall

WUF7 - First World Cities Day

I didn’t realize that First World* cities would get their own day. I suppose if they didn’t require the spotlight too I might not have ended up here. I’m at the UN Habitat World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, April 5-12. After all, Vancouver—the site of Habitat I, the very first UN Habitat conference ever held, hence this website—is suffering some urban crises of its own.

Medellín is a gorgeous city, sitting in a wide rolling valley surrounded by low, bright green mountains. Buildings are often of an orangey/pale red brick and they snake up the hills in poorer neighbourhoods known as comunas. The City is justly famous for its innovations in narrowing the gap between rich and poor, sustainability and protecting green space.  This is perhaps the best article I’ve read on it, tracing the history of its rule by Pablo Escobar’s cocaine cartel followed by a very interesting turnaround. It seems well run; it has certainly absorbed the 25,000 visitors and workers at the Forum fairly effortlessly and very cheerfully. But then Colombia is famous for that. I didn’t attend the 2006 WUF in Vancouver but it’s hard to believe it was pulled off this amiably.

UN OPS fortune teller

WUF7 - tax burden

The Forum had a soft launch yesterday but today is the first day of real meetings. I am attending one moderated by Gil Peñalosa in 5 minutes—Gil is known to many urban studies people as a cycling/public transit expert but many may not know that he is also the son of Enrique Peñalosa Sr. who was the Secretary General of Habitat I in Vancouver and the celebrated innovative mayor of Bogotá.

Stay tuned for more posts as the week goes on.

* It’s interesting that the UN is still using the term First World (or reverting to it, from “developed”?).

WUF7 - traditional Amazon meeting house
Above, a traditional Maloca or meeting house from the Colombian Amazon. From a sign at its entrance: “The Maloca is a metaphor, an example of humility and an invitation to listen and to speak with the purpose of producing the necessary agreements for all of us to co-exist better together on our planet.”

WUF7 population graph

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