As Special Assistant to the President for Urban Policy and a member of the Urban Affairs team, I am honored to be part of the United States delegation to the fifth World Urban Forum. We’ve had a very productive few days of bi-lateral meetings and panel discussions, and even some spontaneous run-in conversations with premier urban thinkers from around the world. Our bi-lateral meetings with Mexico and Spain were particularly productive, and I am looking forward to opportunities to collaborate with them in the future. Indeed, the energy and excitement here is palpable. Many great minds are gathered in one place, over 18,000 people, to address the pressing issues facing cities worldwide.
With over half of the world population living in cities, the challenges facing countries like Brazil, India, and the United States are increasingly similar: addressing how to develop and maintain transportation infrastructure; building and preserving safe, affordable housing connected to public transit; reducing crime and improving access to fresh food so that cities offer safe, healthy neighborhoods for families and children; and implementing environmentally-sustainable solutions that create jobs while reducing our carbon footprint.
This forum gives us an opportunity to listen and learn from other countries, and to discuss our own programs and experiences in American cities. Adolfo Carrion, Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, spoke on “Bridging the Urban Divide: Equality in Housing and Urban Services and Taking Forward the Housing Agenda,” and I spoke on “Reimagining Older Industrial Cities: Perspectives from the United States, Brazil, and Italy.” No one wants to recreate the wheel. People are eager to learn what works and what doesn’t. So it’s encouraging to know that renowned urban thinkers from all over the world are so interested in this Administration’s approach to urban development, especially the Sustainable Communities Initiative, a partnership between HUD, Transportation, and EPA.
The initiative coordinates federal policies, programs, and resources from these agencies and finally links transportation funding with land-use and the environmental impact associated with development. This fully assists cities, metros and rural areas to build more livable and sustainable communities – so that jobs and commerce are located near housing and recreation, so that folks could get around without cars if they so choose, so that our children have bike paths and parks nearby to run around and play with their friends, and so that we can walk our kids to school and buy groceries without pulling out of the driveway.
This forum offers us the opportunity to promote these growth principles internationally, so that our neighbors avoid sprawl and are able to develop in smart, sustainable ways. Ultimately, this is in the best interest of the United States, so we can have stable international partners with robust markets to trade with and visit.
Since I arrived, I’ve spoken to delegates from Brazil, China, Mexico, Spain, and Italy on this issue and I attended a Global Compact Cities Program on how to effectively incorporate sustainability into urban governance. These dialogues go hand in hand with the Sustainable Communities Initiative, and I plan to continue these conversations when I return to Washington.
The forum is off to a great start, and I’m looking forward to productive days ahead as we discuss new and old ideas on how to address these historic problems facing our cities.
Derek Douglas is Special Assistant to the President on Urban Policy