This week, Planning Commissioner Anthony Perl is joining urban leaders from over 150 countries in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for World Urban Forum 9 (WUF9). The World Urban Forum is a non-legislative technical forum convened by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) held since 2002.
Here are some of Commissioners Perl’s impressions from a hands-on workshop at WUF9:
Urban Mobility and Urban Renewal
In addition to sharing information through Assemblies, Dialogues, thematic sessions, and traditional presentations, the World Urban Forum hosts a plethora of hands-on workshops to demonstrate and build skills in tools and techniques for making cities better. I sampled one of these training sessions that was put on by Deutscher Städtetag, the Association of German Cities. It was billed as an “Urban Practitioners’ Networks for Better Urban Services – The Cases of Urban Mobility and Urban Renewal”.
The training session began with some testimonials about the peer-to-peer practitioner learning experience that has been advanced by the Association of German Cities.
In the area of mobility innovations, we learned about the process of knowledge transfer from Leipzig’s automobile traffic reduction plan in its historic city centre. In Leipzig, community participation in co-designing a plan for traffic calming, speed reduction, and public space with the city’s transportation planners had played an important role in building public support for auto reduction. And once the auto reduction scheme was shown to work well, the initial community engagement made it easier to develop a plan for expanding the auto-reduced area of Leipzig beyond the historic city centre.
Meanwhile, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a new young mayor came into office determined to improve upon the growing traffic jams that made the city’s tourist areas increasingly congested and unappealing. Could Leipzig’s experience be useful to Chiang Mai? One of the early signs of an openness to change was the Chiang Mai city administration appointing an official from outside the municipal transportation bureau to plan for an alternative mobility vision. Through the “Connective Cities” network, managed by the Association of German Cities, the new mobility planner from Chiang Mai was partnered with practitioners from Leipzig who had experience in building collaborative planning designs that lowered the level of urban automobility.
The co-design model was adapted from German to Thai civic context, and a new plan for Chiang Mai’s historic centre is now well along in its development. Following WUF9, the team from Germany was continuing on to Chiang Mai to work with their peers on preparing an urban mobility summit meeting later in the year. At that time, the results of Chiang Mai’s new mobility plan will be presented, and hopefully endorsed by the city’s political leadership.
After this example of how knowledge transfer between practitioners could advance urban mobility innovation, the training session shifted into a more active demonstration mode. Participants were asked to self-nominate urban challenges that they might benefit from sharing experience on with peers in the room, so that sub-groups of participants could work through a quick version of the peer-to-peer consultation network. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to bring practical know-how back to Vancouver, I volunteered the challenge of engaging the general public in the knowledge transfer opportunity from WUF9.
The eight delegates offered a range of suggestions on how to expand the VCPC’s outreach activities on the knowledge transfer from WUF9.
- Holding meetings and workshops where people already gather, instead of City Hall. Venues could range from Community Centre to coffee shop to virtual meetings over the internet.
- Partnering with a popular event, such as the Pacific National Exhibition, to hold engagement events.
- Work with cultural organizations to develop artistic or theatrical expressions of the New Urban Agenda’s message(s).
- Develop educational programming for Vancouver public schools that could bring the New Urban Agenda into the classroom. By exposing children to ideas about safe, resilient, equitable and sustainable city making, the NUA’s message would diffuse through their families.
- Hold a charrette around a large scale map of Vancouver where participants could identify opportunities to advance the New Urban Agenda in specific places around the city.
- Organize a competition for ideas on a pilot project for advancing the NUA in Vancouver, and then raise funds to implement the winning idea.
- Relate the NUA to future art exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery or the Museum of the City of Vancouver.
These ideas were both stimulating and illustrative of the kinds of insight that can come from peer discussions among those with a shared responsibility for long range planning and civic engagement. I left the training session encouraged to think that as part of WUF9, thousands of delegates would get exposed to new ideas and new techniques for achieving them in similar workshops and demonstrations of tools and techniques from around the world.