The United Nations` third World Urban Forum opened in Vancouver Monday with native dancing and drumming, songs from Canadian and Kenyan children, and some sharply differing ideas about how to solve the planet`s housing problems.
U.S. Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson said home ownership is the solution.
Home ownership will make our cities stronger, safer and more prosperous, said Jackson, emphasizing that his work is aimed at carrying out President George Bush`s vision of a home-ownership society because of its capacity to create stability, financial independence, freedom and even improved literacy.
We have created five million jobs, basically because of the housing industry, said Jackson. We`re eager to share some of the lessons we`ve learned.
But the head of the Habitat International Coalition, Enrique Ortiz of Mexico, issued a stinging rebuke of how ideals about progressive and collective housing solutions at the 1976 Vancouver Habitat conference have been reduced to discussions of the free market and real estate.
These reductionary and market-dominated trends are contrary to the spirit of Vancouver in 1976, said Ortiz, whose speech came at the end of a four-hour ceremony and was heard by only about 1,000 of approximately 5,000 people at the opening.
Ortiz said governments` lack of commitment to even the modest goal set in 2000 of reducing the world`s slum population by 100 million by 2020, along with their focus on helping real-estate markets work better as their solution to housing, has resulted in increased homelessness and mass evictions. The current slum population is one billion.
He emphasized that governments can`t rely just on the private sector to solve housing problems. Instead, they need to tap into the ways that average people can participate in and produce housing solutions.
His speech went even further than the criticism by UN Habitat`s executive director about increasing slums and sprawl, in spite of many UN conferences on these issues that have set targets and policies.
Our failure to follow through is a failure of political will, said Anna Tibaijuka, who also urged governments to develop city-oriented national policies. Our politics must become urbanized.
Those speeches stood out from most of the others, in which speakers confined themselves to talking about general urban issues, the progress their countries have made, and a wish for even more improvement as they addressed the theme of the forum: Sustainable Cities—Turning Ideas into Action.
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Prime Minister Stephen Harper all talked about how successful Vancouver and other Canadian cities are.
Campbell specifically pointed to the region`s rapid-transit system, which didn`t exist in 1976, as a sign of how good planning has resulted in a more sustainable region, while Yaletown has become a model of urban living and Burns Bog has been preserved as the lungs of the region.
The ceremony, held at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre, had the feel of a Hollywood awards ceremony, with lush taped musical introductions to various segments, native costumes that shone with glitter, and TV cameras swooping across the stage on cranes.
The main hall was so full that people were sitting on the carpet at the sides, while several hundred delegates couldn`t even get in and watched the ceremonies in the hall outside on television screens.
Registration has far exceeded the organizers` plans, with 8,500 people who had pre-registered showing up by Monday. Pre-registration closed June 9.
Lineups to pick up credentials for the conference stretched out to Burrard Street at one point Monday morning.
The organizers had expected about 8,000 people in total for the week; they`re now anticipating 10,000. Anyone going in has to go through airport-like security checks, which has also resulted in long lineups.
The ceremony started about 20 minutes late because of a delay in the prime minister`s schedule.
The conference, which has brought together people from government and social-action groups, runs until Friday.
It is not a policy-making conference; instead, it is intended to allow people to exchange workable ideas that can easily be transferred.
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A selection of some events today at the World Urban Forum. All are open to the public and will be held at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre unless otherwise stated.
- Plenary: Social Inclusion and Cohesion; Exhibit Hall A, 8:30–9:30 a.m.
- Achieving the Millennium Development Goals: Slums Upgrading and Affordable Housing; Ballroom C, 10 a.m.–noon
- Accessible Urban Space: A Facilitated Discussion on Inclusive Cities and Communities; Crystal Pavilion C, 1:30–3:30 p.m.
For more information: www.wuf3.ca
Photo: Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauds at the opening of the World Urban Forum III. He is flanked by Anna Tibaijuka, under secretarygeneral of the UN and executive director UN Habitat and Alphonso Jackson, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Source: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun