World Urban Forum – UNESCO demonstrates multi-pronged approach to resilient cities


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
16 February 2018

By 2050, the world will be two-thirds urban, placing cities at the frontline of global challenges and opportunities.  Migration is a major factor of urbanisation, contributing significantly to economic development and cultural diversity.  As people and assets concentrate in cities, these become increasingly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, disasters and conflicts. Yet if planned and managed well, cities will become an engine for sustainable development.

For cities to be inclusive, safe and resilient, governments, mayors and local stakeholders need urban policies that integrate the soft power of culture, education, science and social integration, as suggested in the New Urban Agenda adopted at the Habitat III conference in 2016. UNESCO’s participation at the 9th World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 7-13 February 2018, demonstrated this with five events engaging international and local voices on how cities can forge a sustainable future.

Cities in post-conflict and post-disaster situations face numerous challenges and were the focus of the networking event on “Culture, Reconstruction, Recovery” led by UNESCO and the World Bank. “Culture should be placed at the core of reconstruction and recovery processes by embedding cultural and natural heritage as well as intangible heritage and creativity into integrated strategies that rely on both people-centred and place-based approaches,” said Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.  Experts stressed that urban regeneration strategies need to use culture as a key resource, asset, and tool, and build on the “3-Ps” approach (people, places, policies) set out in the UNESCO Global Report, Culture Urban Future.  

UNESCO’s training event on “Creativity for Sustainable Cities: Leveraging Culture for Social Inclusion, Economic Development, and Enhanced Resilience” focused on how to cities transform culture and creativity into concrete policy and action.  Culture is now recognized as a key driver of urban sustainability. The role of culture is reflected in SDG11 related to sustainable cities but also across many of the SDGs and targets related to social cohesion, inclusive economic growth, environmental sustainability, integrated territorial planning and participatory governance” highlighted Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director of the Division for Creativity in UNESCO. The session drew on the UNESCO Creative Cities Network’s expertise both as a laboratory of innovative practices towards sustainable cities and as a cooperation platform. The Creative Cities of Bologna (Italy), Bandung (Indonesia) and Santos (Brazil) presented flagship projects demonstrating how culture can leverage common solutions to urban challenges, and lay the ground work for cultural diversity, community participation and social inclusion.

Ms Hosagrahar also presented UNESCO’s work on measuring the contribution of culture to the SDGs, as part of the special session on “Urban Data”, organized by UN-Habitat, and presented UNESCO’s strategy to promote culture in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the networking event “towards implementing the New urban Agenda in the Euro-Mediterranean Region”, organized by the Union for the Mediterranean.

The special session on “Leveraging diversity and culture, shaping cities for all” co-organized by UNESCO and UN Habitat highlighted the importance of cultural heritage, living heritage, and culture and creative industries in the shaping, implementation and assessment of culture-engaged urban development policies.  “Culture is a key element to humanizing cities” said Christine Musisi, Director for International Relations in UN-Habitat. Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna (Italy), underscored that the major responsibility of mayors and local authorities is to enhance the “urban commons” and use culture to build the conditions for people from diverse social, cultural and generational backgrounds to live together peacefully. The importance of measuring the actual contribution of culture to urban development processes was underlined, to build not only on its economic value but also on its impact on education, people’s well-being, resilience and social inclusion.

UNESCO’s event on “Building Urban Resilience” focused on how cities cope with the provision of water related services and natural hazards.  Water services, for example, can be acutely affected by climate change.  There are many replicable best practices and solutions for water management and policies, and disaster risk reduction.  Dr Nicola Tollin, part of the UNESCO Chair of Sustainability at the Technical University of Catalonia, President of RECNET and Executive Director of the International Programme on Urban Resilience, RESURBE, demonstrated the need to bridge local and international climate action at the urban level, with projects that use nature-based solutions for water management and generate environmental, economic, social and climate co-benefits. The VISUS methodology, a science-based assessment methodology for school safety was also presented, along with the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme’s examples of knowledge sharing and exchange on water within the framework of the Megacities Alliance for Water and Climate (MAWaC), which are all useful tools and resources for enhancing the resilience of cities.

As the number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly in recent years, reaching 258 million in 2017 (UNDESA, 2017), and internal migration, though more difficult to determine the number of people moving, is vast, a networking event on  “Integrating Migrants in Cities: Challenges and Opportunities” examined the importance of a holistic, intersectoral, and collaborative approach to integrating migrants in cities. UNESCO, in partnership with UNDP, Un-Habitat and the IOM, presented data from current research on migration trends and policy responses that can assist at national and local level to deal with the large scale movement of people, both internally and internationally.  Among the findings that foster learning to live together sustainably in cities was the need for long term urban planning that integrates political, economic, cultural and social aspects of city life.

Health and well-being of communities in urban spaces were discussed in UNESCO and ADB’s “Physical inactivity and Rising Non-Communicable Diseases”side event.  Experts advocated for the creation of open and safe public spaces for sport to drive socioeconomic development in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in tackling non-communicable diseases, a global issue on the rise all around the world. The Kazan Action Plan, adopted by the Ministerial Council on Physical Education and Sport in 2017, sets out a global road map linking sport, the SDGs and other important development frameworks. The panellists show-cased several local initiatives whereby cities that enhanced sport saw improvements in community well-being and belonging, especially for youth.


For more information on UNESCO’s involvement in the 9th World Urban Forum, and its action for sustainable cities, visit here.