Redefining and Refining Urban Living


The New Urban Agenda is being implemented throughout the world to make cityliving a joy.

The World Urban Forum (WUF) was established by the UN in 2001 as “a nonlegislative technical forum”.1 Serving as an international conference focusing on urban issues, WUF is organised and convened by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), an agency of the UN that promotes “socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities”.2 The very first WUF was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2002.

February 7-13 this year saw the ninth session of WUF being held in KL, with the theme, “Cities 2030, Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda”. WUF 9 gathered a large number of participants from national, regional and local governments, non-governmental and community-based organisations, research institutions and academia, private sectors, financial institutions, UN organisations and other international organisations. Around 22,000 participants from 165 countries assembled to work on systematic plans for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

Presently, over half of the world’s population reside in cities, and an additional 2.5 billion people are predicted to live in cities by 2050.3 The NUA provides a 20-year roadmap to guide national governments and local authorities on city planning and management to achieve sustainable urbanisation.4 In October 2016 the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) that took place in Quito, Ecuador became the first forum to focus on the implementation of the NUA.5

The agenda establishes a new international standard for sustainable urban development. Implementing the NUA was not the only objective of WUF 9; the forum also aimed to raise awareness on sustainable urbanisation, improve knowledge on sustainable urbanisation, share information, exchange. best practices and effective policies, and improve the relationship and cooperation between different organisations to progress towards sustainable urban development.6

Moving the Masses

The forum covered areas relevant to global cities such as walkability and pedestrian facilities, urban mobility, urban safety, housing, smart cities, public spaces, urban basic services and national urban policies.

The session on walkability was conducted by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a non-governmental and a non-profit organisation that provides technical transport and planning expertise to local authorities in cities around the world.

The ninth World Urban Forum, which was held in KL in February this year.

Joe Chestnut, a researcher for ITDP, presented “Pedestrian First: Tools for a Walkable City” – a new tool that he and his team designed, which can measure the “pedestrian-friendliness” of a neighbourhood. According to Chestnut, “the tool will facilitate the understanding of the features that promote walkability in urban areas around the world at different levels”. He further added that “with a better understanding, and better measurement of walkability, decision-makers will be driven to create more walkable areas”.

Shreya Gadepalli, the South Asian director for ITDP, presented her work on transforming the streetscape of Chennai in India through supporting the Corporation of Chennai in building good quality pedestrian footpaths. According to Gadepalli, “designing better and safer walking pathways will help improve the quality of life of the citizens”.

Sustainable urban public transportation systems are an important element in the NUA. The session on urban mobility at WUF 9 was conducted by the Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport (SloCAT), UN-Habitat, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and ITDP. It demonstrated how sustainable urban mobility is essential for improved urban development, and how innovative technologies can shape the urban mobility of cities.

Andre Dzikus, coordinator for the Urban Basic Services Branch of UN-Habitat, highlighted the activities that UN-Habitat is undertaking in lower-income countries to promote sustainable mobility. According to Dzikus, the UN-Habitat is currently working to promote the use of Non- Motorised Transportation (NMT) as a step in tackling high motorisation rates and the decline in walking and cycling. He believes that sustainable transport frameworks and policies are important facilitators for the NUA.

The team from GIZ also discussed the importance of reverse innovations and low-carbon transportation systems in shaping urban mobility. According to GIZ, “reverse innovation is a concept adopted in the developing world, shaped by local context and has the ability to influence urban transport development in developed countries”7. Some examples of the reverse innovations include electric bikes, scooters and buses, which, as low-carbon transportation systems, help cities to become eco-friendly.

Sharing Ideas Smarter Cities

The “Smart Cities Behind the Scenes: Governance, Viability, and Capacities” session shared some examples of Smart City initiatives, such as the “City2Share”, “Eccentric” and “Smarter Together” solutions in Munich Germany.

Guadalajara's historic centre. The Mexican city has taken strides in Smart City-related initiatives.

The “City2Share” is a national-level project funded by the German Ministry of Environment, which aims to improve urban, mobility and logistics issues and achieve more efficient use of public streets by  introducing e-mobility, e-mobility stations, bike sharing, autonomous driving and the rezoning of parking spaces. “Eccentric” is a EU project that targets the issue of traffic, while “Smarter Together” is a programme under the EU’s Horizon 2020 project targeting e-mobility, smart energy and smart urban data platform by looking into multimodal mobility, technology and energy, as well as citizen engagement.

Aiming to successfully achieve the aforementioned projects, it was pointed out that the silos, namely “Sustainable Urban Mobility”, “Sustainable Districts and Built Environment” and “Integrated Infrastructure and Processes” need to be opened and bridged by looking into aspects such as “Citizen Focus”, “Policy and Regulation”, “Integrated Planning”, “Knowledge Sharing”, “Metrics and Indicators”, “Open Data”, “Standards” and “Business Models, Procurement and Funding”; these are crucial to the projects “running at a good level”.

The experience gained from some Smart City-related initiatives in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico was also shared during the session, such as having an open government, citizen engagement, waste management, air quality monitoring, urban development and smart parking, real-time ICT in public services, etc. Guadalajara not only publishes a set of data for the people; it also makes sense of the information for the public. In an effort to engage its citizens, Guadalajara has introduced the Ciudapp application, which allows the government to crowdsource a real-time diagnosis of problems, be they issues on safety, waste management or any other relevant public services.

To increase the efficiency of waste management, a mobile application has been introduced which displays information on the real-time locations of garbage trucks. A smart parking-related mobile application has also been launched to allow people to pay their parking fees via SMS. This mobile application is currently in its first stage of implementation, and its functions will be enhanced in the next, after sensorization.

Improving Urban Public Space

The “Cases on Improving Urban Public Space” session gleaned experiences from Wuhan, China, where a 102km greenway was built in the city’s famous East Lake. Since its completion, the greenway has attracted countless visitors from home and abroad.

The Block by Block Project in Wuhan’s Jianghan District can be seen as the first practice of public space planning in a dense area. There are a lot of city parks and pocket parks in Jianghan, and to study the district’s public spaces, an assessment was conducted to evaluate its 141 public spaces. Among the outcomes from the assessment are increased accessibility, more lights for safety and benches along the paths for the comfort of the public.

Wuhan's East Lake, which attracts scores of visitors.

Public spaces for regenerative cities were also discussed. There are three fundamentals to regenerative cities, namely the Regeneration of Resource and Energy, the Regeneration of Ecosystems, and the Regeneration of Spaces. For example, the Ningbo Eco-Corridor in China can be perceived as an idea that integrates all three fundamentals. The Heavenly Hundred Garden in Kiev, Ukraine is another such example, where a previously empty space was transformed into a small garden by the local community: vegetables, chairs, swings and performances populate the Garden.

The six-day forum concluded with the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Cities 2030, a commitment to localise and scale up the implementation of the NUA as a tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 10th session of WUF will take place in Abu Dhabi, the UAE, in 2020, and will provide further opportunities to review and monitor the New Urban Agenda.

Sri Vaitheki Ramasamy is a senior analyst at Penang Institute. Her research interests include life cycle analysis, carbon footprint analysis, green manufacturing and sustainability engineering.
Tan Lii Inn graduated with a Master’s Degree from Korea University. He is currently an analyst at Penang Institute.







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