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Upside Down at the World Urban Forum

March 1, 2018 By Debra Efroymson Cars, Cities, Cycling, Gender, Livable Cities, Public Spaces, Public Transit, Urban Planning Post a comment!

I recently attended the 9th World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the HealthBridge Livable Cities team. It was an energizing event, and brought together approximately 22,000 people from most of the world to talk about how to make our cities better.

As energizing as the Forum was, there was a lot that was not right.

First of all, most of the panelists were male. The forum is about the state of our cities and what changes we would like to see; surely women have insights into cities? Surely those insights are as valuable as men’s?

Secondly, issues of transport were largely absent from the discussion. One of the biggest problems in cities is transport. Our urban transport woes contribute to air pollution and climate change. They cause road injuries and fatalities. They make us waste time and fuel in congestion. They contribute to the obesity and non-communicable disease epidemics. Lousy transport systems waste our money and valuable urban space. Poor transport makes solving other problems more difficult, as people cannot even access spaces where we could work together on other issues. Yet little was said about walking, cycling, or car control. I heard nobody other than myself refer to the three-headed monster: the power that car, fuel, and road-building corporations have over our governments and our lives.

Instead, discussion on public space seemed to accept that much of our cities will be dominated by cars, and we should try to carve out a little space at the margins for ourselves. For example there was an entire session on physical inactivity and non-communicable diseases, but rather than talk about active transport, the focus was on sports. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to improve conditions for active transport, like walking and cycling? Better access to walking and cycling in cities would surely address many of the other issues I mention above.

I’m personally glad I went to the Forum, and was proud to be part of the HealthBridge Livable Cities team. I was also pleased that half of our team was women. Looking ahead, I hope that women will be far more visible and outspoken at WUF10 and that participants will be much stronger in their focus on resolving transport woes and thus making our cities far more livable in so many ways!

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