UNESCO at WUF10: Culture and innovation as drivers of urban sustainability

From 8 to 13 February, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, hosted the 10th session of the World Urban Forum dedicated to Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation, a theme that resonates closely with UNESCO’s mission and priorities. The event brought together decision-makers, representatives of international organizations, civil society and international experts, to leverage culture and innovation as a response to the challenges of rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, the environment and policies.

Mr Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, inaugurated the Forum alongside Ms Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director UN-Habitat, H.E. Mr Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan, H.E. Mr. Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and H.E. Mr Falah Mohamed Al Ahbabi, Chairman of the UAE Department of Municipalities and Transport, representing the host country.

Outlining UNESCO’s vision, as the United Nations agency with a specific mandate in the field of culture, Mr Ottone R. stated “Culture is the transversal bridge that binds three key dimensions of any effective urban development: People, Places, and Policies. UNESCO approaches the culture agenda in its broadest sense: from built heritage to living heritage, as well as the cultural and creative industries and the creative economy as a whole. Mr Ottone R. highlighted the strong linkages between culture and innovation, and presented UNESCO’s flagship initiative ‘Revive the Spirit of Mosul’, launched with the support of the UAE, to protect humanity’s shared heritage, and restore the pluralistic identities of the Iraqi people.

In Dialogue 1 on Urbanization, Culture and Innovation, UNESCO stressed the importance of safeguarding the social functions and meaning of cultural heritage and creativity and the economic opportunities that cultural heritage and creativity can stimulate while avoiding their over-commercialization and commodification. This helps to ensure the future sustainability of communities. Cultural diversity was acknowledged as an unparalleled stimulus of development that is truly sustainable if properly safeguarded and promoted

In Dialogue 5 on Urban Planning and Heritage Preservation, Ms Jyoti Hosagrahar, UNESCO Deputy Director of the World Heritage Centre, stressed the vital importance of integrating heritage conservation with sustainable urban development to enable cities to value their cultural resources and values while promoting social inclusion, inclusive economic development and environmental sustainability. The participants shared case studies, experiences and challenges in relation to urban heritage and urban development.

The Special Session on Culture, the creative industry and their impact on urban recovery and resilience, using cases from Mogadishu, Somalia, to Medellin, Colombia, explored the role of culture as a driver of urban recovery and resilience and demonstrated the need for the Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery Framework (CURE Framework). This framework, developed by UNESCO and the World Bank, supports policymakers and practitioners in their planning to overcome conflicts, crises and disasters by linking culture to reconstruction and recovery. UNESCO also contributed to the Special Session onDriving shared urban prosperity through a cultural lens, which explored culture-led urban regeneration and cities’ identities as a source of local growth, enhancing livelihoods and sustainable development. UNESCO’s introduction to the session emphasized the importance of the recently launched UNESCO Culture|2030 Indicators for measuring and monitoring Culture’s contribution to sustainable development at the national and local levels.

A series of side events and networking opportunities were organized by UNESCO in the margins of the Forum. The joint UNESCO-World Bank session on Creative Cities: Creativity and Culture for Jobs and Inclusive Growth, served to announce the new initiative that the two organizations have embarked upon – the UNESCO-World Bank Framework on Cities and Creativity – which seeks to support cities in enabling sustainable development from a social and economic perspective by advancing creativity as a key driver of people’s participation, ownership and innovation. “By 2030, approximately 60% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban settlements, requiring major urban structural changes that necessitate cities to expand socio-economic and urban development pathways. Creative cities provide an opportunity to respond to today’s developmental challenges through their ecosystem of the creative and cultural activities,” said Mr Sameh Wahba, Global Director for the World Bank’s Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience and Land Global Practice.

Members of the UNESCO Cities Platform including Bandung (Indonesia), a UNESCO Creative City of Design, joined representatives from Paris (France) and Abu Dhabi (UAE), to share their experiences in facing the urban challenges of population growth, diversity, mobility, and connectivity during the Networking Event on ‘UNESCO Cities Platform: Urban solutions for global challenges’. The UNESCO Cities Platform is an inter-sectoral initiative that gathers eight UNESCO networks and programmes: UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, Megacities Alliance for Water and Climate, Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience, International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities, UNESCO Creative Cities Programme, World Heritage Cities Programme, Media and Information Literacy Cities and UNESCO-Netexplo Observatory. The Platform aims to give UNESCO a more strategic, comprehensive vision through coordinated efforts in its areas of action to help achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Cities are considered as laboratories of creative and innovative solutions that help in dealing with the global challenges of our time. It has been increasingly proven that such creative and innovative solutions and experiences from cities around the world are highly valuable and inspirational in the global endeavor of building a more sustainable development pattern.

Advocating for social inclusion in cities of the Arab region, UNESCO launched the ‘Toolkit for Urban Inclusion in Arab Cities’ published in cooperation with the European Training Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ETC-Graz) at the Networking event ‘How Inclusive is Your City’?’ with the aim of offering policy models and practical guidance on enhancing social inclusion in Arab cities. The Toolkit is inspired by the actual experiences of Arab cities members of the Coalition of Arab Cities against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance. Two member cities – Cairo and Amman – presented their experiences during the Networking event. A study on “Implementing Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the Local Level” was also presented.

Focusing on the urban fabric of the Arab region, UNESCO co-organized another event on ‘Medinas: Safeguarding Constraints, Innovation and Sustainability Challenges’ opened by Ms Nouzha Bouchareb, Minister of National Land and Urban Planning, Housing and City Policy, Kingdom of Morocco. UNESCO collaborated with the Government of Morocco to address the planning, safeguarding and rehabilitation challenge of the medina, as a symbol of Morocco’s rich cultural heritage and a resource to advance sustainable urban development. UNESCO participated in the Networking Event ‘Waste Wise to achieve SDGs and Implement NUA’, contributing solutions to global waste and providing expertise on sustainable waste management and the circular economy, as well as a Roundtable on Universities, helping to raise awareness of the importance of university engagement in the promotion of urban sustainability.

The 10th session of the World Urban Forum concluded with the adoption of the ‘Abu Dhabi Declared Actions’, which acknowledges that “culture is an integral part of the solution to the challenges of urbanisation and achieving the New Urban Agenda”, while “culture is a core component of local identity including heritage, creativity and diversity and urbanisation needs to be planned, designed and managed to enhance this.”

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