WUF10 Wrap Up
By Cyrielle Noël, UNA-Canada Service Corps delegate It has been about 3 weeks, since I returned from my whirlwind adventure as a United Nations Association of Canada (UNAC) delegate for the 10th session of the World Urban Forum (WUF10). The days were condensed and as a result this 9-day experience felt like it would take a lifetime to fully unpack. However, I’ll attempt to use the following 1500 words or so, to share my experience and to catalog my main reflections. Since most pieces of writing have a beginning, middle and end, let’s start at the beginning...
The Beginning: From Debutante to Delegate
As a young spatial planning professional, with expertise in coastal and marine environments, I had been charting an international career in sustainable development. As I refined my value-system and became aware of the dynamics of change-making, I felt compelled to return to my first home in order to consecrate a sliver of my “youth” to serve my community by contributing to grassroots social and environmental movements. While on this quest, I completed a year-long ambassadorship with Ocean Bridge. Having completed a Canada Service Corps program, I became eligible to apply to attend a high-level meeting through UNAC and was thrilled to have been selected to attend WUF10 held in the Gulf Nation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The theme of this Forum was: “Cities of Opportunity: Connecting Culture and Innovation”. As this Forum is convened by the UN-Habitat, the noteworthy players of influence within this policy landscape are the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework that emerged from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Consequently, sustainable urbanization and the promotion of SDG 11, proved to be equally important topics for consideration at the WUF10. The Middle: From Ottawa To Abu Dhabi
The delegation converged in Ottawa for our two-day pre-departure training. The training schedule was exceptionally well curated. We were afforded the opportunity to exchange with the likes of the CEO of WaterAid Canada, an academic on urban integration and the Director from the Canadian Institute of Planners. The Second Secretary and Chargé d’Affaires welcomed us to the Embassy of the UAE. Beyond offering us delicious treats, and an escort back to the UNAC head offices in the diplomatic fleet, our conversation was imbued with humble wisdom and advice gleaned from his career. We were connected with experts who gave us hot tips on networking etiquette, safety and security while travelling and personal mental health management. Through separate conversations with Andy Filmore (MP) and the Honorable Minister Mackenna, I was able to further investigate the government’s future spatial planning priorities with regards to climate change and the blue economy. Overall, being in a group of five other like-minded young leaders and being in the proximate presence of high-level change-makers, opinion-shapers, made my time in the capitol feel like the most appropriate setting to further refine my personal advocacy agenda. In just two days, I felt emboldened to advocate for both the inclusion of youth perspectives and waterway conservation within the sustainable urbanization discourse.
Amidst the burgeoning frenzy over the COVID-19 pandemic, we made it out of Ottawa and within less than 30 hours we arrived in Abu Dhabi. In an infinitesimal effort to offset the environmental cost of our travel, I had packed some reusable dishware. This travel hack enabled me to bring a packed lunch daily, which had the unintended effect of saving my lunch money, instead of overspending at Tim Hortons! In addition to this nod to Canadian culture, The Abu Dhabi Exhibition Center was an optimal site for welcoming 13,000 participants from over 169 countries. With over 500 high quality knowledge exchanges through assemblies, dialogues, roundtables, urban talks, special sessions and events organized by a variety of stakeholders, technology came to the rescue in the form of a conference mobile application. Through this app I was able to browse the profiles of participants and peruse the catalogue of scheduled sessions. I used the map, bookmarking and alarm functions to ensure that I made the most of my time by customizing my experience. I attended a potpourri of sessions and events, and even penned an article about my quest to explore the intersections of my interests with the conference themes. The In-Between & The Unseen: From Connections to Collaboration
While I admit that engaging in the Forum was the primary focus, I was equally interested in exploring the sights, smells and scenes of Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a tourist. Lo and behold, I discovered the WUF10 app was also offering a selection of free tours and excursions with preferential rates, which I happily took advantage of. While visiting the Sheik Zayed’s Grand Mosque, I was transfixed by this marble marvel that combines several styles of architecture. It houses the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, and some of the largest chandeliers in the world appropriately blinged out with golden frames, fine Italian glass and Swarovski crystals. This sublime spiritual sanctuary serves as a testament to the development of modern religious sites that focused on converging tradition with modernity, which was the underlying theme of the 3rd Dialogue. While visiting Le Louvre, in Abu Dhabi, I discovered that this museum is emblematic of the WUF10 theme. This stunning state-of-the art structure exemplifies the wild potential that exists when innovation is applied to partnerships, which was discussed as part of the 6th Dialogue during the Forum. This mesmerizing, but effective design also serves as a poignant reminder of the efficacy of passive architecture, especially within the context of promoting sustainable urbanization in the desert.
As an urban planner, I am really interested in exploring intersections and paradoxes that exist in urban centres. During my undergraduate studies at McGill I came across the Masdar City case study, as part of my coursework requirements for my Urban Systems minor. At that time Masdar City was branded as the premiere planned smart eco-city project. I took a short detour into this City of Possibilities, but this visionary project was seemingly incomplete and had the earmarks of a desert-ed ghost town. The paradox of developing a zero-carbon ecotopia in a challenging desert environment perfectly illustrated the point made during the President of Afghanistan’s address at the opening ceremony. His Excellency mentioned that the exercise of planning assumes that you have the solutions and that the planning needs to evolve to include more design thinking processes. Additionally, I got to spend an evening in the desert where I did the quintessential tourist activities including off-roading, sand boarding, camel-riding and feasting on traditional cuisine underneath the stars while enjoying live entertainment. Also, I did a day trip to Dubai, raced road bikes on the Formula 1 Marine Circuit of Yas Island, strolled along the iconic Corniche boardwalk and spent an afternoon at the beach. Overall, these bonus experiences were helpful to further explore the conference themes. I was able to tease out some connections to the WUF10 programming, while also mutually reinforcing my connections within the delegation. The messaging feature within the WUF10 app greatly facilitated my networking efforts by leveling the playing field. Having unfettered access to dignitaries, experts and key stakeholders inspired me to professionally connect with attendees who had similar interests. I took a chance and reached out to the only other person I could find on the app who had a self-described interest in the blue economy. We had a lovely exchange about the role of youth entrepreneurship in the blue, green and circular economies. Since returning to Canada, this connection has blossomed into more of a collaboration.
Through the head delegate’s valiant efforts we also secured meetings with the President of the Canadian Institute of Planners, the City of Montreal's Director of Urban Services and Mobility, the High Commissioner of Canada to Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda who is also the ambassador of Canada to Somalia and Burundi as well as the founder of Development Workshop who is also the Canadian Honorary Consul to Angola who was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada. These interchanges were particularly constructive and enlightening with regards to relating the conference topics and themes to the Canadian context. The End...Is Really Just the Beginning: From Conclusions to Solutions
While it was challenging to unpack my WUF10 experiences, this rich and complex analysis provides several pathways for concluding remarks. Given the complex interplay between the themes and my interests, I would like to circle back to my initial interest in examining the scope for greater inclusion of youth perspectives and consideration of waterway issues within sustainable urbanization discourse. Ultimately, through listening, learning, engaging and reflecting I have come to the conclusion that cities and communities become can spaces of opportunities not only by promoting connections between culture and innovation, but also by favoring connections between SDG 11 to SDG 14, and by connecting youth experiences, insights and ac actions to the work of the youth-at-heart. In the wake of WUF10 I am interested in further exploring these connections within my local urban context.