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Home » June 2010 » World Urban Forum

World Urban Forum 5: Bridging the urban divide

Mark Napier during the thematic open debate on access to serviced land
About 13 718 people came to the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro in the third week of March 2010. They represented over 150 countries in an event arranged by UN Habitat. Two of Urban Landmark's staff members, Mark Napier and Jonathan Diederiks, attended the forum. "Being at a conference of this size for a week was like becoming, if only for a short time, a citizen of a small seaside town where everyone happened to be interested in human settlements," Mark says. "The gathering was large enough to include a great diversity of people and interests. The event was held in a complex of quayside warehouses in the Rio harbour area, and if you stood in one place for long enough you would be sure to meet someone you knew and had not seen for years."

Mark took part in the thematic open debate on access to serviced land with four other participants. The main point he brought across in his presentation was that, if the challenge of slums in Africa is to be addressed at a fundamental level, the underlying politics of land and the workings of the land market need to be better understood in each situation. Government authorities have a responsibility to protect lower value land for use by poorer people in cities, but they find this difficult without becoming conscious actors in the land market themselves, alongside other market players who are competing for increasingly scarce urban land. At the other end of the spectrum, authorities also need to understand and work with informal systems of land supply, which open up most new land for settlement in many African cities.

The other participants in the session included Mrs. Banashree Banerjee, an Indian scholar and international consultant, Gustavo Gonzalez Soto, a housing cooperative campaigner and practitioner, Martim Smolka of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and Mrs. Evaniza Rodrigues of the National Forum of Urban Reform in Brazil.

Part of the debate from the floor revolved around the plans for slums clearance and the walling of favelas ahead of the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. In this discussion, Urban LandMark mentioned that it is currently focusing on some of the threats of removal and harassment of street traders in South Africa ahead of the 2010 World Cup. There was agreement that this kind of pressure on poorer urban inhabitants often took place in the run-up to world sporting events and that this was well documented. The suggestion was that this issue should be addressed by international bodies such as the UN so that agreements are in place not to evict or harass people as part of the awarding of world sporting events.

"With so many plenaries, dialogues, roundtables, side events, training events, caucuses and assemblies all going on during the event, it was difficult not to want to be in many places at one time," Mark says. "It would be impossible for one or two people to capture the richness of the discussions and the breadth of knowledge and experience being shared. But it was a worthwhile event because it facilitated learning across borders, allowed much in the way of networking between people and organisations, and hopefully will lead to concrete action on many fronts."