Transforming Our Cities for a Better Urban Future - 11th World Urban Forum in Katowice, Poland

This year WUF11, focusing on “Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future”, was held as a hybrid event by UN-Habitat, the Polish Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, and the Municipal Office of Katowice.

The World Urban Forum 11 (WUF11), the premier global conference on urbanisation, was held in Katowice, Poland from 26 – 30 June 2022 and came to an end with over 400 events and more than 700 hundred speakers. This year WUF11, focusing on “Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future”, was held as a hybrid event by UN-Habitat, the Polish Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, and the Municipal Office of Katowice. Due to the nature of the event, this year's WUF was more accessible than ever: with 10,626 participants in person and more than 6,000 virtual attendees. 

Given the multiple crises confronting world cities – COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters, and emerging conflicts – the WUF11 made evident that the SDGs can only be achieved with and within cities. These lasting global crises were a mayor thematic focus of this year’s World Urban Forum. The dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery included discussions on the future of urban crises, how cities can be made more resilient in the face of such shocks, and how to shape urban recovery in complement to nationally led reconstruction efforts, for instance in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Other main topics were inclusive, equitable and gender-friendly cities, sustainable construction and urban infrastructure and the role of cities in implementing the SDGs, as well as digitalisation and smart cities. Happening throughout the Forum, were events with a gender sensible lens on equitable and inclusive infrastructure, governing emergencies, financing and localising SDGs such as Her City – Innovation, Gender and Youth, Gender Friendly Cities for a Better Urban Future: Sharing practices and challenges, Accelerating Post Covid-19 Recovery, Social Inclusion and Urban Inequality Reduction in Communities, Leave No One and No Place Behind: Addressing Inequalities Within and Between Cities Through SDG Localization, Governing Complex Emergencies: The urban and regional response to COVID-19, the climate emergency and social justice crisis and Urban metabolism and gender equity

As decentralisation and local governance remain a prominent issue within urban development and the implementation of the SDGs, DeLoG will provide a more detailed look into three events in this article. 

Localising the SDGs

All the SDGs have targets which are directly related to the daily work of local and regional governments and local stakeholders. While the SDGs are global in their ambition, their achievement will depend on local action and local leadership. Yet, during the pandemic, local governments were key actors responding to the crisis and we have realised that they will be key and getting the progress on the SDGs back on track.

SDG localisation is the process of transforming the SDGs into reality at the local level, in line with national frameworks and with communities’ priorities. To be successful, localisation needs to be anchored in the principles of inclusion, partnership and multilevel governance, and to build on adequate data and financing availability at the local level.

The debate, with a wide array of stakeholders from different spheres of government and sectors, provided an opportunity to present and discuss the main global initiatives on SDG localisation supported by the United Nations system and by UN-Habitat and focused on four macro topics: (1) data, planning and reporting (2) multi-level governance, (3) financing local SDG impact, (4) inclusive partnerships.

Emilia Saiz, Secretary General of UCLG, emphasised the importance of local service provision and the need of more visibility and more money to realise localisation. More and more national governments are coming to the local and regional government forum and already 14 countries have submitted Voluntary Subnational Reviews (VSRs). Saiz sees the voluntary local and subnational reviews as the future of localisation. 

The Norwegian Municipal Association added that partnerships are the most important element because the implementation of SDGs is a shared responsibility. Speakers form SALGA, Subang Jaya, Malaysia and the City of Bacarena, Brazil also highlighted the importance of a multilevel partnerships, which requires a strong commitment from national governments. 

The debate centered around the notion, that we are borrowing the world from future generations and need to work together at all levels: national, local, and regional as well as engage society initiatives, foundations, NGOs and Universities. Caring cities become paramount, and it is important to cement new urban models in which people are at the heart of decision-making.  

Building Resilience for Sustainable Urban Future  

Urban resilience to climate change has gained momentum recently. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that urban areas must continually adapt to challenges in an integrated and holistic manner. At the same time, such shocks and threats can be catalysed to transform societies. Now it is important to examine new ways to increase successful practices to support cities, especially in small island developing states, less developed countries and low- and middle-income countries. Many are highly vulnerable to climate shocks and crises but have limited internal capacities and resources. 

Resilience building should drive towards sustain development goals. This transformative resilience holds the potential to turn the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic into opportunities for growth and innovation that addresses existing challenges in cities, particularly for urban “weak spots” such as slums and informal settlements that disproportionately suffer from the impacts of climate change and natural disasters. 

One of the strategies is to localise the resilience strategies. Resilience provides a possibility for cities to make a step forward and come out of every crisis and shock. A good example is the city of Medellin, Colombia which has experienced a series of crisis such as local crime, violence and economic crisis. Those challenges can be addressed through urban planning and inclusive city design, for example by the creation of green areas, green corridors, pedestrian sidewalks, and more public spaces.  

Gender Friendly Cities for a Better Urban Future: Sharing practices and challenges 

Women and other marginalised groups are constrained by fear, violence and inequitable social norms Cities often do not promote women’s economic and social freedoms, nor foster their well-being or “right to the city”. That begs the question: How can city-spaces and services be made more gender-sensitive and -responsive from planning to designing and implementation? 

The COVID-19 pandemic further revealed women’s and other marginalised groups vulnerabilities in cities, in terms of increased violence as well as the burden of care work. This session provided a space to share tools and methodologies that have been developed and deployed in cities to make them gender friendly and inclusive as well as good practices from cities in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The speakers - Ms. Maite Rodriquez, Guatemala, Ms Ayanda Roji, Johannesburg, Representative from Gaziantep, Turkey - in this session highlighted some of the successes and challenges that led to such praxis from the perspectives of local government, grassroots organisations and civil society actors. They have identified specific issue in their city to like the high level of inequality, crime, poverty, gender-based-violence leading to women not feeling safe in public spaces; issue of collaboration, illegal weapons and in the need of women refugees especially in the area of health, education, employment and city planning.

Practices that have been implemented in cities to combat those issues, included teaching people working in building and city planning as well as architecture how to create safer spaces for marginalised groups. They had to work on the ground together with communities and implement an intersectional approach. The speakers noted that this required not to fear complexity. Cities also had to experiment with different approaches and tactics and worked out alliances between cities. 

To promote human rights and counteract violence, programs were installed to empower and train women to be leaders. During the pandemic it was important to provide person protective means, cooperation with police to identify any cases of domestic violence and offer tailor-made projects, for example for mother and infant child health like providing water to households with new mothers, pregnant women, offer child care free of charge, prevent child workers and early and forced marriages by supporting parents and families as well as provide awareness raising trainings in schools and communities. 


WUF11 closed with calls for urgent urban action and warnings that there cannot be any further delays to deliver sustainable urbanisation. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive Director of UN-Habitat made a clear statement: “The climate emergency, pandemics, the housing crisis, violence and conflict, all converge in cities. If we want to transform to a better urban future, we will have to increasingly deal with urban crises. We have no excuse not to be prepared. We don’t have much time to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal targets of 2030. We only have 7.5 years, or 90 months, more precisely 2,742 days left to implement the New Urban Agenda, to achieve the SDGs - what shall we do? The time to act is now.”

Ms Sharif announced that the global observance of the World Habitat Day this year will be on 3 October in Belkiser, Turkey.

Read more on the 11th World Urban Forum here