sign reading a city is not an accidentThe World Urban Forum underway this week in Medellin, Columbia, is taking place on the world's most urbanised continent, struggling, as with many cities around the world, to meet the needs of millions of people crowded into these areas.

Johannes HahnAmongst the visitors to the conference is the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn,  (right) who is sharing with delegates the lessons learnt in Europe's cities when tackling the common global challenges of pollution, poverty, sustainable mobility and social equity.

He told delegates that “the city level must take its place alongside the national and international levels of governance so that the urban dimension becomes an explicit priority for policy makers everywhere. A sustainable economic, social and environmental development globally can only be guaranteed if we get urbanisation right. For example how can we tackle climate change unless we get it right in our cities?"

He added, "There is no one single model for well-functioning cities; but the common ingredients include: a commitment to equality of opportunity, job creation, boosting innovation and an efficient use of natural resources; also, a drive to improve the quality of life for young and old, men and women alike. We need a holistic approach to develop cities that people want to live in and our experience in Europe has shown that they are built on the foundations of good governance and democracy”.

He is not alone in calling for a more concerted approach to policy making affecting cities: it is one echoed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), UN HABITAT and other individual countries around the world, who are all realising that tackling our most pressing challenges - whether climate change mitigation, energy dependence or job creation, as well as growing the economy can only be done with the help of our towns and cities worldwide.

Nobel Economics Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz

Nobel Economics Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz, speaking to the conference on Tuesday, focused in particular on addressing inequality, the chief overriding theme of the week. He warned that there was no magic bullet to end inequality but laid down a series of measures he said could help to mitigate the problem.

Prof. Stiglitz said tackling inequality required innovation by the world’s governments. “These steps include investing in education, creating new jobs as well as providing new opportunities for enterprises,” he said.

In a question-and-answer session with journalists, the 2001 Nobel Economics laureate cautioned that fighting inequality should not be confused with reducing measured income. “It should include issues like insecurity and things that affect those at the bottom and the middle of the pile,” he said.

On addressing youth unemployment, which he said had reached alarming proportions, the Columbia University don listed skills improvement as being the key. “In the earlier days one would get the skills for the job while in school but nowadays they are forced to relearn the skills while on the job,” he said.

Answering a question on Latin America’s prospects, Prof. Stiglitz said that traditionally the region had often witnessed the highest levels of inequality in the world although other regions of the world were also now recording huge equality gaps. However, he expressed optimism saying that deliberate efforts by some countries had seen a drop in inequality.

“This is quite evident in Brazil where measures by the government are yielding results and this gives me hope for Latin America and that even here in Colombia we will see better results,” he said.

He added that the recent decision by the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – to form a bank was welcome news considering that they had more combined GDP than the countries that formed the Bretton Woods institutions at the end of World War II.

The WUF is being organized by the United Nations Human Settlements Program, known as UN-Habitat. Habitat is the UN agency charged with promoting socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities.

The United States believes the WUF represents an important opportunity to discuss urbanization in the context of our diplomatic and development priorities. Those priorities include global health, food security, climate change, women, girls and youth empowerment, public-private partnerships, innovation, and resilience.