Looking past Habitat III, Kuala Lumpur readies for World Urban Forum 9

Kuala Lumpur welcomes you, WUF9! A street vendor in Brickfields, an area just outside of the centre of the Malaysian capital. (Christopher Crouzet/Flickr/cc)

NAIROBI Recent days of talks at the Nairobi-hosted PrepCom 2 have, for many, strengthened the realization that global delegations will indeed converge in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016 to move forward the cities agenda. Nonetheless, the gears of global urban summitry keep on churning.

On 16 April, UN-Habitat and the government of Malaysia detailed plans for World Urban Forum 9, to be held in Kuala Lumpur in 2018. The decision was originally announced in November, at the Fifth Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development, following a six-month selection process.

The WUF is the United Nations’ key cities-focused forum; since 2001, it has been held in a different city every two years by UN-Habitat. Although it is a non-legislative body, the WUF offers a major opportunity to convene and focus the global urban conversation at regular intervals between the policy-setting Habitat conferences, which come together only every two decades. In 2016 the WUF is set to take place in Quito, to coincide with the Habitat III conference.

Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Malaysia’s minister of urban well being, housing and local government, declared his administration “excited” and “extremely delighted” that WUF will return to Asian soil for the first time since it took place in Nanjing, China, in 2008. Given the population explosion and huge growth in the region, he called it “very timely that the conference will be brought back to Asia.”

UN-Habitat’s leadership echoed Asia’s importance on the global urban scene. Joan Clos, the agency’s executive director, also commended Kuala Lumpur as a recipient of the 2011 UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour. The city received that award for its Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART), the world’s first project to tackle both stormwater and peak traffic. Clos called the innovation “an achievement not just in terms of engineering but ingenuity as a capacity to create urban solutions.”

Clos pointed out that while transit infrastructure construction has stagnated in other parts of the world, “In Asia alone, 100 cities are building undergrounds, or metros.” Rahman Dahlan picked up on this theme by highlighting Kuala Lumpur’s current build-up of its mass rapid transit system, scheduled for completion in 2017, as a key component of its preparations for World Urban Forum meeting.

WUF9 will take place in the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, part of the City Centre precinct, a 99-acre site that includes the KLCC Park and Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004.

The minister attended WUF7 in Medellin, Colombia, last year, and he called the record crowd of 22,000 “mind boggling.” But he was quick to add that “22,000 will be able to stay in the City Centre. Kuala Lumpur is a walkable city, and moving from one point to another in the City Centre is an experience in and of itself.”

He added that the international airport will soon receive a new terminal and that both of Kuala Lumpur’s airports are connected to the City Centre by rail.

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