CDO emerging city of tomorrow–UN

A Philippine city took center stage at the World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, Colombia, organized by the United Nations.

Cagayan de Oro City has been handpicked by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), which spearheaded the world’s premiere conference on cities, as among the nine global intermediate cities.

The other eight cities are Johor Bahru on the straits of Johor separating Malaysia and Singapore; Tetouan in northern Morocco; Uberlandia in the state of Minas Gerais of Brazil; Hunchun in Jilin province of northeast China; Onitsha on the eastern bank of Niger River in Nigeria; Nampula, the third-largest city in Mozambique; Malmo, part of the Oresund region in the south of Sweden; and Santa Marta in the northern Colombian department of Magdalena.

According to Andrew Rudd, urban environment officer of UN-Habitat, the cities were chosen based on their size, fast growth, significance as part of an urban cluster linked to cross-border exchange and geographical variety.

“In short,” he said, “these are the emerging cities of tomorrow.”

‘Edge cities’

A unique photographic exhibition featuring the nine cities—“Edge Cities”—was showcased at the entrance foyer of the main exhibition hall in Plaza Mayor, an impressive state-of-the-art complex of convention halls, theaters, museums, parks, cafes and restaurants.

The photographs were taken by prize-winning Italian photographer Alessandro Scotti, who organised them in a stop-motion video shown on large flat-screen monitors.

The Cagayan de Oro video begins with shots of people thronging the Bolonsiri cemetery in Camaman-an district during All Souls’ Day last year: families as if on a picnic; a man carrying a shovel; children lost in a sea of tombstones and candle lights.

Onslaught of ‘Yolanda’

Without cheesy sentimentality, the photographs establish at first glance that this is a city grounded in its past, seeking comfort in the rituals not merely of religion but in the cozy embrace of community, and hence can bounce back from its mishaps due to its homegrown resilience. (In the whirl of talks, workshops and presentations at the WUF, it seems “resilience” is the new “sustainability.”)

Scotti told this reporter: “I wanted to explore the dynamics of these cities by investigating their spatial configurations—the way, for instance, public and private spaces are utilised—and, by so doing, capture the spatial relationships that are revealed as well as the stories that they tell of the cities’ density, diversity and opportunity in this critical and interesting phase of their development.”

Scotti’s stay in Cagayan de Oro coincided with the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda, and he documented how the residents of riverside communities were evacuated to higher ground.

In memory

In fact, Scotti did not hesitate to venture into the riverbed, where some people continue to reside.

In the Cala-Cala district, so called because of the way the onrush of water sounds, the photographer found a life-size crucifix guarded by life-size angels. This was a marker in memory of the many residents in the district who were swept away during the Tropical Storm “Sendong” flash flood.

“It was a good thing our house was made of concrete,” said a survivor who made the marker. “A number of our neighbors survived by clambering on up to our third floor.”

The house still stands today, the only domicile in the riverbed.

Christopher Rollo, country program director of UN-Habitat Philippines, said the WUF was established to examine the most pressing issues facing the world today in the area of human settlements, in particular “rapid urbanisation and its impact on cities, communities, economies, climate change and policies.”

‘Cities for life’

Dr. Joan Clos, UN undersecretary general and executive director of UN-Habitat, said the forum, now on its seventh session (hence dubbed WUF7) since it kicked off in 2002 and carrying the theme “Urban Equity for Development—Cities for Life,” seeks “a new global urban agenda” that would ensure that cities “can become places of economic growth, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.”

At the booth of a Rockefeller Foundation project were illustrations indicating that “in 1913, 10 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities; in 2014, 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities; and in 2050, 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities.”

“The battle for sustainable change will be won or lost in cities,” posits UN-Habitat.

Now a tourist haven

The choice of Medellin as the venue for WUF7 was itself a message on the power of cities to transform themselves into “liveable centers of growth.”

Once feared as the base of drug lord Pedro Escobar, Medellin has transformed into a tourist haven, capitalizing on its crisp spring weather and its residents’ penchant for partying.

Said Clos: “Medellin provides us with a living example of a city in transition; a city that has faced the challenges that lie before it and, in addressing them, has created opportunities to reshape its future for the better.”

Focus on Philippines

The proceedings of WUF7, featuring over 350 speakers, will help shape the agenda of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, also known as Habitat III, in 2016.

Cagayan de Oro was also in the spotlight in WUF7 because it was the site of one of the pilot projects of UN-Habitat’s Urban Planning and Design Lab, whose launch was a highlight of the festivities.

“There is special focus on the Philippines as we are facilitating the planning and design of city extension projects in Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo City, and Silay City,” Rollo said.

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