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World Urban Forum 5: The right to the city—bridging the urban divide

February 18, 2010




The World Urban Forum has become a premier place to discuss one of the most pressing problems facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and housing. This year hosted in the swelling city of Rio de Janeiro, the event convenes community organizations, government leaders, professionals and youth to discuss the important issues affecting shelter for the urban poor and the sustainability of the world’s cities.

The location is an appropriate one. Latin America and the Caribbean is the most rapidly urbanizing region in the world, with 77 percent of its population residing in cities. Many of these residents live in informal settlements, with limited access to adequate shelter and sanitation. The omnipresent squatter communities of Brazil, the “favelas” featured in films like “The City of God” and “Bus 174,” have become the flagship likeness of urban poverty. In a city of over 6 million, Rio’s favelas crowd in tightly against wealthier communities, revealing a deep split that gives visual expression to this year’s theme, “The right to the city—bridging the urban divide”.

In addition to networking with worldwide housing leaders throughout the event, Habitat for Humanity staff and advocates will meet in Rio early to dialogue about how civil society can more actively become involved in public policy in the region. During the event, Habitat is also promoting a Portuguese version of its online course, “The Martinez Tale: A look at Shelter, Settlement and Sustainable Livelihoods.”

“Hosting this event in Latin America, in the shadow of Rio’s favelas, provides Habitat an opportunity to coordinate our activities with like-minded organizations,” says Steve Little, Public Awareness Director for the Latin America/Caribbean regional office. “This is an opportunity to join forces, and work together on a global scale to address our community’s biggest issues in a holistic way.”

On Wednesday, March 24, from 4:40-6:30 p.m., Little will host a workshop entitled, “Can Volunteers Bridge the Urban Divide?” The session will bring together representatives from several organizations to examine the role of volunteers in development work, and how the participation of those volunteers is more meaningful than simply “free labor.”

“There are more than one billion slum dwellers around the world,” says Little, “and every day that number grows larger. If we hope to bridge the urban divide, we need to forge relationships between socioeconomic levels, and break down the physical and social walls that segregate slum dwellers from the rest of the city. We need to look beyond our programs, and engage the public in ways more meaningful than simply donating money.”

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