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Urbanization Is No Longer The Construction Of The City, it is about Learning How To Live Together

Craig Zelizer

October 12, 2016

The next three days I am pleased to be attending the 5th UCLG World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders which is being held in Bogota, Colombia.IMG_0341 Look out for a series of blogs, social media posts and videos showing highlights of innovation taking place around the world.
After the opening plenary I attended a morning session on Urban Journalism which a number of speakers including

Jospeh Roig @peproig, Secretary - General of the UCLG
Joan Clos @joanclos - Secretary- General General of the Habitat III conference
Fatimetou Mint Abdul Malick@abelmalicki Mayor of Tevrah-Zeina, Mauritania
Fernando Casado, @fernanado_Casasdo Co-Director Towards the Human City
Jeanneth Cervantes @Janetacervantes Radialistis Community Rado Ecuador
Jennifer Lenhart @jenn_lenhart Program Manager, WWF/Sweden and Urban Blogger
Neil Pierce, @nealpeirce Editor in Chief of Citiscope
Moderated by Helene Papper @peaceradioHP, Director of UN Info Center, for Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela

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It is beyond the scope of a single blog post to cover the entire session but I will explore some of the key highlights.

Joan Clos gave a wonderful overview of the dynamic nature of urbanization and the critical role that traditional and newer media can play in fostering a more inclusive, sustainable and just city. Urbanization can be a very conflict ridden process, often bringing people together from different backgrounds, classes, identifies who may have competing goals. However, the key to a more peaceful 21st century is fostering civic dialogue to enable diverse groups to work together and find common ground. A central point he made is that "urbanization is no longer the construction of the city, as it is already built. Urbanization is about learning how to live together"

Positive urbanization isn't an accident, it needs to be fostered. He gave a simple example that in a city a taxi driver may want more roads, while a pedestrian may want more sidewalk and space to walk, while business people may want more parking spaces. In reality conflict in cities are often much more complex and challenging and involve inequality, access, migration, justice, services and much more.

Media can play a critical role to foster debate, surface issues and bring in the voices and experience of all citizens. However one of the challenges media increasingly is facing is how to develop a sustainable financial model, particularly in the age of new media when there is so much competition

After the broad intro each of the presenters, briefly discussed his/her work. Neal Pearce is one of the pioneers of urban journalism. He commented years ago there was almost no discussion in the global press about the challenges urban centers face. He and others sought to raise the coverage of urban issues and also track the progress cities were making in achieving goals set at the previous UN Habitat conferences (the next one is in Ecuador next week)

Fernando Casado, Codirector of Towards the Human City talked about how he started the project with his wife about 18 months ago. Their goal was to surface stories of innovation and impact, profiling people around the world who are working to make their cities more human. They started in Colombia, interviewing the former mayor Anton Mockus about his work to transform the city. So far they have have done over 500 interviews, documented 83 initiatives and visited 47 cities. He offered several key lessons for how journalism can better address urban issues and tell compelling stories.

1)Good journalism involves human stories. Going back to the good story is key and putting humans at the middle. Sometimes we are missing how urban issues affect people.
2)Stories have to be entertaining - There is a danger that if it is a feel good story, it isn't enough. We have to make a better effort.
3)Look for stories that tell a story of social transformation/change.

Jeanneth talked about the power of radio to connect with communities and serve as a tool for social transformation. She said many traditional media outlets  sell information but they aren't promoting engaged and reflective citizens. Her team uses use radio and other mediums to engage communities and ensure that media reflects all voices, and critical issues such as gender sensitivity. They want people to be able to see that it isn't only a vertical relationship with media, but that all citizens from any place can have a voice, particularly in the digital age.

Jennifer reflected on her work in the sustainability field and as a blogger. Her goal is to highlight how sustainability behavior can be much easier when cities and policies create an enabling environment. She began writing about composting and how much she could reduce her trash and then expanded to see how sustainable takes place in cities, what encourages innovation, etc.

Fatimetou was the last speaker. Unfortunately my French is limited and I had a hard time getting the translation machine to work. She is one of the first female mayors in her country  and has taken a very active role in promoting engaged citizenry through setting up parks, free wi-fi and working on sustainability.

It is clear from attending the panel, that innovation is taking place around the world related to governance, media and sustainability. Moreover that the we need to find ways to both get the urban innovation agenda into the media to raise awareness of opportunities and challenges. At the same time, it is also critical to bring in more voices in creating and using media to ensure we are including the larger society and not just an elite perspective.
What are some of your favorite innovations around media and urbanization? I encourage you to look up more on the work of all the speakers.

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