As I read recent articles in the Huffington Post and the Guardian concerning the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Columbia, I was brought back to the sense of community I experienced while there. The articles cover the larger themes and lessons of the event, including resilience and sustainability. I couldn’t help but notice the deep reframing around resilience and its varied aspects that permeated the Forum, especially the exciting work of 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. But both articles also touch on the central theme—people—the people that make up the many communities and cities that were represented, the people upon which all the work is based.
Within the more than 20,000 attendees, I found myself fortunate to join a small but vibrant corner of the Forum. Attendees, including Context Partners, participated in panel discussions, office hours and meetings, both impromptu and planned. The Innovative Americas booth was created by the Kresge Foundation, the Ford Foundation and Next City, in partnership with designer Quilian Riano from DSGN AGNC and local Medellin organization Proyecto NN.
The booth design was sustainable and resilient—an approach that fit the Forum and the attendees—walls were made of blocks that turned into chairs, bleachers could be stood up to create shelves and blackboards. After the Forum the entire booth and its parts were donated to a local community center. For someone like me, a practitioner of Community Centered Design, it was the ideal vision; to host and partner for our own temporary community making.
But it was bigger than the group of attendees; it was also the community of Medellin itself. The city was prepared and proud to host this event—to serve as a showcase city of transformation that proves itself to be both sustainable and resilient. And as one of the first 32 cities to be selected as part of the 100 Resilient Cities, Medellin was perfectly poised and I could feel the dedication to the Forum everywhere I went. It reminded me, once again, that resilience and sustainability are more than the “good bones” of physical infrastructure.
Margareta Wahlström, chief of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), summed it up well, “We have been talking about the resilience of infrastructure, and that’s very important – but if there aren’t any people, it doesn’t matter if the infrastructure is resilient or not,” she said. “This is the foundation of resilience.”
People are the glue and any city without a tightly knit social infrastructure can build all of the physical infrastructure it wants and still fall short in times of shocks and stresses.