The Real Issue For World Urban Forum III: Accommodating Senseless Orders From Above vs. Proclaiming Limits To Urban Growth


Although most people would agree that humanity has to co-operate on a number of world issues, the U.N.'s World Urban Forum III in Vancouver this week raises the larger issue of whether the U.N.'s efforts on urbanization really apply to both developed and developing countries. The Forum is intended to examine rapid urbanization and its impact. This year's theme is “Our Future: Sustainable Cities — Turning Ideas into Action”. Its purpose is to get the world's cities to follow the U.N.'s determination that increased urbanization is inevitable and that the world's cities have to prepare for large population inflows and the problems that follow.

The 6000 delegates who have arrived from all over the world will undoubtedly discuss the issue of country-to-city migration in many developing countries. According to the U.N., about half of the world's population now lives in cities. And it is projected that in the next fifty years, two-thirds of humanity will be urban. However, the countries of the developed world are already urban, but the developing countries are not.

In addition, many developing countries have failed to control their populations and have effectively “populated” themselves into the crisis they will face. In contrast, most developed countries have controlled their population growth and will not have this problem. In fact, they could permanently avoid having it if they avoided “immigrating” their way into it. However, the Forum seems not to be making this distinction. In doing so, it is making developed countries steer away from the key issue of whether cities should “accommodate” senseless directives from above (in Canada's case, this U.N. pressure or senseless federal immigration policies) or whether Canada's cities should declare limits to their growth and resist those policies.

One of the ways the U.N. will have countries accept this directive is to use moral pressure with statements like, “We have to be our brother's keeper”. But the great irony in this statement is that the city that is hosting the Forum already is not “its brother's keeper”. Delegates to the conference will not only see and be shocked by the number of homeless beggars on this supposedly-rich city's streets but also, just a short distance away from the site of the Forum, delegates will be even more shocked by the sight of the poorest neighbourhood in Canada with its thousands of drug addicts.

To the Government of Canada which is sponsoring the Forum, these are two major embarrassments. Both point to the inability of Canada's federal government to solve its own home-grown poverty—-to say nothing of the large amount of poverty it has imported during the past 15 years.

To put the matter bluntly, Canadians have to decide whether they want to adopt a policy of using immigration to solve world poverty, of moving millions of the world's poor to Canada, and of “immigrating” themselves into a problem. Most Canadians are generous, and will help developing countries, but most Canadians are also not wealthy and often struggle to get by. After the recent arrests of The Gang of 17 and the nation-wide discussions about the cultural conflict that has accompanied Canada's immigration and multiculturalism policies, the questions that inevitably rise are these:

(1) Is immigration the best way to “be our brother's keeper'? and

(2) What good will it do to destroy this and other areas in Canada by further exceeding their cultural and environmental carrying capacities?

By obvious design, the World Urban Forum has been preceded by a number of announcements. Once again, predictions have been made that Vancouver will be host to another million people in the next 20 years and that the current population of 2 million in the entire area will reach 4 million in the next 30 to 40 years. As always, both of these statements have been presented as inevitabilities. But the truth is that they are not. Both of them neglect to say that the largest factor in the population growth of the area has been and will continue to be immigration. They also fail to say that if immigration were brought under control, population could be stabilized and the projected problems would probably never happen. In other words, both neglect to say that Canada has a choice.

Obviously seizing the occasion of WUF III to acquire some additional status, Vancouver's Mayor has announced for his city a policy of “eco-density”. His policy would mean that the primarily single-family dwelling areas in the city would have to accept many more multiple-family housing units within their boundaries to accommodate the predicted inflow. By making this announcement, he has implied that he too sees major population increases as inevitable and that he is willing to have this area accommodate a large number of additional people.

So once again, the problem can be expressed in this question: Should Canada's cities be accommodating pressure from organizations like the U.N. and Canada's federal government or should they be resisting these organizations when they can see these powers are obviously wrong?

Governments in all immigrant-receiving countries (including all three levels of government in Canada) and the Mayor of Vancouver should take note. They have to decide whether they want to do the right thing or to submit to U.N or federal government directives. If they decide to comply, then let them announce their intentions and clearly spell out the consequences. Let them also put away the trendy but oxymoronic phases like “sustainable cities”. And then let their electors decide whether they want to be led by people whose policies will undoubtedly create large-scale environmental destruction and more social conflict.