Abu Dhabi 3 April 2019: Leading urban development experts from around the MENA region recently convened in Abu Dhabi  to plot the course for the future of Arab cities at the World Urban Forum 10 (WUF10). Hosted by the Abu Dhabi Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities (DPM), in partnership with UN-Habitat, the Pan Arab Urban Development Symposium (PAUDS) hosted 100 urban planners to identify and explore the most pressing priorities and challenges facing the development of sustainable Arab cities.

The theme of WUF10, taking place in Abu Dhabi in 2020, is ‘Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation’. Accordingly, the Symposium focused on how to improve the livability, vitality and sustainability of Arab cities while allowing them to remain culturally distinct, using tailor-made, technology driven solutions.

Ms. Salma Al Darmaki, Assistant Undersecretary, Knowledge and Cultural Policies Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, UAE said: “When we talk about sustainability, we need to look to the past to make sure that we don’t create new problems for the future, we need to change our mindset and embed sustainability as a design criterion.”

Mr.Laila Iskandar, Founder of CID Consulting, Egypt, said: “In the past we didn’t provide spaces for informal settlements, cities are not just about housing, we need to provide spaces that support a range of livelihoods for the local population and SMEs.”

Mohamed Sefani, Mayor of Chefchaouen, Morocco, said: “Before innovation we looked to ensure the sustainability of our local traditions, in Chefchaouen the residents paint the walls of their houses blue which has long standing cultural significance and has boosted the local economy through tourism.”

Many of the delegates also discussed how capturing information and data with greater relevance and precision, according to a priority, can be used to inform strategic urban development choices and approaches to urban management.

Bibop Gresta, Co-Founder and Chairman of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Italy said: “Data allows us to see the whole picture, it allows us to see the real cost of things, socially, environmentally, culturally and economically. It will also allow us to predict the future to some extent – to make this a reality we need to set up a platform through partnerships with public and private sectors.”

The Symposium itself was split into two constituent parts, an ‘Ideas Lab’ which formed the backbone of the event, supported by a number of in-depth panel discussions. The panel discussions featured urban planning specialists and experts from across the Arab world including KSA, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and UAE. Panelists drew on their experience to discuss and examine ways to connect innovation and culture; to create urban environments that accommodate increasingly multicultural communities and welcome diversity; and use data partnerships with the private sector and civil society to enable governments to formulate solutions to their most pressing long-term challenges.

Following the opening panel discussion, participants took part in the Ideas Lab where they collaborated to identify and rank the most important priorities relating to the four pillars of urban sustainable development (social, economic, environmental and cultural). Framing the discussions in the Lab was idea that “The modern global city is not a place, but a process”.

Maurizio Travaglini, CEO, Architects Group Genius, said: “There is no easy solution to urban planning but there are some approaches that work better than others, one of most effective approaches is human centric, to engage with the experiences of citizens and constituencies.”

The participants in the lab were then split into working groups to address the needs of different constituents of cities such as families, immigrants, knowledge workers, elderly, youth, entrepreneurs, businesses etc.   

A full list of priorities will be posted on the website of the Symposium, together with an invitation to the network of cities, partners and stakeholders of UN-Habitat to crowdsource solutions. The most promising solutions will form part of the agenda that will be presented by DPM at WUF 2020.

Mr. Falah Al Ahbabi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities, said: “Today was a truly special occasion. For the first time, experts from all over the Arab world collaborated to take the first step on the road to solving some of the long-term challenges in creating sustainable Arab cities. I firmly believe collaboration and innovation will be the key to unlocking some of our most pressing challenges and capitalising on emerging opportunities. I would particularly like to express our sincere gratitude to everyone involved in PAUDS for their incredible insights and contributions.”

Zena Ali-Ahmad, the UN-Habitat Director of the Regional Office for Arab States, said: “With more than half of the Arab region population living in urban settlements, urbanization brings new challenges, but also major opportunities, to Arab cities. The Pan Arab Urban Development Symposium (PAUDS) is a milestone in determining the Arab region’s urban priorities and ensuring they are presented in the global arena during the Tenth World Urban Forum hosted by Abu Dhabi in 2020.

PAUDS, as an essential component for the preparation of an Arab agenda towards WUF, is a pioneering regional initiative, initiated by Mr. Falah Al Ahbabi, Chairman of DPM and supported by the UN-Habitat Regional Office for Arab States, and the first of several activities to be jointly developed in the Arab region pre, during and post WUF10. We look forward to developing a joint vision and leveraging partnerships and collaborative actions towards achieving sustainable urban development for a better Arab future.”

WUF10 will be convened by UN-Habitat and jointly organized with the Abu Dhabi Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities, along with partners including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International cooperation, the General Secretariat of the Executive Council, the Abu Dhabi Police, Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism and the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.