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Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Participation at the World Urban Forum V, to be held in Brazil, March 22-26

FPC Briefing
Shaun Donovan
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs; Adolfo Carrion, Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
March 15, 2010

Date: 03/15/2010 Location: Washington, DC. Description: Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan; Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy & Global Affairs; and Adolfo Carrion, Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs Briefing at the Washington FPC on World Urban Forum V. - State Dept Image


 2:30 P.M. EDT

Secretary Donovan: Thank you all for joining us today. As the head of the U.S. Delegation to the World Urban Forum next week, I’m honored to join with the State Department and the White House Office of Urban Affairs this afternoon to share our goals for the forum and discuss our nation’s leadership on urban policy and sustainability.

This is an important moment. As our delegation prepares to join world leaders and policymakers in Brazil next week, for the first time in the history of our civilization more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. Here in America, this trend has been underway for more than two centuries. As people have moved closer to cities and their suburbs in search of the opportunities and the amenities from housing to transportation to jobs that metropolitan areas offer.

Today our nation’s metropolitan areas generate 90 percent of our economic output and house 83 percent of our people. The pace of American urbanization is only expected to increase over the next several decades as our population is expected to grow by another 50 percent. Another 120 million people requiring another 200 billion square feet of homes, office buildings and other construction.

As fast as that seems, it doesn’t compare to the huge demographic shift we’re seeing across the globe right now. A century ago only one in ten people lived in cities. The rest, in small villages and on farms. But by 2050 it’s predicted that almost three-quarters of the world’s population will call urban and metropolitan areas home, especially in the so-called mega cities of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, what the U.S. experienced over a period of centuries is occurring around the rest of the world in just a matter of years.

As a result, millions of people are increasingly vulnerable to the deprivations associated with overburdened infrastructure, inadequate housing, and outmoded health systems. In fact UN-HABITAT predicts that within three decades one of three people will live in near total despair, lacking sanitation and clean water, exposed to the imminent effects of climate change, fueling the spread of disease and possible pandemics. But with sustainable planning and development practices in these metropolitan areas, we can ensure that the families, both at home and abroad, have access to unprecedented opportunities for economic and social progress.

That’s why this week we will join leaders from around the world in Brazil at the fifth World Urban Forum - to find opportunities for partnership that will lift the standard of living for billions of people, promote democracy and human rights, and enhance global health, food security, energy efficiency, clean construction, and green jobs.

To be sure, the United States is already pursuing a robust domestic sustainable development agenda that bolsters America’s metro areas.

Under President Obama’s leadership, we are tying the quality and location of housing to broader opportunities like access to good jobs, quality schools, and safe streets. Across the federal government we’re working together to create green jobs and products, build affordable, energy efficient homes, and promote more sustainable development patterns - all so we can meet the needs of the present and ensure the futures of our children and grandchildren.

From making critical investments in public and affordable housing through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; to launching HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing in Communities that will foster sustainable innovation on the local level; to forming unprecedented federal partnerships on transportation, land use, and environmental planning - the United States is committed to leading the world when it comes to creating the strong, sustainable communities we all need to succeed in the 21st Century.

But the Obama Administration also understands that the United States has an enormous stake in ensuring that countries across the globe usher in this new era of sustainable economic growth and development as well - opening new markets for green technology in American products; reversing the effects of global warming; and perhaps most importantly, ensuring that billions of families live not in despair, but in communities of choice, opportunity and hope.

That’s why last year we hosted for the first time ever World Habitat Day. If we fail to live up to this global responsibility, the impact is clear for America’s economy and security alike. I believe we can, as does President Obama. But we all recognize that we can’t do it alone. That’s why the U.S. is not only leading by example, creating strong sustainable communities at home, but we’re also engaging partners around the world and supporting their efforts.

Indeed the U.S. delegation to the World Urban Forum, which I’m honored to head, relishes this chance to listen, learn and share our own lessons from the laboratories of change that are our metropolitan areas.

I encourage you to visit our new web site at for World Urban Forum, to learn more about what we hope to accomplish later this month.

Together we can seize this historic opportunity before us to shape the forces of urbanization, creating a healthier, more inclusive future for our cities and metropolitan regions, and charging a more sustainable global future for generations to come.

Thank you, and now let me hand this over to Under Secretary Otero.

Under Secretary Otero: Thank you very much, Secretary Donovan. Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, or maybe we should say “boa tarde, senhoras y senhores” since we’re doing this in Rio.

Let me just start by saying that I look forward to joining with Director Carrion to represent the U.S. government and to lead the State Department delegation to the World Urban Forum which is going to be, I think, a very important marketplace for ideas about how to address the issues related to our urban concerns.

I have been working in the area of inclusive development for many years, from Accra to Quito, Ecuador, to Mombai, India. I have seen how urban growth is impacting on the millions of families around the world. As Secretary Donovan said, for the first time in history, more people now live in cities than in rural areas. What is even more important to point out is that in the next 50 years virtually all of the world’s population will be in cities and most of this growth will be in cities in the developing world.

So thinking about that dimension and considering that millions and millions more people will increasingly be more and more vulnerable to the deprivations associated with overburdened infrastructure, with inadequate housing, with outmoded health systems, this is one of the situations that we see. That sanitation, clean water, access to the needed health and other resources, the imminent impact of climate change as we will see it moving forward, will most likely develop situations in which disease and even pandemics can spread even more.

The rapid rate of urbanization is a key factor as we look at the concept of global growth and stability. So at the Department of State we understand the importance of addressing urbanization and slum proliferation through our diplomatic and our development strategies.

Urbanization is inextricably linked to many of the current policy initiatives and priorities that we are moving forward under this administration. Initiatives that promote democracy and human rights, we see that as one of the issues that gets played out as growing populations are present in cities; issues that have to do with food security, that have to do as I mentioned before, with global health and with climate change; and more and more with issues that have to do with how we empower women and girls to be able to be fully integrated into both the economy and the societies.

The urban dynamic is central to how we are addressing all of these things.

As Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, I am looking forward to discussing these issues in the forum not only from the perspectives of the needs of urban populations, but also from the perspective of participation and governance as we look at growing cities.

The United States is looking at ways to strengthen our approach to urbanization - Secretary Donovan has talked a good bit about this. We need to understand better the drivers, the impacts, and we need to also be able to partner more effectively in responding to some of the critical needs that we face.

I will be joined, all of us will be joined in Rio de Janeiro by our State Department colleagues Esther Brimmer who is the Assistant Secretary for International Organizations; and Reta Jo Lewis - who is here - who is our Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs.

I think the point is that we will be having a unified government approach in this forum, which is really evidenced by this interagency delegation, as a way of enabling us to link the considerable experience in the United States agencies that are engaged in domestic urbanization issues. We’ll also have present with us state and city governments, our development experts, and other urban thinkers who are addressing these challenges of urbanization firsthand.

We see the forum as an opportunity in which we can work together to find solutions, we can maximize opportunities, we can collaborate for efficient and innovative strategies around the significant demographic transition that we are seeing around the world.

The concept of partnership will underlie our thinking as we are at this forum, and we will look to not only bring our experiences to it but we will also look to learn from some significant successes that have taken place around the world. We think that this partnership is enormously important if we are exploring solutions that are going to lift the standard of living of billions of people around the world in our cities and in our urban corridors.

So with those words, let me just turn it over to Director Carrion for his words.

Director Carrion: Thank you very much, Under Secretary, and to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, thank you for your leadership of this delegation.

“Buenos tardes a todos, no solemente para la audiencia de Rio de Janeiro o Sao Paulo, si no tambien, para las ciudades como Buenes Aires, Santiago, Ciudad Mexico, y otras ciudades importantes in Las Americas.” I am delighted to be part of this important and distinguished delegation representing the United States at the fifth World Urban Forum.

As my colleagues have already stated, we live in an increasingly urbanized and interconnected world. Today as has been said, over half of the world’s population lives in cities and that number is expected to increase by mid century to 70 percent of the world’s population. By estimates that are reliable, that probably will be about 6.5 billion people living in cities all around the world.

So we can no longer afford to confront 21st Century urban challenges with a 20th Century vision. We need to change the pattern of urban development to reflect the way people live and the way they want to live, both here in the United States and around the world.

This generation has the responsibility to work across national boundaries to face the challenges and opportunities this concentrated urban growth presents the world community. Together, we must find smart solutions to better infrastructure, smart education systems, provide a sustainable quality of life, and do it in an equitable and fair way.

The President shares this sense of urgency and that’s why he asked us, as an administration, to coordinate a national urban strategy that will ensure that cities are economically competitive, sustainable, and rich with opportunity here in the United States.

At the President’s request we have visited cities across the country in search of best practices and urban innovations that will move us toward these goals.

The World Urban Forum gives us the opportunity to share with the rest of the world best practices and more importantly, to have a discussion and learn from the rest of the world, and world leaders and policymakers about our common challenges and opportunities.

Although we come from different places we all share similar dreams and aspirations. We all want to live in quality housing in safe neighborhoods, provide a good education for our children, and work with dignity and spend quality time with our loved ones. So I look forward to this timely and important global discussion and in working together with our colleagues from around the world for a more prosperous and sustainable urban future.

And just as my colleague the Secretary of Housing gave you a web address to visit which I think is the new wave, I want to invite you to also go to the to learn a bit more about the work that we’re doing in coordinating the efforts of this vast federal government to ensure that we invest in smart ways in growing smarter cities.

Thank you very much.

Moderator: We have about ten minutes or so for a brief question and answer period, so please keep the questions short and to the point.

Question: Sonia Schott, Globovision International, Venezuela. Thank you.

In your remarks all of you highlighted a variety of issues from energy efficiency, climate change, planning, to human rights and democracy. I would like to know how do you plan to connect all these issues in the forum, considering especially that the State Department most recently has released a report on human rights that has raised some sensitivities in the region. Thank you.

Secretary Donovan: Let me address the question more broadly and maybe the Under Secretary wants to speak more specifically about the report or the connection to human rights.

I think one of the things that’s quite different about this administration - and is embodied really in this commitment to the World Urban Forum - is openness to other ideas about how we should be looking at the problem of our cities. But also to think comprehensively. So the fact that we speak about so many different issues I think is a recognition that for too long in this country our focus in urban development and redevelopment, if you think about the experiences of public housing in this country, if you think about the experiences of urban renewal, we were too often focused on the bricks and mortar, the specific infrastructure or housing investments, and not enough on who was involved in planning and what the outcomes were for the people on the ground rather than just for the places. So I think what you’re hearing is a reflection of a more comprehensive way of thinking about urban redevelopment, and in particular, a commitment at the federal level embodied by the creation of the first ever Office of Urban Affairs at the White House, that we have to connect the physical redevelopment with the human aspect of redevelopment.

The second thing I would say very specifically, and Adolfo and I share this experience from New York City, the South Bronx became a worldwide example of the collapse of central cities in the U.S., and we both had the opportunity to work on and to help the rebirth, the renaissance of the South Bronx through, in large part, the growth of local community development corporations. And I think one of the great lessons that the U.S. has in terms of neighborhood revitalization and urban revitalization more broadly, is a now very broad infrastructure that we have in the federal government and local government of ways of working with very directly locally based non-profit organizations that we call community development corporations, that have become not only strong housing developers but also a form of local democracy.

So when we talk about human rights, about local planning, one of the very specific ways that we can do that is to support local organizations that rather than, like we saw in urban renewal decades ago, a plan imposed from the outside on local communities, what we need to support now is locally based planning through local organizations, particularly community development corporations, that can help to envision what the neighborhood wants to look like and then we can help support that, rather than having a vision imposed by the federal government or from outside those communities.

Under Secretary Otero: I think one of the areas that we will also be looking at and addressing is how it is that as you have growing populations, and this is a global meeting, as you have growing populations in cities whether it’s Nairobi where I was just recently speaking with people about these very problems, or whether it’s anywhere in Latin America. One of the issues that growing urbanization raises is how it is that you create opportunities for those residing in cities to be able to participate fully in their societies, to be able to be active players and to be able to benefit from being part of that society. It isn’t just a question of shelter and of access to the basic needs, but it is also a question of creating opportunities. Those opportunities clearly have to do with job creation, they have to do with youth. I think one of the issues that will come in very quickly as we begin to talk about urban areas is the growing youth of populations in developing countries and how many of those are concentrated in cities.

So much of the work that needs to be done in cities is also to find ways so that the dwellers not only have their human rights protected, but themselves are actively participating in creating a better environment. We note that if we connect these concepts to the concept of finding improved ways for people to be trained, for people to have the possibility of finding work, then we will create more stable environments also in cities. This is I think one of the elements that’s an important component that we will be discussing.

Question: Sabina Muscat, with the Financial Times Deutchesland.

This would be a question for Director Carrion. I would be interested to hear your views on how the census that is currently underway affects your urban policy planning. What are you looking for in the information that you’re going to gather? And how will it also relate to some of the President’s major policy initiatives such as climate change, such as immigration?

Also with regard to immigration I’d be interested in how you think the efforts to count everyone and also count illegal immigrants would affect the debate on that topic. Thank you.

Director Carrion: I think first and most important is to recognize that the census is the principal tool that we have to ensure the spreading of the federal resources in a fair and just way to where people are where the need is. And two, ensuring political representation that is fair and just. And those are the principal drivers of the census. This administration has made an historic investment in that national exercise that happens every decade.

There is a recognition that there are pockets of the population and places around the country that have been historically undercounted. Severely undercounted Hispanics, severely undercounted African Americans, in urban places there are significant undercounts. People who are undocumented, living in the shadows are naturally undercounted.

One of the messages that is being sent very clearly and unequivocally is that you need to be counted and that this information will not be used for any other reason other than ensuring a fair and accurate count of the U.S. population.

It has huge implications, naturally, for the future of America’s cities where more than 83 percent of the people live, cities in metro areas. It has huge implications for the institutions that we support in these metropolitan areas where 85 percent of the jobs are, and where the lion’s share of our domestic capacity to be competitive in the global economy exists.

So it is a central and important tool, and if you overlay the information that we get with this new approach that the administration has taken, which is to get the federal agencies coordinating, planning, investing together in the places where the lion’s share of the people and the jobs and the opportunity exists, it has obvious implications for the future of the United States. So it is obviously a very important tool.

We are doing everything as an administration to ensure a more fair and accurate count. You’ll hear more about this over the next days as the forms go out, and then there will be several months of response. And I will take this opportunity to say to the folks out there, be counted. It’s for your future and for your children’s future. We need an accurate count of the U.S. population.

Moderator: Thank you very much for the good questions. We’ll take one more question before we ask Special Representative Reta Jo Lewis to come up, and our principals will be leaving at that point.

Question: Haykaram Nahapetyan, Public Television Company of Armenia.

Obviously the cities are expected to grow bigger and bigger by 2050 as you mentioned, the rural population will flow almost to the cities. I am interested, do you have any vision or calculations how specific cities of the United States will look like by that time, by 2050? Like New York and Washington? Is New York supposed to have like 50 million or 40 million population? Or how the capital will look like by 2050? Thank you.

Secretary Donovan: We’re both a little dangerous on this subject. Having come from New York we could probably spend the next hour discussing exactly what New York might look like.

But let me speak more generally about this. I think one of the important changes that’s happened over the last few decades, if you think about where we were say in the 1970s in this country when it would have been a surprise to say that the cities would be growing again, because in fact we had the opposite happening in the middle of the last century where the population was increasingly suburbanizing with the advent of the automobile and many of our central cities were kind of hollowing out and in fact losing large numbers of population, and where the growth of economic inequality was a major, major problem. Again, the South Bronx was a great example of that.

What we’ve seen with the federal government in many ways retreating from its role as a leader of urban investment and revitalization for a number of decades. Many cities took the lead. New York City is a good example, where they have a local plan where they expect the city to grow by a million people, to about nine million from the current numbers of just over eight million by 2030; so that’s the growth trajectory there.

You had plans in cities like Chicago, Seattle, Denver, which are really truly integrated urban plans that have thinking about housing, transportation, water infrastructure, power generation, all of those different aspects of what it takes to have comprehensive urban growth and metropolitan growth, but those plans didn’t have support from the federal government. In many ways the federal government really retreated from its historic role and in many ways my agency became the Department of Housing rather than the Department of Housing and Urban Development. So a fundamental shift that you see in this administration is that we want to support those local investments, those local plans, but we see them not, as I talked about earlier, as a single federal vision for what that planning should look like but to support locally generated, democratically created planning vehicles at the local and metropolitan level which we can then support with our funding and our assistance. So that I think is a fundamental shift, and it really is, it’s not the federal government’s job to create that single vision, it’s to support the visions that are created at the local level and at the metro political level by those governments. Each of those is going to be different, depending on the strengths of those communities.

We have efforts that we could talk to you more about if you were interested of specific cities -- cities like Detroit that have been hurt by a downturn in manufacturing and where they’ve seen significant loss of population. That’s a very different kind of planning effort than regions like Los Angeles or New York that have been growing significantly over the last few years. So it varies greatly from place to place, but it has to be a locally driven effort with federal support which has been lacking for a number of decades.

Moderator: Thank you all very much. I knew somehow we were going to get onto New York City. That was unavoidable. Thank you very much for your time, Secretary Donovan, Under Secretary Otero, and Director Carrion.

Question: Sonia Schott, Globovision International.

I was wondering if you can comment on what specific projects do you have or you are working with Latin American governments or Latin American communities?

Special Representative Lewis: First, on behalf of the delegation I want to start out by saying we want to thank President de Silva and the city of Rio for the instrumental role and the support that they have played on this World Urban Forum. And Mrs. Tibajuca who is the first female African UN Under-Secretary and the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, because they have done a very remarkable job on the planning.

The Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs, as the Secretary announced, is about five or six weeks old, and I can tell you what our mission is and our plans are looking like.

I would say that Secretary Clinton over the last 30 years, starting first as the First Lady of Arkansas, and then as a United States Senator, she truly understands the importance of the challenges that state and local officials and their subnational counterparts face on all of the issues that the delegation leaders in terms of Under Secretary Otero and Carrion and Secretary Donovan spoke about.

So we have been meeting with our regional bureaus of Asia, Africa, Latin America, as well as with the different teams on development and public diplomacy. And we’re in a mode of listening and learning and hoping that, and looking at the fact that the World Urban Forum is going to give us an opportunity with our U.S. delegation that’s going to be down there to learn, and to look at our work as being an equal partnership. That the United States stands ready to work with the subnationals around the world in the different regions, and to collaborate on a number of issues, whether it’s dealing with city planning, food security, global health, climate change, trade and investment, energy, women and girls, all of the issues that have been supported by the Secretary.

So one of the things that we are working very closely with our U.S. counterparts and now as we move into one of the largest events that focuses on cities and that will have a very large delegation of state and locals, we’ll be able to work with them and listen and learn about what’s going on around the world.

Thank you.

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