Every two years, researchers, policymakers, architects, and planners from across the globe assemble for the World Urban Forum (WUF), organized by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). The conventioneers, who themselves could populate a small city, meet for a whirlwind week of wide-ranging discussion about the future of cities, which is increasingly intertwined with the future of earth itself. This year’s meeting, WUF6, was held on September 3–7 in Naples; for a group of New School professors and students, it was a must-attend event.
“The WUF draws a much-needed spotlight to the pressing environmental, economic, and livability issues facing city dwellers, who will soon constitute a majority of the world’s population,” says Michael Cohen, director of the Julien J. Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs, who was part of The New School’s delegation. To Cohen, The New School’s role at the WUF was clear: “The New School is a premier site for social research, international affairs, and design—fields that intersect in the study of global urban futures.”
Representatives from The New School’s 15 urban-focused degree programs brought their New York energy to the conference from the start, hosting a first-day presentation titled “Design and Development: Anticipating the Future of Bangkok, Buenos Aires, and New York.” The presentation was based on a collaborative research project conducted by The New School’s Observatory on Latin America, the University of Buenos Aires and Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. The project reached across disciplines to explore how architecture and planning might shape the future of three of the world’s great cities. Insights were offered by Parsons’ Brian McGrath and William Morrish and the Studley program’s Margarita Gutman. The following four days saw the New School faculty team (which also included Parsons’ Robert Buckley and Miodrag Mitrasinovic and Milano’s Shagun Mehrotra) speaking at or hosting a dozen more discussions and other events.
In addition to presenting ideas about the future of cities, The New School also shared its vision for education. On the conference’s second day, the entire faculty team offered an in-depth exploration of the university’s cross-disciplinary approach to the study of global urban futures.
“The amount of activity, the ideas exchanged, the number of people—it was incredible and nearly overwhelming,” said Mandy Goodgoll, Observatory on Latin America coordinator. “At our booth alone, we greeted people from every continent. And hopefully we planted the seeds for some new partnerships in the coming years.”
Sound enticing? The WUF7 meets in Medellin, Colombia, in 2014.