“Ain’t nobody here but us chickens.” Lyric from song by Louis Jordan

Each day at noon and 4 pm, Bambu Stage, a performance art collective from Cambodia performed “Angkor Roo” in the Exhibit Hall just across from the FIABCI Booth at the UN Habitat World Urban Forum 9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Roneat Aek (wooden xylophone) would fill the hall with music and the play about reducing plastic use would start. Each time Hen eats plastic waste and dies. Roo prays for her to be brought back to life. The Goddess promises to do so if the people will reduce their plastic use.

One afternoon the women of SDI (Shack Dwellers International) began to sing at 4 pm and the hall filled with competing rhythms and sounds – African and Indian women, a Cambodian Ensemble. Standing in the FIABCI booth promoting affordable housing solutions from the Netherlands, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brazil and Nigeria, I was truly a world citizen.

Outside the Exhibit Hall, I heard about Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs) where the government drafts their Master Plan for development, decides what they want to build, where they want it and then asks the private sector to come in and fund the projects. Too late. Involve the private sector more from the start and you’ll get more than a polite handshake and “we’ve got other priorities” from the developers.

I also heard about how a NGOs has developed a clever tool for mapping 25% of the slums in Bangladesh – right down to every single person, shack, toilet and unauthorized shop. They were eager to share this data with other NGOs, but not the people they exploited for their colorful maps. The maps reminded me of the Redlining Maps of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation of the 1930s that continue to define where the bullets fly in Chicago.

Alternately I heard about how women in Uganda were trained to collect and use their own data. IHC Global presented the initial findings of “Using Data to Support Women’s Rights: Property Markets and Housing Rights through a Gender Equity Lens”, a pilot project that we are working on together. “Women can’t be in real estate because it’s a man’s job and they don’t have access to the informal places where business transactions typically happen, such as bars or clubs,” was one opinion expressed in the field research.

Goal 11 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030. To make this happen add another “P” to PPPs – People. Stop thinking of the poor and marginalized groups as the problem. They are the solution. Stop extracting the new gold of data from marginalized groups and draw fewer maps. Pay attention to the chickens.