Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” – attributed to Thomas Jefferson

Freedom has been taken from too many people. Blaggards take liberty because good people are silent, disorganized or apathetic. Protecting our systems requires that those who value community, inclusion and creativity are more effective than those who seek profit, self-aggrandizement and destruction. “Transforming our cities for a better urban future” was the theme of UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum 11 in Katowice, Poland held in late June. In spite of all the crises surrounding the Spodek Arena, those who believe in the power of the commons gathered in harmony and optimism.

I followed the affordable housing track and was both frustrated and pleased. Frustrated that many of the presentations were the exact same as in 2016, 2018 and 2020 – “we just don’t have the data we need to finance more affordable housing;” “conflicting government policies are holding production back;” development agencies providing reams of analysis of the problem and little in the way of solutions.

Pleased that once again women were the lodestars on this journey. Claudia López Hernández is the first openly lesbian Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. At the start of her term in 2020, the epidemiologists told her that her city would lose 60,000 people to COVID-19 within 6 months. There was nothing she could do. Only 24,000 people have died in Bogotá from COVID. She marshalled the resources and most importantly public morale. She has increased affordable housing during the pandemic and built more hospitals and clinics.

Célestine Ketcha Courtès, Minister of Housing & Urban Development, Cameroon was previously Mayor of Bangangté and urged the African gate keepers to listen to the needs of their people and open the gates. UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif was Mayor of Penang, Malaysia and insisted that everyone submit written Declared Actions on what they were going to do the meet the moment.

I facilitated a session in the Urban Library where Budiarsa Sastrawinata, Managing Director of Ciputra Group in Indonesia presented the Transit-Oriented Development project Citra Maja Raya, a city-scale development concept that is affordable, inclusive and resilient. Sharon Young, Global Housing Foundation President, presented the organization’s work to develop workforce housing in Latin America and Carla Gautier Castro, Founder & CEO of KONTi Design|Build Studio explained how unused shipping containers are plentiful around the world and can be repurposed to create disaster-proof, safe homes with structural longevity and minimal environmental impact.

In the reborn coal mining town, now a center of culture including the Polish National Radio Symphony Hall, an efficient tram system and swing dancing each evening in the town square; I found a laboratory of how to transform today’s urban challenges into a stronger and more collaborative city. Our Declared Action is to work together to design, develop and build a prototype community in Puerto Rico using the solutions showcased in the event.

In these anxious times, we must keep watch and be ready to once again fight for equal opportunity for everyone.