Business as a Key Urbanization Player: Unthinkable 20 Years Ago, But Essential Today

The World Urban Forum includes six assemblies, which gather specific stakeholder groups and actors in the development of sustainable cities. The Business Assembly, held on 7 February, is a primary vehicle for the private sector to discuss its responsibility and engagement with urbanization. In the words of UN-Habitat Executive Director Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, “How the business community chooses to direct its resources will have an impact on urbanization. The public sector needs to improve policy to enable investment, to mobilize the wealth and knowledge of private sector.”

The New Urban Agenda is clear about the role of business in urban development and this is the subject of a call to action for businesses “to apply their creativity and innovation toward solving sustainable development challenges in urban areas, acknowledging that private business activity, investment, and innovation are major drivers of productivity, inclusive growth and job creation” (New Urban Agenda, paragraph 133).

Business Assembly panel topics included urban finance, public-private partnerships, housing, infrastructure, technology and more, with panelists drawn from corporate, governmental and institutional backgrounds. An important takeaway was a call for an inclusive understanding of economic growth, with the contribution of the urban poor to GDP understood as an important element in a holistic picture of how nations and their urban areas function and prosper. Involving “business” as a key stakeholder group in sustainable urban development might have been unthinkable 20 years ago: today it is essential.