Loebs Join a Global Community at the World Urban Forum

For a week in April, more than 27,000 people descended on Medellín, Colombia for the World Urban Forum 7, an international conference organized by UN Habitat–the Human Settlements Programme of the United Nations. Amid the bustle of the conference, Matthias Nohn (LF ’14) and Deidre Schmidt (LF ’08 and lecturer of housing and urbanization) stood out for their stately calm, happily preparing and presenting an interactive primer on incremental housing with Professor Reinhard Goethert of MIT. Brought together by Matthias’ vision, the team presented a three-hour workshop for an audience of global housing advocates and professionals. 

Every 2 years, the World Urban Forum convenes professionals, politicians, citizens, and students under broad themes of urbanism; this year’s focus was “Urban Equity in Development - Cities for Life.” Registrants from over 160 countries gathered at the Plaza Mayor convention center in downtown Medellín. The reach of the conference was broad, and in hundreds of sessions throughout the week, presenters from organizations or universities addressed the specifics of city-building, sharing successes and lessons with the global community.

Medellin was a logical host city for the Forum, as it has long been a laboratory of urban innovation. In recent years, Medellin has claimed international recognition its “urban transformation” from a city of violent, criminal infamy to one of responsible government and civic architecture. Transformative examples abound in the city. The Biblioteca de España is one notable example, a library constructed as part of a larger network in many of the city’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods. The Metrocable system connects many of these same impoverished hillside communities to the municipal public transit system, enabling an urban integration that was previously unthinkable.

Matthias Nohn and his co-presenters have long been invested in these same ideas of “urban transformation” and brought their international experience and expertise to the stage. Their session offered a detailed look at the steps needed to build thoughtful, specific interventions for low-income communities using incremental housing. “Leaving No-One Behind: How to Access Land, Design Shelter, and Deliver Finance to the Urban Poor” started with presentations, then focused on a series of interactive activities that allowed breakout teams to work collaboratively on small development proposals.

Participants, who ranged from Colombian architecture students to housing professionals from Uganda, were prompted to consider land development and design, policy options, and financial structure as a basis for building community. The small assignments encouraged them to think through development at multiple stages, from physical lot development to strategic partnerships between the government and a developer. Detailed worksheets allowed the teams to work through different scenarios depending on the income of the community, the type of loan financing or tenure they expected, or where they imagined new housing development to take place.

Throughout the presentation, participants shared experiences and posed questions, and then took home a useful set of guidelines for incremental housing in their own communities or countries. This global, holistic perspective on housing and development has made the World Urban Forum a unique setting for shared learning since the first forum was held in 2002.

Deidre Schmidt said the workshop “pushed all three of us to think more holistically. While this was the goal of the session for the participants, it ended up presenting the same challenge and opportunity to us as presenters.”

Learn more about the World Urban Forum 7.

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