Seeking urban sustainability on the world stage

Meg Holden, Mark Roseland, Karen Ferguson, Anthony Perl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Nearly any introduction to the ideas and actions of sustainable development includes a mention of the role played in launching the global movement by the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. International forums have been a major vehicle for the pursuit of sustainability subsequent to 1992, as well, but little attention has been paid to the contribution that these global gatherings have made to the advancement of sustainability goals. This article takes up this question, with a focus on the role that major global gatherings may be playing in the pursuit of urban sustainability, specifically. To this end, we examine outcomes from the United Nations Habitat II Forum (1996, Istanbul), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002, Johannesburg), the World Social Forum (2001-present, Porto Alegre), and the World Urban Forum 3 (2006, Vancouver), based on reports in the scholarly literature and, in the latter case, based on our own experience as urbanists in the host city of the World Urban Forum 3. For comparative purposes, we include in our review reflections on the contribution made by a United Nations effort towards sustainability, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), made without an accompanying major global gathering. While we do not find evidence of 'Rio-scale' success among either the forums or in the case of the MDGs, we report on process and structural innovations made with each forum as well as common critiques of all of them. A primary contribution that all the forums have made to the advancement of urban sustainability has been more clearly differentiating among sustainability's very different types of proponents and charting the landscape of barriers and opportunities for paradigm change towards sustainable urban futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-317
Number of pages13
JournalHabitat International
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Canada
  • Millennium Development Goals
  • Rio Earth Summit
  • Sustainability movement
  • Sustainable development
  • UN Habitat
  • Urban sustainability
  • World Urban Forum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies


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