Vancouver, Jan. 20th: I arrived this afternoon in the temporary capital of the empire of ineffectual good guys known as the World Urban Forum. I'm cynical about these UN-sponsored gatherings (can't ya tell), but being a fly on the wall does give an opportunity to learn some things and make some contacts.
My own bad planning ensured that I was in flight and thus missed the session on squatter communities this morning. But I checked out a session on creative muncipal approaches to financing stuff for the poor in French-speaking Africa in the afternoon. Niamey, in Niger, has started a plan to map the central city, giving every house and address, thus making it easier to collect taxes (indeed, the statistics bandied about show that the city quadrupled the amount it collected after the survey.) Dakar, Senegal has started a municipal microfinance credit program. And Douala, Cameroon has floated an issue of municipal bonds to provide seed money for housing for poor people.
The theme of the forum is "Turning Ideas Into Action" but so far, my experience is that there's more hot air than concerted, connected, committed political action. Still, I can hope.