Accelerating the SDGs in Cities: 60+ Ideas for Action

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Around 100 people participated in the  ‘Accelerating the SDGs in Cities’  Urban Thinker Campus at Columbia University.  In designing the program, the organizers sought to inspire action. Quoting from the program,

“ This Urban Thinkers Campus will address the urgency of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and how academia, the professions and civil society can help accelerate the SDGs along with other sustainability agendas. The aim will be to generate IDEAS FOR ACTION together, and methodologies by which each participant can bring the urgency of actions to their own networks. Talks, panels and breakouts will enable participants to fully and critically engage with the SDGs”.

The Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) is a World Urban Campaign initiative by UN-Habitat to advance sustainable urbanization through locally organized dialogues, workshops and conferences. It is conceived as an open space for critical exchange between stakeholders and partners. Every year, based on competitive applications, a number of UTC’s are held around the world. In 2019 the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) in the Earth Institute at Columbia University applied to host  ‘Accelerating the SDGs in Cities’. CSUD , in its various projects, addresses critical urban sustainability, equity, design and planning issues through a creative, humanistic, multi-disciplinary, and collaborative approach based on strategic systems thinking. It is committed to working across sectors and with multidisciplinary partners towards sustainable urbanization. ‘Accelerating the SDGs in Cities’ was developed  by Anna Rubbo  and Amanda Abrom (CSUD) in collaboration with invited partners: Geeta Mehta (Asia Initiatives ), Theodore Liebman (Perkins Eastman  and Lance Jay Brown (Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization). 

Over the  course of two days,  UTC speakers, panelists  and participants developed 60+ ‘Ideas for Action’ to accelerate the SDGs in cities. Of special interest to CSU readers might be some of the Ideas for Action that speak to the design professions. For example:

  • Promote the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda as well as other sustainability strategies as core urban design values, including through professional development courses and participation with the related professional organizations, such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Planning Association (APA), the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and l’Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA).
  • Establish state and national level AIA awards for SDGs and New Urban Agenda implementation.

In the related area of design education:

  • Educate future urban practitioners with knowledge and skills to implement the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda, and other sustainability strategies.
  • Incorporate SDGs across all curriculums.

In a session titled ‘ Are sustainability frameworks competing for your attention ?’,   two examples of action items stand out:

  • Ensure all design disciplines (architecture, interiors, landscape, engineering etc.) within a company, or on a specific project, are incorporating the SDGs.
  • Develop a company framework for engagement that supports the SDGs and have a positive impact on urban sustainability, as well as the earth’s  ability to rebound; consider whether projects should be accepted, and how they can best be executed within the company framework.

This Urban Thinkers Campus  was part of a larger project led by CSUD’s Anna Rubbo. ‘Accelerating the SDGs’ has been a three stage project to increase awareness of, and engagement with, the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.

Accelerating the SDGs project website

To date that has included a global survey which asked city makers ‘How are the SDGs traveling in your world?’, the Urban Thinker Campus, and the Local Project Challenge.

The Local Project Challenge called for projects that considered the SDGs.

The project website aims to share knowledge, build networks and inspire others to consider incorporating the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda. Of the 111  projects from 39 countries in this  online gallery, 49 are by professionals from  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Greece, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Papua New Guinea, Portugal. Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Uganda, UK, USA and Vanuatu.  Seven projects are by USA professionals, including projects by Arup and Koning Eizenberg Architecture. www.localprojectchallenge.org  showcases professional, education and civil society projects. 

The Local Project Challenge  website was remotely launched by former UN Secretary General- and SDGs champion-  Ban Ki-moon at the Urban Thinkers Campus.  His opening remarks included the following: “I encourage you to share this important gallery with colleagues, fellow students, friends and family. I encourage everyone to ask how the SDGs can be incorporated in our daily lives. Their widespread adoption will help realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and create a more equal and livable future. To all who have taken this first step by submitting their projects to create this extraordinary resource, my warmest congratulations.” 

The Local Project Challenge website

Now, as we experience a resurgence of the pandemic, in their breadth and comprehensiveness, the SDGs take on greater significance for a sustainable , equitable  recovery. The 60+ Ideas for Action to accelerate the SDGs in the professions, education and civil society are available here . This eight page document invites you to ‘adopt, adapt or improve’. The UTC program, talks and videography can also be viewed online.

About the author: Dr Anna Rubbo, LFAIA, formerly professor of architecture at the University of Sydney, is a Senior Researcher in the Center of Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) in the Earth Institute at Columbia University. She heads up CSUD’s Accelerating the SDGs project.

You can contact Dr Rubbo at Anna.rubbo@columbia.edu

Visit the Local Project Challenge on Instagram

About the author: Dr Anna Rubbo, LFAIA, formerly professor of architecture at the University of Sydney, is a Senior Researcher in the Center of Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) in the Earth Institute at Columbia University. She heads up CSUD’s Accelerating the SDGs project.

You can contact Dr Rubbo at Anna.rubbo@columbia.edu

Visit the Local Project Challenge on Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/localprojectchallenge/