Tag Archives: ugec viewpoints

Viewpoints: Resilience & Cities: Critical Thoughts on an Emerging Paradigm

shutterstock_189513023Andrea Lampis
National University of Colombia

The issue of cities and resilience has grown increasingly more animated in urban policy and academic debates (Metzger and Robert, 2013). The term has been used to inform political rhetoric as well as a heuristic and operational tool and even as a concept within the social sciences. Progressively embedded into the wider torrential flow of academic and policy-oriented discussions on climate change and global environmental change, the term ‘resilient cities’ played, for instance, a central role in last year’s 7th World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia.

As the current understandings of resilience are inherited from natural and social science debates, it is one of the most used yet least contested terms. Over the last decade, the use of resilience has increased at an exponential basis in the literature on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR). In relation to cities, the shift is so evident that the term ‘resilient cities’ has largely replaced the now old-fashioned ‘sustainable cities’.  As it happened with ‘sustainability’, the notion of ‘resilience’ exerts a sort of hegemonic dominance on those scientific discourses placed at, and originating from, the cutting-edge between natural and social sciences. Resilience permeates the way social and urban problems are framed almost everywhere.

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Viewpoints: The challenges of urban mobility in Nairobi, Kenya

Lorraine Amollo AmboleFigure 6
University of Nairobi, Kenya

Deep down, I always knew there was a method to the madness of Nairobi matatus, and now I have the evidence!

Let me start from the beginning: I have lived in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, for more than 30 years. I have spent well over 10 of those years traversing the city using matatus.  Matatus are privately owned public service vehicles (PSVs), which are usually 14 or 25 seater vans and minibuses. The word matatu is said to have come from ‘tatu’, which is Swahili for three. Apparently, the first matatus in the 1960s used to charge three cents for a ride.

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Viewpoints: What’s Next for Air Quality in the United States?

Tracey Holloway
University of Wisconsin, USA

Whether you remember the 1970s, Air Pollutionor – like me – have seen hazy skylines in movies like Rocky, you may notice something has changed. The U.S., like many other industrialized countries, has drastically cleaner air today than in decades past.

A layer of haze used to be a common part of city life. While occasional bad air days still occur throughout the U.S., on most days, in most cities, the air is clear and and for the most part healthy. If you could breathe that ‘70s air, you would feel the difference in your lungs, your eyes, and your life expectancy

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Viewpoints: The Places Left Behind

shutterstock_69010459 (1)Colin Harrison
IBM & Arizona State University, USA

The largest labor force migration in history is underway, driven by urbanization, global communications, low-cost labor, business growth and technological innovation. This transition began in Europe and North America in the late 18th century at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and now encompasses most of the world. Figure 1 illustrates a pattern that is being repeated worldwide. In this pattern, labor migrates from agriculture into higher value occupations such as manufacturing, where the transitioning region usually has a cost advantage, and later into the services sector as manufacturing industry is lost in turn to newly developing regions. This transition is still underway in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, and South America, and may be receiving new impetus from forces such as climate change and political instability. It seems likely to reach a fluctuating equilibrium during the 21st century.

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Viewpoints: Opportunities and limitations in the private provision of public urban ecosystem services

Alessandro Ossola, shutterstock_280085912
University of Melbourne, Australia

The number of publications on urban ecosystem services (ES) has increased dramatically in recent years. While numerous studies have investigated ES provision from the public realm (e.g., public green spaces, urban parks and reserves, streetscapes) (Lovell & Taylor, 2013), fewer have explicitly accounted for the provision of public ES from residential gardens and, more generally, the private realm (e.g., Cameron et al., 2012; Larson et al., 2015). This article will highlight some major opportunities and limitations regarding the private provision of public ecosystem services (PPPES) in order to offer some stimuli for further research and facilitate interactions between researchers and urban practitioners interested in ES provision.

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Viewpoints: How can we apply complexity science to urban policy?

11417270466_87cebecf60_oMichail Fragkias
Boise State University, USA

In the past few decades, urban researchers and practitioners across the world have jointly enriched our understanding of the new challenges that metropolitan areas in the 21st century are facing. The new challenges for our cities are: (i)  driven in part by global (environmental) change processes and are compounded; that is, their potential impact is severe, especially in places that have not resolved challenges that characterized the past century; (ii) occuring increasingly at the intersection of administratively-defined and bureaucratically-managed urban sectors, such as transportation, water, energy, sanitation, etc.; and, (iii) moving beyond the realm ofcomplicated problems, to that of complex problems; and solutions to the challenges can emerge only if we adopt the viewpoint of complex systems or complex networks.

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Developing community engagement tools and processes through Future Earth

shutterstock_158669972 (1)John Robinson
University of British Columbia, Canada

Recent years have seen a strong upsurge in participatory processes of citizen engagement. These processes serve multiple functions, ranging from the bottom to the top of Arnstein’s well-known ladder of citizen participation (Arnstein, 1969) but one useful typology is suggested by Stirling (2006; based on Fiorino, 1989; see also the discussion in Bendor et al., 2012), who describes three rationales for such processes: (i) normative (citizens have the right to participate); (ii) substantive (such participation improves the quality of decisions, and (iii) instrumental (it provides increased legitimacy for the eventual decisions).

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Viewpoints: Smart Cities for Smart Citizens: Enabling Urban Transitions through Crowdsourcing

shutterstock_76580212Chiara Certoma and Francesco Rizzi
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy.

Recently, the term smart city has rapidly turned into a buzzword used with reference to almost any technology-driven urban initiative, encompassing a broad range of aspects of urban life (e.g., quality of life and welfare, sustainability, social cohesion, economic growth, etc.) This makes operationalization of the concept ambiguous and difficult. While there is no commonly agreed upon definition of thesmart city, mainstream discourses present it as “a semantic synthesis and a conventional wisdom evoking efficiency, accountability, self-reliance” (Spaces & Flows: Fifth International Conference on Urban and Extra-Urban Studies, Bangkok 7-8 Nov 2014). Despite relevant differences, an invariant in almost all definitions is the idea that “technologies will play a huge role in urban life in the near future […], including for example the idea that technologies will solve our current (environmental) problems without meaningfully changing our way of life” (Santangelo, Ribera-Fumaz, & March, 2015). The pervasiveness and often the vacuity of smart city initiatives – ranging from the construction of new cities characterised by the ubiquitous presence of technologies of control and organisation, up to single and often disconnected initiatives in existing urban contexts – exposes it to a broad variety of critiques. Wishful thinking more than evidence depicts smart cities as places where a significant integration of technology into daily life allows the creation of more attractive, healthier, sustainable and innovation-orientated environments.

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Viewpoints: Building Scenarios for Sustainable Urbanisation

Image Credit: Olivia BinaOlivia Bina, University of Lisbon, Portugal & Andrea Ricci, The Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems, Italy

We have demonstrated that we can build meta- and mega-cities, and move seamlessly into city-regions and clusters. We exhibit the capability for spontaneous and/or planned urbanisation. We can build super-tall and ultra-dense. We expand horizontally, reclaiming waterfronts with abandon, and vertically downwards as we explore the endless opportunities that lie underground. We confront new macro-scale challenges with nano-scale techno-scientific solutions, as we embrace the era of the ‘smart’ (Caprotti 2015).

Thus, we create problems of unprecedented complexity, at a speed and scale that place governments and governance mechanisms primarily in reactive (no matter how ‘strategic’), rather than anticipatory decision modes. We tend to discuss and frame the problems and their solutions in politically and ideologically unproblematic terms, preferring to search for means (how to solve problems), rather than question the ends (why is this a problem, indeed, what is the problem?) (Caprotti 2015a ; Ideas At The House 2013). In the words of Specht (2015b): “We are making and remaking our cities over and over without perhaps stopping to ask how or why.”

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Viewpoints: Navigating urban complexity through stakeholders’ experience and knowledge

shutterstock_196074245Marta Olazabal, Marc Neumann, Aline Chiabai, & Sebastian Foudi, Basque Centre for Climate Change in Bilbao, Spain.

Complexity is a natural characteristic of urban development. As cities evolve, institutions, social- and economic systems and organizational structures become more complex. Increasing complexity also implies that information about the urban sphere becomes more and more disaggregated among people, domains and space. Segregation, not only of populations (Marcotullio, 2015), but also of the information needed to manage multifaceted system, emerges. Challenging urban complexity requires even higher levels of public and private involvement when cities face environmental perturbations such as increasing environmental degradation, natural disasters or climatic impacts.

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