Bridging Knowledge for Sustainable & Just Cities: Sharing the UrbanA Resources

In order to transform our cities into more sustainable and just environments, we need actionable knowledge that is relevant and accessible to as many people as possible. This blog shares the collection of resources that the UrbanA project offers to co-create and facilitate such actionable knowledge, from a Podcast Series to Arena Events and Webinars and an open source Wiki Database.

Blog by dr. Flor Avelino and Vaishali Joshi

Sustainable and just cities enable overall quality of life and well-being, including social justice and ecological sustainability, for current and future generations. These aspirations are filled with inherent ambiguities, tensions and contradictions. Viruses, ecological degradation, economic downfall, racism and other forms of injustice are all interconnected. 

Understanding (in)just (un)sustainabilities and their complex underlying processes of transformation and political contestation, requires a tremendous interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary effort. Each of these words - politics, justice, sustainability, transformation, cities - comes with elaborate fields of research and practice, ranging from urban political ecology and just sustainabilities to innovation and transition research. Bridging these different fields is paramount to make sense of sustainable and just cities. 

UrbanA’s mission to synthesise actionable knowledge to transform our cities

The main mission of the UrbanA project is to broker and synthesise actionable knowledge on and for sustainable and just cities. In order to transform our cities into more sustainable and just environments, we need actionable knowledge that is relevant and accessible to as many people as possible. 

It aims to facilitate and co-create an open source knowledge commons and community of practice of city-makers and city-thinkers that share a passion and interest for transforming their urban environments into more sustainable and just cities. In this blog, we share some of the main resources that the UrbanA project has to offer so far. 

Wiki Database on Sustainable and Just Cities

The Wiki on Sustainable Just Cities is part of UrbanA’s  knowledge commons that serves as a resource for everyone that wants to contribute to more sustainable and just cities. It is not only for everyone to use the knowledge on wiki but also to share their own knowledge and experience. It is a decentralized approach to knowledge co-creation and information sharing that puts ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and ‘self-organization’ in the lead. 

Approaches to sustainable and just cities from community gardens to participatory budgeting

So far, the Wiki Database synthesizes existing knowledge by primarily featuring Approaches to sustainable & just cities (methods, tools, concepts, perspectives). These approaches include a diversity of interventions, actions, strategies, solutions or policies ranging from community gardens and Transition Towns to democratic governance and financial mechanisms. 

For example, community gardens is a popular urban agricultural approach that mainly aims to boost local food production, reduce energy use in food transport and build community resilience. Another example is that of participatory budgeting, an innovative, democratic, decision-making process that establishes a dialogue and collaboration between citizens and authorities to spend public budget on local development. 

Similar to these examples, there are over 40  distinct approaches in the Wiki on Sustainable and Just Cities. To know more about the Wiki database and how these approaches were mapped, you can read the blog by Karlijn Schipper on Ways to make cities just & sustainable, the mapping guidelines and the Wiki Database report

How can you contribute? 

The Wiki has been designed and initiated by the consortium members of UrbanA project, but now a wider Community of Practice co-creates this living knowledge database. Anybody, including you, can become a Wiki-user and can add or modify content directly from their web browser (You can read this blog and this User Guide to know more about how to). 

In addition to approaches, everybody is invited to add relevant information, e.g. on Projects & initiatives working on sustainable & just cities, User profiles of people working on sustainable & just cities, and on the topics of upcoming UrbanA events such as drivers of injustice in the context of urban sustainability efforts and governance scenarios that are favourable to justice and sustainability. 

Cities, justice, sustainability and COVID-19

Furthermore, the current COVID-19 crisis has revealed severe inequities in European cities while showing the fragility of an unsustainable growth-oriented economic system. Hence, the Wiki has been enriched by an additional tab called - Cities, justice, sustainability and COVID-19 - which provides resources that intersect across the issues of injustice, unsustainability, urbanization with emergent issues associated with the COVID-19 crisis. 

UrbanA Podcast Series

The UrbanA Podcast Series offers critical conversations with city-makers and city-thinkers from different European cities on themes of sustainable and just cities. The speakers vary from activists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals and policy-makers who are working in complementary and conflicting ways. So far, there are more than eight episodes to be enjoyed

  1. Sustainability and Justice in Food and Transport’, discussing Cargonomia, a Budapest-based community space for locally-produced food and cargo bike rentals. 
  2. Transition Governance’ with Derk Loorbach in Rotterdam, one of the founders of the transition management approach as a new form of governance for sustainable development. 
  3. Textile Recyclingdiscussing EigenDraads, a Rotterdam-based initiative for recycling of non-reusable clothes as a part of the circular economy. 
  4. Shipping’ in conversation with Elisabeth Schober who is the Principle Investigator in the upcoming Ports project funded by European Research Council. 
  5. FabLabs’ on digital fabrication laboratories with Rafael Calado, who is the Programme and Operations Manager at FabLab Lisboa. 
  6. Nature Based Solutions’ as discursive tools and contested practices in urban nature’s neoliberalisation processes with political ecologist Panagiota Kotsila.
  7. Integral Cities’, a framework of looking at cities as living systems with Marilyn Hamilton, the founder of Integral City and author of the Integral City book series.
  8. ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ with UrbanA Fellow Kemo Camara, founder and CEO of Omek, a new digital and physical platform dedicated to the social and professional advancement of the African diaspora community.

Every month, UrbanA releases a new podcast and you can listen to these either directly from the website or in several apps. You can also subscribe to the series to stay updated whenever a new podcast is released. 

Urban Arena Events & Webinars

The Urban Arena Events are spaces for action, reflection and connection for sustainable and just cities with a diversity of actors across disciplines and domains. They help in reaching UrbanA’s aim by providing co-creative spaces to city makers and thinkers. UrbanA organizes four arenas Rotterdam, Barcelona, Berlin and Brussels across a three-year period that will build upon each other content-wise and process-wise.

These are designed to be impact-driven, interactive, diverse with participants, co-creative, rooted in existing transition dynamics, context-aware, translocal and as blended gatherings that combine face to face participation with remote online connection. To know more about our approach to arena events and how they are designed, you can read the blog or report on the translocal and transdisciplinary UrbanA Arena Design.

First Arena Events in Rotterdam and Lisbon

The first Urban Arena Event was organized in November 2019 in Rotterdam, hosted by DRIFT. Gathering over 60 city-makers and city-thinkers from over 30 different cities, this event focused mainly on exploring a broad range of projects and approaches addressing urban (un)sustainability and (in)justice, which provided important input for the Wiki database. 

In 2019, UrbanA also organized an ‘arena side event’ in Lisbon that included walking tours and participatory methods to explore the localized context of gentrification and eviction in Lisbon. To get a better impression of the UrbanA events in Rotterdam and Lisbon alongwith summaries of the sessions, you can read the UrbanA City-Zine report. 

Online Urban Arena Event hosted from Barcelona during COVID-19

The second Urban Arena Event was organized in June 2020 and was completely online due to the COVID-19 crisis. The translocal online gathering was hosted by the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability attended by over 60 participants and focused on 10 identified drivers of urban injustice & (un)sustainability and what can we learn from Covid-19 pandemic. The discussions in break-out groups were supported by illustrations, videos and a booklet of summaries and will provide further input for the Wiki database of drivers of injustice

An open webinar was organized next to this Arena Event for imagining post-covid cities in times of pandemic and social confinement. To know more about these online events, you can read the UrbanA report on Justice Challenges in Urban Sustainability or watch the recording of the webinar.

UrbanA Community Conversation

The UrbanA Community Conversations offer a series of regular online events that bring together people to connect, learn and discuss on several themes related to urban sustainability and justice. So far, UrbanA organized over six of such online conversations, e.g. on creating a local climate adaptation plan, transformative cities, addressing poverty via food solidarity and a feminist perspective on sustainable and just cities. 

You can follow UrbanA Events page to stay updated about the upcoming events or watch it later on the UrbanA YouTube Channel. More recently, UrbanA also collaborated with the Vital Cities & Citizens initiative and DRIFT to co-organize an online movie night with a screening of the documentary PUSH to explore the global housing crisis. This was accompanied with a World Cafe discussion on the right to housing and the strategies towards transforming our urban environments into more sustainable and just cities. You can find more about this event here and can also access Push-The Film on Vimeo.

How to be involved?

More information on the UrbanA project is available here. If you like the work UrbanA is doing and want to help in bridging the knowledge for sustainable and just cities, then you can join UrbanA's Community of Practice via the Communities for Future Platform or via LinkedIn. You can also subscribe to the newsletter or follow UrbanA on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook via the hashtag #SustainableJustCities.

dr. Flor Avelino

Dr. Flor Avelino is the theme lead of Sustainable & Just Cities within the Vital Cities & Citizen (VCC) initiative of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. She works at DRIFT as senior researcher in the politics of sustainability transitions and social innovation. She specialises in power and empowerment theories, and is involved in research projects on transformative social innovation (TRANSIT), sustainable & just cities (UrbanA) and social innovation in energy transitions (SONNET & PROSEU).

Vaishali Joshi

Vaishali Joshi is working as an intern at DRIFT and is doing her MSc. in Development and Rural Innovation at Wageningen University & Research. As DRIFT she is working towards research and innovation in the field of sustainability transitions, social innovations, and urban social inequality and is involved in research projects UrbanA, SONNET and Vital Cities and Citizens.
 

Vital Cities and Citizens

With the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC) Erasmus University Rotterdam wants to help improve the quality of life in cities. In vital cities, the population can achieve their life goals through education, useful work and participation in public life. The vital city is a platform for creativity and diversity, a safe meeting place for different social groups. The researchers involved focus on one of the four sub-themes:

  • Inclusive Cities and Diversity
  • Resilient Cities and People
  • Smart Cities and Communities
  • Sustainable and Just Cities

VCC is a collaboration between Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) and International Institute of Social StudiesOpens external (ISS).

Researcher
dr. Flor Avelino