Interactive webinar on “Sustainable and Just Cities”

An Interactive webinar on “Sustainable and Just Cities” was organized by the Vital Cities & Citizens (VCC) initiative of EUR on 19 November 2020. We invited employees (academic staff, researchers and others) and students of the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) and the aim was for participants to share and connect their research, studies and/or educational activities on sustainable and just cities with each other. This blog summarizes the webinar and shares the main resources.

The webinar included three main sections spread over two hours. We began with short introduction presentations by Dr. Flor Avelino, Dr. Rosalba Icaza Garza and Dr. Wouter Spekkink on how they address the topic of sustainable and/or just cities. This was followed by a World Café discussion, using break-out groups with 3-5 people over two rounds of 15 minutes each. Questions discussed included: What do you find interesting about sustainable and/or just cities and why? How are you working on sustainable and/or just cities? (research/ education/ other) What are your questions/comments in response to the speakers? 

The webinar ended with a plenary session where the participants shared some comments and questions. 25 people attended the webinar including PHD candidates (28%), students (22%), researchers (17%), EUR employees (17%), Professors (6%), Assistant Professors (6%), Post-doc’s (6%), and others (22%). In this blog, we summarize the main points of presentations and plenary discussion. We also share the resources from the webinar including presentation slides and publications/links/events relevant to the topic of Sustainable and/or Just Cities. The main presentation slides and the slides of our three speakers can be found at the bottom of this page. 

#1 “Sustainable and Just Cities from a Translocal and Transformative Power Perspective” by Dr. Flor Avelino. 

Dr. Flor Avelino is the theme-lead of Sustainable & Just Cities for the Vital Cities & Citizens (VCC) initiative  and senior researcher at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT). She introduced sustainable and just cities as cities that strive to improve quality of life and well-being, meet the needs of both present and future generations, enable justice and equity, and live within ecosystem limits (in reference to Castán Broto & Westman 2016). She explained about her approach to this topic from a transformative perspective (transition and social innovation), power perspective (exclusion, inequality, oppression, exploitation, etc.), and translocal perspective (locally embedded and globally connected) and ended with a plea to repoliticize research on sustainability.

#2 “Learning from Stories of Solidarity in the City of The Hague during COVID times” by Dr. Rosalba Icaza Garza.

Dr. Rosalba Icaza Garza is an Associate Professor of Global Politics, Gender and Diversity at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). Rosalba spoke about the research project Learning from Stories of Solidarity. While everyday stories of solidarity are shared on social media by communities in The Hague showing resilience to COVID-19, the stories of marginalized populations are not shown as frequently or are put in a negative light. She describes that the project uses the power of storytelling to expand the plural meaning and practices of solidarity in the City of The Hague. The project is part of the Local Engagement Facility, an ISS initiative that encourages and formalizes collaboration between ISS and other societal actors in the city of The Hague. Rosalba ended with a plea for an Erasmian perspective on epistemic justice.

#3 “Circular Economies from the Grassroots” by Dr. Wouter Spekkink.

Dr. Wouter Spekkink is an Assistant Professor Governance at Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB). Wouter highlighted that the grassroots activities and the role of citizens in practices of circular economy remains underexplored. He cited examples of two initiatives - Repair Café community and Precious Plastic community - which developed from the grassroots, and are driven by networks of activists and organizations that respond to environmental problems and unmet social needs. Repair Cafés are free-to-access meetings for repairing items together and Precious Plastic is a combination of people, machines, platforms and knowledge to reduce plastic waste.

Q&A and Discussion

During the discussion the groups presented their comments and questions for the speakers. These included: Why was the focus of the circular economy on citizens or grassroots action rather than corporations or government? What is the nature of research on circular economy from the grassroots in other contexts such as for the Global South? What topics or disciplines can we focus on for repoliticizing social science and addressing conflicting values, and what is the role of researchers therein? 

Regarding the question on focusing on citizens rather than corporations or government,  Wouter explained that there is already a huge body of circular economy literature focusing on businesses or policies and relatively less attention is given to grassroots initiatives. By giving a voice and extrapolating from these initiatives, we can create an alternative story of how people act within circular economy models in real life. Rosalba furthermore added that in their research, they study citizens but don’t focus on individual agents but rather on social relations, so as to diffuse the notion of agency. In response to the question about circular economy in other contexts like the Global South, Rosalba emphasized that we need to problematize the circular economy in the Global South further in terms of colonial and developmental contexts. On the question of repoliticisation and conflicting values, Flor pointed out the increasing attention for different directionalities and normativities in research on sustainability transitions and transformations. The main role of researchers therein is to acknowledge and make explicit the plurality of and tensions between different perspectives. 

Resources from the webinar

  • Overall presentation slides
  • List of EUR employees and students working on/interested in the topic of Sustainable and Just Cities. Are you working and/or studying at the EUR and interested in  Sustainable and Just Cities? Feel free to add your name & email to this list!
  • List of shared publications. Feel free to add links and publications (by yourself or others) that are relevant for research on sustainable just cities! 
  • Dr. Flor Avelino presentation slides on “Sustainable and Just Cities from a Translocal and Transformative Power Perspective”: see the slides here and video here
  • Dr. Rosalba Icaza Garza presentation slides on “Learning from Stories of Solidarity in the City of The Hague during COVID times": see the slides here and video here
  • Dr. Wouter Spekkink presentation slides on “Circular Economies from the Grassroots”: see the slides here and video here

About the organizers

Vital Cities & Citizens (VCC) is part of Erasmus University Rotterdam and works towards improving the quality of life in cities by identifying the conditions for equal opportunities in life, safe living environments, and harmonious coexistence for an increasingly diverse population. 

About the Authors 

Vaishali Joshi
Vaishali Joshi is working as a research assistant for the VCC project under the theme of Sustainable & Just Cities. She has recently completed her MSc. in Development and Rural Innovation at Wageningen University & Research and has also worked as an intern at DRIFT. She has expertise in online and/or blended communication and has researched in the field of urban sustainability, justice, and migration. 

Dr. Flor Avelino
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 specializes 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).