Making Cities Work: a 60-year celebration

Last November, IHS turned 60. To celebrate this milestone, we organised the ‘Empowering Cities and Citizens' conference, which took place at the Maassilo, in Rotterdam, on 6-7 November.

Celebrating milestones

This event was part of the 105-year anniversary of Erasmus University Rotterdam, and marked the first year of activity for the 'Vital Cities and Citizens' (VCC) Erasmus initiative. The conference was organized in collaboration with Robbert Nesselaar, Founder and Managing Director of Citymar Consultancy, with the support of Erasmus Trustfonds, and thanks to the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.

Over 350 participants and 50 speakers from academia, local governments and other Dutch and international institutions got together to discuss how cities and communities learn and co-create knowledge, in order to meet current needs in cities and also how their solutions might support the implementation of the SDGs.

Cities and their citizens

The first day of the conference was held in Maassilo, a 100-year old reconverted grain silo in the South of Rotterdam and it featured a full-day programme of keynote speeches, breakout sessions and panel discussions. The three keynote speeches were given by Prof. Nina Glick-Schiller (Emeritus Professor at Manchester University; Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology), who talked about how migrants are true city-makers, Prof. Liesbet van Zoonen (Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities) addressed the topic of citizens and smart cities, while Egbert Fransen (Director of Pakhuis de Zwijger) talked about the WeMakeThe.City festival, which aims to release the full potential of cities by fostering meaningful connections between people and organisations.

The first of the two panel sessions focused on the most pressing urban issues and solutions. It was moderated by Claudio Acioly (Senior Housing and Urban Management Expert & Head Capacity Building at UN-Habitat) and it featured the following panellists: Semiha Denktas (Head of Department Social & Behavioural Sciences, Erasmus University College, Derk Loorbach (Director of DRIFT & Professor of Socio-economic Transitions at the Faculty of Social Science, Erasmus University Rotterdam), Hanna Pintusava (Communications specialist at PRé Sustainability) and Mattijs van Ruijven (Head Urban Planner, Urban Development, Municipality of Rotterdam). The second panel discussion brought up the topic of the Sustainable Development Goals and their 'localised' use in cities. It was moderated by Jan Fransen (Head of Education & Training Deputy Director, IHS) and it gathered the following panellists: Rob van Tulder (Professor of International Business-Society Management, Department of Business-Society Management, Rotterdam School of Management/RSM, Erasmus University Rotterdam), Emma Clemens (Youth Delegate to the United Nations for Sustainable Development), William Cobbett (Director of Cities Alliance), Enkhbayar Tsedendorj (Founder of the Urban Development Resource Center/UDRC) and Marcel Herm (Advisor of SDGs and City Health, City of Utrecht).

Open Day

The programme also included 25 breakout sessions, which were grouped on three main tracks: people, places and know-how. Some of the topics of the breakout sessions were urban heritage, sustainability, migration and diversity, inequality, urban identity and many more. We were proud to gather also very diverse speakers: IHS academic staff, IHS alumni, colleagues from the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication and from the Institute of Social Studies (ISS), experts from Dutch municipalities, researchers from TU Delft and Utrecht University, as well as urban professionals and representatives of local institutions and architecture firms. 

We enjoyed the presence of 350 participants, who came from all over the world and from various professional backgrounds. If you're curious how the conference looked like, take a look at the event photos here.

Acknowledging outstanding urban professionals

The end of the day was marked by the IHS Alumni International Urban Professional and Youth Awards, an event which takes place every two years and recognizes outstanding city changers worldwide for their efforts to improve the lives of cities and citizens. This year’s winner of the Urban Professional Award is Enkhbayar Tsedendorj from Mongolia, while the runner ups were Jeniffer Semakula Musisi from Uganda and Yahia Shawkat from Egypt. The Winner of the Youth Urban Professional Award is the Ukranian organization Urban Curators and the runner up is Henry Takunda Gurajena, from Zimbabwe. Have a look at the photos from the award ceremony here and read the profiles of the winners here.

The second half of the conference took place at IHS the following day and it explored the following question: ‘How can Erasmus University Rotterdam – and in general higher educational institutions – contribute to realizing the SDGs?'. During the same day, the winners and runners-ups of the IHS Alumni International Urban Professional and Youth Awards took place in group sessions and they pitched the themes they found most pressing to tackle in the next years.

Looking back

Looking back, we are glad to have had this chance to connect with like-minded urban professionals from such diverse backgrounds. We feel enriched by our different experiences, insights and possibility to explore different angles of similar urban issues we all encounter in one way or another in our work. We hope this conference can serve as a base for building stronger connections in the future and that it has stimulated participants to look beyond their work area and absorb lessons from various adjacent fields.