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15 November 2016

Mistra researchers active at global event on urban development

In October UN-Habitat III was held in Ecuador. This conference for sustainable, equitable urban development attracted 40,000 delegates. They included representatives of Mistra Urban Futures (MUF), who attended several seminars. MUF also released two new books. During the meeting the New Urban Agenda, a platform for international work on sustainable towns and cities, was also adopted.

The major United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat) is held every 20 years. The first was in 1976, and now a third conference was due it was held in Quito, Ecuador, on 17–20 October. Representatives of Mistra Urban Futures (MUF) were on the spot: Thomas Rosswall (Chair), David Simon (Director) and Jan Riise (Manager for Engagement).

‘It’s a huge event where a lot of networking goes on and the unexpected meetings often prove to be the most rewarding ones,’ says Riise.

Since the spring, the research centre has been an associate partner in World Urban Campaign, a UN-Habitat project intended to promote positive urban development. During the Quito conference a new Chair, Rose Molokoane, was elected. She also heads Slum Dwellers International, the organisation that represents the billion or so people living in urban slums.

Among MUF’s key actions was the launch of two new books, Rethinking Sustainable Cities and Co-Production in Action.

Emphasis on researchers’ role

David Simon, MUF’s Director, is established in academic contexts relating to sustainable urban development and was involved in many Habitat III programme items. He also co-authored an article, published in Nature just before the conference, that draws attention to the fact that the researchers had been given such a back-seat position at this major event. They often sit at the ‘children’s table’ when key issues of urban futures are discussed.

Ahead of Habitat III the organisers had devised a new platform, New Urban Agenda, which was adopted during the conference. Jan Riise explains the policy document as follows.

‘From our point of view, New Urban Agenda is a strong challenge to boost cooperation. Various stakeholders, NGOs, cities, nations, companies, academies and so on must cooperate in order to be able to realise aims of enhanced equality of opportunity and better housing.

‘It’s been realised that urbanisation can’t just be seen as a problem. Instead, it also entails solutions to many of the challenges the world faces. This has also been the starting point for our research work,’ Riise says.

More collaboration in the next stage

Mistra Urban Futures, now in its second phase, develops knowledge for sustainable urban areas. MUF has five platforms around the world: Kisumu, Sheffield/Manchester, Cape Town, Skåne and Gothenburg. Several comparative projects involving collaboration by the various cities are planned for the years ahead. This kind of cooperation began last year when indicators for the UN’s global urban sustainability goals were evaluated.

‘It was a project in which we really learnt to work together. In the coming years, we’ll use the platforms to do more comparative research,’ Riise says.

Also present at Habitat III in Quito were representatives of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a Mistra-funded research initiative. They and the Mistra Urban Futures researchers participated in the Swedish Pavilion, which was opened by Peter Eriksson, Sweden’s Minister for Housing and Digital Development.

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