Our world today is going through rapid urbanization amidst fast-paced population growth. By 2050, over 70% of the world’s 9 billion people will live in cities.
This means that the demand for resources like food, water and energy in cities will keep rising and this has implications for how countries plan for the future of their cities.
Where will we grow food to feed these huge numbers of people? How will we ensure enough safe drinking water and clean energy access for all people everywhere, while keeping within our planetary boundaries? How shall we make our cities resilient in the face of increasing climate-related disasters?
Moreover, how shall we make sure that cities are inclusive for all people who live there regardless of their gender, ethnic backgrounds and social status?
Knowing that we are indeed the leaders of tomorrow’s world which is going to grapple with these challenges, we decided to prepare ourselves by holding a case-solving event. Our desire was to deliberate over how we can build sustainable, resilient, inclusive and safe cities for the future, a dream that is embedded in Sustainable Development Goal 11.
So on Friday the 13th of May, about 50 young people gathered together in Nymble – the Student Union building at KTH, and discussed cities, sustainability and the future.
The event was organized by the local chapters of the Swedish Institute Network for Future Global Leaders (NFGL) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Karolinska Institutet (KI) together with students from Engineers without Borders-KTH.
While the event targeted mainly students at KTH and KI, it drew participation from a wider audience and many students came from Stockholm University, Södertörn University and even working professionals! We started with fika and a mingle followed by a keynote speech before we got to the actual case-solving. The keynote was presented by Johanna Wickström, an architect and KTH alumna. She gave a broad overview on why cities are where the battle for sustainability will be won or lost.
The case that we dealt with was inspired by the area of Mashimoni, a suburban area near the city of Nairobi in Kenya. The area is around 9 acres in size and is inhabited by about 3500 residents who are mostly low-income earners.
The challenges it faces are typical of slum areas in all parts of the world; congestion, vulnerable housing units made with tin, poor sanitation and hygiene practices characterised by inadequate toilets and garbage disposal facilities, inadequate access to safe drinking water, lack of secure land tenure and high levels of poverty among the residents. The details of this case were provided by Architecture sans frontiers (ASF-Sweden) who have carried out feasibility studies for slum upgrading in this area. They also provided a representative to guide us through the case solving.
The participants at the event were divided into eight teams and were given one hour to discuss, identify priority challenges and come up with proposals for how to make Mashimoni a more sustainable, inclusive, safe and resilient community for all its residents. Each team was given materials for the task including maps, building blocks and other scholastic materials for their demonstration models.
Afterwards, each team had to present their proposed solutions to the rest of the participants and it was interesting to see the diversity of ideas. Each team seemed to have focused on a different challenge, but it was interesting to see how different teams approached similar problems differently.
One team focused on how to utilise solar panels to increase access to clean energy in the area. Another team centred their proposal on the need to improve connectivity and interaction among the people by setting up a grid of roads in the area as well as shared community kitchens. Another team focused on the need to invest in toilet facilities and hygiene campaigns as this would decrease the burden of treating water-borne diseases caused by poor sanitation.
This variety of solutions reflected the variety of professional backgrounds of the participants; from engineers to social scientists and medical practitioners.
It was interesting to see the teams working together and the excitement building up as members formed solutions. It was also great to see the creativity exhibited in the solution by every group and how they designed their models. However, the most important thing wasn’t the outcomes but the process, seeing our fellow students work together and the team dynamics thereof.
The idea of this event arose from the desire to have students reflect on what role they can play both now and in the future as planners and professionals in creating sustainable cities. Some of the key things that participants said they learnt from the event include the following:
- It is important to plan for cities in such a way not to make segregation between people according to economic status.
- Challenges in cities are complex and affect several sectors at once. There is need for inter- disciplinary team work
- There is need to think of the long term. We may plan no w but the population patterns may change drastically so our plans need to take this into account.
- It is important to try solutions that solve multiple problems. For example, an investment in sanitation and hygiene also reduces the burden on the healthcare system since people become healthier with better hygiene practices.
- It is crucial to involve the public in any planning process. Planners may make many assumptions but what if the people do not want things to change? What about the side effects of new changes that may involve displacing some people? If public participation is part of the work from the start, these problems can be better handled.
Since the old adage goes that “we learn by doing”, we think that more case-solving events should be done within the local NFGL networks in the future because they are more engaging for the participants.
Acknowledgements: the organizing team is grateful to the Swedish Institute for the financial support for this event, to Architecture sans frontiers-Sweden for developing the content used in the case and to all the students that participated and made it a memorable event.
Written by Daniel Ddiba on behalf of the organizing team.