“Think global, act local” is a mantra often quoted.
Originating in the 1970s, this grassroots initiative saw people taking local action to protect habitats and wildlife, frustrated by the lengthy processes to enact government legislation to protect the environment. Direct action became a way to achieve positive change.
Global agendas need local actions
Today, we are facing global challenges like climate change and are experiencing their effects in our towns and cities. Rapid urbanisation has brought challenges like pollution, obesity and inequality. While governments have adopted the United Nation’s New Urban Agenda (NUA) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on the international level, the question remains: how can we support their implementation and effect change at the local level?
An interesting model has been developed by the World Urban Campaign (WUC), a UN agency which aims to advocate positive change so that we can live in green, productive, safe, and well-planned cities. The goal is to place urban issues at the highest level in development policies.
Since 2015, they have initiated Urban Thinkers Campuses (UTCs) - free events held in cities worldwide to source local citizens views on how to tackle urban problems and identify sustainable solutions.
Urban Thinkers Campuses - a ‘living open-air university’
This unique model of local participation and consensus-building comprises a 3-day event in a town or city that acts as a ‘living open-air university’. It’s free and open to all. Local citizens and representatives from local authorities, civil society, academics, professionals, parliamentarians, women, children and youth groups, trade unions, farmers and the media all participate and share ideas. Attendance from people from around the world also means that learning and sharing takes place globally.
The first round of UTCs took place in 26 cities, involving more than 7,700 participants from 113 countries representing more than 1,600 organizations. Each UTC explored different themes and each published a Plan, which fed into the final ‘City We Need’ report. This report underpins the NUA - adopted by 193 governments at Habitat III in 2016 – and was endorsed by governments including the UK.
The WUC is continuing the UTCs this year with over 70 events in cities like Brazzaville, Porto Alegre, Jakarta and Bangladesh which will explore how local actions can tackle issues like water security; women, children and youth rights; environmental protection; education; and urban planning.
Belfast campus focuses on health
In Belfast, host city of a UTC from 31st May to June 2, the focus will be on health and social inequality. This is timely with poor air quality and mental health top on the media agenda. The event will identify actions on how to implement the NUA’s health principles and identify what can be done to help inner city communities be more healthy, engaged, equitable, inclusive and safe.
The RTPI is a member of the WUC and is delighted to be involved. Phil Williams, RTPI Past president and Belfast City Council’s Director of Planning and Place will facilitate a workshop. Chief Executive, Trudi Elliott, will give a keynote address on ‘Health, Wellbeing and Planning for the Inner City’, while Victoria Pinoncely, our Research Officer, will present on ageing at the Urban Lab 3 workshop.
Our recent publications Poverty, Place and Inequality and Promoting Healthy Cities identify these challenges and show why place-based approaches are key to tackling poverty and inequality and why good planning is vital to achieve better health in our cities.
Organised by the International Federation for Housing and Planning the ‘City Centre for Everyone’, the Campus will feature presentations, panels, roundtable discussions and case studies from Belfast, Copenhagen and Gothenburg, plus the chance for participants to join a cycle ride through Belfast’s Connswater and the Titanic Quarter and a bus tour of Dublin and its Docklands.
Belfast is a good urban laboratory for exploring health. Its inner city residents comprise lower income communities located in a ring of social housing around the city centre. Residents face poor health, deprivation, unemployment and a lack of affordable housing, skills and access to the city centre’s employment opportunities and social/health/educational facilities.
Local initiatives have improved things
Things are improving in the last 25 years, with initiatives such as being designated a World Health Organisation Healthy City helping to focus attention on health as key to reducing the city’s social disparities and inequalities. The city is also a WHO age-friendly city and has created ‘The Walkability Assessment for Healthy Ageing’ tool to gauge accessibility for older people and those living with dementia in supported housing.
So, if you’re in Belfast please join us in creating an Action Plan – a plan where local actions providing solutions to global urban issues can be found at your fingertips.
And if you are a resident, politician, charity or professional based elsewhere, you can join your local UTC or access the Action Plans and solutions on WUC’s website.
International Policy and Research Officer, RTPI
Marion Frederiksen MRTPI is the RTPI’s International Policy and Research Officer. She is a chartered town planner specialising in environmental and international planning issues. Marion has worked in the UK and South Africa and understands both developed and developing world planning perspectives.