NewsDecember 11, 2023

December President’s Message

Rick Bell, FAIA, NOMA, 2023 CSU President
L-R: Nicholas Hamilton, 2024 CSU President; Rick Bell, 2023 CSU President

It has been an honor and pleasure to serve as 2023 President of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization. Together this year we have endeavored to promote a better understanding of the role of resilient design in the planning of our cities, advocated for enlightened planning and design, and helped bring the design and diplomatic communities into the same orbit.

Green Cities is one of the programs of the CSU that helps animate our goal of advancing creative solutions to today’s urban challenges. This month Malassen Hamida Twahir, a social activist in Nairobi, spoke of the challenges of greening Kibera, Africa’s largest informal settlement. Her Zoom talk, moderated by CSU co-founder Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, addressed efforts there by her Mazingira Women Initiative group in tree planting, hydroponic urban farming, and solid waste management.

In November, Helsinki-based architects Ella Kaira and Matti Jänkälä, spoke of how their practice, called VOKAL combines community engagement and storytelling with people-based architecture and urban design. Thanks to a residency in New York City sponsored by the Finnish Cultural Institute, they were able to bring their message and methods to locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, conducting a workshop at Cooper Union and seminar at Columbia University’s Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space.

Clara Simay, architect and co-founder of the Paris collective Grand Huit spoke in October of her work at La Ferme du Rail and the Maison des Canaux, located in the 19th arrondissement. Both projects demonstrate how hybrid uses within buildings can be combined to create jobs while having as a primary object the reemployment of building elements and use of bio-sourced materials.

I mention these last three Green Cities programs as representative of how intensely local and relatively small neighborhood-based projects can potentially serve as examples for replication at larger scale elsewhere. Other Green Cities talks earlier in the year, among them Bernard Zyscovich speaking about Plan Z for sustainable mobility in Miami (April), Eileen Dancuart describing her design for the recently completed Miraflores Bicentennial Park in Lima (July), and Stan Eckstut reimagining urban sites in Washington, DC (September), similarly have the potential for being applicable elsewhere. The Green Cities programs, all visible on the CSU website, share lessons learned and best practices that could aid emplacement of similar work in other cities.

Scaling up and replicating successful community-based initiatives is one way of helping to implement the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. As this year draws to a close, I would like to thank all of those who have participated in the activities of the CSU, either through volunteer efforts or taking the lessons of our programs to their own cities and communities. A shout out of appreciation is due to my friend and colleague Nicholas Hamilton, who has led our restructuring and rejuvenation and will serve as 2024 CSU President. And for Green Cities, special thanks to Mariana Rodríguez Orte, Chitra Mamidela, Liz Nebiolo, Jonna Botsas, and Maya Taïbi-Guénolé.

In the words UN Secretary-General António Guterres shared this month at the Local Climate Action Summit of COP28: “Let’s stand as one – and work as one – to protect all communities from the climate crisis, and spur the renewable, sustainable and equitable future people and planet deserve.”

For those just learning about the CSU, please join us as a member or by making a year-end donation. Together we can make a difference.

Rick Bell, FAIA, NOMA
2023 CSU President

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