Around 100 people participated in the  ‘Accelerating the SDGs in Cities’ Urban Thinker Campus at Columbia University.  In designing the program, the organizers sought to inspire action. From the program:

This Urban Thinkers Campus will address the urgency of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and how academia, the professions and civil society can help accelerate the SDGs along with other sustainability agendas. The aim will be to generate IDEAS FOR ACTION together, and methodologies by which each participant can bring the urgency of actions to their own networks. Talks, panels and breakouts will enable participants to fully and critically engage with the SDGs.

The Urban Thinkers Campus (UTC) is a World Urban Campaign initiative by UN-Habitat to advance sustainable urbanization through locally organized dialogues, workshops, and conferences. It is conceived as an open space for critical exchange between stakeholders and partners. Every year, based on competitive applications, a number of UTCs are held around the world.

In 2019, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CSUD) in the Earth Institute at Columbia University applied to host  ‘Accelerating the SDGs in Cities.’ CSUD, in its various projects, addresses critical urban sustainability, equity, design, and planning issues through a creative, humanistic, multi-disciplinary, and collaborative approach based on strategic systems thinking. It is committed to working across sectors and with multidisciplinary partners toward sustainable urbanization. ‘Accelerating the SDGs in Cities’ was developed by Anna Rubbo and Amanda Abrom (CSUD) in collaboration with invited partners Geeta Mehta (Asia Initiatives), Theodore Liebman (Perkins Eastman), and Lance Jay Brown (CSU). 

Over the course of two days, UTC speakers, panelists, and participants developed 60+ ‘Ideas for Action’ to accelerate the SDGs in cities. Of special interest to CSU, readers might be some of the Ideas for Action that speak to the design professions. For example:

  • Promote the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda as well as other sustainability strategies as core urban design values, including through professional development courses and participation with related professional organizations, such as the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and l’Union Internationale des Architectes.
  • Establish state and national level AIA awards for SDGs and New Urban Agenda implementation.

    In the related area of design education:

    • Educate future urban practitioners with knowledge and skills to implement the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda, and other sustainability strategies.
    • Incorporate SDGs across all curriculums.

      In a session titled ‘Are sustainability frameworks competing for your attention?’, two examples of action items stand out:

      • Ensure all design disciplines (architecture, interiors, landscape, engineering, etc.) within a company or on a specific project are incorporating the SDGs.
      • Develop a company framework for engagement that supports the SDGs and positively impacts urban sustainability, as well as the earth’s ability to rebound; consider whether projects should be accepted and how they can best be executed within the company framework.

      This Urban Thinkers Campus was part of a larger project led by CSUD’s Anna Rubbo. Accelerating the SDGs has been a three-stage project to increase awareness of, and engagement with, the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda. To date, this has included a global survey that asked city makers, ‘How are the SDGs traveling in your world?’, the Urban Thinker Campus, and the Local Project Challenge.

      The Local Project Challenge

      The Local Project Challenge called for projects that considered the SDGs. The project website aims to share knowledge, build networks and inspire others to consider incorporating the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda. Of the 111 projects from 39 countries in this online gallery, 49 are by professionals from  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Greece, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Uganda, the UK, the USA, and Vanuatu. Seven projects are by USA professionals, including projects by Arup and Koning Eizenberg Architecture.

      The Local Project Challenge website was remotely launched by former UN Secretary-General- and SDGs champion-  Ban Ki-moon at the Urban Thinkers Campus. His opening remarks included the following: “I encourage you to share this important gallery with colleagues, fellow students, friends, and family. I encourage everyone to ask how the SDGs can be incorporated in our daily lives. Their widespread adoption will help realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and create a more equal and livable future. To all who have taken this first step by submitting their projects to create this extraordinary resource, my warmest congratulations.” 

      The Local Project Challenge website

      Now, as we experience a resurgence of the pandemic, in their breadth and comprehensiveness, the SDGs take on greater significance for a sustainable, equitable recovery. The 60+ Ideas for Action to accelerate the SDGs in the professions, education, and civil society are available here. This eight-page document invites you to ‘adopt, adapt, or improve.’ The UTC program, talks, and videography can also be viewed online, and you can visit the Local Project Challenge on Instagram

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