UChicago and UN to host global symposium on sustainable cities and neighborhoods

Event to discuss the UN Sustainable Development Goals, neighborhoods-led approach to climate change

Editor’s note: The following is part of Urban October at UChicago—an initiative of the University of Chicago Urban Network. Throughout the month, University scholars will convene key stakeholders and present new research and collaborations that confront urban challenges around the globe.

UN-Habitat and the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation are hosting a symposium Oct. 23-25 focused on how neighborhoods around the world can tackle imminent challenges—including climate change, population growth, housing shortages and a lack of key infrastructure—to advance a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

The Global Symposium on Sustainable Cities and Neighborhoods will bring together city leaders, community organizations, academic research institutions and technology experts from around the world to explore local approaches to urban development, particularly at the intersection of climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation.

By 2050, more than 215 million people living in urban poverty in developing countries will be affected by climate change—nearly eight times the number today, according to a recent C40 report. Symposium attendees will discuss building a common scientific framework for advancing and understanding progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The symposium is part of Urban October at the University of Chicago, a monthlong initiative in collaboration with UN-Habitat and members of the UChicago Urban Network, research institutes, policy labs, centers, and academic units at the University of Chicago focused on pioneering urban science and practice.

“This is a special moment when cities and neighborhoods are leading the way towards a more equitable, sustainable future for our globe,” said Luis Bettencourt, inaugural director of the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation at UChicago and a leading researcher in urban science and complex systems. “This symposium will convene leaders from around the globe to combine the power of community organization, government, science and technology to form a new network dedicated to fast and innovative sustainable development solutions in cities and neighborhoods, including localizing the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“Global partnership is the key to fighting poverty and bringing health, education and peace to all corners of the world,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). “That’s why UN-Habitat is supporting the University of Chicago in this important collaboration to ensure that we all move forward together—and no communities are left behind.”

The symposium will produce the Million Neighborhoods Working Paper, a guidance document that will capture and synthesize ideas from the conference, which may be presented at the upcoming Tenth World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Emirates in February 2020.

Speakers at the symposium will include:

  • Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, on her Transform Freetown strategy using data-driven performance management and an inclusive approach
  • Rhiannan Price, director of Maxar Technologies, Sustainable Development Practice, on dynamic urban mapping with satellites and AI
  • Rose Molokoane, deputy president of Slum Dwellers International, on her work with communities to map underserved neighborhoods around the world
  • Eric Chu, assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, lead author of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on the consequences of climate change within cities

The symposium opens on Oct. 23 with an evening reception at Stony Island Arts Bank in the Woodlawn neighborhood, a Chicago landmark restored by renowned artist Theaster Gates, a UChicago faculty member.

Panel discussions on Oct. 24 will focus on efforts to localize the Sustainable Development Goals and accelerate progress toward the 2030 Agenda. Programming on Oct. 25 will highlight the impact of climate change on global cities and neighborhoods, innovative solutions in technology, and methods of financing the work. Topics will include:

  • The Next 30 Years: A New Reality for Sustainable Development
  • Challenges and Opportunities of Community Organizing Around the World, featuring global community organizers from West Africa, Brazil, Canada and Chicago
  • Design, Architecture and Community Innovations in Local Sustainable Development
  • Unequal Impacts of Climate Change Within Cities
  • Engaging Development Finance Agencies at the Neighborhood Level
  • Closing the Gap Between Tech and the Human Experience
  • Objectives for World Urban Forum 2020

In addition to UN-Habitat and the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, the symposium is sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the UChicago Division of the Social Sciences, with support from the UChicago Office of Civic Engagement, the UChicago Committee on International Relations and the UIUC Siebel Center for Design.