The world needs to shift to a new paradigm, but what is stopping us and how can we do this? In 2015, 193 world leaders signed up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable world by the year 2030. We have the technology, we have the people and if we have the money but can we make this target? Romi Sumaria and Aarti Shah explore some of the biggest challenges that we face to meet these goals, share the real stories of what is being done on the ground and speak to inspiring individuals and organisations that are leading the way in delivering impact.
S02E15: The Invisible Citizens
Our 21st century city must shed its prejudices. Exploited migrants - whether in forced labour or sex trafficking - have equal rights and opportunity to everyone else, as long as governments and private citizens provide the support they uniquely need.
In today’s episode, we discuss why education is essential on two fronts.
Of course, it is important for the displaced to learn the language, laws and skills to navigate and make the most of their new homes.
But secondly, their hosts must understand the scale and reality of what they - their neighbours - have been through. Sadiki John’s story is a testament to how this can make a difference.
Next, jobs, jobs, jobs. As Monique Villa points out, employers must provide meaningful, appropriate work that does not just pay the bills, but, at the very least gives new members of society dignity, and may well leverage the skills they bring. This is in line with SDG 8.
Finally, collective support. Victims of human trafficking and forced labour, and refugees will likely have experienced extraordinary trauma. We must work with local authorities and use our agency to support these individuals and families, and make them feel safe and welcome.
Monique Villa, Journalist, Author, Philanthropist, Former CEO Thomson Reuters Foundation & Founder of TrustLawSadiki John, Founder, Lazima Nipate AcademyLinks:
Migrateful - cookery classes led by refugee and migrant chefs‘I carried his name on my body for nine years’: the tattooed trafficking survivors reclaiming their past, The Guardian, 16 November 2014https://therapistsbeyondborders.org/Slaves among Us: The Hidden World of Human Trafficking, Monique Villa (2019)
S02E14: Inclusion & Equity
Cities are melting pots for geopolitical ideology, cultural appropriation and expression of identity and beliefs. As the world continues to globalise, but also polarise, the best parts of this integration are being put to the test and pushing some people to the margins. In this episode we explore how cities can manage geopolitical conflicts, embrace the richness of cultures and ensure that all individuals and communities are represented and have equitable access.
In response to a 2019 report on regenerative city-regions stating that we need a “‘mutually supportive symbiosis between the built, cultural and natural environments,” Katya Letunovsky refers to Henri Lefebvre’s “trialetic of space” and Edward Soja’s “thirdspace”, the intersection of the physical and the perceived or imagined, where policy and decisions happen. Habidatum provides data to urban planners and investors, for example on how vacant buildings may be re-purposed, and powers the Mastercard Inclusive Growth Score™. In Manhattan, evidence showed that once commercial rents reach a tipping point, “elite abandoned areas'' get created. Time-sharing and friendly lease agreements can diversify commercial activities.
Spatial equity is about equal access to jobs, services, nodes of activity and green spaces through transport, last-mile connectivity (the development of a bicycle network in Almaty, Kazakhstan being a case in point) and walkability. Residents’ and census data alone are not sufficient; data can also tell us about the temporary communities congregating at certain times and in particular places.
Mary Pagano advocates for obliging corporations and the ultra-wealthy to take more responsibility and to tackle the hollowing out of the middle class. She points out how women lead and live differently, and urges bringing in more of the 51% of the population into urban planning - life is about more than working and earning money. She acknowledges her plans to build a sustainable new city in Morocco focused on humanity, health, happiness, quality of life, urban agriculture and “non-invasive” technology for all will require education.
Naresh Fernandes looks at how the informalisation of Bombay’s (Mumbai’s) economy, and politics, are thwarting social mobility and solidarity. Historically successful, and needed, civil society and trade unions are finding it increasingly difficult to operate. After the 1992-1993 communal riots, mohalla (neighbourhood) committees convened the worst-hit communities to discuss local problems, and how to resolve them. This regular concerted effort - resulting in direct action - allowed them to ride through moments of heightened tension. Hindi films in the 1950s and 60s portray Bombay’s popular promenade, Marine Drive, rather than its mansions, but the incongruous gated communities sprouting in a city with little street crime and break-ins risk making it more dangerous, as they expel Jane Jacobs’ “eyes on the street”.
Nonetheless, Bombay’s public transport and spaces allow familiarity across classes, which, in Naresh’s view, can lead to empathy. He and Mary speak about religions and nationalities cohabiting in New York City. Following the 1999 police shooting of an African immigrant, Naresh witnessed individual protests by diverse communities, culminating in a collective march across Brooklyn Bridge. In other words, our voices matter. Citizen action can derail non-inclusive and marginalizing policy. We still have the responsibility of being agents of change.
Katya Letunovsky, VP, HabidatumMary Pagano, Board Member, Founder, Hera City, HeraTV, FemFoundryNare
S02E13: Health and Social Care
Cities that are congested and polluted, with high costs of living, a perpetual rat race and yet a more sedentary lifestyle, have created physical, mental and cognitive health issues. Zoonotic, infectious and non-communicable diseases, disability and changing demographics are putting health and social care under pressure. In this episode we look at how we can provide equitable, effective and regenerative health and social care to our citizens.
As Alicia Rojos Santos states, well thought out and implemented policies universally allow for better results in preventative and responsive health care. Defining and implementing a holistic approach - including pollution, nutrition, education and urban design - is imperative.
Of course, policies without sufficient funding aligned to health, socio-economic and cultural needs (not electoral cycles) will fail. Public-private partnerships have a role as governments alone cannot finance universal health coverage, whether in industrialised countries with ageing populations or global south countries with small tax bases.
Paradoxically, we find unused, expensive equipment across African cities. We must develop capacity, and a culture, to build and maintain technologies locally. At the same time, Dr Peter believes scaling up and exporting frugal innovation is viable if - once again - we align policy and financing, and we match solutions with needs.
Dr Karan Thakur and Peter Waiswa unpack the supply and demand mismatch across the world. On the one hand there is a brain drain of global south medical professionals moving to better pay and facilities in the global north. On the other hand you have “medical value travel” where citizens from the global north can get high quality, more affordable options in the global south. Even though there is also south-south medical tourism, governments in developing countries must recognise that retaining talent at home is vital if we are to fight inequity.
Alica Rojos-Santos, Senior Consultant, Hanover CommunicationsDr Karan Thakur, Vice President, Projects & Public Affairs, Apollo Hospitals GroupDr Peter Waiswa, Associate Professor, Makerere University School of Public Health and Karolinska Institutet
S02E12: Housing our Citizens
By 2050, we expect to have 70% of the world's population living in urban environments.
Today, more than 1 billion people reside in informal settlements with the flexibility to engage in activities that are not possible in formal, planned parts of the city. At the same time, they have precarious security of tenure. Affordable, adequate and viable housing is both a public good and an economic asset, and so we cannot ignore the link with finance. Inclusionary housing may require subsidies. But it is not just about the cost of the property.
As individuals, families and communities, our needs evolve over time. Making safe, adequate, resource-efficient, well-located housing available is a huge opportunity. In this episode we discuss how we can intentionally accommodate people in equitable, regenerative ways.
We discuss switching to more climate-responsive, lower emitting, durable, locally-sourced materials, energy efficiency and electrification. As Audree Grubesic explains, modular construction (where 75% of the building of a home is done at the factory), robotics and 3D printing reduce waste, save time, use different materials, and allow for wholesale procurement and therefore housing that is attainable. Co-operative models enable bulk land purchases and negotiations with private developers. In the US, commercial space is being re-purposed, though this does come at a cost.
For inclusive design, we must work with local communities and cultures - which are not necessarily homogenous or static - from the start. As Thea Kurdi says, while over 1.3 billion people today live with some form of disability, ‘universal design’ will ensure housing more readily caters for the different needs of everybody, even as their circumstances change.
Finally, housing does not exist in a vacuum - around it are streets, shops, transport, employment, culture, worship, healthcare, schools and other services that draw us to cities in the first place. However, urban land and its development, says Steve Brooks, is expensive. Densification and meeting our daily needs within walking distance are essential if we are to fit more people in the same area, and not squander space for private vehicles. His experience with urban renewal in the challenging hilly environment of Kigali, Rwanda, is particularly fascinating!
Audree Grubesic, CEO & President, Modular Sure SiteSteve Brooks, Founder and Director of Architecture, Urban Planning ConstellationThea Kurdi, President, DesignABLE Environments
S02E11: Lessons from Nature
Nature is constantly seeking equilibrium through self-regulation and regeneration. Humans, on the other hand, have been depleting Earth’s resources, and cities, the fastest growing environment on the planet, have become the epitome of this self-defeating behaviour. We no longer feel accountable for the water we drink, or the heatwaves and floods that are becoming increasingly present.
In this episode we explore how the power of nature must help repair and regenerate cities and their residents.
“We need to think, build and behave in cycles as ecosystems do,” says Laura Shiels. This means observing and understanding water, nutrients, minerals and all living organisms, and incorporating their processes into our technologies. Fort Collins in Colorado, US, has mitigated flooding through green spaces that naturally absorb water - and also attract deer, rabbits and birds. Shanghai wetlands in China use nature to clean and manage water pollution.
Government needs to mainstream and incentivise nature - even if this means making a U-turn on existing policies. Examples include beekeeping, pollinator gardens and growing native foods and medicinal species on roofs and walls.
Then there is innovation. Utilising plants’ ability to efficiently capture sunlight and energy could eliminate the mining of finite resources. At the end of their lifecycle, these bio-based solar panels would decompose into their natural substances.
Richard James MacCowan sees not just an impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing, but also on the health system. “I want to value the benefits [of nature] to the reduction in, say, the need for people to go to the doctor,” he says.
If we learn from nature, we will allow urban ecosystems - including the humans within them - to thrive rather than struggle to survive.
Richard James MacCowan, Founder and Creative Director, Biomimicry Innovation LabLaura Shiels, SVP of Agriculture: Research, Education & Community Outreach, VidaLuz Development
S02E10: Cities, Arts & Culture
Cities attract and preserve our heritage, but the arts can be one of the first casualties during austere times. Now, a wave of polarisation has left us with few places where we can engage in difficult, nuanced conversations that are not black and white. For cities embroiled in or emerging from conflict, the arts can be that conciliatory grey area. The arts can also allow people to learn from the past and make the marginalised visible.
On the flip side, creative people are often outliers, easily stigmatized by society, even in large, anonymous cities. While inclusivity is now fashionable, protecting performance and visual artists requires authenticity. In this regard, the unfolding digital art world is providing new opportunities. To make sure nobody is left behind, though, cities must make resources and education available, regardless of whether they are in the global south or the global north.
In this episode we look at how the visual and performance arts and culture are shaping cities in the 21st century. We explore how and where culture is supported, and what that means to its accessibility. We also look at what happens to cities that undergo significant political shifts and how we must consciously allow the arts to thrive in today’s competing priorities.
Aniela Coveleski, Business Representative, SAG-AFTRAShona McCarthy, CEO, Edinburgh Fringe FestivalAdiam Gafoo, COO, Arts HelpLinks:
A Discussion on Art and Gentrification in New YorkA Discussion on the Making of Bushwick
Summarising such important and challenging issues are never an easy task. This gives you a glimpse of the conversation being had today with real experts offering their insights. A must for anyone interested in understanding our world just that little bit more, or trying to bring some positive change one word at a time.
Very very interesting speakers that often bring in a variety of perspectives to a topic that has often been talked about many many times. If you think you know overconsumption and sustainability issues within production and consumerism, think again! This podcasts addresses such topics with an honest and more importantly inter-disciplinary approach that isn’t just refreshing, it’s thought provoking !
Fantastic podcast and super informative! Gives you a great perspective and something to think about. Highly recommend!