Cities and the Global Agenda: On the Road to the U20 in Buenos Aires

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On July 13th, The New School hosted a full day conference on “Cities and the Global Agenda: On the Road to the U20 in Buenos Aires” in coordination with MISTRA Urban Futures, the University of Buenos Aires, and the Global Platform for the Right to the City. The conference consisted of an introductory session and four panels: “Assessing the Assessments”, “New Urban Practices to Achieve a New Global Agenda:, “Building Capacity for Implementing Global Goals”, and the closing panel “Identifying Strategies for the U20”. SGPIA’s Professor Margarita Gutman, Professor Michael Cohen, and Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr were heavily involved in the days events. Speakers and discussants came from a number of organizations and universities and over ten countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Sweden, and South Africa, for the event (for more information, find the program below). More than 100 people attended the days event, meant to address the progress being made toward the achievement of the global agenda for 2030. 

In their report of the event, Professor Michael A. Cohen, Maria Carrizosa and Lena Simet wrote:

“We are having this discussion at a time of unusual opportunity. This is the first time the G20 has picked up the urban question. With heads of states possibly discussing the urban agenda in November 2018, we need to tell them what is doable, in a timeframe that appropriately conveys political and social urgency.”

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The event was opened by Ms. Maimounah Mohd Sharif, the new Malaysian Executive Director of UN Habitat. To begin the conference, she said “Let’s rethink the government structure at the local, national and also international levels. We have to disrupt the way of thinking and local governance, get rid of all silos, and work in teams that talk to each other.” She spoke on the relatively little progress made on achieving the global goals, and addressed two fundamental contradictions in reaching the goals:

  1. That national governments have not provided the political and financial support to local governments to implement the global goals and
  2. The sector organization of problem-solving capacity in silos across most institutions, including national and local governments, universities, and civil society organizations, inhibits the capacity of institutions to solve problems in integrated ways that reflect the interdependence of these problems.

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The conference’s four panels yielded fascinating discussion around assessment practices, goal setting, integration, technological innovation in urban centers, and strategies for building capacity to obtain global objectives. During a discussion on “Assessing the Assessments”, Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr noted that we need a transformative agenda – a holistic vision – in order to achieve goals. David Simon of Mistra Urban Futures advocated for co-production of data. On the “New Urban Practices” panel, Professor Margarita Gutman kicked off the session advocating for further integration of sector practices, “across silos and disciplines”. Martin Motta from the Institute of Housing of the City Government of Buenos Aires advocated for a shift in the field, saying “we don’t have a master plan, we have a collective process. If we think in processes, we can change the way we do public policy”. When discussing how to build local capacity in order to achieve global objectives, Eugene Zapata-Garesche of the 100+ Resilient Cities Program brainstormed ways to make the SDGs relevant for mayors of small cities: 1) Make people/constituents understand that local/city decisions will impact the world, 2) Provide the city government with a dedicated team and office to follow these issues, 3) Goals have to be legal and achievable. Finishing off on a hopeful note in the panel about preparing for the U20,  Guillermo Cabrera, Dean of the School of Architecture, Design, and Urban Planning, said, “I think that if we can all do the same thing all at the same time, we can make some change that is worthwhile.”

Program with Speakers

*Asterisked speakers are to be confirmed

Introductory Remarks 9:30 AM – 10 AM

Michael Cohen, Professor, The New School

Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat

Panel 1. 10 AM – 11:30 AM: Assessing the Assessments

Chair:           Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor, The New School

Speakers:     Eduardo Moreno, Director of Research and Capacity Development, UN-Habitat

David Simon, Director, Mistra Urban Futures, Chalmers University, Gothenburg

William Cobbett, Director, Cities Alliance

Discussant:    Michael Cohen

Coffee Break

Panel 2: 11:45AM-1:15 PM: New Urban Practices to Achieve a New Global Agenda

Chair:           Margarita Gutman, Professor, The New School

Speakers:     Juan Maqueiyra, President, Instituto de Vivienda de la Ciudad, Buenos Aires

Antonella Contin, Professor, Politecnico di Milano

Jeb Brugmann, Vice-President, Solution Development and Innovation,100 Resilient Cities Program

Discussant: Jan Riise, Mistra Urban Futures

Lunch Break

Panel 3: 2:15-3:45 PM Building Capacity for Implementing Global Goals

Chair:           Guillermo Cabrera, Dean, Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Urban Planning,

University of Buenos Aires

Speakers:     Susan Parnell, Professor of Urban Geography, University of Cape Town

Horacio Corti, Defensor General del Poder Judicial, City Government of Buenos Aires

Nelson Saule, Polis Institute, Brazil

Discussant:       Eugene Zapata-Garesche, Managing Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, 100 Resilient Cities Program

Coffee Break

Panel 4: 4:00 – 5:30 PM Identifying Strategies for the U20, Closing Panel

Chair:           Michael Cohen

Speakers:     Fernando Straface, Secretario General y Relaciones Internacionales, Gobierno de la

Ciudad de Buenos Aires

Guillermo Cabrera