As 2014 comes to a close, it’s important that we look back and take stock of all that we learned—and the people we learned from. Over the past year, TheCityFix had the opportunity to sit down with some of the world’s most insightful and passionate urban leaders, from mayors to academics to community activists. Here, we reflect on some of the conversations that helped shape our thinking and inspired us with their dedication to a safer, healthier, cleaner, more equitable urban future.
For the third annual UN Global Road Safety week earlier this year, we talked with renowned architect and urban designer Jan Gehl and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ very own Ani Dasgupta about how a city that is safe for children is a city that is safe for all. Car-oriented development can’t be a solution, as cities designed for the car are both unsafe and costly. Copenhagen, Jan’s hometown, has found that every time someone rides a bike 1 km, society gains 42 cents and that every time someone drives a car 1 km, society loses 20 cents. Shifting to people-oriented urban design will need to be part of the road safety agenda going forward.
According to Oxfam, the richest 1 percent will own more than all the rest by 2016. Researcher and academic Diana Mitlin spoke with us about how this inequitable trend is playing out geographically and why it is a concern for the world’s cities. Drawing on her work on affordable housing in Namibia and parts of Asia, she explains how local grassroots organizations play an invaluable role in helping impoverished informal settlements gain legitimacy in the eyes of local governments. In her own words, “it’s all about affordable basic services.”
Recently re-elected mayor of Bogota, Colombia after 14 years, Enrique Peñalosa has long been an advocate for equitable, human-centered cities. Responsible for the implementation of Alameda El Porvenir—a bicycle highway 50 meters wide and 24 km long—and TransMilenio—the city’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system—he helped bring sustainable urban mobility to millions of people. In our exclusive interview, the mayor reflects on the challenges and rewards of his services and the advice he would give to urban leaders globally.
Even after her mayorship ended in 2013, Mary Jane Ortega continues to work closely with the administration of San Fernando—a coastal city located about 270 km from Manila, in the Philippines. Recognized for her leadership in urban development, resilience and governance, Mayor Ortega serves as an inspiration for women in leadership. She joined our celebration of the Mayors’ Summit in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year and explained why education and communication are critical for building cities that are resilient and socially inclusive.
Slums and informal settlements are growing today faster than they ever have in the past, but history offers a lot of lessons about what cities need to do—and not do—in order to get development right. In our recent conversation, Dr. Eugenie Birch of the University of Pennsylvania and UN-Habitat analyzed the causes of widespread urbanization and proffered her ideas for what cities need to do to sustainably manage urban expansion. She also takes on the topic of density, explaining how we will need a comprehensive approach—including communication, education, finance, and policy—in order to ensure that dense communities actually result in sustainable cities.