GCHU Research Fellow Dr Juliet Carpenter was involved in three international conferences in one week in November, encompassing diverse but related themes of the ‘Just City’, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in Agenda 2030, and lastly, the goal of ‘Making Urban Transitions’ in the context of urban sustainability.
The Just City
“The Just City” is a concept that has gained increasing attention over the last decade, following the publication of Harvard Professor Susan Fainstein’s book, “The Just City” (2010). In it, she sets out how a combination of progressive city planners’ early focus on equity and material well-being, together with 21st century considerations of diversity and participation, can contribute to a better quality of urban life, within the context of a global capitalist political economy. During the two-day conference (15-16 November 2021) held at the University of Zürich, and hosted by the Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau, participants discussed the findings from a recent research project, “The Democratic Foundations of the Just City”, led by Dr Oliver Dlabac. The project sought to explore how Fainstein’s concept of the Just City could be applied to three European Cities: Birmingham, Lyon and Zürich. Having undertaken research in both Birmingham and Lyon, Juliet responded to the project’s research findings with insights from her own work into urban regeneration governance in these two cities, and the potential role of participatory democracy in integrating unheard voices into urban governance processes. She also took part in the panel discussion following Prof Fainstein’s keynote presentation on “Democracy, Populism, and the Just City”, certainly fitting themes in light of the rise of populist and extremist groups throughout Europe in recent years.
Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?
From Zürich, Juliet moved (virtually) to Seville, where she presented initial work on the Sustainable Development Goals and their application in the context of UK urban policy. The online seminar on 18th November, organised by the Department of Sociology at the Universidad de Pablo Olavide, Seville, aimed to explore how different European countries have responded to the UN’s Agenda 2030, and in particular, how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being translated into national urban policies. Together with Prof Dave Valler from Oxford Brookes University, Juliet presented the case of the UK, contrasting the lackadaisical approach of the UK government in applying the SDGs, with the other examples of engagement presented from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. In light of COP26, and the increasing urgency of the climate crisis, might a more wholehearted embracing of the SDGs within UK government be expected in the coming months and years?
Making urban transitions
Landing back closer to home, Juliet took part in a seminar on ‘Making Urban Transitions’ at the Maison Française d’Oxford (MFO) on 19th November. The seminar, led by Professor Nacima Baron, was organised by the “Sustainable Cities” working group of AllEnvi, the French National Network for Environmental Research, and brought together cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral researchers and stakeholders, to discuss the opportunities and challenges of urban transitions. Juliet brought a social sciences perspective, presenting her work on Co-Creation in the Global North and South, as a method of bringing together different actors and stakeholders to address social sustainability in the city, drawing on her research in Rio de Janeiro, Vancouver and Oxford.
The overarching theme running through the week of presentations, and linking closely to GCHU’s research interests, was how to achieve urban social sustainability, reimagining neighbourhoods through the lens of just and sustainable futures. A key thread weaving through the discussions was the need for holistic approaches to sustainable urban development, integrating different disciplines, approaches and voices, to achieve a transition to more sustainable urban futures. These research conversations with international partners will continue into the future, as GCHU builds out its network of research collaborators in Europe and beyond.